In two days’ time, the Minister of Finance and Economic Development Kenneth Matambo will open his iconic briefcase and the nation expects it to be pregnant with hope as it is always the case with any Budget Speech of a government especially on its election year.
However the 2019/20 Budget was planned at a menacing projected budget deficit of P5 billion, increasing fiscal policy uncertainties which experts see as a gloomy picture for Botswana. This is mainly due to the fact that President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s first impression will be judged by the speech this Monday. The 2019 Budget Strategy Paper which was unveiled at last year’s Budget Pitso projected that total revenues are forecast to be lower than projected total expenditures, resulting in a budget deficit of P5.11 billion, or 2.4 percent of GDP.
“With total revenue and grants estimated at P61.28 billion, which is lower than the projected total expenditure of P66.40 billion, the budget deficit is estimated at P5.11 billion, or 2.4 percent of GDP,” said the 2019 Budget Strategy Paper giving a gloomy hope to the coming Budget Speech. According to the 2019 Budget Strategy Paper, budget deficits are forecast in the medium-term, mainly as a result of lower revenue collections, resulting from the expected sluggish mineral revenue receipts and volatility of the Customs and Excise revenue.
On the other hand, emerging expenditure pressures, from both development and recurrent expenditure sides, should continue to be managed in order to ensure fiscal sustainability, the Paper further states. When responding to the perpetual incurrence of budget deficit in his maiden State of The Nation Address which was announced last two months, President Masisi decried of P1.98 billion budget deficit recorded in the 2017/18 year which was followed by an expected “moderate” budget deficit for the 2018/19 financial year.
The upcoming Budget Speech will come at the right time for Botswana’s current National Development Plan 11 (NDP 11, 2017-2023) as in his last year’s State Of The Nation Address Masisi revealed that NDP 11 is due for its Mid-Term Review in the next financial year( meaning the 2019/20) which will be launched by Monday’s budget speech). This is where Masisi promised that “it is during this process that most of our transformative adjustments will be effected.”
Matambo’s pre-budget document, the Budget Strategic Paper 2019 states: “The strategic thrust for the next financial year 2019/2020 continues to be centred around the broad national priorities identified in NDP 11, which are: Developing Diversified Sources of Economic Growth; Human Capital Development; Social Development; Sustainable Use of Natural Resources, Good Governance and Strengthening of National Security, as well as monitoring and evaluation.”
When commenting on government’s continual battle against fiscal deficits, Masisi promised that despite the constrained fiscal outlook his government is committed to the principle of a balanced budget in the medium term, as outlined in the current National Development Plan (NDP11). The public’s high expectation on this year’s Budget Speech to be more promising as it is elections year coincides with the rating agency Moody’s view which expects pressure on spending by government in this important time of Botswana’s history.
Recent Moody’s view sees uncertainty and delay in fiscal consolidation efforts towards the 2019 General Elections and the rating agency highly expects Matambo’s Monday speech to vindicate that. “Ahead of elections in Botswana, the authorities now envisage a more gradual pace of fiscal consolidation…,” said Moody’s. A public voice echoed by workers who now regard themselves as the “working poor” has been reverberating for years and this year it is even louder towards the national polls hence an expected spending pressure by government.
Unionist Tobokani Rari did not mince words when making his promises heard by this publication. He said since 2011 he does not remember government attempting to cushion workers who have continued to struggle against inflation or cost living since the 2009 global recession. With regards to cushioning of workers from inflation, Rari said, the government has been accumulating arrears since 2011 as it has been increasing salaries with small percentages which would not cushion against inflation; only around 3 percent and 4 percent.
“This was not enough as the actual inflation was never met halfway by reasonably increasing prices. The increment of lesser percentages did not reflect compensation of inflation and rather it fell short by almost 16 percent,” said Rari who is against these lesser salary increments which would never compensate for erosion of salaries. Rari expects Masisi’s administration to bring back lost value of workers salary and he also believes this would enhance productivity.
He said Masisi should prioritize in human resource as it is a vital remedy for a healthy economy. It appears the NDP 11 reiterates Rari’s comments that government has been doing less in terms of increasing productivity which is vital for economic health. “With the positive relationship between total factor productivity and economic growth in Botswana, the failure to effectively address the issue of low productivity undermines the country’s ability to operate at its full potential,” says the NDP 11 which was released in 2016.
