A recent research study on China/Botswana relations has advised that President Lt. Gen. Seretse Khama Ian Khama should undertake an official state visit to the Peoples Republic of China to enhance diplomatic relations, which already are in deteriorating state.
According to the study titled: “A study on perspectives on how to enhance Botswana – China relations” authored by renowned ex-University of Botswana (UB) Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic Affairs) Professor Frank Youngman an official visit between the two countries is crucial to mend relations and should take place. “Frequent high-level visits of politicians and government officials between Botswana and China should be undertaken, with priority given to a state visit by the President of Botswana to China,” the research study posits.
The research points out that the Chinese are trying hard to get President Khama to visit China. He is the only President of Botswana who has not visited whilst in office. He seems to be not favourably disposed towards China. The study which was released on March 2017 has been duly approved by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Government of Botswana.
Where the loathsome relationship started
According to the study, the nature of Botswana-China relations has become much more complex since 2000, under the former President Festus Mogae. The high point in terms of the political/diplomatic dimension came with the then President Mogae’s state visit to China in November 2006 to attend the Forum on China Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) Beijing Summit. Although the study indicates that he made clear at the time that he valued the relationship highly, including its economic benefits, he subsequently noted that there were problems in the relationship but these were outweighed by its advantages.
“On our part in Botswana, we are grateful to China for the various projects completed under our joint efforts… This doesn’t mean that there haven’t been bumps in the road; there have been… We have issues to sort out and in that regard we encourage the Chinese to heed our aspirations to hire more of our local workers, to help us further with capacity building, to not consider our countries as dumping grounds, and not to overrun our countries with Chinese businesses…”
The study highlights that problems in the relationship have been primarily in the economic dimension, though Botswana has had differences on a number of diplomatic issues, such as China’s veto in the United Nations (UN) Security Council of a resolution on Syria in July 2012. The research study observes categorically that: “despite active interventions by the Chinese Embassy (including diplomatic activity, media coverage, meetings with Chinese companies, donations to local schools and charities, cultural events and so forth), there is public evidence that the Government’s attitude towards China has deteriorated in recent years.”
It says in early 2013, President Khama gave a newspaper interview in which he was very negative about China. “In the interview the Head of State expressed dissatisfaction with three aspects of relations with China, namely: the poor quality of work by Chinese construction companies on major Government projects; the excessive level of Chinese migration into the country; the fact that Chinese were undertaking economic activities and jobs that could be done by Batswana,” the study states.
The research study states that when asked if other African presidents had similar views Khama responded: ‘they probably won’t say it publicly, but when I’ve spoken to others they’ve expressed frustrations as well,’ he said. ‘People feel that China is now the second-biggest economy in the world. You say things like that, do you really want to upset such a huge power? But there’s no point in having a huge power investing in a country if those investments at the end of the day don’t do you any good,’ Khama reportedly said.
The majority of respondents in the study cited the difficulties that have arisen since 2010 because of high profile problems with Chinese construction companies undertaking major Government of Botswana projects, in particular the Francistown Stadium, the Shakawe Senior Secondary School, the Sir Seretse Khama International (SSKI) Airport and the Morupule B power plant. These projects have had problems of quality, delays and cost over-runs, which in some cases have led to the termination of contracts. Although the problem is essentially economic, the failed constructions projects have had significant political ramifications, especially affecting views within the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), which did comparatively poorly in the 2014 elections.
Subsequently, in July 2013, in terms of the study, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Phandu Skelemani spoke critically at a reception for the new Chinese Ambassador and warned him to ensure better behaviour by the Chinese community. “While Government ministers continue to make positive formal statements on the bilateral relations, such as the Minister of Health on Chinese medical assistance, negative views persist among significant state actors about the extent of Chinese small businesses in the retail sector and about the performance of Chinese construction companies on major government projects,” the findings as per the study maintained.
