Botswana remains stuck in European Union (EU)’s grey-list of tax havens and it is closely monitored by Brussels as it promised to reform its tax structures since last year. Furthermore, Botswana is still an uncooperative tax territory in France mind as it is placed high on the blacklist of ‘Uncooperative Territories and French Tax Consequences of the Blacklisting.’
Being grey-listed by EU means a country will be under constant monitoring and checkups from Brussels. But it is better than being in the blacklist where a country faces EU sanctions as well as getting a dent in international reputation. The tax haven tag on Botswana was first placed by France President Nicholas Sarkozy in 2011 who then declared that the international community should shun Botswana as it is a tax haven.
The IFSC burden
The Minister of Finance and Economic Development Kenneth Matambo in July this year said government will constantly engage EU to remove the perception of tax haven on its neck. In a commitment letter written by Matambo to EU November last year, the minister suggested that the EU’s Forum on Harmful Tax Practices (FHTP) raised a red flag on this country’s tax regulations, especially the controversial International Financial Services Centre (IFSC) tax incentive framework under which IFSC accredited and qualifying firms enjoy a 15% corporate tax rate while other companies face the normal 22 % tax. Tax experts concluded that IFSC regime is one of the sources of Botswana’s tax haven tag.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) also warned since last year that Botswana should remove its many tax incentives and IFSC was the main culprit. This prompted Matambo to tell the EU in a recent letter this year that Botswana is working on introducing legislative amendment to address the harmful effects of IFSC. “We undertake to complete the necessary legislative actions to amend the regime by December 2018 as agreed by the Forum on Harmful Tax Practices,” wrote Matambo to EU.
While tax pundits and the IMF advises that IFSC should be abolished, Matambo remains unmoved on the tax initiative, telling reporters July this year that, “the IFSC framework basically provides a lower level of tax to companies under the mandate of the IFSC. For us it is an incentive to grow the financial sector. The purpose of this lower level of tax is to provide an incentive but the OECD countries for their own reasons look at it differently, we disagreed with them that we are not a tax haven. We do tax companies that make an income in this country.”
In the 2018/19 Budget Speech, Matambo promised that government will review IFSC in order to remove any perception that Botswana is a tax haven. “The review will be undertaken as part of the Income Tax (Amendment) Bill scheduled for presentation to Parliament during 2018,” he said.
Secrecy another source of EU blacklisting
According to Tax Justice Network Africa’s Financial Secrecy Index 2018, Botswana is one of the most secretive tax jurisdictions. It says “information sharing remains limited, enabling companies and wealthy foreigners to get away with tax avoidance and evasion by avoiding detection in their home countries or where business activity takes place.
According to Tax Justice Narrative on Botswana, this country comes in at 103rd place in 2018 Financial Secrecy Index. It further states that the country has a relatively high secrecy score of 68, but has an insignificant market for offshore financial services. “There may be limited information on the way Botswana’s IFSC is used for illicit and criminal practice,” said the Tax Justice Network.
In February this year in his 2018/19 Budget Speech, Matambo said to deal with issues of secrecy the Financial Intelligence Act and Regulations which will address the shortcomings identified by the Mutual Evaluation Review for Botswana by the Eastern and Southern Africa Anti-Money Laundering Group in May 2017 will be dealt with this year.
Botswana walking at a snail’s pace in tax regime amendments
However the tax structure amendment by Botswana which was promised to be done this year has since been deferred to next year leaving the country’s tax haven label stuck on its neck. In a recent interview Ministry of Finance and Economic Development Spokesperson Fenny Letshwiti revealed that the ministry is working on amending the Income Tax Act and the Value Added Tax Act and to enact a new Tax Administration Act. He further revealed that the Bills will be presented to the February 2019 Parliament for approval.
While Botswana wrote to EU November last year committing to Brussels that it will work on its tax regime or all the tax reforms this year December, it appeared to be a pipeline dream as the ministry recently revealed that the amendments are slated for next year. This means this country will have to wait for a while to be removed from any blacklist or grey-list.
Botswana not a tax haven – just an EU Big Brother perception?
