Botswana’s retail sector which is worth over P15 billion annually had seen battle between the Minister of Investment, Trade and Industry, Vincent Seretse following his decision to demand citizen component in ownership of retail shops operating in various malls in the country.
Minister Seretse’s new thumb rule was a requisite for operation permit renewal and this irked retailers and part of the business community. But this week the Minister declared victory, saying the retailers were compliant and results have started showing. The reservation of certain trade activities for citizens and citizen owned companies was emphasized in 2015 and aggressive implementation followed in 2016 spearheaded by Minister Seretse. The Minister said results as far as Citizen Economic Empowerment is have started showing and the reservations are provided for in Section 15.1 of the Trade Act of 2003.
According to Seretse, the reservation of these trade activities was premised on the fact that some retail operations are easy to operate and do not need technical expertise, special technology or special skills and therefore could be operated by citizens. Some of the reserved business activities include general dealer, general clothing, fresh produce, take away, hair and beauty parlor, among others.
Seretse made the statements in Parliament when answering a question asked by Specially Elected Member of Parliament, Bogolo Kenewendo. Kenewendo wanted the Minister to inform parliament of the impact of the reservation policy in the retail sector on the economy of Botswana.
“I ask this question because the retail sector is extremely important in our economy. It has been one sector that has been grossing double digits growth numbers, and the retail sector as a sub sector of the trade sector has also been quite important in cross border trading. It has accounted to about thirty- two (32) per cent of the total trade sector and has grown at around 5.2 per cent in the last decades,” Kenewendo said.
She explained that Retail activity has been quite crucial for employment as well. “The combined impact of the retail sector and the wholesales sector has been around 48 to 50 000 when it comes to job creation which is around fourteen (14) per cent of total formal employment.’”
Kenewendo who is also a Trade and Financial Economics expert said that upon revising the Trade Act, it was outlined that some economic activities will be reserved for citizens, and therefore there cannot be any foreign participation, “but previously we would find that the Minister would exempt some foreign owned retail chains in particular for clothing; Markham’s, Woolworths, Mr Price, Pep and so forth.
We heard last year and the year before that this has changed a bit, and that some of these chains have been withdrawing or are threatening to withdraw their investment in Botswana and are looking elsewhere because this Reservation Policy is being implemented quite harshly, So, I ask for the Minister to brief us if there has been any study to look at the impact of this Reservation Policy in particular on the retail sector,” she enquired further.
The specially elected MP had also asked whether there was any success noted in relation to the policy being implemented; “why are we not seeing any more exemptions, or really just to clarify if there are some of those exemptions, and what has been the total impact on employment creation?”
Seretse, in response said the implementation of reservation and reducing exemption has opened opportunities for citizens to participate in the retail sector such as bakery, fresh produce which has been in the domain of chain stores. “The economic growth of the country is suitable when it is driven by its own citizens. This results in the development of entrepreneurial skills and consequently improvement in the wellbeing of the people. The profit generated from the reserved business activities are re-injected into the economy and hence reduce the leakages of income that goes to other countries,” said Seretse.
Parliament also learnt that the reserved businesses under the Economic Diversification Drive (EDD) include manufacturing services and agricultural production. According to the minister, procurement from producers in these sectors will in the medium to long term lead to competitiveness which will encourage retail sectors currently dependent on imports to source products locally.
Furthermore, Seretse who is also Member of Parliament for Lentsweletau explained that foreign retailers who are mainly South African were engaged and brought to the table pertaining to the new developments. “We gave them an opportunity when this came into force that they must, when they expand, involve Batswana, because we could not impose the Act retrospectively, if they want to be in that space.”
Seretse noted that for a number of years his ministry continuously gave them exemptions: “Upon realizing that, they are taking advantage of this Clause which gives them exemptions, we decided that we shall stop the exemptions and put to them that they must try and get Batswana involved.” Seretse, who was criticized by the Lekwalo Leta Mosianyane led private sector advocacy federation, Business Botswana, explained that the Act provides for 51 percent of partnerships for new outlets.
“When I stopped the exemptions, they raised these issues like their companies are listed, so it is very difficult to engage Batswana to be participating in this space. For me that argument did not make sense because I decided that I meet all of them, the owners of the businesses that are operating here, the real Directors not the rented people who are sometimes called Country Managers this side who do not make decisions.” Seretse further told parliament that arguments brought forward by South African retailers did not hold water.
“I will give you one reason that they used, they said, ‘no, our staff is in the pension fund, we have given them some 1 per cent.’ I said I am not interested in that, I want significant contribution that will contribute to the economy. They went all over to try and get the support. I stood my ground, and basically said, I am not saying give your companies away at 51 per cent, I am asking you as a responsible Government to do something that you will feel comfortable with which is contributing to the economy.”
The Minister observed that his argument was based on empowering locals and he noted some of the business he advanced for was manufacturing enterprises, “I told them that some of the things that they could do was to engage our local manufacturing companies to supply them with goods. The argument was that the local people are very expensive and they cannot meet their standards. I said then we have to do something about it. You have to make sure that they meet your standards,” the Letsweletau Legislator quipped. Adding that he won his argument by stressing that local suppliers were expensive because they were still growing and if that was to be used as a factor, it would mean that Botswana would never grow its manufacturing sector.
The minister further revealed that retailers, so far were holding their end of the deal with respect to terms and conditions agreed upon “They threatened that they will go somewhere else. I knew they would not go because their profit lines are supported by our industries and for their businesses to grow they need us to support them through our purchases,” he said.
To date, he emphasized, no retailer had left the lucrative 15 billion Botswana market space. “To date, since you asked, even though they had threatened to leave, not a single company has gone. They are still here,” he stated, in direct response to Kenewendo. He further added that one of the conditions of exemption was that there must be a good cause that is practical to the effect that indeed Batswana are engaged.
