The BIHL Group has not escaped the repercussions of subdued economies and regional distress compounded by the recent Credit Rating downgrade of South Africa’s sovereign rating to sub-investment grade could potentially undermine growth by constraining private investment and household consumption – but the Group beat the odds and posted exceptional performances with most of its subsidiaries.
To demonstrate the domestic and external pressure, although the BIHL Group returned laudable profits under challenging circumstances with Operating Profit After Tax (OPAT) of P475 million, this is a decline of 19% compared to the previous year. The Group rightly attributes the decline in profitability can be attributed mainly to reduced investment returns resulting from subdued performance in world markets and a decline in single premium profits for the life company.
According to the company’s 2016 annual report, the weak commodities cycle continued, as did the volatility of investment markets. It notes that at home, GDP was 4.3% – a long way from the double digits of the past; and unemployment rates continued to rise – a situation exacerbated by the liquidation of two large mining companies, BCL and Tati Nickel.
The Group chairman notes that this had a significant impact on our society at large, and directly affected Botswana Life and the Botswana Insurance Company (BIC). In addition, she observes the high levels of indebtedness among ordinary Batswana as placing the affordability of insurance under pressure.
“There are many factors that affect the performance of any organisation both positively and negatively. Many of these are external factors, over which we, as an organisation, have no control. We have to ensure that we do whatever we can to mitigate the negative. Unfortunately, in 2016, negative external factors far outweighed the positive,” observed Mrs Batsho Dambe-Groth.
The challenges captured Mrs Dambe-Groth had a direct impact on Botswana Life’s net premium income which declined some 15% year-on-year to P2.07 billion. However, recurring premium income grew by an impressive 7% to P1.085 billion thanks to a significant upswing in retail recurring premium income. According to Dambe-Groth, the launch of the Affluent Division as well as the launch of three trailblazing products in the first half of 2016 also started to yield results towards the end of the year.
“Meanwhile our asset management business, Bifm, turned in excellent results, a truly remarkable achievement in the face of what was a turbulent and challenging year. Assets Under Management for the year grew an impressive 24% to P25.9 billion. Legal Guard, however, experienced a decline in new business and this was compounded by rising operating costs. Nevertheless, we are encouraged by the progress that is being made with the implementation of its new strategy, and by the fact that the business remains profitable,” she writes.
The BIHL Group is also very active outside Botswana borders, inflationary pressure in Zambia and Malawi affected the returns delivered by BIHL investments in those countries. During the review period, the Group advanced its diversification strategy by using the Group’s shareholder investment portfolio to make some significant investments. According to the annual report these included acquiring a 50% stake in Teledimo Pty, which owns Botswana Insurance Company, the leading and oldest short term insurance company in Botswana. BIHL also increased its shareholding of Letshego Holdings Limited from 23.17% to 26.28%.
“Although experiencing their own challenges in the region’s economic climate, our expansion of associated investments resulted in an increase in equity accounted earnings from P186,7 million to P224,7 million. It is also important to understand that a long-term view for new investments must be adopted. We are also investing in our future profitability by utilising technology to boost our operational efficiencies as well as to introduce innovative products. This includes, for example, Botswana Life’s LifeRewards card and Bifm’s Unit Trusts,” observes Dambe-Groth.
It is clear therefore that as a business, BIHL Group is doing well. We have the resilience and the agility needed to ensure that we continue to provide the products and services required by our markets as well as to deliver sound returns to our clients and shareholders. Dambe-Groth praises the partnership with Sanlam as “excellent, mutually beneficial partnership with that enables us to draw on their technical expertise where necessary and maximise synergies between our organisations. Sanlam recognises that BIHL is their largest contributor to their emerging markets business and is therefore keen to assist wherever possible to ensure our ongoing success.”
BIFM TURNAROUND, SLUGGISH ECONOMY
Following a difficult year at BIFM, Mrs. Catherine Lesetedi-Letegele, the Group Chief Executive Officer reserved special recognition for BIFM noting that: “while 2016 was a challenging year, there were numerous positives, the most pleasing and energising of which was the excellent bifm turnaround. The previous year had been extremely difficult for bifm. Following the loss of a portion of the Botswana Public Officers Pension Fund (BPOPF) mandate, the entire organisation was restructured, and the staff complement rationalised to ensure employees were “fit-for purpose.”
