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Botswana still nursing tax haven blister

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.”

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Business

Cresta cuts losses, pins recovery hopes on renewed travel sentiment 

20th October 2021
Cresta

Cresta Marakanelo Holidays Limited, Botswana’s leading hotel group, is battling the catastrophic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and its far-reaching implications. 

The tourism and travel business was by far one of the most hit economic sectors. The key to containing the COVID-19 pandemic was the significant curtailment of movement of the people to reduce the spread of the virus. On the flip side, this delivered a massive blow to the tourism and hospitality business, which largely relies on accommodating travellers.

This week, Cresta released their unaudited condensed consolidated financial results for the half-year period ended June 2021. The Group, which operates 11 hotels in Botswana, reported a significant reduction in losses owing to stringent cost-containment measures deployed by management to ensure the business doesn’t plunge deeper into the negative figures zone.

The Group’s registered a six-month loss before Taxation of P34.1 million, which was P8.4 million lower than the prior-year first six months period, which reported a loss of P42.5 million. Cresta says the COVID-19 headwinds continue to significantly affect the tourism and hospitality industry, and Cresta Marakanelo Limited was not an exception.

During the six months to June 2021, the Government of Botswana continued to implement a raft of measures imposed in December 2020 to curb the spread of COVID-19. These measures, which include restrictions on inter-zonal travel, a ban on alcohol sales, and a limited number of conference guests, have had a direct effect on reducing the level of activity in hotels.

The resort town hotels, which ordinarily generate at least 50 percent of their business from incoming foreign travellers, were significantly affected by the lockdowns in the source countries and low travel sentiment even after the hard lockdown measures were lifted.  The first-quarter performance was low in line with the seasonality of the business. However, the performance was further slowed down by the pandemic induced low travel sentiment and pandemic mitigation controls in place.

The second quarter saw a rise in the performance of the business when compared to the first quarter, contributing 60% of the revenue generated for the six months ended 30 June 2021. The business enjoyed a steady month-on-month increase in revenues from January to June 2021.

Under the adverse operating conditions for the industry, Cresta Directors boast of the P8.4 million loss cut. This, according to a commentary alongside financials, was mainly driven by the cost reduction measures implemented, some of which will be continued in the long term, even after the pandemic has been contained.

Revenue for the period under review was P96.5 million, 4% (P3.3 million) higher than the same period last year. Earnings before interest, tax, and depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) achieved during the period was P2.2 million, an improvement on the prior year’s loss incurred of P2.5 million.

The reduced market base has seen a surge in price wars in the industry, a variable that further puts pressure on the company’s revenues. Cresta management noted that the Group would continue to focus on cost containment to ensure the business’s survival through this difficult pandemic season.

In a drive to reduce the operating leverage of the business to ensure the company continues to be a going concern, several measures were implemented, including the suspension of all non-critical capital expenditure projects and freeze on all discretionary expenditure. In addition, Cresta negotiated with staff, landlords and other strategic suppliers to reduce contractual obligations. Following these measures, Cresta was able to minimize the reduction in cash balances during the period.

From 31 December 2020, cash balances declined by P29.1 million for the six months to 30 June 2021, compared to a decline of P42.1 million during the same period in 2020 on largely the same level of revenue mirroring successful cash preservation.  In assessing the ability of the Group to continue as a going concern, management performed a sensitivity analysis on a 12-month cash flow forecast which the Board of Directors reviewed to their satisfaction.

A range of possible outcomes related to the COVID-19 pandemic were considered, and it was concluded that Cresta Marakanelo Limited would continue as a going concern. The single most significant assumption was that the business should make a turnaround for the better within 12 months period on the back of vaccination programmes both in the source market countries and locally.

Vaccination enhances travel sentiment for the market, and it is on its strength that most paid guests are opting to postpone their bookings rather than cancel altogether.  The company has also secured an additional working capital facility of P25 million. This will provide extra headroom while the business levels are low.

Based on the review of the Group’s cash flow forecasts, the Directors believe that the Group will have sufficient resources to continue to trade as a going concern for a period of at least 12 months from the date of approval of these financial statements and accordingly, the interim financial statements have been prepared on the going concern basis.

Last month Cresta announced that they had decided not to renew the lease for the Cresta Golfview Hotel in Lusaka, Zambia, which comes to an end on 31 January 2022. The landlord of the property will continue to run the hotel under a different brand, and preparations are currently underway for a smooth handover of the property, with the least possible impact to staff, suppliers and guests.

During the half-year, P11.7 million (2020: P25.8 million) was utilized in operating activities, primarily due to the subdued revenues. Net cash used in investing activities amounted to P2.5 million (2020: P14.4 million).

