Following the recent visit by President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi and other senior officials to China, it is reported that the government intends to borrow a significant sum from China, possibly as much as USD1.1 billion, or P12 billion. The loan(s) would be applied to infrastructure development, notably the rebuilding of major trunk roads in the north and east of the country, as well to construct a new northern railway link from Mosete (north of Francistown) to Kazungula and across the new Zambezi bridge into Zambia.
Assuming that the money is indeed on offer from China – part of a reported USD60 billion offered to various African countries at the recent Forum on China – Africa Co-operation (FOCAC) – how should the government evaluate whether this is good offer to accept? As a starting point, it is important to note that the Government of Botswana has many more choices with regard to the financing of infrastructure development than most African governments.
It is not obliged to borrow from China if it deems the designated projects to be worthwhile, as it could also borrow domestically (by issuing bonds) or finance the investments from its accumulated savings in the Government Investment Account (GIA) at the Bank of Botswana. With these available choices, it is important to evaluate the various options and determine, on the basis of the costs and benefits of each, which financing option(s) to use for infrastructure financing.
Legal and Policy Framework for Project Financing
Government’s financing decisions are taken within the context of relevant laws and policies. The key law is the Stocks, Bonds and Treasury Bills Act, which specifies that the total of government debt and guarantees is limited to 40% of GDP (in two tranches, 20% of GDP each for domestic and foreign debt). The key policy is the Medium-Term Debt Management Strategy (MTDMS), 2016-2018, which lays out the principles to be followed in managing debt.
According to the MTDMS, “the primary objective of Botswana’s debt management will be to ensure that the financing needs and payment obligations of Government are met at the lowest possible cost consistent with a prudent degree of risk, and in coordination with fiscal and monetary policies… [while] the secondary objective of the debt management will be to support the development of the domestic capital market”.
As of March 2018, total government debt and guarantees totalled 21% of GDP, of which 13% was external and 8% domestic (Figure 2). The MTDMS notes that while the overall level of debt is well within statutory limits, the structure is far from ideal. In particular, there is too much foreign debt and too much debt with variable interest rates, both factors that raise the level of risk (due to fluctuations in exchange rates and interest rates). It therefore sets an objective of reversing the current composition of total debt from 30% domestic/70% foreign to 70% domestic/30% foreign.
“To achieve the goal of having a higher proportion of domestic debt in total debt portfolio would involve restricting foreign borrowing to the bare minimum in the medium term, and prepaying some of the external loans, while continuing and/or increasing with the Government Bond Issuance Programme” [para 38].
A second objective is to minimise the cost of debt issuance. The MTDMS notes that in order to make an appropriate comparison between the cost of foreign debt (mostly contracted in US dollars) and domestic debt (in Pula), it is necessary to take into account changes in the Pula/US dollar exchange rate.
Over the ten years from the end of 2007 to the end of 2017, the average annual change in the BWP/USD exchange rate was 5%; on the assumption that this trend will continue, this has to be added to the interest rate dollars) and domestic debt (in Pula), it is necessary to take into account changes in the Pula/US dollar exchange rate. Over the ten years from the end of 2007 to the end of 2017, the average annual change in the BWP/USD exchange rate was 5%; on the assumption that this trend will continue, this has to be added to the interest rate charged on a US dollar loan to determine its true cost.
Assessing the Options
So how does the proposed loan from China stack up in terms of the legal and policy parameters regarding borrowing? First, the legal limit of 20% of GDP for foreign debt and guarantees translates to around P40 billion in 2018/19; with around P23 billion currently outstanding, an additional P12 billion can be accommodated with the legal limit.
Where does it stand in terms of the Government’s debt management strategy? Clearly it conflicts with the stated objective of “restricting foreign borrowing to the bare minimum” and reversing the 70%/30% foreign/domestic mix – as it increases the foreign debt share, rather than reducing it.
