This week Botswana celebrated her 53 years of independence, a sterling economic marathon and democratic transition that began over 5 decades ago, anchored and pivoted on dedicated civil service and selfless leadership across the political divide.
Much credit goes to stalwarts in nation building, right from the immerse contribution of tribal leaders, politicians to early post-independence civil servants who started building the landlocked country’s economy from absolutely nothing. Fundamental to Botswana‘s rapid economic transformation is the discovery of what would later become one of the world’s key rough diamonds mining operation ,bolstering infrastructural development and birthing an upper middle income country widely celebrated across the globe today.
Immediately after independence was declared in 1966,British administration slowly removed its aid and financial assistance, Botswana now , though still assisted on setting up was left by in large to fend for itself, however sooner than later a complete turnaround would emerge. Three years post-independence, after over 10 years of immerse geological prospecting, Botswana‘s first diamond mine was found in Boteti District. A team of De Beers’ geologists discovered what today is the largest diamond mine by area and one of the most important industrial diamonds mining operation in the world, the bold and magnificent Orapa mine, loosely translated to mean a resting place of lions in Sesarwa language.
This birthed what would later become the world’s leading rough diamond producer and a globally celebrated Private-Public Partnership, between Mining giants De Beers Group and Government of Botswana, De Beers Botswana Diamond Mining Company was formed in 1969. In 1971 Orapa Mine was officially commissioned, four years later a small gem pipeline discovered few kilometers from Orapa, Letlhakane Mine popularly known today as DK1 was commissioned. But behold a sparkling upswing came into light in 1972 when a rare gem pipe was found beneath a 40 metre layer of sand and calcrete in the Naledi River Valley birthing Jwaneng Mine, the prince of mines , what is today believed to be the richest diamond mine by value.
FAST FORWARD TO 2019…
These two partners, Government of Botswana and De Beers Group are meeting to review and renew their vows, circumstances have changed, the global diamond industry has evolved, and various factors are at play. Key to negotiations which are reported to be ongoing in discrete places at London and in Gaborone is the Sales Agreement. The Botswana-De Beers diamond sales deal was last renewed into a 10 year union in 2010 and it lapses next year September 2020.
Recently reports have been rife that Botswana is being ripped off along the way as the stones leave Debswana operations crossing borders to diamond trading centers across the globe. However De Beers Group has constantly denied these reports. Government is yet to clearly comment on the reports.
To date on the overall, the De Beers-Botswana marriage has birthed Debswana Diamond Mining Company, the partnership’s flagship entity. This year the company celebrated 50 years of existence. Debswana is Botswana‘s largest private sector employer, only government employs more people than Debswana. The company is directly owned by Botswana Government and De Beers on 50-50 shareholding.
Another offspring of the partnership is Diamond Trading Company Botswana (DTCB), also a 50 -50 venture between the two parties .DTCB sorts and values diamond from Debswana mines. If there are to be changes from these multibillion dollar serious negations it’s likely to be from DTCB going up the pipeline.
DTCB avails 85 % of their sorted and valued diamonds to De Beers Global Sight holder Sales (DBGSS) and 15 % to Okavango Diamond Company (ODC) which is wholly owned by Botswana Government .This was birthed by 2011 agreement with ODC established in 2012. Another key change in 2011 was the relocation of DBGSS from London to Gaborone, transferring De Beers’ operations consolidated rough diamond sales into Gaborone, bringing alongside professionals, skills, and the world’s biggest rough diamond transactions to Africa.
ANTICIPATED INCREASE IN ODC UPTAKE
One of the highly earmarked outcomes to possible emerge from the negotiations is increase in percentage volume of ODC‘s uptake from DTCB. The argument has always been that Botswana as one of the largest diamond producers in the world has the capacity and ability to develop its own price book through its own independent window outside De Beers’ channels. Before ODC was establishment in 2012 all diamond recovered from Debswana mines were made available to De Beers for dispatch into the sight holder market.
Currently ODC rakes in sales in the region of $500 Million annually (approximately P5 billion). This according to Minister of Mineral Resources Eric Molale demonstrates beyond reasonable doubt that Botswana has independent capacity and ability to be a major player in the sight holder space outside De Beers’ bracket.