The study mentions a newspaper report of remarks attributed to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation on July 1, 2015 after returning from a visit to China, including a meeting with her counterpart: Dr Venson-Moitoi said in an interview that government had “drastically reduced”’ retail licenses to Chinese nationals, the research continues. Moitoi is claimed to have said: “retail is a preserve for Batswana and it is an area where we believe that Batswana should have a higher percentage because we are seeking jobs and employment for Batswana,” she said… “We need a spell of cooling in our relations because over the last couple of years, we have had a few projects that failed and thought it was necessary that we spoke at a higher level with Chinese government to express our feelings and ensure that we remove misunderstandings.”
“I had to meet him to inform him that our country suffered because of Chinese companies which did not invest in the country, but only came on contracts to make money and go out after delivering the jobs,” she said. In response, the research study highlights that the Chinese Embassy then gave a press briefing on July 7, 2015 in which, according to newspaper reports, it made public its frustrations with visa and work permit problems, sudden deportations, the insecurity felt by Chinese investors, and the tendency within Botswana to regard all Chinese construction companies as problematic.
Subsequently, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation found it necessary to make a press release on July 8, 2015 stating that “relations between the two countries remain excellent and mutually beneficial.” Nevertheless, the study says that a public impression had been created of significant tension in the bilateral relations. This tension it says was exacerbated in February 2016 when the Government of Botswana through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Relations issued a press release criticising approach to its territorial claim to islands in the South China Sea.
“This was regarded by China as a public attack on its core national interests and it reacted with extreme displeasure that the press release was inaccurate and that diplomatic channels had not been followed. Botswana’s Ambassador in Beijing was called in to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and admonished. Undoubtedly, this diplomatic dispute was the lowest point reached in state-to-state relations since diplomatic relations were established in 1975 and it impacted very negatively on political/diplomatic trust between the two nations.” According to the research study, the dispute reflects the wider trends in Botswana’s foreign policy that have emerged during the presidency of Ian Khama, whose personalised and idiosyncratic approach has led to a number of differences with the policies and behaviours of his predecessors.
How Botswana can strengthen relations with China
The question that arises then is what practical measures can be taken by both sides to enhance Botswana-China relations on a continuing basis. This is the problem that the research study addressed. Apart from suggesting that Khama embarks on an official visit to China, the study says the Government of Botswana should develop a coherent and explicit strategy towards its bilateral relations with China. In terms of the economic relations the study points out that the two governments (of Botswana and China) should resolve expeditiously all outstanding issues related to the problems of the Morupule B power plant.
“The Government of Botswana should ensure that existing policies on citizen reservation in the retail sector are enforced and that the two governments should concentrate on restructuring economic relations to focus on investment from China, especially in the manufacturing sector.” Chinese companies, the study says, should undertake skills training, engage in technology transfer, employ more locals (including in senior positions), carry out corporate social responsibility programmes, and integrate with local business organisations.
The findings show that economic issues were viewed as fundamental, whilst development assistance and formal political/diplomatic exchanges constitute important components of the state-to-state relationship. The respondents on both sides (Chinese and Batswana) and across occupational groups agreed that the relationship between Botswana and China is important and they suggested a number of practical measures that could be taken to improve it. “Chinese companies should employ public relations experts and the Chinese Embassy should establish a strong Public Relations Unit,” the study recommends.
According to the study, the Government of Botswana should ensure there is expertise on China within relevant ministry departments and parastatals, and that within the Botswana Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, a specialised cluster should be formed of staff with in-depth knowledge of China and proficiency in the Chinese language. In addition: “the University of Botswana B.A. in Chinese Studies should be enhanced so that its graduates can provide the capacity that the Government needs.”
The research further states that a think-tank on China should be developed at the University of Botswana to undertake applied research and the Chinese Government should continue to sponsor Botswana media practitioners for training and study visits in China. It was also said that the Government of Botswana and the Chinese Embassy should work together urgently to resolve all immigration issues affecting Chinese citizens. However, the relationship between the two countries will be put to test once more next month when the religious cum political separatist Dalai Lama visits Botswana for the first time, against China’s will.
