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Masisi cautioned on Cabinet selection

Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) backbenchers have cautioned Vice President and party Chairman Mokgweetsi Masisi about his ministers who undermine them (backbenchers) particularly on issues of information sharing on government activities.

The backbenchers finally broke their silence and raised their concerns on the issues this week at a BDP meeting, also suggesting some amendments they wish could be applied within the cabinet to make it a resolute force. The backbenchers’ other gripe is that they do not have a cordial relationship with cabinet ministers, despite belonging to the same party. This, according to the backbenchers will do the party no good as they are supposed to be at the same level with ministers in terms of information so that at any time they will be able to debate any issue with opposition.

They told Masisi that whenever they want clarity on something from their counterparts, the ministers give out a vibe of feeling threatened or challenged. Chief whip, Liakat Kablay is of the view that, by sharing the issues with them, ministers would be doing good service to the party as they (backbenchers) would be able to voice them out, unlike ministers who cannot speak at free will. “But their positions censor them, we as backbenchers can talk, so they should share with us,” he revealed.

“If you ask how far with ESP or any developmental project in your area motho o a tenega (the person gets angry) such that you wonder if you said something wrong or what,” another legislator who spoke on condition of anonymity said. “Re a bona gore gare mmogo golo ha, (We get the sense that we are not one) the impending reshuffle has ministers positioning themselves for plum posts especially the Vice President position,” said the source.

The backbenchers hinted, as an example, the recent enquiries by Selibe Phikwe West MP Dithapelo Keorapetse on government’s laxity in resuscitating the dilapidated BCL mine and on the welfare of its former employees.  “Keorapetse is always politicking about it, ministers were supposed to respond against what he was saying because they had the information but in vain. If they are to keep quiet then the opposition will also win debates in public fora. If they can give us information then we wouldn’t shy away from responding. We should defend our country, government and party,” one MP said at the party meeting.

Because of the ministers’ attitudes against them, the backbenchers now feel they have been rendered obsolete. The backbenchers are also concerned about the elevation of specially elected MPs to cabinet. According to the backbenchers, only those who have been democratically elected should be eligible for nomination in ministerial positions.

 “They don’t know the pains of campaigning and of being grilled by constituents for failing. When you call them to visit your constituency they are reluctant to come, some even tell you casually that there is no money?” the MP added. “So if cabinet is made up of people who know the twinge of politics, when you ask them to visit your constituency they would not hesitate because they know what it means.”

The disgruntled backbenchers submitted to Masisi that ministers are controlled by Permanent Secretaries whom too don’t know the struggle of politicking. Some names like that of former Army commander Tebogo Masire and Policy Specialist at Ministry of Youth Empowerment, Sport and Culture Development, Lawrence Ookeditse are reportedly earmarked for some ministerial portfolios.

Of the six specially elected MP’s, four of them are cabinet ministers being; Unity Dow, Kitso Mokaila, Eric Molale and Kenneth Mathambo. The other two are Mephato Reatile and Bogolo Kenewendo. “They are said to be bringing quality but, they should seat at the backbench so that they throw in suggestions to those occupying those seats [ministerial positions]. Ministers are not allowed to ask question or table motions but when those ‘intelligent’ additions are in the back-bench they will throw in some good suggestions that would eventually help this country,” said the MP.

Masisi’s nonverbal gestures at the meeting according to sources gave backbenchers hope that he might rethink his initial cabinet posts come April 1st next year. Furthermore Minister of Youth Empowerment, Sport and Culture Development Thapelo Olopeng and Minister of Nationality, Immigration and Gender Affairs Edwin Batshu warmed up to the idea. On the other side minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration, Eric Molale was reportedly restless at the time the agenda was discussed.  

It is not the first time ministers and MP’s quarrel, in August this year they were at loggerheads over salary increment. They went on to argue again at the party caucus over parliamentary standings amendments earlier this year. The democrats’ legislators further accused cabinet of being silent even in party meetings.

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Batswana owe banks P79 billion

27th March 2023

The Minister of Finance, Peggy Serame, has disclosed that the total bank credit extended by commercial banks amounted to P79 billion, out of which P53.4 billion was retail loans and advances to households.

Parliament was informed this week in response to a question by the Member of Parliament for Selibe-Phikwe West and Leader of Opposition (LOO), Dithapelo Keorapetse.

“As at 31st December 2022, loans and other advances extended to households by banks constituted the largest share of bank-lending at 67.6 percent, the majority of which was unsecured personal loans at P36.2 billion (67.8%),” said Serame.

She added that the total household Debt to GDP ratio was 21.9%, while the total private business credit to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ratio was 10.8%.

On the other hand, it was noted that outstanding mortgage loans extended to households were P14.2 billion (26.6% of household debt) or 5.9% of GDP. Overall, total bank credit as a ratio of GDP stood at 32.7 percent.

