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.
Homegrown LED light manufacturing company, The Bulb World, has kick started operations in South Africa, setting in motion the company’s ambitious continental expansion plans.
The Bulb World, which was partly funded by Citizen Entrepreneurial Development Agency (CEDA) at the tune of P4 million, to manufacture LED lighting bulbs for both commercial and residential use in 2017, announced last year that it will enter the South African market in the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) of North West province under the auspices of North West Development Corporation (NWDC).
The company has already secured a deal with South Africa authorities which entails production factory shells and tax incentives arrangements.
The company founder and Chief Executive Officer, Ketshephaone Jacob has also previously stated that the company is looking for just under P50 million to finance its expansion strategy and is reaching out to institutional investors such as Botswana Public Officers Pensioners Fund (BPOPF) and government investment arm, Botswana Development Corporation (BDC).
However, Jacob told WeekendPost that instead of sitting and waiting for expansion funding the company has started hitting the ground running.
“We have decided to get in the streets of SA, start selling lights from door to door, ” said Jacob who is in currently in Rusternburg to oversee the introduction of The Bulb World products in the market.
Jacob explained more brand activations will be undertaken in South Africa. “The plan is to do it the whole of North West and Limpopo province, through hawkers, we give the hawkers the lights to sell at a factory price and they put a mark up and make a living,” he said.
The Bulb World operates from Selibe Phikwe, it currently employees 65 young people, 80 % of which are Phikwe youth. The company plans to add 100 jobs this year alone as it forges ahead with its regional and continental expansion plans.
In July this year Bulb World products will hit South African Shelves: Pick n Pay, Checkers and Africa’s largest retailer Shoprite.
The Bulb World has been registered as a company in South Africa; the company will start producing lights from Mogwasa after striking a special economic zones deal with North West Development Corporation in North West Province South Africa.
“Over the next 10 years we are looking to create over 5,000 jobs in Africa. Through our expansion into all of Africa we will be able to create employment for various individuals in different sectors namely; manufacturing, distribution electronics and retail,” Jacob told this publication earlier this year.
Jacob said if all goes well, the plan is to have taken over Africa or rather penetrated, and have prevalent presence in the African market.
“We are gunning to have at least 30 percent market share by then. According to a 2016 Market Survey, the total valuation of sales for LED Lighting was 57BN, a portion of which we plan to have taken over by then,” he said.
While the company has set its eyes on Africa, Jacob said, the company has not fully exploited its local growth, indicating that there could be strategic factories built to supply neighbouring countries of Angola and Zimbabwe.
“There is potential for further local expansion as well to other areas of Botswana if things run smoothly as anticipated. Hopefully in the long-term if our fellow Africans and all these markets receive us well we are planning to build another factory,” he said.
“We are looking to build another factory in the Chobe/Ngamiland Area that will give priority to markets in Zimbabwe and Angola,” he said
The Maun based Okavango Research Institute (ORI) has downplayed the impacts of oil and gas exploration in part of Okavango delta arguing that given the distance proposed the likelihoods of negative impacts drilling these exploration wells on the surface water systems is likely to be negligible.
The Institution released a position paper titled ‘Proposed Petroleum (Oil and Gas) Exploration Operations in the Petroleum Exploration License (PEL) No. 73,’ with findings stating that, in the event of discovery of economically viable hydrocarbon deposits, much more careful consideration of the impacts and economic benefits of development of the resource will be needed.
For example, the fracking process for gas and oil extraction is known to require large volumes of underground water.
It further argues that increased extraction of the underground water is likely to affect the water table level and further affect the overall water availability in the river-basin.
“The effect on water availability and use may become worse if surface water is reticulated or sourced by any means from the Kavango River. Should the exploration and fracking for oil and gas expand to Block 1720, 1721 and 1821, the impact on water availability and quality will be significant, especially if the wastewater is not well managed,” said the paper.
The research unit recommends close communication between the relevant Basin State Ministries (Mineral Resources, Environment) and the Permanent Commission on the Okavango River Basin, OKACOM, and other stakeholders must be facilitated.
