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Friday, 19 April 2024

New Immigration Policy, business reforms take shape

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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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Nigerians, Zimbabweans apply for Chema Chema Fund

16th April 2024

Fronting activities, where locals are used as a front for foreign-owned businesses, have been a long-standing issue in Botswana. These activities not only undermine the government’s efforts to promote local businesses but also deprive Batswana of opportunities for economic empowerment, officials say. The Ministry of Trade and Industry has warned of heavy penalties for those involved in fronting activities especially in relation to the latest popular government initiative dubbed Chema Chema.

According to the Ministry, the Industrial Development Act of 2019 clearly outlines the consequences of engaging in fronting activities. The fines of up to P50,000 for first-time offenders and P20,000 plus a two-year jail term for repeat offenders send a strong message that the government is serious about cracking down on this illegal practice. These penalties are meant to deter individuals from participating in fronting activities and to protect the integrity of local industries.

“It is disheartening to hear reports of collaboration between foreigners and locals to exploit government initiatives such as the Chema Chema Fund. This fund, administered by CEDA and LEA, is meant to support informal traders and low-income earners in Botswana. However, when fronting activities come into play, the intended beneficiaries are sidelined, and the funds are misused for personal gain.” It has been discovered that foreign nationals predominantly of Zimbabwean and Nigerian origin use unsuspecting Batswana to attempt to access the Chema Chema Fund. It is understood that they approach these Batswana under the guise of drafting business plans for them or simply coming up with ‘bankable business ideas that qualify for Chema Chema.’

Observers say the Chema Chema Fund has the potential to uplift the lives of many Batswana who are struggling to make ends meet. They argue that it is crucial that these funds are used for their intended purpose and not siphoned off through illegal activities such as fronting. The Ministry says the warning it issued serves as a reminder to all stakeholders involved in the administration of these funds to ensure transparency and accountability in their disbursement.

One local commentator said it is important to highlight the impact of fronting activities on the local economy and the livelihoods of Batswana. He said by using locals as a front for foreign-owned businesses, opportunities for local entrepreneurs are stifled, and the economic empowerment of Batswana is hindered. The Ministry’s warning of heavy penalties is a call to action for all stakeholders to work together to eliminate fronting activities and promote a level playing field for local businesses.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Trade and Industry’s warning of heavy penalties for fronting activities is a necessary step to protect the integrity of local industries and promote economic empowerment for Batswana. “It is imperative that all stakeholders comply with regulations and work towards a transparent and accountable business environment. By upholding the law and cracking down on illegal activities, we can ensure a fair and prosperous future for all Batswana.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Merck Foundation and African First Ladies mark World Health Day 2024

15th April 2024

Merck Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Merck KGaA Germany marks “World Health Day” 2024 together with Africa’s First Ladies who are also Ambassadors of MerckFoundation “More Than a Mother” Campaign through their Scholarship and Capacity Building Program. Senator, Dr. Rasha Kelej, CEO of Merck Foundation emphasized, “At Merck Foundation, we mark World Health Day every single day of the year over the past 12 years, by building healthcare capacity and transforming patient care across Africa, Asia and beyond.

I am proud to share that Merck Foundation has provided over 1740 scholarships to aspiring young doctors from 52 countries, in 44 critical and underserved medical specialties such as Oncology, Diabetes, Preventative Cardiovascular Medicine, Endocrinology, Sexual and Reproductive Medicine, Acute Medicine, Respiratory Medicine, Embryology & Fertility specialty, Gastroenterology, Dermatology, Psychiatry, Emergency and Resuscitation Medicine, Critical Care, Pediatric Emergency Medicine, Neonatal Medicine, Advanced Surgical Practice, Pain Management, General Surgery, Clinical Microbiology and infectious diseases, Internal Medicine, Trauma & Orthopedics, Neurosurgery, Neurology, Cardiology, Stroke Medicine, Care of the Older Person, Family Medicine, Pediatrics and Child Health, Obesity & Weight Management, Women’s Health, Biotechnology in ART and many more”.

