New Immigration Policy, business reforms take shape
President Mokgweetsi Masisi has announced plans to introduce more reforms aimed at improving the ease of doing business in Botswana, with immigration being indicated as a key component of the reforms.
Delivering his second State of Nation Address since taking office, Masisi, who has already began some reforms, said his Government will continuously improve the business environment and competitiveness of enterprises through close monitoring and evaluation of all processes and procedures, as well as the regulatory framework with a view to remove impediments.
“To facilitate the ease of doing business in the country, Government is reviewing both the Immigration Act to make sure that it effectively enables the employment of non-citizens and the Point Based System is to make the assessment of work permit applications fair, objective and more transparent,” Masisi said. “The automation of the work permit process will be carried out to improve the turn-around time for the processing of applications.”
Masisi said Government is in the process of developing a secure and integrated system that will interface the business sector with the immigration and civil registration systems to ensure service efficiency by Government. “This will be achieved through facilitation of online services especially for critical functions such as VISA applications, the processing of Work and Residence Permits and the development of the Electronic Identity Document,” he said.
The task of facilitating friendly Immigration Policies will be spearheaded by the new Minister of Nationality, Immigration and Gender Affairs, Anna Mokgethi. “When I took Office, I promised to create jobs and this cannot be achieved without rolling out the red carpet for sustainable and impactful investment. We are challenged by our market size as an economy, therefore we must come up with deliberate interventions to promote export oriented businesses which will be achieved through the Botswana Export Development Programme (BEDP), the Special Economic Zones (SEZ’s) and regional integration,” he said.
Masisi indicated that as part of his Government’s efforts, the Online Business Registration (OBRS), which went live in June this year, has resulted in the reduction of the Starting-a-Business Indicator processes from nine to seven days, as it has combined name reservation, declaration and registration to become a single service. The OBRS, according to Masisi, has also reduced the average turn-around time for companies and business name registration as well as the Starting-a-Business sub-indicator from an average of five days to one day and from Forty eight (48) days to thirty seven (37) days, respectively.
The integration of the OBRS with other systems such as that of the Botswana Unified Revenue Service (BURS), the Civil and National Registration system and the Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Board (PPADB) has been completed and is operational, Masisi stated.
Government is also in the process of amending the Environmental Impact Assessment Act and its Regulations with a view to reducing the turn-around time for evaluating the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) project documents.
Masisi said the review of the EIA legislative instruments has taken long due to the consultative and technically complex nature of the process, but it is anticipated that this will be concluded during the current financial year. “To further improve starting a business, Government has enacted both the Trade and Industrial Development Amendment Acts, which will go a long way in reducing the number of days for starting a business in Botswana from 48 to 13 days,” he said.
“This has enabled Government to do away with licensing of businesses that do not have health and safety risks. The licenses will now be issued over the counter thus enhancing the country’s performance in the country’s Competiveness Index.” The Industrial Policy of 2014 will also be reviewed, supposedly to align it with the aspirations of both the National Vision 2036, as well as the dictates of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Government has also reviewed the land policy that will facilitate citizens to use their land productively by enabling a mixed use of land approach. This is meant to empower Batswana and the guidelines pertaining to this policy have been distributed to members of the public approach.
How problematic was immigration?
During his first press conference soon after taking office, Masisi indicated his desire to transform the Immigration Policy and make it an “enabler” as opposed to “frustrator” as it was the case during his predecessor’s administration. The sentiments that Botswana’s migration was a hindrance to investment were shared by a state owned entity, Botswana Investments and Trade Centre’s (BITC), which has been mandated with promoting foreign direct investments and export promotion of locally manufactured goods.
In 2016, then Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of BITC, Letsebe Sejoe, when appearing before the Parliamentary Committee on Statutory Bodies and Public Enterprises, revealed that foreign investors were still finding it hard to pick Botswana as an ultimate place to do business because of the complications associated with running businesses in the country.
Sejoe, who has since left BITC under a cloud of controversy, told the committee that Botswana is entirely opposite to what it has the world perceiving it as. He listed Permits and VISAs as the biggest challenge facing investors as he noted that delays in issuing the two frustrates inventors who end up going to other countries such as Rwanda, which has built a more conducive environment for investors. The issue of permits and VISAs was then, reportedly handled by the Directorate on Intelligence and Security Services (DIS), which had unlimited discretion on who is accepted or rejected.
The parliament committee also heard that there was no turn-around time agreed on, and that the premises and VISAs could be rejected without explanation. Sejoe said part of solving the problem was to create a legal framework or policy which will guide certain procedures needed to facilitate business for companies lured by BITC to do business in Botswana.
“For instance, in countries like Mauritius, they have what they call silent means approval. If a permit is supposed to be processed within 24 hours and there is no response after that time, the applicant has the right to go ahead because lack of response shows no objection,” he said. “Government does not appreciate the enormous impact foreign direct investment can make in the country’s economy. We have this attitude of treating everyone the same. There is also lack of appreciation of frustration experienced by these investors,” Sejoe told the committee.
