Following presentations of the National Development Plan 11 and the State of the Nation Address by the Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Kenneth Matambo and President Lt Gen Dr Ian Khama respectively, some Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) backbenchers have expressed misgivings on the state of the economy and challenged the system to address public concerns.
Member of Parliament for Tati East Samson Guma Moyo revisited the then Leader of Opposition Dumelang Saleshando’s motion of Declaration of assets by senior government officials and political office bearers. Guma Moyo argues that such a law would go a long way into bringing about public confidence and trust in public office bearers and political leaders.
Driving his message home, Guma Moyo explained: “I talk about this matter because I am a victim of circumstances and as a public figure, and all of us in this House, and we are custodians of people’s values and assets. I keep using this term again and again. When there are perceptions that we have become corrupt and our names at times are dragged into courts, it is a matter that should worry me as a person. That allows me to examine myself. It does not matter how many times I defend myself, but that perception still sits and then it cuts across everybody and all of us as politicians.
We have been seen as people that cannot be trusted. What then should we be doing and I keep repeating this again and again, the need for us to bring the Declaration of Assets Bill is key. It has to come in urgently, it protects all of us; we are responsible for the nation. We should be trusted but what does that Bill say? I am not saying everything of us must be made public but there must be a way in which we must actually account for how we make our work because most of the wealth that we generate comes from this economy; we know that the e know that the economy of Botswana is largely driven by Government and the need for us to be trusted is key.”
According to Guma Moyo who is also the chairperson of Parliamentary Committee on Public Enterprises & Statutory Bodies, the public always questions the independence of awarding Government tenders from political offices , raising eyebrows about business interests of people holding such offices.
“There is a lot of talk amongst the public about corruption and embezzlement of taxpayers’ money, recently I found myself being a victim of this circumstance, If we want to clear the air and regain public confidence, then we must have a Declaration of Assets Bill enacted into a law as soon as yesterday, It would do us lots of good if the public had a trail of our assets,” he said.
Reports from parliament also reveals that Guma wants senior government officials and all those holding key positions in state owned enterprises and Parastatals to declare their assets and business interest to avoid conflict of interest. On another hot potato subject, Guma Moyo indicated that he is a serious supporter of the direct election of the President. “We are a Republic, we are not a Kingdom.
It is always important that all leaders are elected by the people. The situation where there is an automatic succession makes me feel uncomfortable because then the leaders are imposed on us by most probably the President that leaves. Even the one that is elected to succeed you can never be sure whether he will succeed at times because that is how the setup is,” he said.
DIRECT ELECTION OF PRESIDENT | INDEPENDENT PARLIAMENT
Guma Moyo said there is need to review the constitution and allow the President to elect even members of the Cabinet across the country and let the Members of Parliament remain in Parliament and the Executive remain in the Executive. “It is something that both of us have to look into carefully.” He argued that Parliament must be very strong on its own, free from the Executive interference.
He said the role of Parliament should be purely legislation and oversight, “and we move away from the issues that we are now critically involved in developmental issues and the implementation of projects. That has never been the intention of the Constitution, it compromises all of us. When the President has to pick people from Parliament, then there is always an expectation all the time that, “I also have to be put there” and we are putting the President in a very difficult situation when there are capable men and women out there that can even do a far much better job than MPs sitting here.
Then also restricting the President to appoint his vice within ourselves. We need to look at these issues. A House like this must debate laws, look into culture and values. If you have a House that does not speak freely about issues that are being seen out there as critical and then we choose to talk about what we want to talk about and leave people out there, we are deceiving ourselves.”
ON THE ECONOMY | UNEMPLOYMENT
Debating the state of the economy, Guma Moyo said the country is at a stage where unless Government urgently addresses the issues affecting the economy, “we are sitting on a time bomb in particular with the youth.” He said gone are the days when a university kid goes out of school he knows he is going to get a job. There is no guarantee today even if you have got Masters or PhD in whatever discipline that there is going to be job.
What then does it mean to us? We need to change the mind-set and create an economy that on itself creates jobs and then we need to look into what is it that we could focus on. This economy can only create jobs through sectors like agriculture and mineral beneficiation. That is where you unpack unemployment. We are a nation, even if you go into a supermarket, just go and look at it, only five (5) per cent of the products that you see in a supermarket comes from this country, the rest is imported.”
He said it is important to look at the import bill, unpack it, change it, “but before we do that, we need to look at the infrastructure that assists us to grow agriculture. Gone are the days when we should be looking at infrastructure that assists us to win constituencies. That one, that is constituency based, is wrong. It should be an infrastructure that assists to grow this economy.