As per the available data, Africa has only 34.6% of the required doctors, nurses, and midwives. It is projected that by 2030, Africa would need additional 6.1 million doctors, nurses, and midwives*. “For Example, before the start of the Merck Foundation programs in 2012; there was not a single Oncologist, Fertility or Reproductive care specialists, Diabetologist, Respiratory or ICU specialist in many countries such as The Gambia, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Central African Republic, Guinea, Burundi, Niger, Chad, Ethiopia, Namibia among others. We are certainly creating historic legacy in Africa, and also beyond. Together with our partners like Africa’s First Ladies, Ministries of Health, Gender, Education and Communication, we are impacting the lives of people in the most disadvantaged communities in Africa and beyond.”, added Senator Dr. Kelej. Merck Foundation works closely with their Ambassadors, the African First Ladies and local partners such as; Ministries of Health, Education, Information & Communication, Gender, Academia, Research Institutions, Media and Art in building healthcare capacity and addressing health, social & economic challenges in developing countries and under-served communities. “I strongly believe that training healthcare providers and building professional healthcare capacity is the right strategy to improve access to equitable and quality at health care in Africa.

Therefore, I am happy to announce the Call for Applications for 2024 Scholarships for young doctors with special focus on female doctors for our online one-year diploma and two year master degree in 44 critical and underserved medical specialties, which includes both Online Diploma programs and On-Site Fellowship and clinical training programs. The applications are invited through the Office of our Ambassadors and long-term partners, The First Ladies of Africa and Ministry of Health of each country.” shared Dr . Kelej. “Our aim is to improve the overall health and wellbeing of people by building healthcare capacity across Africa, Asia and other developing countries. We are strongly committed to transforming patientcare landscape through our scholarships program”, concluded Senator Kelej.

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Interpol fugitive escapes from Botswana

15th April 2024

John Isaak Ndovi, a Tanzanian national embroiled in controversy and pursued under a red notice by the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol), has mysteriously vanished, bypassing a scheduled bail hearing at the Extension 2 Magistrate Court in Gaborone. Previously apprehended by Botswana law enforcement at the Tlokweng border post several months earlier, his escape has ignited serious concerns.

Accused of pilfering assets worth in excess of P1 million, an amount translating to roughly 30,000 Omani Riyals, Ndovi has become a figure of paramount interest, especially to the authorities in the Sultanate of Oman, nestled in the far reaches of Asia.

The unsettling news of his disappearance surfaced following his failure to present himself at the Extension 2 Magistrate Court the preceding week. Speculation abounds that Ndovi may have sought refuge in South Africa in a bid to elude capture, prompting a widespread mobilization of law enforcement agencies to ascertain his current location.

In an official communiqué, Detective Senior Assistant Police Commissioner Selebatso Mokgosi of Interpol Gaborone disclosed Ndovi’s apprehension last September at the Tlokweng border, a capture made possible through the vigilant issuance of the Interpol red notice.

At 36, Ndovi is implicated in a case of alleged home invasion in Oman. Despite the non-existence of an extradition treaty between Botswana and Oman, Nomsa Moatswi, the Director of the Directorate of Public Prosecution (DPP), emphasized that the lack of formal extradition agreements does not hinder her office’s ability to entertain extradition requests. She highlighted the adoption of international cooperation norms, advocating for collaboration through the lenses of international comity and reciprocity.

Moatswi disclosed the intensified effort by law enforcement to locate Ndovi following his no-show in court, and pointed to Botswana’s track record of extraditing two international fugitives from France and Zimbabwe in the previous year as evidence of the country’s relentless pursuit of legal integrity.

When probed about the potential implications of Ndovi’s case on Botswana’s forthcoming evaluation by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), Moatswi reserved her speculations. She acknowledged the criticality of steering clear of blacklisting, suggesting that this singular case is unlikely to feature prominently in the FATF’s assessment criteria.

 

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