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Growth in financial sector potential boon for jobs in Botswana

Recent economic data from Botswana shows that the country is bucking the trend of surrounding Southern African countries, with GDP growing by 3.2% for the year ending in June 2017. One of the biggest non-mining sectors showing a lot of potential is the financial services sector, which had an interesting year.

To begin with, First National Bank Botswana (FNBB) and Bank Gaborone opened new branches; Ford Finance developed partnerships in Botswana, and the Southern African operation of Zurich Insurance, now known as Bryte Insurance, launched in Gaborone in February with the intention of expanding into other African countries. Fintech is also taking root in Botswana, with companies like Direct Pay Online opening shop in April, while cryptocurrencies and mobile wallets are gaining more users and offering greater financial inclusion to consumers in the country. 

This investment is good news for a sector that has demonstrated over several years that it is stable and robust. According to the African Economic Outlook 2017, Botswana has been making steady progress in increasing access to financial services for its population. Since 2009, the banked population has increased by 25%. From a low base, cell phone banking rose by over 370% and Internet banking by 200% during the same period.

This growth in the sector is good news, too, for employment, which continues to be a challenge for the Botswana economy. While unemployment is starting to show a slight decrease according to the latest statistics, it is still considered to be too high at 17%. Botswana suffered historic job losses following the global financial crisis, especially in the mining sector. State owned enterprises have also retrenched hundreds of employees over the past decade.

The good news is that there are plenty of opportunities for accounting professionals in the country – the bad news is that there are not currently enough people able to take these up. The Botswana Institute of Chartered Accountants (BICA) says there is a huge need for chartered accountants, professionals and technicians. There are currently 3,136 registered BICA members (1,223 accounting professionals and 1,913 being accounting technicians) which falls short of demand. The shortage means that Botswana has to import expatriates for accounting services. Many qualified accountants also leave the country to work overseas.

To take advantage of growth in this sector in order to reduce unemployment in the country, more needs to be done to ensure that people – especially young people – have the relevant skills and are encouraged to consider a career in the financial sector. Many young people, for instance assume because they are not strong in mathematics at school that finance is not a viable career option for them, but this is in fact not the case. Many thousands of accounting students graduate each year around the world and many of them did not have an A-level in Maths when they started their studies.

So what can government do? According the African Economic Outlook, the Botswana government is already doing a good job of creating an enabling environment for business and ensuring good regulation and oversight of the sector – considered vital for its continued growth. The 2016/17 Global Competitiveness Report ranked the country 65 out of 138 in financial market development.

Government can also intervene more directly in targeted skills development such as it did in 2016, when the Department of Treasury and Funding sponsored 600 students in studies with AAT (the Association of Accounting Technicians) to equip them with skills to work in the fast-growing financial services market.

AAT is not new to Botswana. It is the UK’s leading qualification and professional body for vocational accountants and has offered its AAT Accounting Qualifications in Botswana to over 4,000 students a year – the largest cohort of students outside the UK – for 26 years. AAT works with the Botswana Institute of Chartered Accountants (BICA), to give students the opportunity to gain practical skills that fast track their careers in finance – without the need to go to university or study for many years.

While government involvement is critical, the private sector and business networks also need to step up to create opportunities for employment and advancement in the industry – in the form of internships and other opportunities – or by investing in their employees directly to upskill them.
 

Such an approach benefitted Pyoka Mfuni, a manager at accounting and auditing giant Grant Thornton. Mfuni says that after finishing high school, he noticed that many jobs advertised were finance and audit related so he decided to pursue a career in the field. “That was when I discovered the AAT course at the Botswana Accountancy College. It was shorter than and relatively as good as an accounting degree.” After successfully completing his studies he was able to secure a foot on the ladder that led to his current role.

It is possible to replicate this success story. The World Bank report, Doing Business 2017, ranks Botswana among Africa’s best performers. For the second successive year, the country’s ranking improved, from 72 to 71 out of 190 economies (from 74 to 72 in the previous year), making it the third best performer in Africa. The country is poised for growth and with the right investment and training, its people can take advantage of this.

The added advantage of investing in financial skills is not only will it boost the finance sector itself, it is also good for business and entrepreneurship more broadly, fuelling the growth of the economy in other sectors too. According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, Botswana has one of the most entrepreneurial populations in Africa, but a lack of financial skills is holding it back from making a greater impact on the economy.

The message is clear, investing in finance skills makes sense and should be a priority for business and government alike in 2018. With wise investment and by working together, they can continue to ride the wave of growth towards low unemployment and a high tech future!

Andrew Williamson is Director of Marketing and Commercial at AAT (the Association for Accounting Technicians).

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P230 million Phikwe revival project kicks off

19th October 2020
industrial hub

Marcian Concepts have been contracted by Selibe Phikwe Economic Unit (SPEDU) in a P230 million project to raise the town from its ghost status.  The project is in the design and building phase of building an industrial hub for Phikwe; putting together an infrastructure in Bolelanoto and Senwelo industrial sites.

This project comes as a life-raft for Selibe Phikwe, a town which was turned into a ghost town when the area’s economic mainstay, BCL mine, closed four years ago.  In that catastrophe, 5000 people lost their livelihoods as the town’s life sunk into a gloomy horizon. Businesses were closed and some migrated to better places as industrial places and malls became almost empty.

However, SPEDU has now started plans to breathe life into the town. Information reaching this publication is that Marcian Concepts is now on the ground at Bolelanoto and Senwelo and works have commenced.  Marcian as a contractor already promises to hire Phikwe locals only, even subcontract only companies from the area as a way to empower the place’s economy.

