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ADB: Botswana’s growth not inclusive!

African Development Bank’s latest report indicates that despite Botswana’s impressive economic performance; growth has not been inclusive. In particular, the high unemployment and inequality if unattended, has the potential of creating social unrest.

To ensure inclusive growth, Botswana needs to address its two main challenges which are limited economic growth diversification and inadequate infrastructure. Limited economic diversification has led to an increased dominance of government in economic activities which is constraining private sector participation.

Low private sector investment inhibits the progress of economic diversification, and in turn hinders overall manufacturing productivity, creating a vicious cycle of headwinds to growth. Public sector dominance has distorted the labor market and softened growth of the private sector. Large flows of diamonds revenues allow government to be the largest and a generous employer thereby inadvertently influencing the worker’s preference for the limited job opportunities in the government. This has created skills shortages in the private sector and also increased the reservation wage resulting in higher cost of production and low productivity.

The large public sector has become a growing source of inefficiency, weak competitiveness, and a constraint to private enterprise development. The special privileges extended to state-owned enterprises make it more difficult for the private sector, large enterprises and SMEs alike, to participate in certain key areas of the economy, thus inhibiting competition and associated gains in productivity and efficiency. Reforms are needed to remove inefficiencies, and promote productivity of the state-owned enterprises. In addition, Botswana needs to improve the business environment to become more competitive particularly with respect to South Africa.

Capacity constraints and skills shortages have been persistent despite significant public investments in educational facilities. The situation is further aggravated by the high incidence of HIV and AIDS. The shortage of skilled workers has hindered knowledge transfer and innovation. A sustained investment in human capital will ensure that long-term growth is more firmly based, as well as more inclusive, and will grow the importance as the economy diversifies and climbs up the value chain of both the manufacturing and the service sectors.

The report further indicated that the quality of some components of basic infrastructure at present is lagging behind many of Botswana’s peers. A concerted effort to improve the quality of infrastructure holds the key to transforming the economy and sustaining high growth.
Electricity supply in Botswana is inadequate and unreliable, with the available capacity of 322 megawatts falling far short of its demand of about 580 megawatts, which in the past has been partly met through imports.

The stabilization of Morupule B power station, with a potential output of 600 megawatts, is expected to ease the situation in the short term. In the medium to long term, it is envisaged that new generating capacity, Morupule C 2 X 150 megawatts brownfield project and another 2 X megawatts greenfield project, will be developed by the private sector under the framework of independent power producers. Low tariffs could pose constraints to attracting private sector participation in the electricity subsector.

Electricity tariffs need to be adjusted to improve the viability of the sector. It is also important to establish the legal and regulatory framework that is conducive to private sector participation, including a regulatory agency with adequate authority and capacity to regulate the sector.
While Botswana’s internal transport infrastructure network is considered adequate, its landlocked status and vast terrain significantly increases trading costs.

The provision of reliable transport services between the main population and production centers, and to neighboring countries remains one of government’s top priorities in order to encourage foreign investments in key sectors of the economy, such as mining, construction, manufacturing and tourism. For example, the exportation of coal will require a rail network to the posts. A well- developed transport system would assist this land-locked country to position itself gainfully so that it becomes a preferred transit route.

On the ICT sector, Botswana has very high mobile penetration rates, but internet access and fixed broadband subscription is low for a middle income country. Historically, Botswana has depended on satellites for its international bandwidth, and on other countries to transit capacity to landing points of international submarine fiber-optic cable systems. The virtual monopoly of the Botswana Telecommunications Corporation has resulted in high wholesale costs.

The landing additional cables in the region in 2011 and 2012 has improved the competitiveness in this regard. Transformation of the economy to advanced manufacturing and services will require faster and affordable broadband. To address this, the government is in the process of finalizing the national broadband strategy to roll out a high- speed and reliable network.

Water shortage remains a challenge. Botswana is a drought-prone country and suffers from water shortages especially in the southern part of the country, which makes food security challenging. Over 60% of domestic food demand is met through imports, underscoring the need for increased investment in irrigation infrastructure. The increasing rate of urbanization has also put significant pressure on its water resources for human consumption and industrial use. Inadequate and irregular water supply also constrains the growth of the manufacturing sector. To address the inefficiencies and long term sustainability of the sector, implementation of the water reform programme is ongoing.

The CDB report further highlighted that Botswana is not an aid dependent country, but has used the little ODA it receives effectively in support of development. When Botswana graduated to middle income country status, several development partners scaled down their activities. Despite this, Botswana has made significant progress in aid coordination and harmonization. The government launched the Development Partners Coordination Forum in September 2007, which meets twice a year.

