Econet Wireless Zimbabwe, a subsidiary of pan African telecommunications giant owned by Africa’s newest billionaire, Strive Masiyiwa will increase its stake in Botswana’s leading mobile network service provider, Mascom Wireless from 7 percent to 60 percent.
South African conceived MTN Group , now Africa’s leading telecommunication conglomerate announced this week that it will exit Mascom boardroom, selling off its stake for P3 billion. MTN announced it will be selling its entire stake to Econet, making the Zimbabwean conceived company a major shareholder in Botswana leading mobile network services brand.
International reports state that MTN has agreed to sell its 53 percent stake in Botswana’s Mascom to Econet Wireless Zimbabwe for $300 million (P3 billion) “We are simplifying the group, we are reducing risk, and improving returns," says MTN CEO Rob Shuter . “That will generate some returns that will be helpful for our gearing and other priorities." Currently as things stand before the transaction MTN is Mascom’s largest shareholder while the Botswana Public Officers Pension Fund (BPOPF) owns 40 percent, and the remaining 7 percent is held by Econet.
BusinessPost understands that BPOPF as the second biggest shareholder had the first right of refusal, but decided not to exercise its right to purchase shares on offer. As a result, the minor shareholder, Econet, will now become a major shareholder with 60 percent, while BPOPF remains with 40 percent. Econet is a major mobile network operator in Zimbabwe, founded by Strive Masiyiwa, the Zimbabwe born billionaire who was one of the founders of Mascom.
MTN first became a shareholder in Mascom in 2005, scooping about 44 percent of Mascom for $128 million, which was about P704 million at the time, with Mascom valued at P1.7 billion. Mascom is currently valued at P5.6 billion, which means MTN’s 53 percent shares in Mascom are worth P3 billion.MTN says it is disposing the shares held in Mascom due to “lack of control position and MTN branding which meant that the group is not able to execute on its BRIGHT strategy.”
The lack of control MTN alludes to stems from Mascom’s complex shareholding structure. While MTN is the major shareholder of Mascom, the South African telecommunication giant does not have management control over Mascom. In 1998, when Mascom became one of the country’s first wireless carrier, it was owned by Deci Holdings at 36 percent, Portuguese Telecommunications (25 percent), Strive Masiyiwa (14 percent), Debswana Pension Fund (15 percent), International Finance Corporation (5 percent) and Southern African Enterprises Development Fund (5 percent).
By 2004, Mascom’s shareholding had drastically changed: Portuguese Telecoms was now the majority shareholder with a 50.1 percent stake, followed by Deci (30 percent) and Strive Masiyiwa (19.99percent). Still in 2004, Mascom became a majority citizen owned company after Portuguese Telecoms decided to sell its entire shares in Mascom.
The shares were acquired by DECI and Masiyiwa, with DECI owning 60 percent and Masiyiwa had 40 percent. DECI at the time was owned by BPOPF and Botswana Insurance Fund Management (BIFM), placing Mascom in the hands of citizen shareholders. However, there was a catch to Portugal Telecoms offloading its shares: on top of money paid for its shares, the Portugal Company was given a lucrative management contract for Mascom running for 10 years. The deal expired in 2014, and it was extended by another 10 years. The management contract is the reason why Mascom has never had a citizen CEO.
When MTN became a 44 percent shareholder in Mascom back in 2005, the management contract deal was already in place. Although MTN later raised its stake from 44 percent to 60 percent in 2007, the complex holding structure still prevented it from taking over management of Mascom. MTN later reduced its stake to the current 53 percent.
BusinessPost further understands that the management contract continues to rub off MTN the wrong way as the South African company says it cannot implement some of its strategies. The BRIGHT strategy which MTN is pursuing is focused on growth of its financial services, digital, wholesale and enterprise businesses.
It became clear last year that MTN was ready to divest from Mascom, after the South African mobile operator and Orange Group announced a joint venture, on Mowali project a mobile wallet interoperability wave .MTN and Orange Group partnered to enable interoperable payments across the continent. Mowali makes it possible to send money between mobile money accounts issued by any mobile money provider, in real time and at low cost. Orange Group happens to be a major shareholder in Orange Botswana, a main competitor to Mascom.
The decision by MTN to dispose its entire shares in Mascom to a Econet comes less than six months after Econet, tried last year to sell the remaining shares for $50 million (P500 million) but the deal faced stiff resistance, with other shareholders indicating it was way too much. Econet had put the value of Mascom at P7 billion, while BPOPF argued Botswana’s top carrier was worth between P4.8 billion and P5.2 billion.
BPOPF as a custodian of pensioners’ money is not allowed to own more than 50 percent of a company, especially an unlisted company like Mascom. However observers say in the case of Mascom which is a lucrative profit making company BPOPF should have bought MTN’s shares then list the company on the BSE, and dispose some of the shares to citizens.
Marcian Concepts have been contracted by Selibe Phikwe Economic Unit (SPEDU) in a P230 million project to raise the town from its ghost status. The project is in the design and building phase of building an industrial hub for Phikwe; putting together an infrastructure in Bolelanoto and Senwelo industrial sites.
This project comes as a life-raft for Selibe Phikwe, a town which was turned into a ghost town when the area’s economic mainstay, BCL mine, closed four years ago. In that catastrophe, 5000 people lost their livelihoods as the town’s life sunk into a gloomy horizon. Businesses were closed and some migrated to better places as industrial places and malls became almost empty.
However, SPEDU has now started plans to breathe life into the town. Information reaching this publication is that Marcian Concepts is now on the ground at Bolelanoto and Senwelo and works have commenced. Marcian as a contractor already promises to hire Phikwe locals only, even subcontract only companies from the area as a way to empower the place’s economy.