“The Marcus Te Haar led company was a great accomplishment for us a country, it ended a perception that we cannot sell our diamonds, and its sound performance since establishment will have direct impact in the current negotiation with a view to potentially increase its uptake form 15 % to a larger percentage” he said last year at a mining conference in Gaborone
DTCB TO SORT AND VALUE DIAMONDS FROM NON DE BEERS OPERATIONS
In 2006 the then sales agreement before the 2011 deal, saw the setting up of the world largest and most sophisticated sorting and valuing operation in Gaborone, the Diamond Trading Company Botswana. DTC Botswana was birthed from Botswana Diamond Sorting & Valuing Company, an entity that operated for many years at the famous Orapa house. DTCB is now located in a magnificent high rise cube in the Diamond Hub along the Gaborone airport road, a state of the art infrastructure clinched between Debswana Corporate Centre & DBGSS Buildings .
In 2017 DTCB commissioned a new facility of unparallel global standards, a laboratory of sophisticated chemical processes of quantum physics operations and complex scientific techniques for cleansing and sorting the diamonds. In February last year then Managing Director of DTCB Tobake Kobedi said DTCB with this set up intends to be the world‘s number 1 by 2020. He said by 2020 when a new sales agreement is penned down, DTCB intends to have improved its efficiencies and effectiveness as a rough diamond sorting and valuing operation and thus desires not to only be limited to receiving Debswana rough diamonds.
“Currently our shareholder agreement dictates that we sort diamonds from De Beers mines in Botswana only, but we want to say let more from elsewhere come because we have the capacity” said Tobake when addressing members of the media last year. The DTCB plant has sorting and valuing full capacity of over 45 million carats of per annum but currently only receives around 22 million carats from Debswana mines annually.
“Why can’t we take rough diamonds from other mines locally and in the region?” Kobedi posed these questions explaining the intention of DTCB strategy 2020 and its vision towards ensuring that Botswana remains a Diamond Hub beyond depletion of the stones. Later in 2018 during Zimbabwean President, Emmerson Mnangagwa’s state visit to Botswana it was noted that talks would begin for Zimbabwe to process, sorts and value its diamonds in Botswana.
GOVERNMENT WANTS DEBSWANA TO RIGOROUSLY INVEST IN OTHER SECTORS
Sources close to the echelons of power have revealed to this publication that one of the issues to be posed at the negotiation table by Botswana is that Debswana; the country’s largest company should start investing in other sectors outside its core business of mining diamonds. The argument suggested by this information is that Debswana has the necessary capital, technical capacity and shrewd corporate governance to do that “There are discussions that Debswana should lead economic diversification by investing in solar energy, plant and equipment assembly and machinery equipment amongst others” shared a source from the highest corridors of government enclave.
Debswana has over the years of its existence invested in other establishments outside diamond mining. Morupule Coal Mine was a wholly owned Debswana operation before it was disposed to government owned Mineral Development Company in 2017. Botswana Accountancy College, the country’s premier business academic institution was established as a joint venture between Debswana, Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning and the Botswana Institute of Accountants in 1996.Within its fold Debswana also wholly owns Sesiro Insurance Company, a bespoke insurance services outfit for its employees.
“ This is clear evidence that Debswana should do more , it has done it before , so Government wants the shareholders being itself and De Beers to permit Debswana to rigorously invest in more commercial viable sectors that this country desperately needs for employment creation and economic diversification like ICT , modern and innovative Agriculture amongst others” shared a source.
INFLUENCING FACTORS: BOTSWANA GENERAL ELECTIONS OUTCOME, GLOBAL ROUGH DIAMOND MARKET DOWNTURN, DE BEERS SYNTHETIC DIAMONDS
The negotiations usually comprise a team of 5 from the two parties. From Botswana side common picks are Attorney General, Bank of Botswana Governor, and Minister of Minerals amongst others. These highly anticipated negotiations will however have more influencing factors, experts observe that the global rough diamond market downturn will have an impact, in the main, it is said that the recent De Beers lab grown diamonds announcement will have a play. The Mining giant invested $100 million (Over a billion pula) in a manmade diamonds facility in the United States early this year.
After assuming power in April this year President Masisi noted that he would be eyeing more participation of Botswana in the diamond business, sentiment constantly reiterated his Minister of Minerals Eric Molale. “We have had a wonderful relationship with De Beers and we expect that relationship to be even more cemented, there is a way of actually achieving a win-win for both, we want to participate more on cutting, polishing and retail,” Masisi said when talking to Bloomberg in May 2018.
In the bottom line government has reiterated that De Beers will remain its partner “As partners in this industry, it would shock the world if we were to part; the diamond industry would never be the same again,” Masisi said. Botswana is however going into one of the closely contested general elections in history of its democracy. Since independence one party has ruled the country, It remains unclear what would happen to this partnership should government change. Government of Botswana is a direct Shareholder in De Beers Group, owning 15 % with the larger balance owned by Mining conglomerate Anglo American.
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”