The Forum comprises of government representatives, heads of diplomatic missions and bilateral and multilateral organizations including the Bank which always participates in scheduled meetings, benefiting from the proximity of the Bank’s Southern Africa Resource Center to the country. The Forum provides a two-way platform for information sharing on government policies, aid modalities and aid coordination in general. Nonetheless, the alignment and harmonization of donor support the low.

There are very few joint missions and analytical work, and routine sector working groups rarely meet. Consistent with the Paris Declaration and the Accra Agenda for Action, country systems for public financial management and procurement are continuously assessed and strengthened throughout Bank-funded operations.

It also indicated that the country benefits from support from a number of development partners, with European Union leading donor providing, among others forms of assistance, sector budget support to the education sector. The World Bank supports the public financial management reform process and energy generation, while the Bank’s focus is mainly on energy transmission and agricultural infrastructure. United Nations agencies spearhead capacity building initiatives while the United States leads support to the health sector, focusing on preventative measures on HIV and AIDS. Nonetheless, there are numerous donor supported operations, numbering about 140 in 2012.

However, the CDB has put down a strategy for Botswana. Botswana’s mineral-driven and public –sector led growth model provided four decades of strong performance but maintaining strong growth has been a challenge in recent years. In addition, growth has been less inclusive. The declining trend in growth may exacerbate Botswana’s already high income inequality and persistent unemployment. Tackling the high level of structural unemployment is important to improve the quality of economic growth.

Private sector led growth is essential if Botswana is to unleash its growth potential and sustain it. The will require a decisive reforms and innovative policies to reinvigorate productivity. Botswana is at a crossroad with the global downturn leading to a rethinking of the country’s development strategy. The MTR of the NDP10 recognizes that a new economic model is required.

Old policies need to be reviewed to make the case for an additional transformation to avoid a middle-income trap. The need to transform the country has long been recognized but the sense of urgency seems higher now than in the past. An ambitious agenda for new sources of economic growth and employment needs to be set.

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Botswana’s development agenda in jeopardy

21st September 2020
Botswana’s-development-agenda-in-jeopardy--water-construction

Stanbic Bank Botswana Quarterly Economic Review indicates that Botswana will fail to meet some of its Vision 2036 targets, particularly unemployment reduction and reaching high-income status.

The report says this is mainly due to the slow economic growth that the country is currently experiencing. This Quarterly Economic Review focuses on the 2020 Budget Speech.

The first paper reviews the entire budget with its key observations being that this budget is prepared as prescribed by the Public Finance Management Act; the priorities it seeks to address are drawn from Vision 2036 and the eleventh

The 2020 budget Speech, which was the maiden speech by the Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Dr. Thapelo Matsheka, and the first after the 2019 general elections, was delivered to Parliament on the 4th of February 2020.

It has been well received by the labour unions, business community, and the public at large as well as international organisations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

It mainly derived its support from key facets including, emphasis on changing the business-as-usual approach to development; outlining the transformation agenda; fiscal reform that minimizes the negative impact on economic development and human welfare, competiveness and the decision to implement the 2019 negotiated and agreed public sector.

The budget’s progress review shows that economic growth was consistent with the NDP 11 projections, with growth of around 4 percent. At this growth rate, the country would neither ascend to a high-income status nor reduce unemployment towards the Vision 2036 target of a single digit.

Simple calculations of this review confirm that the economy will need to grow the Vision 2036’s target of 6 percent over the next 16 years for per capita income to increase from around USD 8,000.00 to above USD 12,000.00 in current prices.

Further, the population is anticipated to grow by only 2 percent per annum.

For this reason, the focal areas for the forthcoming FY’s budget include measures to increase economic growth towards an average of 6 percent per annum.

Economic diversification is reportedly progressing fairly well. The report says, the share of the non-mining private sector in value added has risen to 66 percent in 2018 from to 63 percent in 2015.

The sectoral pattern of growth showed that the performance of services sector (particularly transport & communications, trade, hotels & restaurants, and finance & business services) has been the silver lining and that of mining sector was subdued whilst the utility sector disappointed.

The drive towards the service sector of the economy, especially to low-productivity activities (tourism, public administration, wholesaling and retailing) does not bode well for the country’s development aspirations.

In the previous versions of this Quarterly Review, it was noted that there is need for the rethinking of economic diversification. Since the country’s domestic market is small, it is inevitable that economic diversification not only focus on broadening the product mix, but also the composition of exports and markets.