Some pundits and politicians make the tax haven tag on Botswana appear as a mere neocolonial or Western big brother body check on this country. But EU remains the biggest player in the international trade market as it is the major exporter of Botswana’s beef. Botswana also exports diamonds to Europe. On the other hand Botswana imports manufactured goods, transport equipment, machinery, electrical machinery and pharmaceuticals or chemicals.
Local tax expert Jonathan Hore in an interview with BusinessPost said Botswana is not technically a tax haven but it is just that the EU has strict standards regarding the disclosure and sharing of information with other countries. “The tax haven tag was first placed on the country in 2011 when Nicholas Sarkozy first publicly declared that the international community should shun tax havens. In that year, the country did not have any information disclosure arrangements with other countries. The country has also made many information disclosure agreements with many countries in order to comply with international transparency rules.
Despite Botswana’s bad reputation of being among the bad boys of the international arena, this country has been defensive of its tax administration and dismissed the notion of it being a tax haven. Last year during the 19th meeting of the African the then Minister of Investment, Trade and Industry Vincent Seretse said Botswana is not a tax haven and does not deserve to be in any blacklist. Seretse attacked France’s constant “unsolicited” blacklisting of this country. He said Botswana complies with all the international tax standards and has a transparent tax jurisdiction.
Minister of Finance and Economic Development Matambo also rejects the tax haven brand on Botswana and in his Budget Speech he suggested calling Botswana a tax haven is just a mere perception by Europe. In the July press conference he said “we disagree with them, that we are not a tax haven.”
Recently, Minister of Investment, Trade and Industry Bogolo Kenewendo was confident that this country being called a tax haven is a thing of the past. Caribbean Pacific –European Union, the then Minister of Trade Vincent Seretse rejected France’s notion that Botswana is a tax haven. Botswana adopted a seemingly sovereign and bold stance through Seretse who called the EU blacklisting “unsolicited.”
Robust demand for diamonds in early 2022 which was a spillover from late 2021, has catapulted Botswana into a surplus for the month of January 2022.
According to latest figures from Statistics Botswana, the country recorded a trade surplus of P661.8 million in the first month of the year, against a trade deficit of P270.2 million in December as per revised data.
The Statistics Botswana’s International Trade Merchandise Trade Statistics (ITMS) for January has attributed the trade surplus to a splendid performance of the diamond commodity which anchored the country’s export figures to a growth of 5.7 percent (P411.8 million), from the revised December 2021 figure of P7,182.8 million to P7, 594.6 million in January.
The Diamonds group accounted for 90.9 percent (P6, 904.3 million), followed by Copper, with 2.5 percent (P189.0 million). Diamond exports rose by 5.2 percent (P339.2 million) from the revised December 2021 value of P6, 565.1 million to P6, 904.3 million. An upsurge in Copper exports by 17.2 percent (P27.8 million) from P161.3 million to P189.0 million was also observed during the current month.
On the other hand during the same month of January 2022, imports were valued at P6, 932.8 million, representing a decline of 7.0 percent (P520.3 million) from the December 2021 revised figure of P7, 453.1 million. The decrease was mainly attributed to the decline in all commodity groups except for Diamonds and Chemicals & Rubber Product.
Botswana imports diamonds from South Africa, Namibia and Canada, coming into the country for aggregation at De Beers Global Sightholder Sales. Diamonds contributed 30.1 percent (P2, 087.1 million) to total imports. Fuel; Chemicals & Rubber Products and Food, Beverages & Tobacco followed with contributions of 15.7 percent (P1, 085.8 million), 14.9 percent (P1, 031.2 million) and 12.5 percent (P869.0 million) respectively. Machinery & Electrical Equipment contributed 10.3 percent (P716.0 million).
During the month SACU region accounted for the largest imports contributing 53.2 percent (P3, 690.3 million) to the total. The top most imported commodity groups from the customs union were Fuel and Food, Beverages & Tobacco, with contributions of 26.4 percent (P973.1million) and 22.1 percent (P815.8 million) to imports from the region, respectively.
South Africa is Botswana’s top supplier of imports at 50.3 percent (P3, 490.3 million) of total imports during the current month. Fuel and Food, Beverages & Tobacco contributed 24.5 percent (P855.5million), and 23.0 percent (P801.1 million) to total imports from that country, respectively. Chemicals & Rubber Products and Machinery & Electrical Equipment, followed by 13.5 percent (P471.3 million) and 13.1 percent (P458.8 million) respectively.