Botswana has made improvements on preventing and ending arbitrary deprivation of liberty, but significant challenges remain in further developing and implementing a legal framework, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said at the end of a visit recently.
Head of the delegation, Elina Steinerte, appreciated the transparency of Botswana for opening her doors to them. Having had full and unimpeded access and visited 19 places of deprivation of liberty and confidentiality interviewing over 100 persons deprived of their liberty.
She mentioned “We commend Botswana for its openness in inviting the Working Group to conduct this visit which is the first visit of the Working Group to the Southern African region in over a decade. This is a further extension of the commitment to uphold international human rights obligations undertaken by Botswana through its ratification of international human rights treaties.”
Another good act Botswana has been praised for is the remission of sentences. Steinerte echoed that the Prisons Act grants remission of one third of the sentence to anyone who has been imprisoned for more than one month unless the person has been sentenced to life imprisonment or detained at the President’s Pleasure or if the remission would result in the discharge of any prisoner before serving a term of imprisonment of one month.
On the other side; The Group received testimonies about the police using excessive force, including beatings, electrocution, and suffocation of suspects to extract confessions. Of which when the suspects raised the matter with the magistrates, medical examinations would be ordered but often not carried out and the consideration of cases would proceed.
“The Group recall that any such treatment may amount to torture and ill-treatment absolutely prohibited in international law and also lead to arbitrary detention. Judicial authorities must ensure that the Government has met its obligation of demonstrating that confessions were given without coercion, including through any direct or indirect physical or undue psychological pressure. Judges should consider inadmissible any statement obtained through torture or ill-treatment and should order prompt and effective investigations into such allegations,” said Steinerte.
One of the group’s main concern was the DIS held suspects for over 48 hours for interviews. Established under the Intelligence and Security Service Act, the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) has powers to arrest with or without a warrant.
The group said the “DIS usually requests individuals to come in for an interview and has no powers to detain anyone beyond 48 hours; any overnight detention would take place in regular police stations.”
The Group was able to visit the DIS facilities in Sebele and received numerous testimonies from persons who have been taken there for interviewing, making it evident that individuals can be detained in the facility even if the detention does not last more than few hours.
Moreover, while arrest without a warrant is permissible only when there is a reasonable suspicion of a crime being committed, the evidence received indicates that arrests without a warrant are a rule rather than an exception, in contravention to article 9 of the Covenant.
Even short periods of detention constitute deprivation of liberty when a person is not free to leave at will and in all those instances when safeguards against arbitrary detention are violated, also such short periods may amount to arbitrary deprivation of liberty.
The group also learned of instances when persons were taken to DIS for interviewing without being given the possibility to notify their next of kin and that while individuals are allowed to consult their lawyers prior to being interviewed, lawyers are not allowed to be present during the interviews.
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention mentioned they will continue engaging in the constructive dialogue with the Government of Botswana over the following months while they determine their final conclusions in relation to the country visit.
Standard Chartered Bank Botswana (SCBB) has informed the government that it will not be accepting new loan applications for the Government Employees Motor Vehicle and Residential Property Advance Scheme (GEMVAS and LAMVAS) facility.
This emerges in a correspondence between Acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance Boniface Mphetlhe and some government departments. In a letter he wrote recently to government departments informing them of the decision, Mphetlhe indicated that the Ministry received a request from the Bank to consider reviewing GEMVAS and LAMVAS agreement.
He said: “In summary SCBB requested the following; Government should consider reviewing GEMVAS and LAMVAS interest rate from prime plus 0.5% to prime plus 2%.” The Bank indicated that the review should be both for existing GEMVAS and LAMVAS clients and potential customers going forward.
