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Business model or the people: Why are Public Enterprises failing?

The National Development Bank (NDB) has joined the bandwagon of the underperforming in retrenching its staff, with scores of the bank staff, save the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) having been told that no one is guaranteed survival of the imminent chop from the country oldest parastatal. Staff Writer ALFRED MASOKOLA examines underlying factors that have rendered State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) inefficient, unprofitable and unsustainable. 

State Owned Enterprises (SOEs), Public Enterprises or simply parastatals as it is the case here, are government owned or controlled institutions which were created with a clear mandate to engage in commercial activities. According to a report titled; “State-Owned Enterprises Catalysts for public value creation?” published by international auditing firm, PCW, public enterprises have been rising in influence in the global economy over the past decade. 

For instance, the proportion of SOEs among the Fortune Global 500 has grown from 9 percent in 2005 to 23 percent in 2014, including a greater presence in the top rankings.  China has been a model of what influence public enterprises can have in the economy, with corporation like Sinopec Group, China National Petroleum and State Grid having consistently made the top ten of Fortune 500.  

SOEs have become tools for some countries to better position themselves for the future in the global economy given increased global competition for finance, talent, and resources. However, in Botswana, parastatals have become a burden in the economy in recent years, with government have to come to rescue on several occasions to bail them out. Botswana Meat Commission (BMC), National Development Bank (NDB), Botswana Power Corporation (BPC) and Air Botswana being some of the institutions that have knocked on doors of government seeking financial rescue. 

Three of the above-mentioned institutions are monopolies, which even complicates matters on whether the problem with public enterprises their business models or the talent leading them. The BMC, WUC and Botswana BPC are among vital public enterprises that have been experiencing perennial losses for the past decade. In 2006, WUC, BMC and BPC made a combined net profit of P371.9 million while, in the latest budget speech, Finance Minister, Kenneth Matambo indicated that the three entities recorded a worrisome combined loss of P507. 5 million.

Duncan Majinda, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Botswana Accountancy Oversight Authority (BAOA), an institution with mandate to audit public enterprises tried to offer diagnosis on the matter. “A new area in our mandate was recently introduced in corporate governance and financial reporting monitoring. The initial results reflect that private and listed companies, and banks perform significantly better than state-owned enterprises,” Majinda told WeekendPost recently.  

“In order to explain the reasons for differential performance, it is appropriate to use an analogy. The engine of a car is the most important component of the car without which it cannot operate. By the same token, in an organisation, the Board and executive management is the engine of the entity. Poorly constituted boards without the requisite balance of knowledge, skills and expertise are the main problems of poorly performing entities.”

Majinda contended that private and listed companies have very strong boards constituted along best international practice through corporate governance codes like King III and IV. “Parastatals on the other hand are dominated by pre-determines ex-officio appointments so that if there is such a balance, it is by coincidence rather than design. Committees such as renumeration, Nomination, Risk are not common with parastatals,” he argued. 

Majinda however said there is obvious need to conscious of the nature of the mandates of these different entities as some are commercially oriented while others are geared towards providing a public good or service where commercial initiatives are constrained through, for example, controlled prices and levies. “That notwithstanding, good corporate governance can be applied right across industries and sectors, public or private, profit making or non-profit making, to ensure efficiency, effectiveness and economy in doing business. Good strong boards produce good and robust strategies that result in good strategic decisions,” he said. 

Following a litany of calls from various quarters, including legislators and the business community over the need to merge some ministries in a bid to improve efficiency and profitability, Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industry have given in. “It has been observed that the mandates of some of the parastatals are converging resulting in some overlaps and duplications,” Minister of Trade, Bogolo Kenewendo, indicate in her first media briefing as minister.

“A rationalisation exercise is ongoing in that regard, and the exercise will go a long way in eliminating duplication of efforts across the ministry’s parastatals where existent, culminating in improved service quality.” While a backbencher, Kenewendo had made her believes known that a number of parastatals do have overlapping mandates therefore requiring a rationalisation that would produce efficiency.

