According to previous budget speeches, a trend that prevailed for years, Botswana has always been on deliberate fiscal deficit as the country was not raising more revenue against an ever stubborn expenditure.
While the second revenue source for government after minerals, customs and excise revenue, is estimated at more than P12 billion according to the 2019/20 Budget Speech, the Botswana Unified Revenue Services (BURS) continues to lose billions of Pula to trade misinvoicing as seen by Global Financial Integrity.
In what is captured as the highest form of financial criminality or an alarming type of money laundering, tax evasion culprits are reported to have used deceit to under-invoice imports in order to hide around P9.2 billion(US$885 million) from the tax man’s eye in 2015 according to Global Financial Integrity. In another form of cross-border black money transactions BURS would not get grip of P6.4 billion ($610 million) worth of exports which was misinvoinced so that it can miss the taxman’s radar.
Botswana is among the top three in the world when it comes to high misinvoicing levels. According to the Global Financial Integrity several nations have trade misinvoicing levels significantly higher than the global average of 18% including and those countries are seven. Botswana comes third at 31.8 percent after Sierra Leone (39.8%) and Georgia (34%) in terms of high misinvoicing levels.â€¨
According to the Global Financial Integrity, trade misinvoicing is a method of moving illicit financial flows, and includes the deliberate misrepresentation of the value of imports or exports in order to evade customs duties and VAT taxes, launder the proceeds of criminal activity or to hide offshore the proceeds of legitimate trade transactions, among other motivations.
Trade misinvoicing is also referred as a method for moving money illicitly across borders which involves the deliberate falsification of the value or volume of an international commercial transaction of goods or services by at least one party to the transaction. “Trade misinvoicing is accomplished by misstating the value or volume of an export or import on a customs invoice.
Trade misinvoicing is a form of trade-based money laundering made possible by the fact that trading partners write their own trade documents, or arrange to have the documents prepared in a third country (typically a tax haven)—a method known as re-invoicing. Fraudulent manipulation of the price, quantity, or quality of a good or service on an invoice allows criminals, corrupt government officials, and commercial tax evaders to shift vast amounts of money across international borders quickly, easily, and nearly always undetected,” says Global Financial Integrity.
Economic pragmatics who now believe there is need for a fiscal surplus in the public budget would observe that the estimated 2019/20 fiscal budget deficit of P7. 34 billion is an uphill task for a country which seeks to maintain fiscal sustainability but losing money to tax evaders. Of the total revenue of P60 billion, mineral revenue is the highest contributor at P21.09 billion 35.62 percent while customs and excise revenue is estimated to be at P`4.02 billion.As government has suggested along the years, it is always a challenge to collect tax revenue and in this case it can salvage a projected 2019/20 fiscal deficit of P7 billion or minus 3.5 percent of the GDP which is hiked by the estimated the P67.54 billion of the total expenditure and net lending for the same financial year.
But there remains a major challenge like the financial constraint of trade misinvoincing which Global Financial Integrity estimates that it is the reason for nearly US$1 trillion of unrecorded money shifts out of emerging market and developing countries annually. According to the US NGO Global Financial Integrity, trade misinvoicing remains an obstacle to achieving sustainable and equitable growth in the developing world. In his 2019/20 Budget Speech Kenneth Matambo said one of the fiscal areas that government will be focusing on going forward will be cost recovery and user fees.
“With the downside risks associated with the main revenue sources of mineral, customs and excise, and income tax, it is important that Government undertake a comprehensive review of the fees, levies and charges, with a view to determining their potential to contribute to total Government revenues,” said Matambo
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”