The Botswana Meat Commission (BMC) has been dominating news headlines in the past few weeks.
The BMC is a parastatal that was established in 1965 to promote the development of the livestock industry and related products globally.
As late as 2006 there were moves to amend the BMC Act with a view to among other things streamlining its activities and ending its monopoly on the export of beef.
According to the BMC’s 2009 to 2011 strategic plan vision, the parastatal aimed to be one of the best producers of beef and related products in the world. A comprehensive restructuring of the operations that delivered a significantly reduced cost base and improved throughput was envisaged.
A New Zealander, Dr. David Falepau, was appointed Chief Executive Officer (CEO) in October 2010 to implement the plan. He was appointed to the post because of his extensive background in animal, agricultural and food sciences.
Falepau vowed to follow the BMC Act to the letter, but two years later he was shown the door; his dismissal was secretive. A ‘volunteer’ in Ian Thompson was roped in as acting CEO for a few months before he was fired last week. Now a long serving former top civil servant, Dr Akolang Tombale, has been hired on a year’s contract.
Tombale is reported to have told one publication last week that what the BMC needs is a manager, not a farmer to run its operations. He joins the BMC at a time when allegations of maladministration are rife at the parastatal and also when farmers complain that cattle prices are too low.
The rationale for establishing the BMC shortly before independence was to ensure the entry of Batswana into the modern economy through an activity that they understood most: cattle rearing. Beef production then was the mainstay of the economy until copper and diamonds were discovered in the early 70s.
Parastatals played a very important role in the development of the economy is the early days of independence, but increasingly it is widely acknowledged that government should not be engaged in business but rather the private sector should be the engine of economic growth. Already some parastatals are earmarked for privatisation.
Cattle are very dear to Batswana although it is becoming increasingly clear that production is inefficient and anyway, very few Batswana actually own cattle in significant numbers.
What to do with the BMC? Will it ever be an efficient production unit or is fated to lose money in perpetuity because in a modern economy government should not be managing a business?
Should government privatize it? Or should we hang onto the parastatal because cattle are an integral part of our culture, though we cannot turn a profit from cattle farming without heavy subsidies; or because cattle somewhat assure an element of food security in these hard times when food is fast becoming a scarce commodity?
This surely is Botswana’s dilemma.
Source: Argentine Beef Packers S.A.
Back to News Headlines