While a throng of the youthful businessmen, most of whom are from the Chobe District, are not necessarily against the Expression of Interest (EOI) calling for interested citizens to apply for eight leases inside the Chobe National Park, they believe the conditions of the EOI are specifically crafted to close them out and to favour existing players who are already benefitting from Botswana’s tourism sector. Led by Othusitse Ranko, a director at Eco-Tours, the group has formally stated their opposition to the EOI.
The Business Weekly & Review last week sent questions to the Director of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP), Dr Kabelo Senyatso, about what motivated the scope of an EOI that purports to foster participation of indigenous Batswana in the country’s lucrative tourism sector, especially the requirement of existing licences that straightaway contradicts any stated notion of economic empowerment of the marginalised.
Dr Senyatso has so far responded to The Business Weekly & Review questions about what motivated the scope of the EOI, especially the requirement of existing licences that directly keeps marginalised Batswana out, particularly young people. Asked on formal complaints against the EOI, Dr Senyatso responded that the ministry has received an objection to the proposed tourism sites inside Chobe National Park from one tourism organisation and has responded to this objection.
However, the representative of the concerned youths, Ranko, says Dr Senyatso has not responded to their formal complaint or acknowledged receipt of their complaint. Dr Senyatso was on Btv this week discussing the matter and Ranko called to challenge him to respond on live TV to their formal letter of objection. The director avoided the question saying there is a letter of response to the youths that no one has received.
Asked by The Business Weekly & Review why the government wants only companies that have been operating for the last two years or more and not start-ups, Dr Senyatso became clever with words, saying the requirement was for tourism enterprise licences that are two years or older and not that companies should explicitly have been operating a tourism facility for two years. The vast majority companies that submitted bids do not presently operate tourism ventures but only hold a tourism enterprise licence, which qualifies them as start-ups, he said.
Pressed further about whether that does not limit the opportunities to existing operators by closing out interested start-ups, he responded: “With well over 1 000 citizen-owned companies with a tourism enterprise licence of over two years, and eight sites on offer, the requirement is not limiting.”
A core complaint is that the EOI serves to empower existing businesses that already have a stake in the tourism industry. Nevertheless, Dr Senyatso said 220 companies participated in a site visit recently, which demonstrates that there are many citizen-owned companies that met the minimum requirement.
The youthful tourism organisation believes that Dr Senyatso is nowhere close to addressing their request for the EOI to be amended and is ready to initiate legal proceedings to interdict it. “We note with concern and dismay that the scope for the leasing of the said tourism plots requires that companies should have tourism licences from the Department of Tourism which have been in existence for at least the past two years and in the case of consortiums, they should have at least one company which has a tourism licence that has been in existence for two years or more,” reads the letter the youths wrote to Dr Senyatso.
The letter notes that interpretation of this by the concerned youths is that “only” existing companies in tourism qualify to respond to the EOI. A salient point in the letter is that the EOI is discriminatory to individuals and companies, especially the youth, who do not own and/or operate existing tourism businesses and therefore have no tourism licences. “We view the above with suspicion that it serves to empower certain already existing businesses that already have a stake in the tourism sector against startups that need such a golden opportunity to enter the lucrative tourism market,” the letter says and calls on Dr Senyatso to revisit the scope in order to make it more inclusive.
Meanwhile, HATAB is also against allocating any more plots for development inside the Chobe National Park, although its concern is primarily about the environmental degradation that is likely to result from increased ‘invasion’ of the pristine reserve by humans. According to the EOI, each of the proposed lodge sites will be three hectares in extent and are to be situated two kilometres apart between the Ihaha Wildlife Camp and Kasika inside the park.
“The Chobe National Park is already experiencing significant environmental pressure and congestion,” HATAB has said in a statement signed by the CEO of the organisation, Lilly Rakorong. “This has been recognised since the early 1990s with the publication of the 1993 Chobe National Park Management Plan, and more recently the 2000 Chobe National Park Management Plan, both of which were gazetted and stipulated that no new lodges should be developed within Chobe National Park.”
The organisation says is it perturbed that this will have “a very significant impact” on the Chobe National Park riverfront by, among other things, increasing congestion, increasing environmental pollution, restricting animal movement and placing increased pressure on already threatened species such as the Chobe bushbuck, especially so during the construction period of the proposed lodges.
While the EOI calls on interested parties to provide information on waste management, pollutants, deforestation, and human-wildlife conflict, HATAB says it sets no parameters or conditions for environmental management practices. “Eight lodges in such close proximity will have a substantial environmental impact, especially in relation to pollution caused by refuse and human waste,” it says in its statement. “Additionally, the time allocated for the preparation and submission of the tenders is too short for the inclusion of all the necessary submissions such as the Environmental Impact Assessment as an example.”
HATAB says while it “wholeheartedly” supports citizen economic empowerment, a broad-spectrum consultative process and a comprehensive Environment Impact Assessment must be undertaken prior to allocation of any site for development in the Chobe National Park. “We also note that there are potential areas of development in a managed way in other areas of the Chobe region that can be considered,” it notes. “The jewel of Botswana requires protection and thus we encourage our government, developmental and environmental partners to protect our parks for the benefit of our posterity. “