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Seretse declares victory in Retail Sector war

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. 

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DIS blasted for cruelty – UN report

26th July 2022
DIS BOSS: Magosi

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.

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Stan Chart halts civil servants property loan facility

26th July 2022
Stan-Chart

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.

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Botswana ranked 129 in female MPs representation

26th July 2022
Minister of Finance & Economic Development Peggy Serame

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.

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