With the rationalisation process likely to affect mostly the funding institutions under the supervision of trade ministry such as Citizen Entrepreneurial Development Agency (CEDA), Botswana Development Corporation (BDC), Local Enterprise Authority (LEA) and possibly NDB, CEDA CEO, Thabo Thamane has cautioned government about the possibility of misdiagnosing the problem bedevilling public enterprises.

“I know what CEDA does, I have been here for the past 15 years; I know what LEA does, and I know what other financiers do. What is very critical is that we must be every carefully when making this analysis of merging public enterprises because their mandates were very specific,” he warned.

“It is one thing as for an institution that is not performing as per its mandate. If it does not perform, you do not just say you merge it. You basically say; why is it not performing? Is it the people or is it the mandate? So that is the starting point; If it is the people, you then put the right people so that they can make it perform; if it is the mandate, then review the mandate and then merge it with other institutions.”

Thamane contended that the last thing that government needs is to create a monster of an institution, because the bigger the institution, the bigger the process. “We welcome this idea of a possible review of the institutions, and where possible some will be merged. If they decide CEDA merges with other institution, I will take it, “he said.

BUSINESS MODEL FAILER: NDB CASE 

NDB has found the going tough in recent years, with the bank riddled with perennial losses amid a funding model that has been ruled out as not sustainable. This year, the bank has found itself in dire crisis as it had only P10 million to disburse for loans. The situation has forced the bank to retrench employees, with P31 million budgeted for the exercise. In May this year, the bank’s executives approached Parliamentary Committee on Public Enterprises and Statutory Bodies to lobby for recaptialisation. 

WeekendPost has established that NDB’s problems and bottlenecks are deeper than simply the matter of recapitalisation. The structure and sources of funding mean that they have an unfavourable cost structure which paralyses their competitiveness. “It is almost a chicken and eggs situation that for them to lower their cost of funding, they need to be deposit taking, that is through banking license, but it appears they need to capitalise a bit more to prepare for qualification as a deposit taking institution,” the committee member observed.

NDB has been sourcing its funds from BIFM Capital, Barclays Bank and First National Bank Botswana (FNBB) at an interest rate of 8.5 percent, and 9.5 percent for BIFM capital. This, according to the bank, is brought about by the verity that government has stopped issuing bonds to the bank, forcing it to find alternative funding avenues. It has merged that most of committee members are sympathetic to NDB and are determined to make a case in their favour before parliament. Parliament has the authority to authorise government spending and has in the past approved bailing out of several public enterprises which were struggling financially. 

Though NDB was at one point making profit, it does not get subvention from government on annual basis despite the bank being a development bank. In 2016, NDB requested government to inject capital amounting to about P1 billion in the next three years in order to transform the bank and prepare it for commercialisation.  Last year, it was offered P400 million by government, P100 million of it being a grant while the remaining P300 million was a loan.

As per Chief Executive Officer of the Bank, Lorato Morapedi’s statement before the parliamentary committee on Statutory Bodies and Enterprises in 2016, NDB wanted government to inject P400 million in the next financial year [2017], followed by two government guaranteed loans of P165 million and P250 million in subsequent years.

NDB is one of the quasi-government institutions that have been put up for privatisation, with Botswana Telecommunication Corporation (BTC) having successfully gone through the process. It is expected that, like the BTC, government will retain 51 percent shareholding in the company, while 5 percent is offered to employees, with the rest of the shareholding being offered to the public.

 However, there has been debate both within and outside NDB with regard to whether the bank is in a state to be commercialised. Some school of thought is that in its current state, government would be either giving it away or nobody will show interest in its stock, hence the need to recapitalise the bank.

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No end in sight for Nam, Botswana borderline feud

27th July 2021
Namibian-report

Despite the President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi and his Namibian counterpart, Hage Geingob giving an impression that the borderline security disputes are a thing of the past and that diplomatic ties remain tight, fresh developments from Namibia suggest otherwise, following Geingod’s close confidante’s attack on Botswana and its army.