Mphetlhe said the Bank informed the Ministry that the current GEMVAS and LAMVAS interest rate structure results into them making losses, “as the cost of loa disbursements is higher that their end collections.”
He said it also requested that the loan tenure for the residential property loans to be increased from 20 to 25 years and the loan tenure for new motor vehicles loans to be increased from 60 months to 72 months.
Mphetlhe indicated that the Bank’s request has been duly forwarded to the Directorate of Public Service Management for consideration, since GEMVAS and LAMVAS is a Condition of Service Scheme. He saidthe Bank did also inform the Ministry that if the matter is not resolved by the 6th June, 2022, they would cease receipt of new GEMVAS and LAMVAS loan applications.
“A follow up virtual meeting was held to discuss their resolution and SCB did confirm that they will not be accepting any new loans from GEMVAS and LAMVAS. The decision includes top-up advances,” said Mphetlhe. He advised civil servants to consider applying for loans from other banks.
In a letter addressed to the Ministry, SCBB Chief Executive Officer Mpho Masupe informed theministry that, “Reference is made to your letter dated 18th March 2022 wherein the Ministry had indicated that feedback to our proposal on the above subject is being sought.”
In thesame letter dated 10 May 2022, Masupe stated that the Bank was requesting for an update on the Ministry’s engagements with the relevant stakeholder (Directorate of Public Service Management) and provide an indicative timeline for conclusion.
He said the “SCBB informs the Ministry of its intention to cease issuance of new loans to applicants from 6th June 2022 in absence of any feedback on the matter and closure of the discussions between the two parties.” Previously, Masupe had also had requested the Ministry to consider a review of clause 3 of the agreement which speaks to the interest rate charged on the facilities.
Masupe indicated in the letter dated 21 December 2021 that although all the Banks in the market had signed a similar agreement, subject to amendments that each may have requested. “We would like to suggest that our review be considered individually as opposed to being an industry position as we are cognisant of the requirements of section 25 of the Competition Act of 2018 which discourages fixing of pricing set for consumers,” he said.
He added that,“In this way,clients would still have the opportunity to shop around for more favourable pricing and the other Banks, may if they wish to, similarly, individually approach your office for a review of their pricing to the extent that they deem suitable for their respective organisations.”
Masupe also stated that: “On the issue of our request for the revision of the Interest Rate, we kindly request for an increase from the current rate of prime plus 0.5% to prime plus 2%, with no other increases during the loan period.” The Bank CEO said the rationale for the request to review pricing is due to the current construct of the GEMVAS scheme which is currently structured in a way that is resulting in the Bank making a loss.
“The greater part of the GEMVAS portfolio is the mortgage boo which constitutes 40% of the Bank’s total mortgage portfolio,” said Masupe. He saidthe losses that the Bank is incurring are as a result of the legacy pricing of prime plus 0% as the 1995 agreement which a slight increase in the August 2018 agreement to prime plus 0.5%.
“With this pricing, the GEMVAS portfolio has not been profitable to the Bank, causing distress and impeding its ability to continue to support government employees to buy houses and cars. The portfolio is currently priced at 5.25%,” he said. Masupe said the performance of both the GEMVAS home loan and auto loan portfolios in terms of profitability have become unsustainable for the Bank.
Healso said, when the agreement was signed in August 2018, the prime lending rate was 6.75% which made the pricing in effect at the time sufficient from a profitable perspective. “It has since dropped by a total 1.5%. The funds that are loaned to customers are sourced at a high rate, which now leaves the Bank with marginal profits on the portfolio before factoring in other operational expenses associated with administration of the scheme and after sales care of the portfolio,” said the CEO.
The Global Gender Gap Index, a report published by the World Economic Forum annually, has indicated that Botswana is among countries that fare badly when it comes to representation of women in legislative bodies.
The latest Global Gender Gap Index, published last week, benchmarks the current state and evolution of gender parity across four key dimensions (Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment). It is the longest-standing index which tracks progress towards closing these gaps over time since its inception in 2006.
