The ever on and off Morupule B Power Station is, according to latest research and statistical reports, almost short circuiting this country’s economy as its operational woes are infecting the country’s GDP, coal production and Botswana Power Corporation(BPC) credit rating.
Recently, when assigning a rating to power utility BPC, internationally respected credited rating agency, Moody's Investors Service gave the corporation a Baa2 rating but not without taking out from the good credit. What dented BPC’s good marks was Morupule B, which is said to be delayed in construction and will not be fully available to supply this country’s growing electricity demand. Botswana will remain less electricity sufficient until 2023, as it is the year which the works of Morupule B is expected to fully complete. Morupule B is currently undergoing remediation programme on its boilers.
“Moody's assessment of very high support for the company were revised downwards. In addition, severe delays or uncertainty around the remediation programme of Morupule B plant could also put downward pressure on the rating,” said Moody’s recent report on BPC highlighting operational challenges facing BPC.
Because of Morupule B woes, Moody’s expects upward rating pressure is unlikely to be in the medium term. According to Moody’s, its rating also reflects the company's significant asset concentration and poor asset quality, with multiple design and construction issues affecting output from BPC's coal fired plants. The poor reliability of its power plants increases Botswana's reliance on electricity imports reducing visibility over the company's internally generated cash flows, says Moody’s.
“While the Morupule A power plant (132 megawatt (MW) is expected to come back fully online this year, the remediation programme for the larger Morupule B power plant (600 MW), has only started and there is uncertainty around the improvement in the plant's availability once the works have been completed in 2023, as per the current schedule,” said Moody’s.
Moody’s assessment comes after the third quarter of 2019, when the 600MW Morupule B was said to be “fully operational” and this was for the first time since its seven years of woes. There was much hope after BPC injected a P1.2 billion overhaul on Morupule B. Since its inception in 2012, as an expansionary projection to Morupule A, Morupule B lived on four years and had a documented exposure of it failing to launch due to poor design.
After coming with much fanfare from as an answer to Botswana’s growing power demand, this country was left to go back to the drawing board of reliance on its insufficient 120MW, Morupule A plant and two emergency diesel plants with output of 195MW. Botswana was left to starve for electricity as South Africa’s Eskom became increasingly unreliable and was slowly pulling out the socket that supplies Botswana.
Adding to depression of BPC crediting by Moody’s pointing a finger towards Morupule B, is the latest Statistics Botswana Gross Domestic Product (GDP) report for the quarter under review (Q3) released in December which says the plant was not operating at full capacity. The report showed a decrease in the Electricity real value added which attributed to a decline in the local electricity production by 39.6 percent. Furthermore, imports of Electricity went up by 119.6 percent during the quarter under review (Q3).
Statistics Botswana said the significant decrease in local Electricity production were largely due to reduced performance of the Morupule B Power Station which was not operating at full capacity. Another report which shows Morupule B to be hampering Botswana’s economy is the Index of the Physical Volume of Mining Production by Statistics Botswana, which also lays all the blame on the same plant for sabotaging coal production. The report says the decline in coal production is mainly as a result of low uptake by Morupule B Power station.
“Coal production dropped by 28.6 percent during the third quarter of 2019, compared to production registered during the same quarter of the previous year, the decline is mainly as a result of low uptake by Morupule B Power station which has resumed remedial works on the boilers. Although production fell, it is important to note that there was no shortfall in supply of coal due to stockpiling undertaken during the previous months. The quarter-on-quarter comparison, likewise, reflects a decrease of 23.5 percent when compared to the preceding quarter,” said the Index of the Physical Volume of Mining Production.
However, a report contradicting assessment and statistical information which paints a gloomy picture and far-fetched hope on Morupule B progress was also released recently. The recent Electricity Generation and Distribution Q3 2019 report which acknowledges the plant’s major contribution on domestic electricity production saying it eases Botswana’s over-reliance on electricity imports.
