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Electronic Voting: IEC ready to implement the law

The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) Secretary, Gabriel Seeletso has said that the Commission is only executing its mandate by implementing electronic voting. The IEC Chief says they are not responsible for the new electoral amendments, instead those with questions should direct them to the law making body- parliament.

IEC has been heavily criticised for failing to consult the nation on the electoral reforms, brought about by the new amendments passed by Parliament. But Seeletso has maintained that it was only proper for him to do consultation after the bill was turned into law because the changes were brought about by parliament and not the IEC.

“IEC would not have conducted consultation about the machines because it was not a law yet. It is only now, when the bill has become a law that we will engage citizens about the changes because we’re compelled to do so by the Act,” he said in a press conference this week.    

The introduction of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), as made into law by the amended Electoral Act, will cost the Commission an additional P150 million.

The Electoral amendment bill, which was passed by the National Assembly during the closing day of the 3rd meeting of the 2nd Session of Parliament, has been signed into law by President Lt Gen Dr Ian Khama.

Seeletso told the media that, as a result of the new law, IEC will execute its mandate as required by the law, and will embark on a countrywide public education campaign, which will cost the commission P150 million. IEC is scheduled to address 490 ward meetings, and 57 constituency meetings countrywide.

The electoral reforms come in the back of deliberations at the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), at which key resolutions were reached, including cancellation of supplementary registration. BDP had diagnosed supplementary registration as one of the factors which contributed towards the party’s dismal performance in the last general election.

According to BDP, the abolishment of supplementary registration will also bring to an end trafficking of voters which has been prevalent among candidates during election campaigns.

Seeletso has downplayed the gravity of the decision to abolish supplementary registration as he contended that the new development will mean that, stakeholders have to intensify public education in an effort to change people’s mindset.

“As IEC our duty is to do what the Act says we should do. We do not make laws, but if there is a new law, we have to do as it says,” said Seeletso.

Seeletso has however not disputed nor confirmed that the executive is compromising the integrity of the elections body, by introducing reforms that only serves its interest, as he noted that “there is nothing he can do about it since the changes were done by parliament and IEC only offers recommendations, which can be rejected or approved.”

Ahead of the 2014 general election, the initial registration known as the general registration attracted only 487 000 of the P1.4 million who were eligible to vote.  Subsequent to the two supplementary registration periods, the number rose to 824 432.

There are fears that the new law will create a crisis in which many people eligible to vote will be disenfranchised. IEC has previously complained of voter apathy in Botswana, which has not improved over the years.  Since the introduction of the IEC ahead of 1999 General Elections, it has had to conduct more than two registration periods to attract an acceptable number of people to participate in the general elections.

Seeletso has also revealed that part of the reforms introduced by the amendment of the bill is the extension of the Secretary’s duties to include the promotion of civic and voter education. This, however, IEC has been doing but without legal backing. 

Seeletso revealed the kind of machine which the IEC is looking for, as he noted that, because of elections’ sensitivity the IEC will be looking to maintain credibility in the elections.

“We are looking for machines which are not computer and network based, machines which are water resistant, can be able to withstand various weather conditions and are easy to use,” he said.

Seeletso said the machines which they are looking for will also not require electricity to function since the machine will be battery powered. The machine could also be used across the country including places without power from the national grid.

“The battery is envisaged to last for 20 hours of continuous use; it must be reliable, simple to use or user friendly, secure and meet Botswana’s adverse geographical conditions,” he said.

The IEC boss further noted that some procedures will remain the same, despite the introduction of electronic voting.

“The voters roll as we know it will continue to be used. The EMV therefore will only replace the conventional voting from the point of issuance of the ballot paper to depositing it into the ballot box while other activities of voting process will remain unchanged,” he noted.

Meanwhile Seeletso also expressed that IEC met with political parties to brief them about the new development, and the opposition is now happy about it. However Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) and Botswana Congress Party (BCP) are preparing a legal bid against President Lt Gen Ian Khama for assenting and signing the bill into law.

Seeletso also informed the media that, the IEC will go on benchmarking missions to countries which are currently using the electronic voting machine as well as those who previously used the machined but reneged afterwards.