There will come a time even when there are projects in your constituency, you will be the only one elected and one day you would not be in Government, both sides of the aisle, because there will be no economy. The agricultural sector, the food sector is key. A population of 2,5 million or 2,2 million cannot feed itself, with all the water being there.”
MEPHATO REATILE – ABOLISH BMC MONOPOLY
Specially Elected Member of Parliament, Mephato Reatile could not hide his disappointment with the Botswana Meat Commission (BMC) and immediately wants abolition of the beef monopoly. “When we look at Botswana Meat Commission (BMC), we have protected it so much with the policies and laws governing such companies but currently there is none of the citizens who is proud of the Company because of the current state it is in, those who were in the management of the BMC way back, and have benefitted from it, are either old or some have passed on.
Those who are around do not see the value of the BMC because we have managed to babysit the company for quite some time, and they cannot even think for themselves since the government is always there to rescue, the money is always there for them to use, they are given guarantees to take loans from the banks. The time to abolish monopoly at BMC, is not tomorrow but today because when we abolish the BMC monopoly we will be opening gates, the people who will be marketing the beef from their abattoirs where the market is are Batswana,” he said.
Reatile reasoned that if Batswana are allowed to market their beef, they will be creating employment. He said BMC alone cannot grow and cannot create employment even if it could get another market for its goods somewhere. “We already know that it has decided to engage Global Protein Solutions (GPS) Food Group . GPS is the one that markets the BMC beef yet it was used to market products of a competitor to BMC which is the Namdeb.
The time has come – and even the Namdeb has since parted ways with the GPS, but we are still stuck with it yet it is not effective. I have met with a lot of Batswana who have sourced market for the BMC meat outside and they are consulting with the BMC and negotiating with the company so that it gives them meat to sell, but rather than them being given quotations, GPS has to come into the picture and presented sky rocketed prizes, therefore given this situation, there is no how our meat could get market from outside the country.”
Reatile said the BMC should have found out how Namibia Allied Meat Company (NAMCO) got to access the United States of America market. “If the NAMCO has managed to penetrate the American market Mr Speaker, yet we always attend summits and our meat always wins with good ratings when we reach the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), it shows that Botswana is doing well. On the marketing part, we are failing and it clearly indicates that there is a problem. The thing is that, the Meat which is rated and gets good ratings, is not a product of the BMC, it is a product of the cattle owned by Batswana.”
MINING IS NOT DOING WELL
Reatile observed that the BCL and Tati nickel mines are not the only ones affected by dipping commodity prices leading to closure of mines. He said the Mowana mine has been closed for close to 13 months now, and it is to undergo liquidation as well. “The mine workers have not yet received their benefits since the closure of the mine. What I believe should happen, since there are investors who have shown interest to buy the mine, it means that by January the plant will start to run, then the government should do something.
It is therefore imperative that the Government does something since investors are already there, and they have agreed that they will release the money after they have been assured of the quality of plants that are here because they are not hesitant on their reserve bank. It is just a matter of how good the infrastructure is. The government has to therefore take it upon herself to find money to pay off the Mowana mine employees because the money will be paid through the investors once cleared off and then the government could benefit from the mine. We cannot address a challenge for a mine which has recently been closed while we have a mine which has been closed for quite some time now,” he observed.
BUTI BILLY WANTS KHAMA TO ACCOUNT
Francistown East Member of Parliament, Buti Billy was also in his element when responding to the State of the Nation Address. Billy wants President Khama to answer to Parliament. According to Billy the time has come for the President to sit and listen to debates and responses especially to connected to his presentations in Parliament.
“It is undemocratic for the President to deliver SONA and leave it to Members of Parliament to debate and deliberate on it without his audience,” he said. The MP said the current practice kills Botswana’s democracy hence the president must be compelled to account and answer to questions from legislators. He is of the view that this will strengthen democracy as MPs themselves account to the general public who actually voted them to power.
NDB IS WASTE OF TAXPAYERS’ MONEY – MARKUS
Another BDP backbencher Konstantino Markus of Maun East constituency poured scorn on the National Development Bank (NDB) and labelled it a total waste of public money. The Lorato Morapedi led state owned lender is currently bankrupt and owes taxpayers over P300 million worth of unserviced loans. The Maun East Legislator said this when responding to SONA last week in Parliament.
Markus argues that with current business structure and leadership the state owned bank will remain useless and bankrupt. “The situation is worsened by the bank’s high interest rate, NDB’s assets and liabilities should be ceded to the Citizen Entrepreneurial Development Agency (CEDA) which is performing much better,” he said. The MP added that with the current negative bank account of the NDB it will be a great loss for the government to privatize or commercialize the bank to external investors.
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.