According to the Electricity Generation and Distribution Q3, when looking at the quarter-on-quarter comparison being Q2 versus Q3, it shows an increase of 16.0 percent, from 96.0 during the second quarter of 2019 to 111.3 during the current quarter. According to Statistics Botswana, the Index of Electricity Generation stood at 111.3 during the third quarter of 2019, reflecting a year-on-year decrease of 39.6 percent compared to 184.3 recorded during the corresponding quarter in 2018.
According to the national statistics, the quarter-on-quarter perspective shows that local electricity generation increased by 16.0 percent from 403, 576 MWH during the second quarter of 2019 to 467, 974 MWH during the period under review. The 16.0 percent increase is said to emanate from improved performance of power generators at the Morupule B power station during the current quarter.
When comparing the corresponding quarters, the Q3 of 2018 and 2019, the physical volume of electricity generated decreased by 39.6 percent, from 774,822 MWH during the third quarter of 2018 to 467,974 MWH during the current quarter. Morupule B also became the MVP of the quarter under review as it helped Botswana to import less electricity from South Africa’s less sufficient Eskom. In Q3 of 2019 Eskom was the main source of imported electricity at 58.5 percent of total electricity imports.
After a new power deal signed last year, Electricidade de Mozambique supplied 20.7 percent while 14.9 percent, 4.5 percent and 1.4 percent were sourced from the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP), Cross-border markets and Namibia’s Nampower respectively. When looking at the quarter-on-quarter comparison, there is a decrease of 3.4 percent (17,906 MWH), from 522,021 MWH during the second quarter of 2019 to 504,115 MWH during the period under review.
This decrease in imported electricity is attributed to improvement in local generation, jumpstarted by improvement of Morupule B. However the physical volume of imported electricity increased by 119.7 percent (274,688 MWH), from 229,427 MWH during the third quarter of 2018 to 504,115 MWH during the current quarter.Contribution of Electricity Generation to Distribution
According to Statistics Botswana electricity generated locally contributed 48.1 percent to electricity distributed during the third quarter of 2019, compared to a contribution of 77.2 percent during the same quarter in 2018. This gives a decrease of 29.1 percentage points. On the other hand, said the National Electricity Statistics, a quarter-on-quarter comparison shows that the contribution of electricity generated to electricity distributed during the current quarter increased by 4.5 percentage points compared to the 43.6 percent contribution of locally generated electricity during the second quarter of 2019.
Most of Botswana’s electricity has been imported from South Africa’s power utility, Eskom, but in 2008 South Africa’s electricity demand started to exceed its supply resulting in the country restricting power exports. For more than a decade Botswana has been struggling with electricity imported from South Africa, as dependency on the country’s electricity import became increasingly unreliable, hence government efforts to increase local generation of electricity at Morupule Power Station. The Morupule Power A plant has a capacity of 132 MWH and was augmented with Morupule Power B, which is to have a capacity of 600 MWH upon completion. but has been dogged with scandals and lack of or slow progress.
This century is always looking at improving new super high speed technology to make life easier. On the other hand, beckoning as an emerging fierce reversal force to equally match or dominate this life enhancing super new tech, comes swift human adversaries which seem to have come to make living on earth even more difficult.
The recent discovery of a pandemic, Covid-19, which moves at a pace of unimaginable and unpredictable proportions; locking people inside homes and barring human interactions with its dreaded death threat, is currently being felt.
Member of Parliament for Kanye North, Thapelo Letsholo has cautioned Government against excessive borrowing and poorly managed debt levels.
He was speaking in Parliament on Tuesday delivering Parliament’s Finance Committee report after assessing a motion that sought to raise Government Bond program ceiling to P30 billion, a big jump from the initial P15 Billion.
Government Investment Account (GIA) which forms part of the Pula fund has been significantly drawn down to finance Botswana’s budget deficits since 2008/09 Global financial crises.
The 2009 global economic recession triggered the collapse of financial markets in the United States, sending waves of shock across world economies, eroding business sentiment, and causing financiers of trade to excise heightened caution and hold onto their cash.