This understanding of economic diversification has not been embraced by this year’s budget. Consequently, Botswana’s exports are still overwhelmingly diamonds, which means that the rest of economic sectors are still highly dependent on foreign-exchange earnings from diamonds. Thus, “the transformation programme requires a review of the country’s entire ecosystem”.

The budget review of the economic context also depicts that an economy with positive medium-term prospects, with growth expected to recover to 4.4 percent in 2020 from the expected growth of 36 percent in 2019 largely due to faster growth of services sectors and, thereafter, to slow-down to 4 percent in 2021.

These projected growth rates are comparable to those of the IMF staff’s baseline scenario of 4.2 percent in 2020 and 4 percent in 2021. Thus, the business-as-usual scenario produces growth rates that are still too low to achieve Botswana’s development objectives and create enough jobs to absorb the new entrants into the labour market.

Trade tensions between the two major markets for diamond exports, viz., the United States of America and China, is one of the factors that are cited as contributing to, indeed, undermining not only the domestic growth, but also the fiscal position.

Another notable downside risk to both global and domestic growth is outbreak of the coronavirus in China around January 2020. This has been declared as a global health emergency. In an attempt to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus pneumonia, the Chinese authorities have ordered city lockdowns and extended holidays, of course, at the expense of near- term economic growth, according to the new Stanbic Bank Botswana report.

According to Nomura Holdings Inc., fewer migrant workers returned for work than in previous years and business activities have been slow to pick up. The havoc wreaked by the virus on the world’s second largest economy is likely to spill over to the global economy. In fact, it has resulted in a glut in crude oil and, thereby placed oil markets into a contango, i.e., a market structure where near-term prices trade at a discount to future contracts.

It also presents significant risks one of Botswana’s main drivers of economic growth, diversification and foreign exchange earnings. According to the Financial Times (February 13, 2020), Chinese tourists spent $130 billion overseas in 2018. Regardless of whether the growth materializes, the projected domestic growth rate would not transform the economy to a high-income one.

Progress towards reduction of unemployment, to a target of single digit, and poverty and achieving inclusive growth has also been relatively slow, the Stanbic Bank Botswana Review says.

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OP leases Orapa House

21st September 2020
Orapa House

Ministry of Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration (MOPAGPA) has through the Office of the President (OP) proposed to avail Orapa House for use by private training institutions as well as research institutions involved in the area of technology development.

For a very long time the monumental building located in the heart of the city has been a white elephant, despite government purchasing it for nearly P80 million from De Beers in 2012.

However, government has now identified a productive use for the iconic building. “The overall vision is for the building to be transformed into a hub for digital technology research and development to be carried-out by institutions, such as; Limkokwing University, BIUST, BITRI and other relevant stakeholders.”

The decision was taken as government traverse a new path of transforming the economy from a mineral led economy to a knowledge based economy through the promotion of research and innovation. However, the facility will need major maintenance to be carried-out in order to meet the requirements of the proposed change in use.

“The work will include provision of laboratories, work stations, production areas and seminar rooms; audio visual centre, high speed internet connectivity, exhibition areas and offices,” reads the proposal note for the development.

These developments will be done through the refurbishment and maintenance of the main building, workshop, and ablution block, gate house, parking area, grounds, and access control and security service.

“There will be minimal modifications to the structure as it stands. The project is estimated to cost approximately P50, 000, 000,” says the report. In this regard, it is said, the initial scope of the OP facility will be modified to accommodate the envisaged digital technology research and development hub.

With funds needed to improve the building, OP has requested that; “the 2020/21 annual budget provision for Orapa House will need to be increased by P37,500,000 from P2,500,000 to P40,000,000 to kick start the maintenance works.” Funds will be sourced from the projects that have been delayed due to Covid-19 protocols during the 2020/21 financial year.

The building has been a thorny issue for government for years. Initially, OP was expected to move there but the move never materialised. At one point it was a question of whether the Office of the President and the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development were planning to override a decision by Parliament which rejected the proposal to buy Orapa House under the belief that government may be buying its own property. The building was to be bought at a negotiated cost of P79 million.

Again in 2012, Government had wanted to buy Orapa House for a negotiated P79m but the Finance and Estimates Committee of Parliament had rejected the request because of the inconsistencies realised in the supporting documents of the proposed procurement. The valuation of the building was put at P74 million.

The Ministry of Lands and Housing had initially offered De Beers P73, 000,000 as the purchase price. However, De Beers countered with P85, 000,000. On negotiation and converging of the minds, the selling price was finally agreed at P79, 000,000.