Giving a Zambezi region state of the affairs last week, a Geingob-appointed governor of Zambezi region, Colonel Lawrence Ampofu, a retired Colonel in the Namibian Defence Force, former plan combatant during the liberation struggle of Namibia, in a written speech, charged at the BDF and condemned their killings of the Namibians as unacceptable.

“The security situation within our borders remains calm. The incidence of the Botswana Defence Force shootings and wanton killings on the Nchindo Brothers on 05 November 2020 and other 37 Namibian lives lost since independence remain a serious challenge with our neighbor, Botswana.

Our residents living along the Chobe, Linyanti and Kwandu rivers are living under constant threats, harassment, fear, intimidation and killings and such activities are condemned and not acceptable,” he said under the safety and security title.

The attack suggests that Namibia has not bought Botswana’s story. Ampofu was part of the entourage that accompanied Geingob to the three Nchindo brothers and their cousin who were gunned down by the BDF, and is reported to be privy to the details of the unpublished Botswana-Namibia joint investigations report about the killings as a governor or political head of the region which has eight electoral constituencies.

The report contains the sensitive details of how the three Namibians referred as poachers by the BDF – and Fisherman by the Namibian government were gunned down on 5 November last year along the Chobe River.  They were Tommy (48), Martin (40) and Wamunyima Nchindo (36), and their cousin Sinvula Muyeme (44).

His views are not really in contrast to his President’s views who also described the BDF as trigger happy in a scripted report to his cabinet.

The Zambezi region is located in the extreme north east part of Namibia and covers a total of 14,667.6 square kilometres. “We share borders with Angola, Zambia to the north, Zimbabwe to the east and Botswana to the South,” he said.

Sampofu was first appointed governor of the former Caprive Region in 2010 by the former Namibian president, Hifikepunye Pohamba and was reappointed as Zambezi governor by President Dr.Hage Geingob in 2015, a term running to 2025.

37 Namibia residents killed by Botswana army so far

Sampofu is a man who continues to insist that Botswana has killed 37 residents of his region. A video posted by the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) shows him alleging that at least 37 Namibians were killed by the BDF, after he met with the community at Impalila.

“It is true, the BDF started long ago. As we speak 37 lives have been lost here in Impalila along the Chobe river going to Linyanti and Kwado rivers up to Lizauli. All those families lost their loved ones,” Ampofu said in the video posted by NBC.

It is not known how the BDF, which has maintained their position that the Namibians were engaging in illegal activities of poaching, treats the constant attacks by the Namibian authorities, but they have repeatedly vowed to continue protecting the country’s sovereignty and natural resources.

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Masisi gives KBL the “middle finger”

27th July 2021
President Masisi

Botswana’s premier brewer and leading distributor of beer, Kgalagadi Breweries Limited (KBL), this month dragged the government of Botswana to court after President Mokgweetsi Masisi imposed an alcohol ban with immediate effect. KBL labelled the decision as unjustifiable, irrational and that it overrides the rights that are enshrined in the constitution.

This week, Masisi through attorneys representing the government disparaged the case in his written affidavit of KBL’s application, referring to it as frivolous and that it ought to be dismissed with costs on a punitive scale.

In his court papers, Masisi reminded KBL that Botswana is a Republic whose laws find validity from the constitution, and in terms of Section 17 of the constitution the President is empowered to declare a State of Emergency and that it is a common cause that Botswana is under such state.

“It is common course that there is in existence emergency powers (Covid-19) Regulations 2020 as amended from time to time which is solely designed to regulate the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.

Masisi pointed out that he denies that the application before Court is proper such as to challenge the lawfulness and validity of a regulation made and a notice published in the exercise of a legislative function in accordance with the Emergency Powers Act which empowers the President to make regulations as appear to him to be necessary and expedient for securing public safety.

Furthermore, the President revealed that the decision to ban alcohol sales was not arrived at willy-nilly, but rather that there had been careful considerations that the risks posed by Covid-19 had increased and therefore it was expedient and necessary to suspend all liquor licenses.

Moreover, Masisi denied that the decision to reinstate the ban should be made by the Director of Health Services as indicated by KBL in their nature of the application, “the Director is to cause the notice to be published in the Gazette after consultation with the President.”