How about the cost? Nothing has been said publicly about the interest rate that would be paid on Chinese loans, but we understand that the average rate would be around 2%. This may sound low, but once we add on the exchange rate impact, the total cost becomes 7% (i.e., 2% + 5%). We can compare this with the cost of domestic borrowing. At the most recent government bond auction, the benchmark 10-year bond yield was just under 5%, and even the 25-year bond had a yield of only 5.2%.
While the cost of domestic debt might increase if bond issuance jumped sharply, it is evident that domestic borrowing is significantly cheaper than borrowing from China. It is also cheaper to issue domestic bonds than to use the savings in the GIA, which we estimate to have earned an average annual return of 8.1% over the past decade (and hence have an opportunity cost higher than the bond interest rate).
Finally, how does foreign borrowing contribute to the secondary objective of developing the domestic capital market? Not at all, as capital market development depends on the issuance of debt instruments (such as bonds) in Pula. Indeed, domestic institutions such as pension funds and life insurance companies have long been requesting greater government bond issuance in order to meet their investment needs.
Estimates prepared recently by Econsult for the pension sector conclude that the industry requires P1.5 – P2.5 billion of additional bonds each year over the next five years, with a total demand of P11 – 12 billion over the borrowing from China. This is without factoring in potential demand from foreign investors in Pula bonds over the next five years – exactly the same amount as the envisaged.
So borrowing from China doesn’t appear to be a very good deal, in terms of the government’s own strategy. It does not support the stated objective of reducing foreign borrowing and increasing domestic borrowing, and does not minimise financing risks. It is probably more expensive than borrowing domestically, and so does not meet the cost minimisation objective. Thirdly, it does not meet the objective of domestic capital market development. More generally, it raises the question of what is the point of having an official debt management strategy if it is going to be ignored on implementation.
There are also other issues associated with borrowing from China, which is normally tied to procurement from Chinese firms, which may not always offer the best value. AsThe Economist wrote in September this year, when discussing the decision by the new Malaysian Prime Minister to cancel loans from China, one reason was that “we know how inflated the costs are, and how skewed the deals are in China’s favour”.
Finally, it is important to realise that the financing decision is independent of the investment decision. The infrastructure projects should be evaluated in their own right, and if they pass the economic viability tests that are (or should be) central to the development planning process, they should proceed. Once this decision is taken, the financing question can be addressed.
If they are good projects, they do not depend on loans from China, but can be financed from domestic capital markets. Indeed, financing the projects from other sources enables a much more rigorous and procurement process to be undertaken, based on competitive, open international tendering. Chinese firms would be welcome to participate in such tenders, as could firms from other countries. The pricing of projects in these circumstances is likely to be much more attractive than when procurement and project implementation is tied to specific sources of finance.
The partnership between Debswana and Botswana Oil Limited (BOL) which was announced a fortnight ago will create under 100 direct jobs, and scores of job opportunities for citizens in the value chain activities.
In a major milestone, Debswana and BOL jointly announced that the fuel supply to Debswana, which was in the past serviced by foreign companies, will now be reserved for citizen companies. The total value of the project is P8 billion, spanning a period of five years.
“About 88 direct jobs will be created through the partnership. These include some jobs which will be transferred from the current supplier to the new partnership,” Matida Mmipi, Head of Stakeholder Relations at Botswana Oil, told BusinessPost.
“We believe this partnership will become a blueprint for other citizen initiatives, even in other sectors of the economy. Furthermore, this partnership has succeeded in unlocking opportunities that never existed for ordinary citizens who aspire to grow and do business with big companies like Debswana.”
Mmipi said through this partnership, BOL and Debswana intend to impact citizen owned companies in the fuel supply value chain that include transportation, supply, facilities maintenance, engineering, customs clearance, trucks stops and its support activities such as workshop / maintenance, tyre services, truck wash bays among others.
“The number of companies to be on-boarded will be determined by the economics at the time of engagement,” she said. BOL will play a facilitatory role of handholding and assisting emerging citizen-owned fuel supply and fuel transportation companies to supply Debswana’s Jwaneng and Orapa Letlhakane Damtshaa (OLDM) mines with diesel and petrol for their operations.