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Sad state of Brigades: dumped and ignored!

21st September 2020
Brigades

Auditor General, Pulane Letebele, has expressed discontentment at the worrying and deteriorating state of brigades in the country.

In an audit inspection which was carried out at Tshwaragano Brigade in Gabane, a number of observations showed weaknesses and shortcomings in the conduct of the financial affairs of the institution.

According to Letebele’s report, former students of the brigade had been engaged to carry out maintenance works on the school premises, comprising of painting, tiling, plumbing and electrical works, which covered the period from July 2017 to June 2018.

Although the agreed maintenance period had elapsed, the works had not been completed because of unavailability of funds and this situation had persisted up till the time of inspection in November 2019.

Auditor General says arrangements should have been made in time for funds to be available to complete these relatively minor works even before the works commenced.

Various contractors had been engaged for clearing the bush and for the supply of concrete stones, pit and river sand and hiring equipment for digging the trench towards the construction of an auto mechanics workshop, the report said.

It stated that the cost of services and supplies provided totalled P117 949.80. However, despite the services and the supplies having been paid for, the construction works had not commenced for a long period afterwards, resulting in the trench filling back in.

The audit inquiries had not elicited satisfactory responses as both the institution and the Ministry had not accepted the responsibility for the project, although orders for the provision for the supplies had been made. For their part, the Ministry had stated that they had sub warranted funds for the purchase of porta cabins.

Letebele indicated that it is therefore confusing that a project which is critical to the functioning of an institution such as this one would commence without a well-defined plan.

Furthermore, the accounting and maintenance of records for the supplies items were not of the standard prescribed by the Supplies Regulations and Procedures in that the supplies ledger cards, the main accounting records for Government assets, were not properly maintained for the recording of receipts and issues.

This had resulted in significant discrepancies between physical and ledger balances, while in other instances the supplies items had not been recorded at all.

The report says 24 of the 91 new computers found in the computer laboratory at Kumakwane ABC campus were not recorded anywhere, as were the other computers in the storeroom which could not be counted due to the disorderly storage conditions.

The institution had entered into a contract agreement with a security company for the provision of security services at Tshwaragano Brigade, ABC and Horticulture campuses at Kumakwane for a 2-year period which ended in June 2018, WeekendPost learnt.

After the contract expired in June 2018, an extension was granted till the 30th September 2018. Since then, there has been no security service coverage for the institution to-date. According to Auditor General, in the face of prevailing crimes, it is of paramount importance that government properties be protected by provision of security services at all times.

At Tlokweng Brigade, it was noted that the kitchen staff were working under difficult conditions as the kitchen facilities and equipment, such as the cold room, tilting pot, food warmers and solar power for hot water were dysfunctional. The kitchen roof was leaking and men’s restrooms was not working. All these need to be brought to a reasonable and functional state of repair.

The kitchen staff should use a purpose-designed Rations Ledger for the recording of receipts and issues of foodstuffs to reflect the usage of those items. As far back as 2014 the Department of Buildings and Engineering Services had found that the house occupied by the bursar was uninhabitable on account of structural defects, the report said.

A site visit during the audit had established that the house was indeed unfit for occupation as there were cracks on the walls, power switches were not working and the roof was leaking. On a sadder note, there were a number of finished items of clothing, such as dresses, shirts, and jackets from students’ practical exercises from the Fashion Design Textiles Workshop.

Auditor General shared her take on this, saying: “I have not been able to ascertain the policy on the disposal of products from these practicals. A trace of 103 green acid-proof overalls which had been purchased in August 2018 had indicated that there was no record of these items having been recorded or issued, nor were they available in stock. I was not able to obtain any explanation for this situation.”

Kgatleng brigade was also audited and inspected by Auditor General who observed that the brigade has 26 institutional houses at Bokaa, both old campus and new campus. Some of these houses are very old and dilapidated, with two declared uninhabitable. The condition of the houses is a clear indication of lack of care and maintenance of these properties.

At the time of the audit, there was no contractor engaged for the provision of security guard services at the new campus, after expiry of the previous one in July 2019.  It is hoped that steps would be taken to safeguard the security of the premises and government properties against any acts of hooliganism.

In August 2019, there was a break-in at the electrical and at the plumbing maintenance workshops and a number of high value items, such as drilling machines, bolt cutters, spanners and cables, were stolen. The break-in and theft were reported to the police.

“However, at the time of writing this report I was not aware of the outcome of the police investigation, nor of any loss report submitted in terms of the Supplies Regulations and Procedures,” Letebele said.

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