Masisi indicated that the role of the Director of Health Services is to publish a regulation made by the President.

He further, reminded KBL that the power to make regulations in a State of Public Emergency in accordance with the EPA lies with the President, “such power includes the amendment of any enactment, suspending the operation of any enactment or modification of an enactment.”

According to Masisi, his decision to ban alcohol sales was based on evidence provided by the Director of Health Services who indicated to him that there was a sudden spike in the transmission of the Covid-19 virus following the reinstatement of liquor licenses.

Another piece of advice tendered by the Director of Health to Masisi was that bars and other liquor outlets were some of the major hotspots in the sense of such being high-risk areas at which the virus spread rapidly.

“Alcohol was one of the major causes of non-compliance with the health protocols that were put in place to control the spread of the Covid-19 virus. Further, there was an indication that more arrests were made on people failing to adhere to Covid-19 protocols more particularly at places where there were gatherings,” he contended.

He pointed out that therefore, it was expedient and or necessary to preserve lives and to reduce the risks of transmissions of the virus to reinstate the suspension of liquor licenses.

Moreover, the President says that it must be noted that he avers that the Director of Health Services is a credible source on matters of public health of which he also accordingly gave due weight to the Director’s advice on deciding to reinstate the ban through the impugned notice.

“I am aware and was always aware at the time of promulgating the regulation complained of that it shall negatively affect some sectors of the economy. However, after due consideration and receipt of advice, I decided to give priority to the safety and health of the nation,” Masisi said.

He presaged KBL that it would not be prudent and in the best interest of the nation to ignore a health emergency such as Covid-19 and gave preference to trading and making of profits by the applicant. “The results would only be catastrophic to the extent that when we emerge from the scourge we would be left with a depleted and ailing nation from Covid-19 and its side effects.”

Furthermore, his written affidavit further pointed out that the decision to reinstate the ban on alcohol was taken notwithstanding understanding and appreciation of the economic hardships that would befall the country.

However, he said he deliberately made the decision based on the evidence provided to him by the Director of Health, whose evidence he believes to be credible to give public/safety and health priority over economic considerations in some sectors.

In making the decision, Masisi states that he was and considered different options including allowing for sale of alcohol consumption off premises, however the evidence he had been provided with suggested that such other alternatives would not achieve the overall objective of securing public safety and health by reducing the risk of the spread of the virus.

“By the time I imposed the ban, alcohol was already being sold for consumption off-premises. This did not work. The information provided to me by the Director and the Presidential Task-Force team demonstrated that consumers purchased alcohol and then loitered and consumed it within the peripheries of bars and other liquor outlets,” he said.

Attached to the affidavit as emphasis, were photographs and videos of Gaborone West, Phase 4 in mid-June 2021, which he explains circulated on social media and was brought to his attention.

“I need not say much about the photos as they depict a crowd exceeding 50 gathered at the parking area of a bar. There is little or no regard to Covid-19 protocols. It was clear to me and my advisors, including the Director of Health Services and members of the Presidential Task-Force team that the total ban of alcohol was necessary to manage the risk of increase in infections, to understand what seems to have led to an increase in the risk of infection when alcohol is present I was advised by the Presidential Task-Force team that scientifically there has been evidence that alcohol narrows physical distance,” he argued.

Masisi says that allegations made by KBL are serious allegations of infringement of fundamental rights yet they fail to state how imposition and reinstatement of the suspension of liquor licenses out of necessity and expediency of the health of the nation infringes on the rights as alleged.

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Gov’t gives parallel statements on COVAX

27th July 2021
COVAX---lelatisitswe

In  an embarrassing turn of events that depicts disintegration in government communication on the fight against COVID-19, President Mokgweetsi Masisi and Assistant Minister of Health & Wellness, Sethomo Lelatisitswe gave two conflicting statements on the same matter, same day, just minutes apart.

The Commander-in-Chef told health practitioners and residents in Ramotswa that the COVAX facility has scammed African countries after billions were paid in a crowd funding effort to procure COVID-19 vaccines in bulk.