“BOL expects to increase citizen companies’ market share in the fuel supply and transportation industries, which have over the years been dominated by foreign-owned suppliers. Consequently, the agreement will also ensure security of supply for Debswana operations, which are a mainstay of the Botswana economy,” Mmipi said.
“Furthermore, BOL will, under this agreement, transfer skills to citizen suppliers and transporters during the contract period and ensure delivery of competent and skilled citizen suppliers and transport companies upon completion of the agreement.”
Mmipi said the capacitating by BOL is limited to providing citizen companies oil industry technical capability and capacity to deliver on the requirements of the contract, when asked on helping citizen companies to access funding.
“BOL’s mandate does not include financing citizen empowerment initiatives. Securing funding will remain the responsibility of the beneficiaries. This could be through government financing entities including CEDA or through commercial banks. Further to this, there are financial institutions that have already signed up to support the Debswana Citizen Economic Empowerment Programme (CEEP),” Mmipi indicated.
While BOL is established by government as company limited by guarantee, it will not benefit financially from the partnership with Debswana, as citizen empowerment in the petroleum value chain is core to BOL’s mandate.
“BOL does not pursue citizen facilitation for financial benefit, but rather we engage in citizen facilitation as a social aspect of our mandate. Citizen facilitation comes at a cost, but it is the right thing to do for the country to develop the oil and gas industry,” she said.
Mmipi said supplying fuel to Debswana comes with commercial benefits such as supply margins. These have traditionally been made outside the country when supply was done by multi-nationals for a period spanning over 50 years. With BOL anchoring supply for Debswana, this benefit will accrue locally, and BOL will be able to pay taxes and dividends to the shareholders in Botswana.
PwC Africa has presented the eighth edition of the VAT in Africa Guide – Africa re-emerging. This backdrop of renewal informs on the re-emergence of African economies and societies which have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In this edition, which has been compiled by PwC Africa’s indirect tax experts, covers a total of 41 African countries. It is geared towards sharing insight with our clients based on the constantly changing tax environments that can have a significant impact on business operations.
Within Africa, governments continue to focus on expanding the tax net by improving revenue collection through efficient compliance systems and procedures. PwC Africa has observed that revenue authorities also continue to take a keen interest in indirect taxes as part of revenue mobilisation initiatives.
Maturing VAT system and upskilling SARS
“In South Africa, VAT is becoming more relevant as a revenue source for the government,” says Matthew Besanko, PwC South Africa’s Indirect Tax Leader. “Strides have been made to upskill South African Revenue Service (SARS) staff and identify VAT revenue leakages, particularly in respect of foreign suppliers of electronic services to people and businesses in South Africa.”
Broadening the tax base and digital economy
In the past year, South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe saw updates to their VAT legislation, or introduced specific legislation targeting electronically supplied services (ESS), which is in line with the global trend of attempting to tax the digital economy. “The expectation is that Botswana will also introduce VAT legislation in due course, while the National Treasury in South Africa has also made mention of revising the rules to account for further developments in the digital economy,” Besanko says.
South Africa’s National Treasury has also drafted legislation with the intention to introduce a reverse charge on gold, which is expected to come into effect later in 2022. While in Zimbabwe, revenue authorities have introduced a tax on the export of raw medicinal cannabis ranging between 10% and 20%, which came into effect on 1 January 2021.
ESG and carbon tax
Key strides have also been made within the Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) space. “ESG leadership, strategising and reporting is essential now for organisations that wish to flourish and remain relevant,” Kabochi says. He adds that companies need to consider how ESG and tax intersect, since tax is a significant value driver when businesses need to deliver on their ESG goals.
In South Africa, a carbon tax regime, which is being implemented in three phases, has been adopted. The second phase was scheduled to start in January 2023, however phase one was extended by three years until 31 December 2025.