The procurement method for the tender is Open Domestic bidding which means Joint Ventures with foreign companies is not allowed. According to Marcian Concepts General Manager, Andre Strydom, in an interview with this publication, the project will come with 150 to 200 jobs. The project is expected to take 15 months at a tune of P230 531 402. 76. Marcian will put together construction of roadworks, storm-water drains, water reticulation, street lighting and telecommunication infrastructure. This tender was flouted last year August, but was awarded in June this year. This project is seen as the beginning of Phikwe’s revival and investors will be targeted to the area after the town has worn the ghost city status for almost half a decade.

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IMF projects deeper recession for 2020, slow recovery for 2021

19th October 2020

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has slashed its outlook the world economy projecting a significantly deeper recession and slower recovery than it anticipated just two months ago.

On Wednesday when delivering its World Economic Outlook report titled “A long difficult Ascent” the Washington Based global lender said it now expects global gross domestic product to shrink 4.9% this year, more than the 3% predicted in April.  For 2021, IMF experts have projected growth of 5.4%, down from 5.8%. “We are projecting a somewhat less severe though still deep recession in 2020, relative to our June forecast,” said Gita Gopinath Economic Counsellor and Director of Research.

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Botswana partly closed economy a further blow of 4.2 fall in revenue

19th October 2020

The struggle of humanity is now how to dribble past the ‘Great Pandemic’ in order to salvage a lean economic score. Botswana is already working on dwindling fiscal accounts, budget deficit, threatened foreign reserves and the GDP data that is screaming recession.

Latest data by think tank and renowned rating agency, Moody’s Investor Service, is that Botswana’s fiscal status is on the red and it is mostly because of its mineral-dependency garment and tourism-related taxation. Botswana decided to close borders as one of the containment measures of Covid-19; trade and travellers have been locked out of the country. Moody’s also acknowledges that closing borders by countries like Botswana results in the collapse of tourism which will also indirectly weigh on revenue through lower import duties, VAT receipts and other taxes.

Latest economic data shows that Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the second quarter of 2020 with a decrease of 27 percent. One of the factors that led to contraction of the local economy is the suspension of air travel occasioned by COVID-19 containment measures impacted on the number of tourists entering through the country’s borders and hence affecting the output of the hotels and restaurants industry. This will also be weighed down by, according to Moody’s, emerging markets which will see government losing average revenue worth 2.1 percentage points (pps) of GDP in 2020, exceeding the 1.0 pps loss in advanced economies (AEs).

“Fiscal revenue in emerging markets is particularly vulnerable to this current crisis because of concentrated revenue structures and less sophisticated tax administrations than those in AEs. Oil exporters will see the largest falls but revenue volatility is a common feature of their credit profiles historically,” says Moody’s. The domino effects of containment measures could be seen cracking all sectors of the local economy as taxes from outside were locked out by the closure of borders hence dwindling tax revenue.

Moody’s has placed Botswana among oil importers, small, tourism-reliant economies which will see the largest fall in revenue. Botswana is in the top 10 of that pecking order where Moody’s pointed out recently that other resource-rich countries like Botswana (A2 negative) will also face a large drop in fiscal revenue.

This situation of countries’ revenue on the red is going to stay stubborn for a long run. Moody’s predicts that the spending pressures faced by governments across the globe are unlikely to ease in the short term, particularly because this crisis has emphasized the social role governments perform in areas like healthcare and labour markets.

For countries like Botswana, these spending pressures are generally exacerbated by a range of other factors like a higher interest burden, infrastructure deficiencies, weaker broader public sector, higher subsidies, lower incomes and more precarious employment. As a result, most of the burden for any fiscal consolidation is likely to fall on the revenue side, says Moody’s.

Moody’s then moves to the revenue spin of taxation. The rating agency looked at the likelihood and probability of sovereigns to raise up revenue by increasing tax to offset what was lost in mineral revenue and tourism-related tax revenue. Moody’s said the capacity to raise tax revenue distinguishes governments from other debt issuers.  “In theory, governments can change a given tax system as they wish, subject to the relevant legislative process and within the constraints of international law. In practice, however, there are material constraints,” says Moody’s.

‘‘The coronavirus crisis will lead to long-lasting revenue losses for emerging market sovereigns because their ability to implement and enforce effective revenue-raising measures in response will be an important credit driver over the next few years because of their sizeable spending pressures and the subdued recovery in the global economy we expect next year.’’

According to Moody’s, together with a rise in stimulus and healthcare spending related to the crisis, the think tank expects this drop in revenue will trigger a sizeable fiscal deterioration across emerging market sovereigns. Most countries, including Botswana, are under pressure of widening their tax bases, Moody’s says that this will be challenging. “Even if governments reversed or do not extend tax-easing measures implemented in 2020 to support the economy through the coronavirus shock, which would be politically challenging, this would only provide a modest boost to revenue, especially as these measures were relatively modest in most emerging markets,” says Moody’s.

Botswana has been seen internationally as a ‘tax ease’ country and its taxes are seen as lower when compared to its regional counterparts. This country’s name has also been mentioned in various international investigative journalism tax evasion reports. In recent years there was a division of opinions over whether this country can stretch its tax base. But like other sovereigns who have tried but struggled to increase or even maintain their tax intake before the crisis, Botswana will face additional challenges, according to Moody’s.

“Additional measures to reduce tax evasion and cutting tax expenditure should support the recovery in government revenue, albeit from low levels,” advised Moody’s. Botswana’s tax revenue to the percentage of the GDP was 27 percent in 2008, dropped to 23 percent in 2010 to 23 percent before rising to 27 percent again in 2012. In years 2013 and 2014 the percentage went to 25 percent before it took a slip to decline in respective years of 2015 up to now where it is at 19.8 percent.

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