It was acknowledged that there are 10 deposit-taking banks in the country, that is, nine commercial banks and one statutory bank (Botswana Savings Bank). This statistics excludes the National Development Bank (NDB), which is a development finance institution. The nine commercial banks include an indigenous bank, Botswana Building Society Bank Limited (BBSBL), which was issued with a commercial banking license by the Bank of Botswana in October 2022.

Still in December 2022, it was recorded that there were 376 non-bank lenders in Botswana consisting of 246 micro lenders, 66 finance companies, three leasing companies and 61 registered pawnshops.

According to Minister Serame, the loan book value representing the principal amount lent by these entities to individuals and to small, medium and micro Enterprises (SMMEs) is collated by the Non-Bank Financial Institutions Regulatory Authority (NBFIRA), which at 31st of December 2021, the loan book values were P5.6 billion for micro lenders, P1.6 billion for finance companies, P225 million for leasing companies and P14 million for pawnshops.

Government policy is that price control is not effective or desirable, and, as such, interest rates are not regulated. Non-regulation may, among other things, result in an increase in non-interest rate fees and commissions, reduced price transparency, lower credit supply and loan approval rates.

“It is important to note that, from a macroeconomic perspective, household debt in Botswana is neither a pandemic nor considered to be excessive. Indeed, the Bank of Botswana’s periodic and continuous assessments of household debt, including through the annual Household Indebtedness Surveys, suggest moderate household indebtedness and therefore, is of no apparent risk to the safety and soundness of the domestic financial system,” said Serame.

She also alluded this assessment is validated by the recently concluded Financial Sector Assessment Programme (FSAP) on Botswana undertaken by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank Group.

Keorapetse however rebuked the issue of debt not being excessive and noted the Minister thinks it’s fine for Batswana to be debt burdened in a way that their debts diminishes their quality of life.

“A significant portion of Batswana’s salaries go to servicing debts and because she doesn’t see this as a challenge, there can never be any intervention from her side. There is no price regulation on interest, which can go up to 30%+ a month.  Since President Masisi ascended to the high office in 2018, 2 384 Batswana were put in prison for failure to pay debts, that is 467 Batswana every year. So, for us, debt problems are big and concerning,” said Keorapetse.

He said they are worried because Batswana are drowning in debts because of relative poverty, slave wages and unemployment/underemployment, they buy basic needs and services with borrowed money and noted predatory and unethical lending has become a major problem in Botswana’s financial sector.

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How to fleece P14 million from Chinese investor

27th March 2023

The modus operandi of how five men allegedly swindled a Chinese national P14 million last week continue to unravel. Highly placed sources from the intelligence, the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) and Botswana Unified Revenue Services (BURS) revealed to this publication how the whole scam was concocted.

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ENVIRONMENT ISSUES: Masisi asks Virginia for help

24th March 2023

President Mokgweetsi Masisi says the issue of sustainable natural resources management has always been an important part of Botswana’s national development agenda.

Masisi was speaking this week on the occasion of a public lecture at Virginia Polytechnic, under theme, “Merging Conservation, Democracy and Sustainable Development in Botswana.”

Botswana, according to Masisi, holds the view that the environment is fragile and as such, must be managed and given the utmost protection to enable the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“It is necessary that we engage one another in the interchange of ideas, perspectives, visualizations of social futures, and considerations of possible strategies and courses of action for sustainable development,” said Masisi.

On the other hand, dialogue, in the form of rigorous democratic discourse among stakeholders presents another basis for reconfiguring how people act on their environments, with a view to conserving its resources that “we require to meet our socio-economic development needs on a sustainable basis,” Masisi told attendees at the public lecture.

He said government has a keen interest in understanding the epidemiology and ecology of diseases of both domestic and wild animals. “It is our national interest to forestall the dire consequences of animal diseases on our communities livelihoods.”

President Masisi hoped that both Botswana and Virginia could help each other in curbing contagious diseases of wildlife.

“We believe that Virginia Tech can reasonably share their experiences, research insights and advances in veterinary sciences and medicines, to help us build capacity for knowledge creation and improve efforts of managing and containing contagious diseases of wildlife. The ground is fertile for entering into such a mutually beneficial partnership.”

When explaining environmental issues further, Masisi said efforts of conservation and sustainable development might at times be hampered by the emergence and recurrence of diseases when pathogens mutate and take host of more than one species.

“Water pollution also kills aquatic life, such as fish, which is one of humanity’s much deserved sources of food. In this regard, One Health Approach imposes ecological responsibility upon all of us to care for the environment and the bio-diversity therein.”

He said the production and use of animal vaccines is an important space and tool for conservation, particularly to deal with trans-border animal diseases.

“In Botswana, our 43-year-old national premier pharmaceutical institution called Botswana Vaccine Institute has played its role well. Through its successful production of highly efficacious Foot and Mouth vaccines, the country is able to contain this disease as well as supply vaccines to other countries in the sub-region.:

He has however declared that there is need for more help, saying “We need more capacitation to deal with and contain other types of microbial that affect both animals and human health.”

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