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Minister of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism, Tshekedi Khama has renewed leases for the most valuable concessions in the Okavango Delta, in favour of Wilderness Holdings Limited, a company associated with his elder brother, former president Ian Khama, without a tendering process.
It emerged in the latest annual report released this week that leases for the concessions upon which Mombo, Little Mombo and Xigera are located have been renewed by authorities at the tourism ministry, headed by Khama.The concessions are located in the heart of the scenic Okavango Delta. Lease concessions in which Mombo, Little Mombo, Xigera, Vumbura Plains and Little Vumbura camps are located expired in mid-2014, according to information released by the eco-tourism outfit.
These were not renewed until the current financial year, save for Vumbura Plains and Little Vumbura. Wilderness said the two leases are yet to be renewed because the structures and the process by which these concessions are allocated and administered by Tshekedi’s ministry were being changed to improve stability and long-term confidence in the industry. It also emerged that during the period in which the leases had expired, Wilderness proceeded to spend millions in rebuilding Mombo and Little Mombo Camps because the company was ‘reassured’ that the leases will be renewed.
Wilderness, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Keith Vincent said that on the basis of assurances received from the government, and draft leases seen and approved by Wilderness authorities, the company rebuilt Mombo and Little Mombo camps during the current financial year and they re-opened in January 2018.
With regards to leases for Vumbura and Little Vumbura, Vincent said that government has also assured them that the remaining leases for the two concessions will be renewed. “The lease for Vumbura Plains and Little Vumbura has not been renewed but a draft lease has been seen and this is expected to be completed imminently,” he said.
Allocation of concessions has been marred by controversy for years now, with industry players decrying favouritism and irregularities in the allocation. At this year’s Hospitality and Tourism Association of Botswana (HATAB) Conference which was held in Maun, the association criticized the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism for practicing favouritism when allocating the plumb concessions in the tourist areas of the country. In a scathing all out condemnation of the leadership of the Minister Khama, the tourism industry body put a litany of complaints at the door of the former President’s younger brother.
HATAB demanded that all processes pertaining to concessions and their renewal and or allocation be aligned and made transparent. The association said it noted that there is increasing delay in processing such applications, and when processed, industry often notes that there is inconsistency in the conditions of operation. It says some are given automatic renewal while others are subjected to a tender process at the end of their tenure.
“All this, casts uncertainties on investor confidence as well as creating a perceived preferential treatment of some over others. Such practices are not conducive to a friendly and fair investment environment in a democratically and open market society,” HATAB chairman Dr Thapelo Matsheka said.