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.
Lebang Mpotokwane, one of the conveners who presided over the opposition cooperation talks that resulted in the formation of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), has advised against changing the current umbrella model in favour of a merger as proposed by others.
The Botswana Congress Party (BCP) leader, Dumelang Saleshando recently went public to propose that UDC should consider merging of all opposition parties, including Alliance for Progressives (AP) and Botswana Patriotic Front (BNF).
Saleshando has been vehemently opposed by Botswana National Front (BNF), which is in favour of maintaining the current model. BNF’s position has been favoured by the founding father of UDC, who warned that it will be too early to ditch the current model.
“UDC should be well developed to promote the spirit of togetherness on members and the members should be taught so that the merger is developed gradually. They should approach it cautiously. If they feel they are ready, they can, but it would not be a good idea,” Mpotokwane told WeekendPost this week.
Mpotokwane and Emang Maphanyane are the two men who have since 2003 began a long journey of uniting opposition parties in a bid to dethrone the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BCP) as they felt it needed a strong opposition to avoid complacency.
Tonota born Mpotokwane is however disappointed on how they have been ejected from participating in the last edition of talks ahead of the 2019 general elections in which BCP was brought on board. However, despite the ejection, Mpotokwane is not resentful to the opposition collective.
He said the vision of opposition unity was to ultimately merge the opposition parties but he believes time has not arrived yet to pursue that path. “The bigger picture was a total merger and we agreed that with three independent parties, members might be against merger eventuality so the current model should be used until a point where they are now together for as long as possible,” he said.
“UDC should gradually perform better in elections and gain confidence. They should not rush the merger. We have been meeting since 2003, but if they rush it might cause endless problems. If they are ready they can anyway,” he advised. For now the constituent parties of the umbrella have been exchanging salvos with others (BCP and BNF).
“There are good reasons for and against merging the parties. Personally, I am in favour of merging the parties (including AP and BPF) into a single formation but I know it’s a complex mission that will have its own challenges,” Saleshando said when he made his position known a week ago.
“Good luck to those advocating for a merger, it will be interesting to observe the tactics they will use to lure the BPF into a merger,” former BNF councillor for Borakalalo Ward and former BNF Youth League Secretary General, Arafat Khan, opined in relation to BCP’s proposed position.
Mpotokwane, who is currently out in the cold from the UDC since he was ejected from the party’s NEC in 2017, said the current bickering and the expected negotiations with other parties need the presence of conveners.
“We did not belong to any party as conveners so we were objective in our submissions. If party propose any progressive idea we will support, if it is not we will not, so I would agree that even now conveners might be key for neutrality to avoid biasness,” he observed. Despite being abandoned, Mpotokwane said he will always be around to assist if at all he is needed.
“If they want help I will be there, I have always been clear about it, but surely I will ask few questions before accepting that role,” he said. UDC is expected to begin cooperation talks with both AP and BPF either this week or next weekend for both upcoming bye-elections (halted by Covid-19) and 2024 general elections and it is revealed that there will be no conveners this time around.
The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) moved through its lawyers to attach the property of Umbrella for Democratic (UDC) President Duma Boko and other former parliamentary contestants who failed in their court bid to overturn the 2019 general elections in 14 constituencies.
WeekendPost has established that this week, Deputy Sheriffs were commissioned by Bogopa Manewe Tobedza and Company who represented the BDP, to attach the properties of UDC elections contents in a bid to recover costs. High Court has issued a writ of execution against all petitioners, a process that has set in motion the cost recovery measures.
Botswana Sectors of Teachers Union (BOSETU) says COVID-19 as a pandemic has negatively affected the education sector by deeply disrupting the education system. The intermittent lockdowns have resulted in the halting of teaching and learning in schools.
The union indicated that the education system was caught napping and badly exposed when it came to the use of Information System (IT), technological platforms and issues of digitalisation.
“COVID-19 exposed glaring inefficiencies and deficiencies when it came to the use of ITC in schools. In view of the foregoing, we challenge government as BOSETU to invest in school ITC, technology and digitalization,” says BOSETU President Kinston Radikolo during a press conference on Tuesday.
As a consequence, the union is calling on government to prioritise education in her budgeting to provide technological infrastructure and equipment including provision of tablets to students and teachers.
“Government should invest vigorously in internet connectivity in schools and teacher’s residences if the concept of flexi-hours and virtual learning were to be achieved and have desired results,” Radikolo said.
Radikolo told journalists that COVID-19 is likely to negatively affect final year results saying that the students would sit for the final examinations having not covered enough ground in terms of curriculum coverage.
“This is so because there wasn’t any catch up plan that was put in place to recover the lost time by students. We warn that this year’s final examination results would dwindle,” he said.
The Union, which is an affiliate of Botswana Federation of Public, Private and Parastatal Union (BOFEPUSU), also indicated that COVID-19’s presence as a pandemic has complicated the role of a teacher in a school environment, saying a teacher’s role has not only transcended beyond just facilitating teaching and learning, but rather, a teacher in this COVID-19 era, is also called upon to enforce the COVID-19 preventative protocols in the school environment.
“This is an additional role in the duty of a teacher that needs to be recognized by the employers. Teachers by virtue of working in a congested school environment have become highly exposed and vulnerable to COVID-19, hence the reason why BOSETU would like teachers to be regarded as the frontline workers with respect to COVID-19,” says Radikolo.
BOSETU noted that the pandemic has in large scales found its way into most of the school environments, as in thus far more than 50 schools have been affected by COVID-19. The Union says this is quite a worrying phenomenon.
“As we indicated before when we queried that schools were not ready for re-opening, it has now come to pass that our fears were not far-fetched. This goes out to tell that there is deficiency in our schools when it comes to putting in place preventative protocols. In our schools, hygiene is compromised by mere absence of sanitizers, few hand-washing stations, absence of social distancing in classes,” the Union leader said.
Furthermore, Radikolo stressed that the shifting system drastically increased the workload for teachers especially in secondary schools. He says teachers in these schools experience very high loads to an extent that some of them end up teaching up to sixty four periods per week, adding that this has not only fatigued teachers, but has also negatively affected their performance and the quality of teaching.
In what the Union sees as failure to uphold and honour collective agreements by government, owing to the shift system introduced at primary schools, government is still in some instances refusing to honour an agreement with the Unions to hire more teachers to take up the extra classes.
“BOSETU notes with disgruntlement the use of pre-school teachers to teach in the mainstream schools with due regard for their specific areas of training and their job descriptions. This in our view is a variation of the terms of employment of the said teachers,” says Radikolo.
The Union has called on government to forthwith remedy this situation and hire more teachers to alleviate this otherwise unhealthy situation. BOSETU also expressed concerns of some school administrators who continuously run institutions with iron fists and in a totalitarian way.
“We have a few such hot spot schools which the Union has brought to attention the Ministry officials such as Maoka JSS, Artesia JSS, and Dukwi JSS. We are worried that the Ministry becomes sluggish in taking action against such errant school administration. In instances where action is taken, such school administrators are transferred and rotated around schools.”