The reduction in cash outflow on investing activities was because of the capital expenditure freeze. With regards to financing activities, P15.2 million (2020: P4.1 million) was utilized, split between bank loan repayments of P3.7 million (2020: P1.5 million) and leasing hotel properties P11.5 million (2020: P11.6 million).

In the future, Cresta pins its full recovery hopes on the vaccination plan, which is envisioned to cultivate revived travel sentiment significantly. “As seen in other countries whose vaccination programmes were embraced by a significant part of the population, vaccination is expected to see the removal of conferencing restrictions, alcohol sale ban and lifting of travel restrictions,” the company said.

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Business

Botswana possesses unexploited renewable energy 

20th October 2021
renewable-energy

The International Renewable Energy Agency’s (IRENA) latest Renewables Readiness Assessment of Botswana has made it known that the country enjoys considerable renewable energy potential. Notably, solar, wind and bioenergy are more prevalent. However, these remain largely untapped, despite the country’s ambitious plans for integrating renewable energy into its energy system.

According to the report, Botswana’s total primary energy supply (TPES) is fossil-based and largely reliant on oil products and coal, complemented by biomass and waste energy. In the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) launched in December 2020, it was announced that renewable energy should account for at least 15% of the energy mix by 2030, whilst the country’s Vision 2036 calls for a 50% renewable energy contribution to the energy mix by March 2036. The ambitions are arguably aloof given the insufficient critical actions that could significantly impact the energy transition in Botswana.

Access to electricity stands at 65%, with 81% of urban areas illuminated and 28% of rural regions electrified. As of 2017, the country’s total energy supply of 2.9 million tonnes of oil equivalent consists of oil products (35%), coal (44%), (traditional) biofuels and waste (19%) and imported electricity (2%). The IRENA has established that electricity is mainly produced from coal or petroleum products imported from South Africa.

As is the case in most regions, Botswana’s power system is characterised by an unreliable power supply, lack of investment, poor maintenance, and high service costs. To meet its peak power demand, Botswana imports power from the Southern Africa Power Pool (SAPP) – mainly from South Africa – and when imports are not available, resorts to costly backup diesel power plants.

In 2013, the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) Clean Coal Centre found that Botswana has estimated coal resources of 40 gigatonnes (Gt) or 40 trillion Kg. In 2014, the only two measured coal reserves were Morupule and Mmamabula basins, with a capacity of 7.2 Gt. IRENA believes this abundant resource is underexploited as only a single coal mine, Morupule, is currently operating.

Already established, Botswana relies heavily on fossil fuels for its electricity generation. As shown by the country’s installed generating capacity of 893.3 megawatts (MW), comprising 600 MW from the coal-fired Morupule B, 132 MW from the also coal-burning Morupule A, 90 MW from Orapa power plant, which is a diesel peaking plant, 70 MW from Matshelagabedi power plant (diesel peaking plant) and 1.3 MW from Phakalane solar photovoltaic power plant, according to the then Ministry of Mining, Minerals, Energy and Water Resource (MMERW) in 2017, now under a new name.

IRENA posits that although the installed capacity can cover the country’s peak demand estimated at 610 MW, the Botswana Power Cooperation’s (BPC) interconnected system faces several challenges. According to the power parastatal, in 2017, Morupule A did not produce electricity and was closed down for refurbishment. It produced 25 gigawatt-hours (GWh) in 2018 but had to be shut down again to remedy defects identified during commissioning.

Morupule B has been running under capacity since its commissioning in 2013 due to plant breakdown and system failures. BPC is currently undertaking remediation, which is expected to be completed in 2023/24, with all units running 100% production.

As for the diesel power plants of Orapa, producing 90MW and Matshelagabedi’s 70MW, which are rented to Alstom, they were conceived to support peak load but are being used for regular electricity supply BPC reports. The Corporation’s two diesel power stations were not used during 2018 and remained on standby. The lack of capacity to satisfy electricity demand requires regular imports from surrounding countries.

Botswana relied on electricity imports to cover up to 94% of its demand until the progressive recovery of the Morupule B plant. IRENA noted that the share of electricity imports in total supply decreased to about 17%, or 594 gigawatt-hours (GWh) in 2018 from 1 297 GWh in 2017 due to lower demand from the mining sector.

BPC has been in a precarious financial state for many years due to high import costs, operational difficulties and inoperative assets and has been kept afloat by government subsidies.
Botswana has an exceptionally high rate of solar irradiation, making solar energy a promising renewable energy source in the country.

The semi-arid country has an estimated 3 200 hours of sunshine per year. According to a MMEWR study, the yearly solar resources from global horizontal irradiation (GHI) range from 2 050 to 2 920 kilowatts received in one hour by one square meter of a surface (kWh/m²). For comparison, these irradiation levels are similar to those in California, which is amongst the most competitive solar market today.

