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Fair competition key to economic transformation

is committed to creating conducive environment for economic transformation, this include amongst others ensuring fair competition for business which also protects and observes interest of consumers, Minister of Investment Trade & Industry(MITI),  Bogolo Kenewendo reiterated at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) held last week in Geneva.

Kenewendo and MITI officials, including amongst others Competition Authority of Botswana Chief Executive Officer, Tebelelo Pule were in Geneva to appreciate the findings of a voluntary peer review of Botswana‘s Competition law & Policy which was undertaken  by experts from South Africa, Kenya and United States under the watch and facilitation of UNCTAD.

When speaking alongside experts in a plenary session at the 17th meeting of the Inter-Governmental Group of Experts (IGE) at the conference, Kenewendo underscored that Botswana welcomed the review because government was alive to the fact that Botswana’s economic transformation quest is anchored around doing business which is levelled and inclusive of growth and collective enterprises and industrial development. The review was undertaken on the legal and institutional competition framework.

“We recognize a fair competition policy as a key catalyst to economic development, because when we have regulations and laws that dictate levelled and balanced competition our businesses grow and in turn our people are employed, our citizens should look forward to an improved protection from sharp practice and graft,” she said.

Minister Kenewendo observed that other windows that Botswana was currently pursuing such as Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), citizen economic empowerment amongst others were dependent on shrewd and sharp competition regulations. "As a developing nation, one of our key strategies for sustained growth has been to open our markets and liberalize our economy, so in order to do that we need to eliminate impediments that may present a stumbling block to this intent, tighten up and levelling our ground of business development is one key enabler,” she highlighted. 

She also added that Botswana was open to suggestions from international organization on how to sharpen its way of delivering a developed economy. Kenewendo said Botswana was satisfied and is of the view that the review exercise would lead to positive changes in the implementation of the competition and consumer protection laws in Botswana. She said the UNCTAD continued to play a pivotal role in Botswana’ s course as it continued to provide  technical assistance and expert views towards which developing countries such as Botswana can improve their business development agendas.

Botswana established the Competition Authority in 2011 as an enforcement agency for competition law and policy. It was established under the Competition Act of 2009 to monitor, control and prohibit anti-competitive trade or business practices in the economy. Kenewendo highlighted that processes were already in place to expand its mandate to include consumer protection under a new law enacted in 2018.

"The strengthening of consumer protection by placing the Consumer Protection Act under the administration of the competition authority has been identified as a strategic priority consideration to strengthen and maintain an institutional emphasis on consumer welfare and to reduce the opportunity for business to deny consumers the benefits of competitive markets by engaging in unfair business practices,” Kenewendo said.

While peer reviewers identified some points for improvement in the scope and application of Botswana's competition law and policy, Kenewendo highlighted that Botswana accepted the report and welcomed its recommendations. “We really appreciate a good job well done," said Botswana Competition Authority CEO, Pule, who added that some, but not all of the review's recommendations have already been addressed by the new law. The merger of the competition and consumer protection functions, she said, was doable while being cognizant of the setbacks.

The Director General of the Competition Authority of Kenya, Francis Kariuki, who was one of the peer reviewers, submitted that Botswana can document the peer review report to champion the reform agenda and output a sharp and shrewd competition oversight vehicle. Kenya’s competition law and policy was peer reviewed under UNCTAD stewardship in 2005.

UNCTAD has used the findings and policy recommendations of the Botswana peer review report to a design bespoke technical assistance project to reinforce the effectiveness of competition law enforcement. UNCTAD’s work on competition law and policy recognizes its symbiotic relationship with consumer protection law and policy, and hosts back-to-back intergovernmental meetings in both fields each year. “Competition and consumer protection can play a direct and important role in promoting economic growth and reducing poverty,” highlighted Teresa Moreira, Team leader in the exercise.

“Competition stimulates innovation, productivity and competitiveness, contributing to an effective business environment; this generates economic growth and employment, it creates possibilities for small and medium-sized enterprises, removing barriers that protect entrenched elites and reducing opportunities for corruption,” she said underscoring that empowered consumers also play an active role in the market and are subject to fewer abuses when they stand to their rights. “This directly improves their welfare. It contributes to creating a level playing field for businesses, which in turn supports competition.”

While addressing the subject of competition law,  Kenewendo also observed that competition policy was important tool that when applied in tandem with appropriate industrial and trade policies, will undoubtedly realize the objectives of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) particularly the goal on industry, innovation and infrastructure. She however hastened to add that quite often the anticipated growth in employment, productivity and other efficiencies are not realized because of harmful anti-competitive conducts such as bid rigging, collusive tendering, market allocation, price fixing and predatory pricing.

The Minister stated that competition law should ensure that the level of poverty in communities should be reduced and prices reduced. She called on the conference to ensure that unfair business agreements that particularly benefit big businesses while hampering the growth of small businesses should be comprehensively dealt with. “Unfair business practices typically affect Small and Medium Enterprises (SMES) in a disproportionate manner. The reality is that in developing economies, SME constitute the bulk of businesses and these are a catalyst to inclusive growth and sustainable development," she said.