The NDP 11 further says the country’s ambition of being an upper income country may be difficult to realise in the foreseeable future. Any significant improvements in productivity in both the public and private sectors will have salutary effects on the economic growth and overall health of the economy, according to NDP 11.Meanwhile a Malaysian private consultancy firm appointed by government, Performance Management and Delivery Unit (PEMANDU), has secretively proposed that government increase salaries by 20 percent in a pyramid manner.
This means that the additional cost to the government will be P1.23 billion per annum and this is expected to be in Matambo’s briefcase. While economist Moatlhodi Sebabole is talking against irresponsible spending by the treasury in any occasion or important season like the time of elections, the expert encourages cautious spending by government and believes the current projected deficit was in no way over the bar or overboard.
He gave a scenario of 2009 when Botswana was waking up from global recession with a heavy fiscal deficit of over P9 billion-a time when the economy was still smaller than it is today. According to Sebabole, a projected deficit of P5, 11 billion should not scare as it is not that bad as it seems and will be recovered. Sebabole also welcomes the treasury’s current projected deficit saying it is a counter-cyclical fiscal policy.
He said in this kind of fiscal policy government has spent its revenues on mining projects like the development of Cut 9 in Jwaneng and the Cut 3 at Orapa projects which is expected to bring back returns that will cushion the impending fiscal deficits. Sebabole believes that the fiscal deficits may shrink even to P1.6 billion, even below the expected estimates. The economist believes fiscal consolidation by government should not in any way astray from the NDP 11 route and achievement of Vision 2036 goals or pillars.
“In my view I believe in cautious fiscal spending. In every hot national event fiscal spending pressures is expected to cater for management of elections and when the fiscal policy is under pressure to deliver in an election year,” said Sebabole. Sebabole believes government has always been spending within the fiscal spending threshold which also coincides with the fiscal rule. He explained that the fiscal rule has always been to spend not above 4 percent of the GDP and this should be maintained even at a time of elections.
Permanent Secretary to the President and Secretary to the Cabinet Carter Morupisi told this publication that government will not be swayed by pressure of elections year and the budgetary process have not changed like in the past years. He echoed Masisi and Matambo’s last year comments that the upcoming Budget Speech will be mirroring priorities of NDP 11. “That will be the principal of good governance. Government should remain committed to prioritizing ongoing projects first before looking and new commitment,” he said.
Morupisi explained that a budget is prepared by looking at projected revenues and spending which are mostly planned on assumptions. He highlighted that after looking at ongoing projects compulsory payments will be made as in salaries of workers and government debts. Priorities versus Promises. According to the 2019 Budget Strategy Paper one of the Fiscal Policy Objectives is to; manage the fiscal risks in a prudent manner and to ensure fiscal consolidation through expenditure prioritization that will result in quality spending.
Government’s main priority is to keep it’s spending below 4 percent of the GDP in the face of a projected fiscal deficit of P5. 11 billion which is the 2.4 percent of the GDP, according to Morupisi. Also the PSP says top on Matambo’s list will be closing government’s ongoing projects and paying debts and liabilities as well as pay workers’ salaries.Matambo at the Budget Pitso said the projected P5.11 billion budget deficit will be financed through a combination of borrowing, both domestically and externally, and drawing down on government cash balances.
“Government remains committed to pursuing fiscal sustainability and thus, additional measures to raise domestic revenues or trim the planned expenditure during the implementation of the Plan will be considered, if necessary, to restore the fiscal balance to sustainable levels,” says this year’s budget paper. As a self-proclaimed ‘Jobs President’, Masisi has a bigger headache before him, to increase employment while making sure that the jobs he created are decent. In his maiden SONA Masisi highlighted poverty and unemployment “as a matter of urgency.”
Masisi’s administration lives with the promise of increasing jobs. This is why Masisi further announced that his administration has come up with the National Employment Policy (NEP) to address the unemployment problem facing the country and live to his title of ‘Jobs President’. Another promise by Masisi is to increase workers’ salaries or improve their living conditions. This is why the same NEP’s other goal is “to assist the country to achieve productive, gainful and decent employment for all, to contribute to the reduction of income inequality and as well as to support Government’s poverty eradication efforts.
“It is seen that the NEP in this aspect supports the NDP 11 which states that one of the problems facing the country is the decline in total factor productivity, especially labour productivity. NDP 11 complained that, “growth in labour productivity in the country, as measured by value added per person employed, has been declining over the past two decades.” The NEP gets technical and financial support from World Bank. The Draft National Employment Policy for Botswana is expected to be delivered by March 2019, a month after the Budget Speech.
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”