Botswana is also endowed with a range of bioenergy resources that could be used for energy production. Wood fuel remains the dominant cooking fuel for rural households, as 42% of the population relies on it. A 2016 World Bank study based on a government study from 2007 to assess biofuel production and use in Botswana revealed the potential for biodiesel production from Jatropha curcas and bioethanol from sweet sorghum and sugarcane crops.

The Central district presents the highest biodiesel potential from Jatropha production, while the North-West district’s bioethanol potential from sweet sorghum is mainly located in the Ngami sub-district. However, another study coordinated by IRENA found that Jatropha is not suitable to cultivate in Botswana, as 100% of the land is restricted due to protected areas, wetlands, existing agricultural lands or urban areas, as well as additional exclusion areas and other restrictions in terms of market access and water availability. Sugarcane crops were only viable if irrigated, and the extent of production could reach 9% of the land.

Furthermore, an analysis conducted by IRENA and United States-based Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) for the Africa Clean Energy Corridor depicts some suitable zones for wind turbine power deployment, which are mainly located in the southern part of Kgalagadi district near Tsabong and the Southern region, with a technical potential of up to 1.5 GW.

In the foreword of Botswana’s Renewables Readiness Assessment, the Minister for Mineral Resources, Green Technology and Energy Security, Lefoko Moagi, said the release of the report coincides with the recent adoption by Parliament of the Botswana National Energy Policy – a key, strategic instrument for the successful and economic development of the local energy sector.

A prominent objective of the Policy is to achieve a substantive penetration of new and renewable energy sources in the country’s energy mix; the goal is to attain adequate economic energy self-sufficiency and security, as well as to position Botswana to fulfil its vision of becoming a regional net exporter, especially in the electricity sector. Director-General for IRENA Francesco La Camera said Botswana possesses considerable potential for renewable energy development.

In the introduction of the assessment, La Camera stated that the report presents clear and practical steps to maximise the country’s use of renewables in driving sustainable economic growth for Botswana. The extensive document identifies the need to adopt a broader range of renewable energy technologies to diversify Botswana’s power generation away from coal, generate socio-economic value and fulfil the country’s environmental and climate commitments.

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Business

NAMDEB extends life of mine for land operations by up to 20 years

19th October 2021

Joint venture between De Beers and Government of Republic of Namibia announces new plan, supporting economic, commercial, employment and community benefit, following receipt of royalty relief Namdeb Diamond Corporation (Proprietary) Limited (‘Namdeb’), a 50:50 joint venture between De Beers Group and the Government of the Republic of Namibia, today announced the approval of a new long-term business plan that will extend the current life of mine for Namibia’s land-based operations as far as 2042.

Under the previous business plan, the land-based Namdeb operations would have come to the end of their life at the end of 2022 due to unsustainable economics. However, a series of positive engagements between the Namdeb management team and the Government of the Republic of Namibia has enabled the creation of a mutually beneficial new business plan that extends the life of mine by up to 20 years, delivering positive outcomes for the Namibian economy, the Namdeb business, employees, community partners and the wider diamond industry.

As part of the plan, the Government of the Republic of Namibia has offered Namdeb royalty relief from 2021 to 2025, with the royalty rate during this period reducing from 10% to 5%. This royalty relief has in turn underpinned an economically sustainable future for Namdeb via a life of mine extension that, through the additional taxes, dividends and royalties from the extended life of mine, is forecast to generate an additional fiscal contribution for Namibia of approximately N$40 billion. Meanwhile, the life of mine extension will also deliver ongoing employment for Namdeb’s existing employees, the creation of 600 additional jobs, ongoing benefits for community partners and approximately eight million carats of additional high value production.

Bruce Cleaver, CEO, De Beers Group, said: “Namdeb, a shining example of partnership, has a proud and unique place in Namibia’s economic history. This new business plan, forged by Namdeb management and enabled by the willingness of Government to find a solution in the best interest of Namibia, means that Namdeb’s future is now secure and the company is positioned to continue making a significant contribution to the Namibian economy, the socio-economic development of the Oranjemund community and the lives of Namdeb employees.” Hon. Tom Alweendo, Minister of Mines and Energy for the Government of the Republic of Namibia, said: “Mining remains the backbone of our economy and is one of the largest employment sectors within our country.

Government understood the fundamental impact of what the Namdeb mine closure at the end of 2022 would have had on Namibia. Therefore, it was imperative to safeguard this operation for the benefit of sustaining the life of mine for both the national economy as well as preserving employment for our people and the livelihoods of families that depend on it.”

Riaan Burger, CEO, Namdeb Diamond Corporation, said: “After more than a century of production, these operations were approaching the end of their life, but the creation of this new business plan means we can continue to deliver for Namibia for many years into the future. This is great news for the hardworking women and men of Namdeb, as well as for all our community partners who we are proud to have worked with over the years. We now look forward to starting a new chapter in Namdeb’s proud history.”

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