This will facilitate sharing of the correct information on the desired intentions of the basin states and compromises sought for the sustainability of the ecosystems in the downstream of the Cubango-Okavango river Basin, states the position paper.
ORI as a key stakeholder with scientific information says it is positioned to provide scientific advice and guidance to decision-makers on the potential impacts of both exploration and development and operation activities.
It also recommends that while the impacts might be minimal at the exploration stage, environmental impacts during the development and extraction process are significant.
Findings also state that the SADC Protocol places a mandatory duty to make a notification of planned measures undertaken in any riparian state in cases where such measures hold the potential to cause ‘significant adverse effects.’
It further states that where the planned development is trivial and not expected to cause any significant harm, the development state is not under duty to notify other riparian states.
Given that the drilling in the Kavango Region in Nambia is merely for exploratory purpose and the possibility of harm is minor, it is therefore not surprising that the Namibian government did not inform Botswana.
However, should it be found that the oil can be profitably or economically exploited, the Namibian government would be under a duty to notify both Angola and Botswana.
The institution further states that to ensure sustainable development in the Okavango Delta the following in the context of exploration for and potential development of hydrocarbon deposits within the Cubango-Okavango River Basin, it must be considered that the Okavango Delta is a World Heritage Site listed in 2014 by UNESCO and one of the binding requirements of the listing is the non-permissible commercial mining of any mineral, gas or oil within the World Heritage Site.
It states that the Okavango Delta is also a RAMSAR site in which mining is not allowed.
Should the exploration for minerals, oil and gas be allowed, there is a high chance that a mineral, oil or gas may be found given that the Delta is sitting on karoo sediments and shale rocks which in other parts of the world have been found to be sources of oil and gas deposits. Should oil or gas be discovered, there will be a strong socio-economic pressure to mine oil or gas and create jobs for the masses.
Manufactured in Turkey, Pakmaya Instant Dry Yeast can be used in the production of various fermented products, as it is suited for both traditional and industrial baking processes. All kinds of breads, buns and fermented pastry products are typical examples of applications.
Pakmaya Africa Sales Manager Cem Perdar says Pakmaya has 4 plants in across the world, further indicating that all of the plants have the highest standards of quality certificates and approvals. Regarding raw material, molasses is the main ingredient for yeast. Concerning production activities, yeast manufacturing requires high know-how and capability. Pakmaya has all those capabilities and aspects more than 45 years.
According to Perdar, Pakmaya has been existent in African markets since 30 years. From South to North, Central to East and West, a consumer can find Pakmaya in nearly every part of Africa continent.
“With its high quality, rich product selection and good service, our brand has become the favorite yeast of many Africans. On the other hand, our distributors in African countries are working very hardly and loyally in order to promote our products in their markets. After some time, we are becoming like families with our exclusive distributors in Africa and this enables both parts to work harder and keeps our product sustainable in market,” he said in an interview this week.
The yeast manufacturing giant made its way to Botswana market. The company has been smoothly working with Kamoso Distribution, a local distribution company. Perdar told BusinessPostthat two entities have been working hard to earn is market locally.
“At the moment we have a good market share with them in Botswana market. I’m sure during 2021 long, we will be increasing our sales and market position. Soon we are going to start a marketing campaign in Botswana, so that means Batswana will see and recognize Pakmaya more and more. Pakmaya wants to be the best friend of bakers in bakeries and ladies at homes in Botswana.”
As per global COVID-19 regulations to curb the spread of the COVID-19, Botswana just like other country closed borders. Providentially, the restrictions did not affect the company destructively.
Perdar says “Kamoso Africa is a very important and strong partner in Botswana territory. With Kamoso’s hard work and strict measurements, we have done a very good job. So as Pakmaya, we have not suffered any distribution problem. Our partner is doing the needful at the reaching our products to end users.”
He further said “We are doing well in Botswana market and hoping to make much more. Our aim is to enter every single corner in Botswana territory. With our new marketing campaigns, we are planning to be the most preferred yeast in Botswana market.”