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Botswana on high red alert as AML joins Covid-19 to plague mankind

21st September 2020
Botswana-on-high-alert-as-AML-joins-Covid-19-to-plague-mankind-

This century is always looking at improving new super high speed technology to make life easier. On the other hand, beckoning as an emerging fierce reversal force to equally match or dominate this life enhancing super new tech, comes swift human adversaries which seem to have come to make living on earth even more difficult.

The recent discovery of a pandemic, Covid-19, which moves at a pace of unimaginable and unpredictable proportions; locking people inside homes and barring human interactions with its dreaded death threat, is currently being felt.

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Finance Committee cautions Gov’t against imprudent raising of debt levels

21st September 2020
Finance Committe Chairman: Thapelo Letsholo

Member of Parliament for Kanye North, Thapelo Letsholo has cautioned Government against excessive borrowing and poorly managed debt levels.

He was speaking in  Parliament on Tuesday delivering  Parliament’s Finance Committee report after assessing a  motion that sought to raise Government Bond program ceiling to P30 billion, a big jump from the initial P15 Billion.

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Gov’t Investment Account drying up fast!  

21st September 2020
Dr Matsheka

Government Investment Account (GIA) which forms part of the Pula fund has been significantly drawn down to finance Botswana’s budget deficits since 2008/09 Global financial crises.

The 2009 global economic recession triggered the collapse of financial markets in the United States, sending waves of shock across world economies, eroding business sentiment, and causing financiers of trade to excise heightened caution and hold onto their cash.

The ripple effects of this economic catastrophe were mostly felt by low to middle income resource based economies, amplifying their vulnerability to external shocks. The diamond industry which forms the gist of Botswana’s economic make up collapsed to zero trade levels across the entire value chain.

The Upstream, where Botswana gathers much of its diamond revenue was adversely impacted by muted demand in the Midstream. The situation was exacerbated by zero appetite of polished goods by jewelry manufacturers and retail outlets due to lowered tail end consumer demand.

This resulted in sharp decline of Government revenue, ballooned budget deficits and suspension of some developmental projects. To finance the deficit and some prioritized national development projects, government had to dip into cash balances, foreign reserves and borrow both externally and locally.

Much of drawing was from Government Investment Account as opposed to drawing from foreign reserve component of the Pula Fund; the latter was spared as a fiscal buffer for the worst rainy days.

Consequently this resulted in significant decline in funds held in the Government Investment Account (GIA). The account serves as Government’s main savings depository and fund for national policy objectives.

However as the world emerged from the 2009 recession government revenue graph picked up to pre recession levels before going down again around 2016/17 owing to challenges in the diamond industry.

Due to a number of budget surpluses from 2012/13 financial year the Government Investment Account started expanding back to P30 billion levels before a series of budget deficits in the National Development Plan 11 pushed it back to decline a decline wave.

When the National Development Plan 11 commenced three (3) financial years ago, government announced that the first half of the NDP would run at budget deficits.

This  as explained by Minister of Finance in 2017 would be occasioned by decline in diamond revenue mainly due to government forfeiting some of its dividend from Debswana to fund mine expansion projects.

Cumulatively since 2017/18 to 2019/20 financial year the budget deficit totaled to over P16 billion, of which was financed by both external and domestic borrowing and drawing down from government cash balances. Drawing down from government cash balances meant significant withdrawals from the Government Investment Account.

The Government Investment Account (GIA) was established in accordance with Section 35 of the Bank of Botswana Act Cap. 55:01. The Account represents Government’s share of the Botswana‘s foreign exchange reserves, its investment and management strategies are aligned to the Bank of Botswana’s foreign exchange reserves management and investment guidelines.

Government Investment Account, comprises of Pula denominated deposits at the Bank of Botswana and held in the Pula Fund, which is the long-term investment tranche of the foreign exchange reserves.

In June 2017 while answering a question from Bogolo Kenewendo, the then Minister of Finance & Economic Development Kenneth Mathambo told parliament that as of June 30, 2017, the total assets in the Pula Fund was P56.818 billion, of which the balance in the GIA was P30.832 billion.

Kenewendo was still a back bench specially elected Member of Parliament before ascending to cabinet post in 2018. Last week Minister of Finance & Economic Development, Dr Thapelo Matsheka, when presenting a motion to raise government local borrowing ceiling from P15 billion to P30 Billion told parliament that as of December 2019 Government Investment Account amounted to P18.3 billion.

Dr Matsheka further told parliament that prior to financial crisis of 2008/9 the account amounted to P30.5 billion (41 % of GDP) in December of 2008 while as at December 2019 it stood at P18.3 billion (only 9 % of GDP) mirroring a total decline by P11 billion in the entire 11 years.

Back in 2017 Parliament was also told that the Government Investment Account may be drawn-down or added to, in line with actuations in the Government’s expenditure and revenue outturns. “This is intended to provide the Government with appropriate funds to execute its functions and responsibilities effectively and efficiently” said Mathambo, then Minister of Finance.

Acknowledging the need to draw down from GIA no more, current Minister of Finance   Dr Matsheka said “It is under this background that it would be advisable to avoid excessive draw down from this account to preserve it as a financial buffer”

He further cautioned “The danger with substantially reduced financial buffers is that when an economic shock occurs or a disaster descends upon us and adversely affects our economy it becomes very difficult for the country to manage such a shock”

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