Until then, taxpayers will enjoy substantial tax-free allowances which reduce their carbon tax liability. At the beginning of 2022, the South African government increased the carbon tax rate to R144 (about US$9), which is expected to increase annually to enable South Africa to uphold its COP26 commitments.
With effect from 1 January 2023, carbon tax payers in South Africa will also be required to submit carbon budgets and adhere to the provisions of the carbon budgeting system which will be governed by the Climate Change Bill. Where set carbon budgets are exceeded, the government plans to impose penalties. “At PwC, we are continuously focused on our renewed global strategy, ” The New Equation,” Kabochi says. “Through this strategy, a key focus area for PwC Africa is to support clients in adding value to their ESG ambitions and building trust through sustained outcomes.”
The New Equation is also an acknowledgement of the fundamental changes in the business environment in which PwC’s clients and other stakeholders operate. PwC continues to reinvent and adapt to these changes as a community of problem solvers, combining knowledge and human-led technology to deliver quality services and value.
Local and international economists have lowered their projections on Botswana’s economic growth for 2022 and 2023, saying the country is highly likely to fail to maintain high growth rate recorded in 2021 hence will not reach initial forecasts.
Economists this week lowered 2022 forecasts for Botswana’s economic growth rate, from the initial 5.3% to 4.8% and added that in 2023 growth could further decline to 4.0%. The lower projections come on the backdrop of an annual economic growth that recovered sharply in 2021 with figures showing that year-on-year real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth increased to 11.4%, up from a contraction of 8.7% in 2020.
Economists from the local research entity, E-consult, this week stated that the 2021 double digit growth that exceeded projections made at the time of the 2022 budget may be short lived due to other developments taking place in the global economy. E-consult Economist Sethunya Kegakgametse stated that the war in Ukraine has worsened supply problems in the global economy and added that before the war, macroeconomic indicators were seen as improving and returning to pre-COVID levels.
According to the economist the global economy was projected to improve in 2022 and 2023. Recent figures show that global growth projections have been revised downwards from the initial forecast of 4.9% in 2022 with the World Bank’s new estimate for global growth in 2022 at 3.2%.
The statistics also shows that International Monetary Fund revised their growth projections for 2022 and 2023 down by 0.8% and 0.2% respectively, falling to 3.6% for both years. “The outbreak of war has severely dampened the global recovery that was under way following the COVID-19 pandemic,” said the economist.
She stated that despite Botswana being geographically removed from the conflict, the country has not and will not be exempt from the disruptions in the global economy. “The disruptions to global supply chains resulting from the war will have a negative effect on both Botswana’s growth and trade activities.
The economic sanctions against diamonds from Russia will add uncertainty to the market which will have knock on effects to Botswana’s growth, exports, and government revenues,” said the economists who added that the disruptions are driving prices up and result with very high inflation in the local economy.
Kegakgametse projected that in an attempt to limit inflation Bank of Botswana will be forced to raise interest rate “Should the sharp increase in both global and local inflation persist, Bank of Botswana much like other central banks around the world will be forced to raise interest rates in a bid to control rising prices. This would mean an end to the expansionary monetary policy stance that had been adopted post COVID-19 to aid economic growth,” she said.
In the latest projections, the UK based economic research entity Fitch Solutions lowered 2022 real GDP growth forecast for Botswana from 5.3% to 4.8% “In 2023, we see economic growth rate decelerating to 4.0%,” said Fitch Solutions economists who also noted that the 2022 and 2023 economic growth projections may come out lower than the current forecasts, as it is possible that new vaccine-resistant virus variants may be identified, which could result in the re-implementation of restrictions. “In such circumstances, we cannot rule out that Botswana’s economy may post weaker growth than our baseline scenario currently assumes,” said the economists.
According to the projections, Fitch Solution stated that there is limited scope for Botswana government to increase diamond production and exports, following the economic sanctions imposed on Russian diamond mining companies operating in Botswana. The research entity added that De Beers is unlikely to scale up diamond output from Botswana in order to prop up diamond prices.