The ripple effects of this economic catastrophe were mostly felt by low to middle income resource based economies, amplifying their vulnerability to external shocks. The diamond industry which forms the gist of Botswana’s economic make up collapsed to zero trade levels across the entire value chain.
The Upstream, where Botswana gathers much of its diamond revenue was adversely impacted by muted demand in the Midstream. The situation was exacerbated by zero appetite of polished goods by jewelry manufacturers and retail outlets due to lowered tail end consumer demand.
This resulted in sharp decline of Government revenue, ballooned budget deficits and suspension of some developmental projects. To finance the deficit and some prioritized national development projects, government had to dip into cash balances, foreign reserves and borrow both externally and locally.
Much of drawing was from Government Investment Account as opposed to drawing from foreign reserve component of the Pula Fund; the latter was spared as a fiscal buffer for the worst rainy days.
Consequently this resulted in significant decline in funds held in the Government Investment Account (GIA). The account serves as Government’s main savings depository and fund for national policy objectives.
However as the world emerged from the 2009 recession government revenue graph picked up to pre recession levels before going down again around 2016/17 owing to challenges in the diamond industry.
Due to a number of budget surpluses from 2012/13 financial year the Government Investment Account started expanding back to P30 billion levels before a series of budget deficits in the National Development Plan 11 pushed it back to decline a decline wave.
When the National Development Plan 11 commenced three (3) financial years ago, government announced that the first half of the NDP would run at budget deficits.
This as explained by Minister of Finance in 2017 would be occasioned by decline in diamond revenue mainly due to government forfeiting some of its dividend from Debswana to fund mine expansion projects.
Cumulatively since 2017/18 to 2019/20 financial year the budget deficit totaled to over P16 billion, of which was financed by both external and domestic borrowing and drawing down from government cash balances. Drawing down from government cash balances meant significant withdrawals from the Government Investment Account.
The Government Investment Account (GIA) was established in accordance with Section 35 of the Bank of Botswana Act Cap. 55:01. The Account represents Government’s share of the Botswana‘s foreign exchange reserves, its investment and management strategies are aligned to the Bank of Botswana’s foreign exchange reserves management and investment guidelines.
Government Investment Account, comprises of Pula denominated deposits at the Bank of Botswana and held in the Pula Fund, which is the long-term investment tranche of the foreign exchange reserves.
In June 2017 while answering a question from Bogolo Kenewendo, the then Minister of Finance & Economic Development Kenneth Mathambo told parliament that as of June 30, 2017, the total assets in the Pula Fund was P56.818 billion, of which the balance in the GIA was P30.832 billion.
Kenewendo was still a back bench specially elected Member of Parliament before ascending to cabinet post in 2018. Last week Minister of Finance & Economic Development, Dr Thapelo Matsheka, when presenting a motion to raise government local borrowing ceiling from P15 billion to P30 Billion told parliament that as of December 2019 Government Investment Account amounted to P18.3 billion.
Dr Matsheka further told parliament that prior to financial crisis of 2008/9 the account amounted to P30.5 billion (41 % of GDP) in December of 2008 while as at December 2019 it stood at P18.3 billion (only 9 % of GDP) mirroring a total decline by P11 billion in the entire 11 years.
Back in 2017 Parliament was also told that the Government Investment Account may be drawn-down or added to, in line with actuations in the Government’s expenditure and revenue outturns. “This is intended to provide the Government with appropriate funds to execute its functions and responsibilities effectively and efficiently” said Mathambo, then Minister of Finance.
Acknowledging the need to draw down from GIA no more, current Minister of Finance Dr Matsheka said “It is under this background that it would be advisable to avoid excessive draw down from this account to preserve it as a financial buffer”
He further cautioned “The danger with substantially reduced financial buffers is that when an economic shock occurs or a disaster descends upon us and adversely affects our economy it becomes very difficult for the country to manage such a shock”