Namibia supplied 2.3 percent (P157.1 million) of total imports during the period, mainly comprising of fuel at 74.9 percent of total imports from the country. Botswana received imports worth P1, 738.2 million from the EU, accounting for 25.1 percent of total imports during the reference period.
The major commodity group imported from the EU was Diamonds, at 80.8 percent (P1, 404.9 million) of all imports from the union. Belgium was the major source of imports from the EU, with a contribution of 21.7 percent (P1, 506.9 million) of total imports during the month under review.
In January 2022, imports from Asia were valued at P657.6 million, representing 9.5 percent of total imports. The major commodity groups imported from the regional block were Diamonds and Machinery & Electrical Equipment with contributions of 41.5 percent (P272.7 million) and 21.6 percent (P141.8 million) of total imports respectively.
Canada supplied 4.2 percent (P290.5 million) of total imports during the current period. Imports from Canada consisted mainly of Diamonds at 98.5 percent (P286.0 million). In terms of Exports Asia was the top destination for Botswana exports, having received 67.7 percent (P5, 141.9 million) of total exports in January 2022.
These exports were mainly destined for India and the UAE, receiving 25.6 percent (P1, 944.0 million) and 23.1 percent (P1, 753.1 million) of total exports, respectively. Diamonds and Copper were the major commodity groups exported to Asia during the month.
In January 2022, exports destined to the EU amounted to P1, 297.4 million, accounting for 17.1 percent of total exports. Belgium received almost all the exports destined to the regional union, acquiring 16.9 percent (P1, 280.5 million) of total exports.
The Diamonds group was the main commodity group exported to the EU, at 98.6 percent (P1, 279.9 million)
During the reference period, the SACU region received exports valued at P900.6 million, accounting for 11.9 percent of total exports. Diamonds and Live Cattle accounted for 55.0 percent (P322.5 million) and 10.1 percent (P76.8 million) of total exports to the customs union.
South Africa and Namibia received 9.6 percent (P727.4 million) and 2.3 percent (P172.8 million) of total exports respectively during the month under review. Goods exported by Air during the month under review were valued at P6, 990.3 million, accounting for 92.0 percent of total exports. Those transported by Road and Rail accounted for 7.8 percent (P589.3 million) and 0.2 percent (P14.9 million) respectively.
During January 2022, 52.3 percent (P3, 625.3 million) of total imports were transported into the country by Road. Transportation of imports by Rail and Air accounted for 35.4 percent (P2, 456.5 million) and 12.3 percent (P850.4 million) respectively.
1. Europe once branded coal ‘dirty’ but their demand for it has skyrocketed once again. What do we learn about coal from what’s happening now in Ukraine?
There are over 80 countries in the world who still rely on coal as a form of energy. These are countries that are fighting to have basic necessities like electricity, which research shows increases their quality of life substantially. Energy poverty is real in Africa, India and Asia.
The Western approach to coal cannot be universal. We must remember that developed economies relied heavily on coal during their development. Challenges being faced by developing nations are unique. Demand for coal in Europe right now is driven by sanctions on Russian gas and coal and show that Europe might well be over-exposed to “green” with no back-up at times when there is no wind, running water, endless sunshine or faced with supply shortages. Coal is back in play in Europe because of the war, and despite massive adoption of clean energy in the US not all of the US uses clean energy.
In Germany and Italy, coal-fired power plants that were once decommissioned are now being considered for a second life. In South Africa, more coal-laden ships are embarking on what’s typically a quiet route around the Cape of Good Hope toward Europe. Coal burning in the US is in the midst of its biggest revival in a decade, while China is reopening shuttered mines and planning new ones Coal remains and will remain an essential element in the energy mix. We need to make use of cleaner coal in such mix.
2. How much has been the projected demand of coal in the in the last couple of months?
Our key land export markets consist of 80-90% bound for South Africa and Namibia. In the last three months however, sea bound exports increased significantly with international traders buying to export to Europe and the West. We do not have specific numbers because the final destination overseas is determined by the international traders who buy coal from us. We remain hopeful that this demand continues.
