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.
The Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP)’s decision to reject and appeal the High Court’s verdict on a case involving High Court Judge, Dr Zein Kebonang has frustrated the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) and Judge Kebonang’s back to work discussions.
JSC and Kebonang have been in constant discussions over the latter’s return to work following a ruling by a High Court panel of judges clearing him of any wrong doing in the National Petroleum Fund criminal case filed by the DPP. However the finalization of the matter has been hanged on whether the DPP will appeal the matter or not – the prosecution body has since appealed.
Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) top brass has declined a request by Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) to negotiate the legal fees occasioned by 2019 general elections petition in which the latter disputed in court the outcome of the elections.
This publication is made aware that UDC Vice President Dumelang Saleshando was left with an egg on his face after the BDP big wigs, comprising of party Chairman Slumber Tsogwane and Secretary General Mpho Balopi rejected his plea.
“He was told that this is a legal matter and therefore their (UDC) lawyer should engage ours (BDP) for negotiations because it is way far from our jurisdiction,” BDP Head of Communications, Kagelelo Kentse, told this publication.
This spelt doom for the main opposition party and Saleshando who seems not to have confidence and that the UDC lawyers have the dexterity to negotiate these kind of matters. It is not clear whether Saleshando requested UDC lawyer Boingotlo Toteng to sit at the table with Bogopa Manewe, Tobedza and Co, who are representing the BDP to strike a deal as per the BDP top echelons suggested.
“From my understanding, the matter is dealt with politically as the two parties are negotiating how to resolve it, but by far nothing has come to me on the matter. So I believe they are still substantively engaging each other,” Toteng said briefly in an interview on Thursday.
UDC petitioners saddled with costs after mounting an unprecedented legal suit before the court to try and overturn BDP’s October 2019 victory. The participants in the legal matter involves 15 parliamentary candidates’ and nine councillors. The UDC petitioned the court and contested the outcome of the elections citing “irregularities in some of the constituencies”.
In a brief ruling in January 2020, Judge President Ian Kirby on behalf of a five-member panel said: “We have no jurisdiction to entertain these appeals. These appeals must be struck out each with costs including costs of counsel”. This was a second blow to the UDC in about a month after their 2019 appeals were dismissed by the High Court a day before Christmas Day.
This week BDP attorneys decided to attach UDC petitioners’ property in a bid to settle the debts. UDC President Duma Boko is among those that will see their property being attached with 14 of his party members. “We have attached some and we are on course. So far, Dr. Mpho Pheko (who contested Gaborone Central) and that of Dr, Micus Chimbombi (who contested Kgalagadi South) will have their assets being sold on the 5th of February 2021,” BDP attorney Basimane Bogopa said.
Asked whether they met with UDC lawyers to try solve the matter, Bogopa said no and added. “Remember we are trying to raise the client’s funds, so after these two others will follow. Right now we are just prioritising those from Court of Appeal, as soon as the high court is done with taxation we will attach.”
Saleshando, when contacted about the outcomes of the meeting with the BDP, told WeekendPost that: “It would not be proper and procedural for me to tell you about the meeting outcomes before I share with UDC National Executive Committee (NEC), so I will have to brief them first.”
UDC NEC will meet on the 20th of next month to deal with a number of thorny issues including settling the legal fees. Negotiations with other opposition parties- Alliance for Progressives and Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) are also on the agenda.
Currently, UDC has raised P44 238 of the P565 000 needed to cover bills from the Court of Appeal (CoA). This is the amount in a UDC trust account which is paltry funds equating 7.8 per cent of the overall required money. In the past despite the petitioners maintaining that there was promise to assist them to settle legal fees, UDC Spokesperson, Moeti Mohwasa then said the party has never agreed in no way to help them.
“We have just been put in debt by someone,” one of the petitioners told this publication in the past. “President’s (Duma Boko) message was clear at the beginning that money has been sourced somewhere to help with the whole process but now we are here there is nothing and we are just running around trying to make ends meet and pay,” added the petitioner in an interview UDC NEC has in December last year directed all the 57 constituencies to each raise a minimum of P10, 000. The funds will be used to settle debts that are currently engulfing the petitioners with Sheriffs, who are already hovering around ready to attach their assets.
The petitioners, despite the party intervention, have every right to worry. “This is so because ‘the deadline for this initiative (P10, 000 per constituency) is the end of the first quarter of this year (2021),” a period in which the sheriffs would have long auctioned the properties.
President of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) Duma Boko’s alliance with former President Lt Gen Ian Khama continues to unsettle some quarters within the opposition collective, who believe the duo, if not managed, will once again result in an unsuccessful bid for government in 2024.
While Khama has denied that he has undeclared preference to have Boko remaining as leader of UDC, many believe that the two have a common programme, while other opposition leaders remain on the side-lines.