The Groot Group which styles itself as a proper holding company with numerous subsidiaries, is dreaming big dreams. But sadly, as of last weekend, it transpired that these are all just dreams and hot air.
It is now almost four years ago that the so-called Groot Group announced they are working on preparations to bring a world-class glass factory to the one-horse town Tses, not far south of the regional border between Hardap and Karas. That first release sounded so convincing, it was even forwarded by a local stock broker through their news service to give prospective investors a glimpse of the intended mega-investment in the Karas Region.
Now, it is common knowledge that the government is very anxious to broaden the commercial and industrial base of the two southern regions to include more local participation. These two regions run on the revenue of three mines and a modest agricultural contribution with a smattering of tourism. For the rest, I estimate around 90% of its residents are excluded from any meaningful local projects so it is understandable that any new project will attract much attention.
But it seems the Tses Glass promotors have bitten off more than they can chew. In an interview with the Economist last year, grand plans were revealed, and a fairly well-defined timeline was offered. Investment partners were named, and a bouquet of European companies were all claimed to be in on the deal. There was even a groundbreaking ceremony with a most revealing picture which we published on 20 June 2014.
Over the previous weekend, a trip to Keetmanshoop provided the opportunity to visit Tses, for what is popularly known as a fact finding mission. Before Independence, Tses was a railway stop and nothing more. One can spot it from the B1 main road, but until recently, it had basically only the same buildings it had at Independence. It can not be described as a vibrant community.
Lately over the past few years, Tses has sprawled a newer residential area showing some town planning, as well as a small settlement west of the main road. This was not there twenty years ago.
One’s first impression of Tses is of a complex set of new trenches running criss cross both left and right of the road leading into the town. But these are not for the intended Tses Glass factory. These works are identified by the mandatory blue and white engineering and construction billboards, giving a very brief description of the project, the client, the professionals involved and the contractor. All these projects are for water reticulation and sanitation. Driving around in Tses, it was noticeable that the bottlestore is abandoned and delapidated. This must be the only town where this is the case. But it was also noticeable that some newish buildings have appeared, and a shiny new secondary water reservoir has been erected next to the river, I suppose to supply the main reservoir that sits on a small hill just behind the residential area. Another anomaly was to find water in the river in the section under the railway bridge. It is almost like a small green oasis in the otherwise barren and dry surroundings.
The site for a glass factory could not be found. As a matter of fact, no site for any factory could be found and enquiries as to the location of the site where the groundbreaking ceremony took place, drew a blank. Tses residents know only of the glass factory because they read it in the newspapers.
If the claims around the project were more rational, perhaps I would have shrugged this one off as just another scheme. But to claim contracts worth billions and to throw an employment figure of 40,000 around, is stretching the imagination.
I think what captures my attention most, is the claim last year that the government will take up shareholding in Tses Glass to the tune of N$800 million. This immediately brought back flashes of a couple a million, or even a hundred million going missing at parastatals by self-styled investment managers, a series of crimes which to this day has not been investigated, or the funds recovered.
Was this N$800 million claim the missing link I was looking for? It is entirely speculative on my side, but if the promotor claims these outrageous figures, participation and contribution, is Tses Glass not a grandiose scheme to pave yet another way between government coffers and a very small number of insider beneficiaries. There is already much visible government activity with the water projects. This presence is supported by the number of GRN vehicles in Tses. It must be the settlement with the highest GRN vehicle to number of residents ratio, in the entire country. But I suppose, these are needed to make sure the projects go as planned.