Sejoe said not only were new investors facing problems of permits, but that foreign owned companies, some of which have employed hundreds of citizens, were facing the same problem when they want to renew their permits. “Botswana is not an open economy like we say we are to the world. There are people who have been doing business in Botswana for over 30 years and Government rejected their application for citizenship over the period and all of a sudden they were told to go,” he said.
“Investors are cagey on this. Some who are already doing business in Botswana are sceptical about expanding their business because their future in Botswana is uncertain. Investors need certainty and some level of predictability,” he further advised. The Immigration Policy was central to frustration of many sectors including tourism, which is Botswana’s second highest revenue earner after minerals. The tourism industry has also been hit hard as rejection of VISAs for tourists who wanted to visit the country went high.
According to Ministry of Environment, Natural Resource Conservation and Tourism, the number of tourists visiting Botswana has been declining in recent years. In 2015, another Public Accounts Committee (PAC), was told that for the financial year ending March 2015, Botswana lost P4 billion worth of investment, as investors who could not secure businesses in Botswana shifted their focus elsewhere. There was concern that Botswana was quickly earning a bad name for its self as its image as a friendly and welcoming nation had started to fade away.
Indications were that countries like India, and China, who are one of the biggest investors in Botswana’s economy, were rejected in recent years, compelling them to look elsewhere. DIS’s involvement in VISA process saw even accounting officers at Immigration being left in the dark as to why some foreign nationals were placed on VISA restriction, contrary to the agreement between their countries and Botswana.
Countries like South Africa, United States, and United Kingdom have a diplomatic agreement with Botswana that their nationals do not require VISAs to visit Botswana.Notwithstanding that, the department of Immigration has placed some citizens from these countries on VISA restrictions and those nationals have on several occasions been denied entry into Botswana.
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Malawi appeals for help over Cyclone Freddy at PAP
As of yesterday evening, the death toll from the Cyclone in Malawi had risen from the initially reported 190 to 225 in a short period of time, over 20 000 people have been displaced, and the worst of fears are yet to come as the fatalities continue to mount. This was reported by a Malawi Member of Parliament attending the Pan African Parliament session in Midrand, South Africa, Hon Steven Mikiya.
Mikiya was giving a statement on behalf of Malawi as the ongoing Pan African Parliament in South Africa.
Mikiya said the Cyclone has wreaked the most havoc in our country’s Southern Region. “The Southern Region, has been hardest hit with widespread heavy rains and strong winds. This caused a rapid rise in water levels and subsequent flooding. Meanwhile, power supply has been disrupted, roads blocked off and rendered impassable and mudslides have also been widely reported,” he said.
He made a special appeal to the PAP: “Where I come from, there is a parable which I would like to share with you which says, “mzako weniweni umamudziwa panthawi ya mavuto.” Simply put, a friend in need is a friend indeed or put loosely, a person who helps at a difficult time is a friend you can rely on.”
Mikiya continued: “Yes! Misfortune has knocked on our door and left in its wake a trail of death and destruction that may take years to fully recover from. However, amidst these difficulties, I have every reason to believe that sometimes when you are in a dark place and think you have been buried, you have actually been planted. My belief, Mr. President, arises out of my faith in this gathering and out of the conviction that it is not coincidental that Cyclone Freddy hit Malawi and Mozambique while the delegations of both countries are here.”
According to Mikiya, the level of destruction, the loss of life, property and the decimation of the entire fabric of established communities has been unprecedented. He noted that all this, is coming at a time when Malawi was starting to show signs of recovery from the deadly COVID-19 pandemic that also came hard on the heels of Cyclone Ana and Cyclone Gombe that left a similar trail of devastation and destruction in Malawi and neighbouring countries.
As of Sunday, this week, from the 12th of March, Malawi and Mozambique have been facing the devastating effects of Cyclone Freddy that made a landfall over Mozambique on Saturday the 11th and reached Malawi by Sunday the 12th of March.
The Malawi legislator said he has absolute faith in the Pan African Parliament, which he described as “a league of nations brought together by a shared ancestry, history, identity as well as our beloved continent which we inhabit”.
Meanwhile, Malawi President, Lazarus Chakwera, has declared a State of Disaster in the affected areas effectively appealing for local and international support for the affected families.
Mikiya appealed to the Pan African Parliament drawing “positive” inspiration from Europe which rallied around Turkey after the destructive earthquakes to bring the much-needed relief and humanitarian aid to the people of Turkey.
He said Africa should demonstrate to the world that the African Union and its Organs are not mere talk shows, but effective institutions which stand up when it matters most.
“Alone, it may take us a lifetime to fully recover, but together, in the Pan-Africanist spirit of Ubuntu, our lives and livelihoods will return to a semblance of normality in record time. This is the time to live by our operative mantra, “One Africa, One Voice.” Mikiya concluded.