She observes in her report that this was a traumatic process, yet the Bifm team adopted an aggressive recovery strategy, performed well and, ultimately, was able to regain some of the assets we had lost as well as new mandates. She writes that this put Bifm on the road to a solid recovery and well positioned for a strong start at the beginning of 2017.
“In the review period, Assets Under Management increased by 54% to P1.5 billion ending with a small profit of P1.2 million. The turnaround of Bifm and Bifm Unit Trusts business is a testament to the people we have at the company, their focus and determination, and their efforts in creating and maintaining meaningful and mutually beneficial relationships with clients.”
Meanwhile Lesetedi-Letegele notes that Botswana Life as a business dependent on discretionary income, its performance was negatively affected by the sluggish economy, which was characterised by retrenchments, mine closures and high unemployment. The harsh economic conditions resulted in underperformance of some of the company’s business lines. According to the 2016 BIHL annual report the net premium income for the Life Company shrunk by 15% year on year at P2.07 billion during 2016 compared to P2.44 billion achieved in prior year.
“This was primarily due to the non-recurring one-off schemes that were signed in 2015 on single premiums. Recurring premium income grew by an impressive 7% from P1 billion in December 2015 to P1.085 billion for the full year to December 2016 spurred by a 9% growth in retail recurring premium income. Despite the challenging economic environment, the quality of new business written saw the Value of New Business, which represents the present value of future profits from new business premiums written remain stable at 99% of prior year.”
The report further indicate that operating profit was 9% lower than prior year showing resilience despite the significant dip in single premiums. “Given the pressure on sales volumes, management focused on containing expenditure and the 2016 administration expenses were 2% (P4 million) below prior year; this was so despite funding the introduction of new segments that are expected to deliver revenue growth in the near future.”
Jwaneng Mine— by far the world’s richest diamond mine is not about stop any time soon — plans are underway to ensure more gem stones are birthed from the Prince of mines.
Owners and operators of the mine, Debswana, a 50-50 De Beers- Botswana Government joint venture intends to spend over P65 billion to breathe life into the mine beyond the current Cut 9 project. Cut 9, which is currently transitioning from outsourced contractor to in-house operation, will take Jwaneng to 2036.
Debswana, by far one of world’s leading rough diamond producer revealed in a media briefing on Friday morning that an ambitious project to transition Jwaneng from open pit mining to underground is on the cards.
The company top brass noted that studies are underway to guide this massive project. These entail desktop studies of available geoscience information, hydrogeological surveys to appreciate the underground stratigraphy, water table levels, geotechnical composition and of course kimberlites geology.
Lynette Armstrong, Debswana Acting Managing Director said the company will invest all the necessary resources required for prefeasibility studies to determine the best model for undertaking the multibillion Pula Project. “This is a complex project that will require high capital investment over a period of years, advanced skills and cutting edge technological advancements,” she said.
Armstrong stated that underground mining projects have been undertaken and successful delivered before. “It will not be a completely new thing, we will benchmark from other operations and learn how they have done it, we have a database of former BCL employees who worked for that underground mine , we will source skills locally, where there are no required skills in country we will source from outside,” Armstrong indicated.
The Acting MD further explained that the company is getting ready for the highly anticipated mega project in different key aspects required for the successful implementation. “We have seconded some of our employees and top talents to benchmark in our sister operations within De Beers Group, to prepare and ready our workforce mind-sets and also acquire the necessary skills,” she said. In terms of funding, Lynnette Armstrong revealed that Debswana would look into available options to fully resource the project.
“We have been discussing and exploring other available avenues that we could use to fund our life expansion projects, debt financing is one of them, it will obviously have to go through all our governance structures, internally and all the way to the board for approval,” she said.
Debswana Head of Projects revealed that an estimated cost of P65 billion would be required for the entire project from feasibility studies, engineering and scope development, construction, to drilling, sinking of shafts and all the way to transitioning, extracting the ore and feeding the processing plants. Meanwhile the process of transitioning Jwaneng Cut 9 project from Majwe Mining contract to an in-house hybrid model is underway.
The General Manager of Jwaneng Mine, Koolatotse Koolatotse, revealed that Debswana would not necessarily absorb all employees of the former CUT 9 contractor Majwe Mining. Speaking at the same virtual media briefing, Koolatotse said: “Debswana did not commit to absorbing Majwe Mining employees”
Majwe was in 2019 awarded the multi billon Pula contract to deliver the Jwaneng Cut 9 project, a significant investment by Debswana that intends to extend the life of Jwaneng Mine. The contract was however terminated due to “internal reasons.”