“We have pumped money as developing countries of the African continent into the COVAX Facility but the returns were not satisfactory, they cheated us,” the President said in Ramotswa.

According to President Masisi, the COVAX facility Vaccine only came in bits and pieces, frustrating the continent ‘s head immunity targets amid rapidly spreading Delta Variant which is currently reversing all progress made by Africa in containing the contagious virus.

“What we are getting is very small portions of the vaccine, they keep telling us that there is shortage of supply, this is not fair, but we have paid in advance, however what can we do, we have no choice but to spend more  money and look for other avenues of securing other available vaccines,” he said.

Meanwhile in Gaborone, Assistant Minister of Health and Wellness told Parliament that vaccine from COVAX facility is anchoring Botswana’s vaccination program.

“I am not aware of such information that COVAX facility is not delivering as expected, we are actually bolstered by COVAX facility in this country,” he said responding to a question from Mahalapye West Member of Parliament David Tshere who is also Chairman of Parliament Committee On Health and HIV/AIDS.

“We have received doses as ordered from the COVAX facility, and we are still receiving more, I have not seen that information which is purported to have been revealed by the President, unless its new information, we as the Ministry we are not aware of any frustrations by the COVAX facility,” he said.

COVAX is co-led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi and the World Health Organization (WHO), alongside key delivery partner UNICEF.

Its aim is to accelerate the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines, and to guarantee fair and equitable access for every country in the world.

The facility is a global coalition that works to ensure fair and equitable access of COVID-19 vaccines around the world. So far, 190 countries have joined the COVAX initiative, including all 22 countries in the Eastern Mediterranean Region.

The COVAX Facility aims to have 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines available for distribution across the globe by the end of 2021, targeting those most at risk (e.g. frontline health workers) and most vulnerable severe diseases and death (e.g. elderly and people with co-morbidities).

On other vaccination issues President Masisi revealed, still in Greater Gaborone vaccination centre visits, that Botswana has placed orders with Pfizer, a United States vaccine producer noting that they have promised to deliver next year.

Meanwhile, government kick-started phase two of the Covid-19 vaccination program this week, opening up for ages between 30 and 54.

President Masisi revealed that this was done because some elderly were reluctant to be inculcated.

“We can’t take forever trying to convince people to take vaccine, we moved to the next age segments because we cannot afford to have vaccines-which are already in shortage supply to just lie there,” he said.

On Friday, Ministry of Health revealed that it was receiving large numbers of people below the age of 55 lining up to be vaccinated.

In a statement the Ministry of Health said it, “acknowledges the huge turnout that marked the commencement of the Phase two COVID-19 vaccination program”.

Given this high turnout, especially in the Greater Gaborone region, the ministry announced an extension of operation hours in order to serve the huge crowds that had come for vaccination.

Of the nearly 85 000 doses that were being doled across the country as first doses, the majority of the Greater Gaborone vaccination sites were already getting depleted by 1800hrs on 22 July 2021.

As a result of this development, the ministry took a decision to discontinue the extended hours of operation announced yesterday for vaccination sites in Gaborone.

This means that vaccination sites in Gaborone and elsewhere in the country which still have some vaccines, will offer them in the normal working hours and days of the week.

The Ministry says it appreciates the great desire to be vaccinated shown by thousands of citizens and residents of this country and wishes to assure them that it will continue to expedite their vaccination every time vaccines become available. As has been communicated in various fora, more vaccines are expected in August 2021.

As at July 2021, Botswana has so far received 62, 400 doses of AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD bought through the Covax facility, 30,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine donated by the Republic of India, 19, 890 doses of the Pfizer vaccine bought through the COVAX facility, 200, 000 doses of the Sinovac vaccine, donated by the Peoples Republic of China and another 200, 000 doses of the Sinovac vaccine bought through bilateral negotiations with Sinovac company in China.

“We encourage Batswana to remain hopeful that although it’s taking longer than anticipated, enough COVID-19 vaccines will eventually arrive in our country. We urge them to always strictly abide by all COVID-19 protocols so that they protect themselves and others from this deadly virus,” the ministry said.

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