3. How has the demand influenced Minergy exports to South Africa, Namibia and overseas?
Minergy remains committed to its local markets and continues to supply into these. A massive increase in demand from international markets, stemming from the Ukraine war and sanctions on Russia has come as a blessing to Minergy as lucrative pricing has made once uneconomical logistics feasible. This allowed Minergy to place additional product in new markets, markets historically uneconomical… We continue to look for alternative markets and supply to Namibia is one such market as well as the ability to use their ports as export routes for seaborne thermal coal.
4. Comment on the Minergy market access dynamics.
Refer to answer for question 2 and 3.
5. What would it take to fully explore the billions of tons of coal in Botswana?
Greater local and even foreign direct investment. Simplifying regulatory processes and promoting ease of doing business needs to be top agenda items. Coal has unfairly been de-campaigned in the West as a ‘dirty’ mineral which has swayed investors to look elsewhere for investment portfolios. With enough funders and investments in coal the huge deposits can change our power fortunes and energy independence. Given Botswana’s massive reserves, we are of the opinion that coal should be another diversified revenue stream for the Botswana Government. At Minergy we remain thankful for the support from Government as well as from internal development organizations that have supported our strategy and were instrumental in getting the mine to the phase that it is in at the moment. Partnership with government and open minds to managing coal is key.
6. What future do you project for Minergy in the medium and long term given what we see now in Europe?
We cannot predict how long the situation in Europe will last and we pray that it will be resolved as the loss of lives and destruction of the Ukraine is a human catastrophe. Our model is premised on fully optimizing our deposits for the benefit of Botswana and Batswana..
7. Open cast for coal is a new concept in Botswana. How has Minergy enhanced the skills base?
Opencast coal mining and the associated beneficiation of sized coal is a specialized industry. Currently there is no other similar operation in Botswana to recruit from.
The South African coal industry is well experienced with this plant operation and the requisite skill is found there. It is necessary for our operations to make use of such skills to operate the plant as we cannot find all the skill in Botswana. The skill for operating such a plant is different than diamond, tin, copper etc. processing. As such certain positions require expatriate recruitment, but all these positions are supported with understudy programmes
It is Minergy’s hope as part of its legacy, to promote and install fully qualified local opencast mining and coal beneficiation skills, currently not available in Botswana.
8. What are the projected human capital skills of the future in coal mining.
See response to question number 7.
9. Share experiences from the recent Mining Indaba. What is the future of coal?
Africa needs to be energy efficient and independent. We remain encouraged at the responsible strategy that the Botswana government has put into place to support this.
10. Kindly share in detail, infrastructural developments which were brought in place by Minergy in those communities.
We have an electronic brochure that showcases all the value add that we have contributed not to just the Medie village but Botswana as a whole. This is available at our office or electronically on our website www.minergycoal.com. Highlights include
Minergy paid for the electrification of the mine and the local Medie village benefited from the connection, allowing 500 people access to electricity through a self-funded prepaid system. As an extended part of Minergy’s social investment drive the Kgotla and the clinic have also been electrified, making day-to-day running of these essential services much easier and efficient. This is ahead of the Governments intended electrification programme, which was only planned for2024.
The quality of the road between Lentsweletau and Medie has been significantly upgraded compared to the state the road was in before mining operations commenced. Continuous road rehabilitation and dust suppression is undertaken in and around the villages to maintain road integrity. ( This is a public road, but the Group takes care of the road as it benefits the community in which the mine operates)
The dilapidated community hall has been refurbished including access to solar power and will be handed over to the community.
11. A development as huge as Masama Coal mine would usually result in the mushrooming of several other businesses to benefit from its value chain. In the case of Masama, kindly share businesses which have been created as a result of the growing value chain.
Readers are again referred to electronic brochure that showcases all the value add that we have contributed.
This phenomenon is indeed correct and there are a number of entrepreneurial businesses that have flourished including laundry services, bed & breakfast for suppliers visiting the mine or the area, housing built for rental accommodation, spaza shops and food stalls, first supermarket in Lentsweletau and additional building supply outlets established
We also make use of 12 locally owned and operated transporters, who are used by the mine to transport product, where applicable.
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.