“Our contract with Majwe allowed for such termination , where one party on reasons best known to them could walk away from the contract without necessarily stating to the other party why it’s necessary to terminate.” Koolatotse further explained that Debswana has no obligation to re-hire Majwe Mining employees.
“In recruiting new skills for our new hybrid model we are publicly floating requests for expression of interest , that is to say anyone who has the skills we require for our new in-house model is welcome, it will not be based on whether you worked for Majwe or not,” he said.
Top development funding institutions amongst them World Bank investment arms have jumped into the much anticipated Botswana-Namibia Mega Solar Project. The multibillion dollar massive project was confirmed by authorities of the two countries late August last year.
The Southern African sovereigns, both of which enjoy massive natural solar exposure, have partnered with Power Africa- a United States government entity to deliver what will be one of the world’s largest solar power plants. The project will see installations built across both countries and the power produced will be exported to the Southern African region.
This week, information emerged that The African Development Bank, The International Finance Corporation and The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development have signed a Memorandum of Intent to open talks for financing the project.
The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and The International Finance Corporation are World Bank private Investment agencies that seek to support private sector growth across developing economies of its member States. According to sources, the Memorandum of Intent would support the pre-feasibility and related studies required to advance the project.
Botswana authorities revealed recently that the capital raising campaign involving the three mentioned financing organisations would help fund the studies and could be involved in supporting the actual project’s development. It is anticipated, based on previous experience on similar projects, that the feasibility study could cost up to P20 million.
Plans for the 5 GW solar energy capacity to be developed over the next 2 decades for both the African nations, Namibia and Botswana, were first formulated and shared by the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Future Council on Energy and the US led Power Africa initiative, in August 2019.
There will be a multi-phased solar procurement program to help these countries get access to secure, reliable, inexpensive solar power at scale. Under phase 1, the idea would be to procure 300 MW to 500 MW capacity to cover future domestic demand only, phase 2 will see 500 MW to 1 GW capacity to be procured to cover regional demand within the South African Power Pool (SAPP) or through bilateral agreements.
Under phase 3, between 1 GW to 3 GW capacity will be procured to meet demand in SAPP and Eastern Africa Power Pool (EAPP), as per the plans shared last year. All this capacity will be developed through a competitive procurement process.
Botswana and Namibia were specifically chosen for this mega solar project because of their solar irradiation potential, large open spaces and low population density, strong legal and regulatory environment, and low-cost, efficient and smart power-trading potential to meet high regional demand.
“Southern Africa may have as much as 24,000 MW of unmet demand for power by 2040. The market for electricity produced by the mega-solar projects in Botswana and Namibia includes 12 other countries in the region that could be connected via new and/or upgraded transmission infrastructure. As battery storage technology advances and costs of solar storage drop below $0.10 per kilowatt hour, solar power becomes an even more cost-competitive solution,” the World Economic Forum said in 2019.
While the 5 GW capacity will help both the nations diversify their energy mix, it will also help bring down their dependence on South African national electricity utility, Eskom, which has problems of its own in financial and operational terms. Namibia and Botswana will be able to save their resources spent otherwise spent on energy import.
According to the Global Market Outlook for Solar Power 2020-2024 of Solar Power Europe (SPE), Namibia was among the few countries in Sub-Saharan Africa to have installed over 100 MW on-grid PV in 2019, with 130 MW added. The 5 GW project with Botswana, if realized, will help the country in its renewable energy target of 70% for its energy mix to be achieved by 2030.
Botswana and Namibia offer the potential to capture around 10 hours of strong sunlight per day for 300 days per year and have some of the highest solar irradiance potential of any country in Africa, which translates to highly productive concentrated solar power (CSP) and photovoltaic (PV) installations.
Both countries have sizeable areas of flat, uninhabited land not currently used for productive economic activity, which is conducive to building land-intensive solar PV and CSP installations. According to World Economic Forum (WEF) key investment challenge for power projects across sub-Saharan Africa is limited availability of foreign currency to permit repatriation of proceeds.
“Given the active diamond and mining industries in both countries, there should be sufficient foreign exchange available to facilitate outside investment,” a WEF report said in 2019. Botswana and Namibia are also working on conceptualisation of the ambitious ocean water distillation project to supply both counties with drinking water.
“We are happy with the prospects presented by this project, because we need water. However, our ministers and technocrats need to determine what is best for us keeping in mind our governance procedures,’’ aid President Masisi Masisi in one of his working visits to Namibia early this year.