This year, the Global Gender Gap Index benchmarked 146 countries. Of these, a subset of 102 countries have been represented in every edition of the index since 2006, further providing a large constant sample for time series analysis.
Botswana ranks number 66 overall (out of 146 countries), with good rankings in most of the pillars. Botswana ranks 1st in Health and Survival, 7th in the Economic Participation and Opportunity, 22nd in Educational Attainment, and 129th in Political Empowerment.
The Global Gender Gap Index measures scores on a 0 to 100 scale and scores can be interpreted as the distance covered towards parity (i.e. the percentage of the gender gap that has been closed). The cross-country comparisons aim to support the identification of the most effective policies to close gender gaps.
The Economic Participation and Opportunity sub-index contains three concepts: the participation gap, the remuneration gap and the advancement gap. The participation gap is captured using the difference between women and men in labour-force participation rates. The remuneration gap is captured through a hard data indicator (ratio of estimated female-to-male earned income) and a qualitative indicator gathered through the World Economic Forum’s annual Executive Opinion Survey (wage equality for similar work).
Finally, the gap between the advancement of women and men is captured through two hard data statistics (the ratio of women to men among legislators, senior officials and managers, and the ratio of women to men among technical and professional workers).
The Educational Attainment sub-index captures the gap between women’s and men’s current access to education through the enrolment ratios of women to men in primary-, secondary- and tertiary-level education. A longer-term view of the country’s ability to educate women and men in equal numbers is captured through the ratio of women’s literacy rate to men’s literacy rate.
Health and Survival sub-index provides an overview of the differences between women’s and men’s health using two indicators. The first is the sex ratio at birth, which aims specifically to capture the phenomenon of “missing women”, prevalent in countries with a strong son preference. Second, the index uses the gap between women’s and men’s healthy life expectancy.
This measure provides an estimate of the number of years that women and men can expect to live in good health by accounting for the years lost to violence, disease, malnutrition and other factors. Political Empowerment sub-index measures the gap between men and women at the highest level of political decision-making through the ratio of women to men in ministerial positions and the ratio of women to men in parliamentary positions. In addition, the reported included the ratio of women to men in terms of years in executive office (prime minister or president) for the last 50 years.
In the last general elections, only three women won elections, compared to 54 males. The three women are; Nnaniki Makwinja (Lentsweletau-Mmopane), Talita Monnakgotla (Kgalagadi North), and Anna Mokgethi (Gaborone Bonnington North). Four women were elected through Specially Elected dispensation; Peggy Serame, Dr Unity Dow, Phildah Kereng and Beauty Manake. All female MPs — save Dow, who resigned — are members of the executive.
Overall, Botswana has 63 seats, all 57 elected by the electorates, and six elected by parliament. Early this year, Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) secretary general and Gaborone North MP, Mpho Balopi, successfully moved a motion in parliament calling for increment of elective seats from 57 to 61. Balopi contented that population growth demands the country respond by increasing the number of MPs.
In Africa, Botswana play second fiddle to countries like Rwanda, Namibia, South Africa, Burundi, and Zimbabwe who have better representation of women, with Rwanda being the only country with more than 50 percent of women in parliament.
The low number of women in parliament is attributed to Botswana’s current, electoral system, First-Past-the-Post. During the 9th parliament, then MP for Mahalapye East tabled a motion in parliament in which she sort to increase the number of Specially Elected MPs in parliament to augment female representation in the National Assembly.
The motion was opposed famously, by then Specially Elected MP, Botsalo Ntuane, who said the citizens were not in favour of such a move since it dilute democracy, instead suggesting the Botswana should switch to Proportional-Representation-System. Botswana is currently undergoing Constitutional Review process, with the commission, appointed in December, expected to deliver the report to President Mokgweetsi Masisi by September this year.