Botswana Railways (BR) in collaboration with Business Botswana and the Botswana Investment and Trade Centre (BITC) held an interactive session with potential investors, where it was revealed that the country’s railway line is looking P15 billion worth of investment in its ambitious infrastructure development plan.
As Botswana yearns to advance into high income economy by taking advantage of available natural resources and exploring possible partnerships models to develop industrial and labour-intensive sectors that can absorb many of its unemployed citizenry, infrastructures registers as one of the key missing factors that are desperately imperative in connecting the puzzle in realising the nations ‘s economic aspirations.
Infrastructure facilitates trade, linking production sites to regions of demand and the market, in the process unlocking other value chain business opportunities and support industries. Among investors which BR engaged were also experts and leading personalities and entrepreneurs from Banking, Mining, Assert and Property Management, Fund Managers, Construction and Railway Lines from neighbouring countries and abroad to engage on key national rail projects that Botswana seeks to embark on.
It emerged at this Breakfast briefing held in Masa Square, Central Business District (CBD) Gaborone that these multibillion-pula projects if undertaken and effectively delivered would go a long way into unlocking various economic sectors, deliver higher GDP value and create much needed employment for Batswana especially the youth.
The two projects are the Mosetse –Kazungula and Mmamabula –Lephalale railways links. These projects which are estimated at P15 billion stands to push amongst others Botswana Coal industry which is currently at infant stage despite increasing global demand. The coal resources in Botswana are estimated at over 200 billion tonnes of deposits underground. Currently not even a quarter is unearthed as only Morupule Coal mine is an operating mine with salable coal reaching the market.
When giving an overview of Botswana Railways’ ambition with these projects, Chief Executive Officer Leonard Makwinja reiterated that adequate physical rail Infrastructure is instrumental to the growth and competitiveness of Botswana given its strategic geographical location at the Centre of Southern Africa. “By developing enabling infrastructure, the Government can achieve the goal of transforming the country into a regional hub for Foreign Direct Investment by tapping into both neighbouring and international markets” he said.
P13 billion Mosetse –Kazungula rail project
The Mosetse-Kazungula project is positioned to provide a railway line from Mosetse in Botswana, connecting to Zambia and beyond through the Kazungula bridge. The rail line is part of the North South Corridor (NSC) with numerous benefits such as being gate-way to North African markets promoting inter regional trade, connecting North African region to maritime ports in South Africa, reduction of haulage traffic on roads amongst others.
Botswana railways chief added that the project cultivates an opportunity for tourism industry by providing for tourist trains as it runs through a wildlife rich area with various attractive landscapes and natural beauty of Chobe region. “This also provides alternative transport mode for Agricultural products from Pandamatenga Farms, remember agriculture also comes as one of the sectors we intend to develop as a country to diversify from the mineral revenue dependence,” added Makwinja
He explained that Botswana Railways is open to partner with potential investors noting that the recent State Visit to China by President Masisi has indicated capacity and willingness to participate by Chinese Government. On November 12th Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Kenneth Matambo together with Vice Chairman of China International Development Cooperation Agency signed the letter of Exchange on the technical Survey for projects submitted during the state visit to China by His Excellency President Masisi.
It was explained that as part of the assessment for the projects submitted, it is a requirement to undertake a technical Survey that will guide on the feasible projects after which negotiations for funding will commence between the two Governments. The Mosetse-Kazungula Railway line is one of the earmarked projects under consideration with others including Francistown- Nata Road, Nata-Gweta-Sehithwa-Gumare-Etsha-Mohembo roads.
At the singing of letters of exchange Minister Matambo reiterated that no commitment of funding of these projects was yet sealed, explaining that discussions will ensue once the technical Surveys have been completed for projects deemed feasible. Botswana Railways Chief revealed at the investor briefing that Chinese government might avail only a certain percentage of the total estimated cost considering the fact that there are a number of other key earmarked projects of high imperative competing for the funds such as the Francistown-Nata road which is currently in a poor state.
The Mosetse–Kazungula railway project is estimated to P 13 billion excluding rolling stock requirements with estimated initial tonnage at 2 million tons and is expected to grow to 4 million tons. Makwinja explained that 14 locomotives will be required with traffic geared to mostly be transit with wagons supplied from point of origin. “Line is designed as cape gauge, heavy haul at 26 ton/axle for 367 Km, the line goes through wildlife and agricultural areas and stations will be at Mosetse, Nata, Pandamatenga and Kazungula” he explained.
Mmamabula-Lephalale Rail Link Project
Estimated at P 2 billion to erect, the 56 km Mmamabula Lephalale Rail Link which will connect Mmamabula/Dibete in Botswana to Lephalale in South Africa aims to link Botswana’s over 200 billion coal deposits to South African’s heavy haul lines. One key feature of the project is a bridge across Limpopo River of Chief Executive Makwinja revealed that Botswana Railways and its South African counterparts are to sign a Memorandum of Understanding to facilitate progress of the project.
He further explained that the railway line would be a gate way to South African ports for the coal market providing for a shorter route for North South Corridor coupled with Mosetse-Kazungula line. The rail way line which will be designed as cape gauge, heavy haul at 26 ton/axle with two years initial tonnage estimated at 10.5 MTPA will link the Masama coal fields which are currently explored by Botswana Stock Exchange (BSE) listed Minergy to South African market.
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Transport and Communication, Kabelo Ebineng shared that the earmarked undertakings are capital intensive projects that needed Government to think outside the box and approach the private sector so as synergies and areas of collaboration can be identified. “You are all aware that the Kazungula Bridge which has both the road and rail components is nearing completion hence the need for us to give impetus to the Mosetse-Kazungula Rail Line construction,”he said.
“These projects are central to us as a government. I am also aware of the high appetite for Mmamabula- Lephalale within the coal mining entities as this will represent the shortest route for the North South Corridor. As Botswana government we consider all these projects very strategic to our quest for regional integration as a country.”
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”