An International Monetary Fund (IMF) report on the Regional Economic Outlook on Sub-Saharan Africa has revealed that the region will be the world’s slowest growing region in 2021, and risks falling further behind as the global economy rebounds.
Speaking at a virtual press briefing on the Regional Economic Outlook recently, Abebe Aemro Selassie, Director of the African Department of the IMF, highlighted that although the outlook of the Sub-Saharan Africa region has improved since October 2020, the -1.9% contraction in 2020 remains the worst performance on record.
Even during these unprecedented times of the pandemic, the IMF report reflects that the region will recover some ground this year and is projected to grow by 3.4 percent. On the other hand, per capita output is not expected to return to 2019 levels until after 2022.
“This economic hardship has caused significant social dislocation. In many countries, per capita incomes will not return to pre-pandemic levels until 2025. The number of people living in extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa is projected to have increased by more than 32 million. There has also been a tremendous ‘learning loss’ for young people. Students in the region have missed 67 days of instruction, more than four times the days missed by children in advanced economies,” said Selassie.
This is feared to risk reversing years of progress, and the region falling behind the rest of the world. The IMF report focusing on navigating a long pandemic has shown that financial stability indicators have displayed little change. But the longer the pandemic lingers, the more borrowers may find themselves compromised, with potentially significant implications for nonperforming loans (NPLs), bank solvency, and the triggering of public guarantees.
So far, financial soundness indicators do not point to any major deterioration in the financial system’s health, thanks, in part, to the exceptional policy support provided by local authorities. Botswana’s supervisory authorities, according to the report, have allowed their banks to use their countercyclical capital buffers to help deal with the crisis, however, the full impact of the crisis is still to be felt with Regulatory Forbearance scheduled to end in 2021.
This has perhaps prevented a number of non-viable loans from being captured properly in existing financial soundness indicators, the report indicated. The outlook for sub-Saharan Africa is expected to diverge from the rest of the world, with constraints on policy space and vaccine rollout holding back the near-term recovery. While advanced economies have deployed extraordinary policy support that is now driving their recoveries, for most countries in sub-Saharan Africa this is not an option.
“As we have observed throughout the pandemic, the outlook is subject to greater-than-usual uncertainty. The main risk is that the region could face repeated COVID-19 episodes before vaccines become widely available. But there are a range of other factors—limited access to the external financing, political instability, domestic security, or climate events—that could jeopardize the recovery. More positively, faster‑than‑expected vaccine supply or rollout could boost the region’s near-term prospects,” the report stated.
The IMF has called out Sub-Saharan nations to focus on policies and the priorities for nurturing recovery; such as saving lives that will require more spending to strengthen local health systems and containment efforts, as well as to cover vaccine procurement and distribution.
Selassie underscored that: “the next priority is to reinforce the recovery and unlock Sub-Saharan Africa’s growth potential. Bold and transformative reforms are therefore more urgent than ever. These include reforms to strengthen social protection systems, promote digitalization, improve transparency and governance, and mitigate climate change.”
Delivering on these reforms, while overcoming the scarring from the crisis will require difficult policy choices, according to Selassie. Countries will have to tighten their fiscal stance to address debt vulnerabilities and restore the health of public balance sheets—especially so for the seventeen countries in the region that are in debt distress or at high risk of it.
By pursuing actions to mobilize domestic revenue, prioritize essential spending, and more effectively manage public debt, policymakers can create the fiscal space needed to invest in the recovery. ‘‘The sub-Saharan region cannot do this alone; there is a crucial need for further support from the international community,’’ Selassie said.
Along with the international community, the IMF moved swiftly to help cover some of the region’s emergency funding requirements. This included support via emergency financing facilities, increased access under existing arrangements, and debt relief for the most vulnerable countries through the Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust (CCRT).
“To boost spending on the pandemic response, to maintain adequate reserves, and to accelerate the recovery to where the income gap with the rest of the world is closing rather than getting wider. To do this, countries in sub-Saharan Africa will need additional external funding of around $425 billion over the next 5 years.
However, meeting the region’s total needs will require significant contributions from all potential sources: private capital inflows; international financial institutions; debt-neutral support via (Official Development Assistance) ODA; debt relief; and capacity development to help countries effectively scale up development spending,” said Selassie. All these issues are expected to be discussed at the forthcoming High-Level International Summit on Financing for Africa in May.