“First we said we want to see Batswana products in their shops,” he noted adding that they committed that they would provide 10 percent of their floor space for goods produced by Batswana.” There also is commitment that the retailers will join forces with Botswana Government in training the suppliers to meet their standards. According to him, the first workshop was held a fortnight ago by Edcon which operates 10 different stores locally.
“There were about 100 Batswana who have shown interest that they are able to supply them. There is a clear programme that is to be followed. We also said that because our people might be starting from the beginning, there must be progressive quantities that you would be able to get from these different suppliers so that if all goes well as I would wish, at a particular point in time, these shops must be supplied probably if not 100 per cent, more than 60 per cent with local products,” he explained highlighting that their efforts are progressively benefiting Batswana.
Government is currently sitting on 4 400 vacant posts that remain unfilled in the civil service. This is notwithstanding the high unemployment rate in Botswana which has been exacerbated by the recent outbreak of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
Just before the burst of COVID-19, official data released by Statistics Botswana in January 2020, indicate that unemployment in Botswana has increased from 17.6 percent three years ago to 20.7 percent. “Unemployment rate went up by 3.1 percentage between the two periods, from 17.6 to 20.7 percent,” statistics point out.
Leading commercial bank, First National Bank Botswana (FNBB), expects the central bank to sharpen its monetary policy knife and cut the Bank Rate twice in the last quarter of 2020.
The bank expects a 25 basis point (bps) in the beginning of the last quarter, which is next month, and another shed by the same bps in December, making a total of 50 bps cut in the last quarter. According to the bank’s researchers, the central bank is now holding on to 4.25 percent for the time being pending for more informed data on the economic climate.
An audit of the accounts and records for the supply of food rations to the institutions in the Northern Region for the financial year-ended 31 March 2019 was carried out. According to Auditor General’s report and observations, there are weaknesses and shortcomings that were somehow addressed to the Accounting Officer for comments.
Auditor General, Pulane Letebele indicated on the report that, across all depots in the region that there had been instances where food items were short for periods ranging from 1 to 7 months in the institutions for a variety of reasons, including absence of regular contracts and supplier failures. The success of this programme is dependent on regular and reliable availability of the supplies to achieve its objective, the report said.
There would be instances where food items were returned from the feeding centers to the depots for reasons of spoilage or any other cause. In these cases, instances had been noted where these returns were not supported by any documentation, which could lead to these items being lost without trace.
The report further stressed that large quantities of various food items valued at over P772 thousand from different depots were damaged by rodents, and written off.Included in the write off were 13 538 (340ml) cartons of milk valued at P75 745. In this connection, the Auditor General says it is important that the warehouses be maintained to a standard where they would not be infested by rodents and other pests.
Still in the Northern region, the report noted that there is an outstanding matter relating to the supply of stewed steak (283×3.1kg cans) to the Maun depot which was allegedly defective. The steak had been supplied by Botswana Meat Commission to the depot in November 2016.
In March 2017 part of the consignment was reported to the supplier as defective, and was to be replaced. Even as there was no agreement reached between the parties regarding replacement, in 51 October 2018 the items in question were disposed of by destruction. This disposal represented a loss as the whole consignment had been paid for, according to the report.
“In my view, the loss resulted directly from failure by the depot managers to deal with the matter immediately upon receipt of the consignment and detection of the defects. Audit inspections during visits to Selibe Phikwe, Maun, Shakawe, Ghanzi and Francistown depots had raised a number of observations on points of detail related to the maintenance of records, reconciliations of stocks and related matters, which I drew to the attention of the Accounting Officer for comments,” Letebele said in her report.
In the Southern region, a scrutiny of the records for the control of stocks of food items in the Southern Region had indicated intermittent shortages of the various items, principally Tsabana, Malutu, Sunflower Oil and Milk which was mainly due to absence of subsisting contracts for the supply of these items.
“The contract for the supply of Tsabana to all depots expired in September 2018 and was not replaced by a substantive contract. The supplier contracts for these stocks should be so managed that the expiry of one contract is immediately followed by the commencement of the next.”
Suppliers who had been contracted to supply foodstuffs had failed to do so and no timely action had been taken to redress the situation to ensure continuity of supply of the food items, the report noted.
In one case, the report highlighted that the supplier was to manufacture and supply 1 136 metric tonnes of Malutu for a 4-months period from March 2019 to June 2019, but had been unable to honour the obligation. The situation was relieved by inter-depot transfers, at additional cost in transportation and subsistence expenses.
In another case, the contract was for the supply of Sunflower Oil to Mabutsane, where the supplier had also failed to deliver. Examination of the Molepolole depot Food Issues Register had indicated a number of instances where food items consigned to the various feeding centres had been returned for a variety of reasons, including food item available; no storage space; and in other cases the whole consignments were returned, and reasons not stated.
This is an indication of lack of proper management and monitoring of the affairs of the depot, which could result in losses from frequent movements of the food items concerned.The maintenance of accounting records in the region, typically in Letlhakeng, Tsabong, and Mabutsane was less than satisfactory, according to Auditor General’s report.
In these depots a number of instances had been noted where receipts and issues had not been recorded over long periods, resulting in incorrect balances reflected in the accounting records. This is a serious weakness which could lead to or result in losses without trace or detection, and is a contravention of Supplies Regulations and Procedures, Letebele said.
Similarly, consignments of a total of 892 bags of Malutu and 3 bags of beans from Tsabong depot to different feeding centres had not been received in those centres, and are considered lost. These are also not reflected in the Statement of Losses in the Annual Statements of Accounts for the same periods.