The procurement method for the tender is Open Domestic bidding which means Joint Ventures with foreign companies is not allowed. According to Marcian Concepts General Manager, Andre Strydom, in an interview with this publication, the project will come with 150 to 200 jobs. The project is expected to take 15 months at a tune of P230 531 402. 76. Marcian will put together construction of roadworks, storm-water drains, water reticulation, street lighting and telecommunication infrastructure. This tender was flouted last year August, but was awarded in June this year. This project is seen as the beginning of Phikwe’s revival and investors will be targeted to the area after the town has worn the ghost city status for almost half a decade.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has slashed its outlook the world economy projecting a significantly deeper recession and slower recovery than it anticipated just two months ago.
On Wednesday when delivering its World Economic Outlook report titled “A long difficult Ascent” the Washington Based global lender said it now expects global gross domestic product to shrink 4.9% this year, more than the 3% predicted in April. For 2021, IMF experts have projected growth of 5.4%, down from 5.8%. “We are projecting a somewhat less severe though still deep recession in 2020, relative to our June forecast,” said Gita Gopinath Economic Counsellor and Director of Research.
The struggle of humanity is now how to dribble past the ‘Great Pandemic’ in order to salvage a lean economic score. Botswana is already working on dwindling fiscal accounts, budget deficit, threatened foreign reserves and the GDP data that is screaming recession.
Latest data by think tank and renowned rating agency, Moody’s Investor Service, is that Botswana’s fiscal status is on the red and it is mostly because of its mineral-dependency garment and tourism-related taxation. Botswana decided to close borders as one of the containment measures of Covid-19; trade and travellers have been locked out of the country. Moody’s also acknowledges that closing borders by countries like Botswana results in the collapse of tourism which will also indirectly weigh on revenue through lower import duties, VAT receipts and other taxes.
Latest economic data shows that Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the second quarter of 2020 with a decrease of 27 percent. One of the factors that led to contraction of the local economy is the suspension of air travel occasioned by COVID-19 containment measures impacted on the number of tourists entering through the country’s borders and hence affecting the output of the hotels and restaurants industry. This will also be weighed down by, according to Moody’s, emerging markets which will see government losing average revenue worth 2.1 percentage points (pps) of GDP in 2020, exceeding the 1.0 pps loss in advanced economies (AEs).
“Fiscal revenue in emerging markets is particularly vulnerable to this current crisis because of concentrated revenue structures and less sophisticated tax administrations than those in AEs. Oil exporters will see the largest falls but revenue volatility is a common feature of their credit profiles historically,” says Moody’s. The domino effects of containment measures could be seen cracking all sectors of the local economy as taxes from outside were locked out by the closure of borders hence dwindling tax revenue.
Moody’s has placed Botswana among oil importers, small, tourism-reliant economies which will see the largest fall in revenue. Botswana is in the top 10 of that pecking order where Moody’s pointed out recently that other resource-rich countries like Botswana (A2 negative) will also face a large drop in fiscal revenue.
This situation of countries’ revenue on the red is going to stay stubborn for a long run. Moody’s predicts that the spending pressures faced by governments across the globe are unlikely to ease in the short term, particularly because this crisis has emphasized the social role governments perform in areas like healthcare and labour markets.
For countries like Botswana, these spending pressures are generally exacerbated by a range of other factors like a higher interest burden, infrastructure deficiencies, weaker broader public sector, higher subsidies, lower incomes and more precarious employment. As a result, most of the burden for any fiscal consolidation is likely to fall on the revenue side, says Moody’s.
Moody’s then moves to the revenue spin of taxation. The rating agency looked at the likelihood and probability of sovereigns to raise up revenue by increasing tax to offset what was lost in mineral revenue and tourism-related tax revenue. Moody’s said the capacity to raise tax revenue distinguishes governments from other debt issuers. “In theory, governments can change a given tax system as they wish, subject to the relevant legislative process and within the constraints of international law. In practice, however, there are material constraints,” says Moody’s.
‘‘The coronavirus crisis will lead to long-lasting revenue losses for emerging market sovereigns because their ability to implement and enforce effective revenue-raising measures in response will be an important credit driver over the next few years because of their sizeable spending pressures and the subdued recovery in the global economy we expect next year.’’
According to Moody’s, together with a rise in stimulus and healthcare spending related to the crisis, the think tank expects this drop in revenue will trigger a sizeable fiscal deterioration across emerging market sovereigns. Most countries, including Botswana, are under pressure of widening their tax bases, Moody’s says that this will be challenging. “Even if governments reversed or do not extend tax-easing measures implemented in 2020 to support the economy through the coronavirus shock, which would be politically challenging, this would only provide a modest boost to revenue, especially as these measures were relatively modest in most emerging markets,” says Moody’s.
Botswana has been seen internationally as a ‘tax ease’ country and its taxes are seen as lower when compared to its regional counterparts. This country’s name has also been mentioned in various international investigative journalism tax evasion reports. In recent years there was a division of opinions over whether this country can stretch its tax base. But like other sovereigns who have tried but struggled to increase or even maintain their tax intake before the crisis, Botswana will face additional challenges, according to Moody’s.
“Additional measures to reduce tax evasion and cutting tax expenditure should support the recovery in government revenue, albeit from low levels,” advised Moody’s. Botswana’s tax revenue to the percentage of the GDP was 27 percent in 2008, dropped to 23 percent in 2010 to 23 percent before rising to 27 percent again in 2012. In years 2013 and 2014 the percentage went to 25 percent before it took a slip to decline in respective years of 2015 up to now where it is at 19.8 percent.