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Mowana Mine to open, pay employees millions

18th January 2022
Mowana Mine

Mowana Copper Mine in Dukwi will finally pay its former employees a total amount of P23, 789, 984.00 end of this month. For over three years Mowana Copper Mine has been under judicial management. Updating members, Botswana Mine Workers Union (BMWU) Executive Secretary Kitso Phiri this week said the High Court issued an order for the implementation of the compromise scheme of December 9, 2021 and this was to be done within 30 days after court order.

“Therefore payment of benefits under the scheme including those owed to Messina Copper Botswana employees should be effected sometime in January latest end of January 2022,” Kitso said. Kitso also explained that cash settlement will be 30 percent of the total Messina Copper Botswana estate and negotiated estate is $3,233,000 (about P35, 563,000).

Messina Copper was placed under liquidation and was thereafter acquired by Leboam Holdings to operate Mowana Mine. Leboam Holdings struck a deal with the Messina Copper’s liquidator who became a shareholder of Leboam Holdings. Leboam Holdings could not service its debts and its creditors placed it under provisional judicial management on December 18, 2018 and in judicial management on February 28, 2019.

A new company Max Power expressed interest to acquire the mining operations. It offered to take over the Mowana Mine from Leboam Holdings, however, the company had to pay the debts of Leboam including monies owed to Messina Copper, being employees benefits and other debts owed to other creditors.

The monies, were agreed to be paid through a scheme of compromise proposed by Max Power, being a negotiated payment schedule, which was subject to the financial ability of the new owners. “On December 9, 2021, Messina Copper liquidator, called a meeting of creditors, which the BMWU on behalf of its members (former Messina Copper employees) attended, to seek mandate from creditors to proceed with a proposed settlement for Messina Copper on the scheme of compromise. It is important to note that employee benefits are regarded as preferential credit, meaning once a scheme is approved they are paid first.”

Negotiated estate is P35, 563,000

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Councilors’ benefits debacle-savingram reveals detail

18th January 2022

A savingram the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development sent to Town Clerks and Council Secretaries explaining why councilors across the country should not have access to their terminal benefits before end of their term has been revealed.

The contents of the savingram came out in the wake of a war of words between counselors and the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development. The councilors through the Botswana Association of Local Authorities (BALA) accuse the Ministry of refusing to allow them to have access to their terminal benefits before end of their term.

This has since been denied by the Ministry.  In the savingram to town councils and council secretaries across the country, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development Molefi Keaja states that, “Kindly be advised that the terminal benefits budget is made during the final year of term of office for Honorable Councilors.”  Keaja reminded town clerks and council secretaries that, “The nominal budget Councils make each and every financial year is to cater for events where a Councilor’s term of office ends before the statutory time due to death, resignation or any other reason.”

The savingram also goes into detail about why the government had in the past allowed councilors to have access to their terminal benefits before the end of their term.  “Regarding the special dispensation made in the 2014-2019, it should be noted that the advance was granted because at that time there was an approved budget for terminal benefits during the financial year,” explained Keaja.  He added that, “Town Clerks/Council Secretaries made discretions depending on the liquidity position of Councils which attracted a lot of audit queries.”

Keaja also revealed that councils across the country were struggling financially and therefore if they were to grant councilors access to their terminal benefits, this could leave their in a dire financial situation.  Given the fact that Local Authorities currently have cash flow problems and budgetary constraints, it is not advisable to grant terminal benefits advance as it would only serve to compound the liquidity problems of councils.

It is understood that the Ministry was inundated with calls from some Councils as they sought clarification regarding access to their terminal benefits. The Ministry fears that should councils pay out the terminal benefits this would affect their coffers as the government spends a lot on councilors salaries.

Reports show that apart from elected councilors, the government spends at least P6, 577, 746, 00 on nominated councilors across the country as their monthly salaries. Former Assistant Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Botlogile Tshireletso once told Parliament that in total there are 113 nominated councilors and their salaries per a year add up to P78, 933,16.00. She added that their projected gratuity is P9, 866,646.00.

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Households spending to drive economic recovery

17th January 2022

A surge in consumer spending is expected to be a key driver of Botswana’s economic recovery, according to recent projections by Fitch Solutions. Fitch Solutions said it forecasts household spending in Botswana to grow by a real rate of 5.9% in 2022.

The bullish Fitch Solutions noted that “This is a considerable deceleration from 9.4% growth estimated in 2021, it comes mainly from the base effects of the contraction of 2.5% recorded in 2020,” adding that, “We project total household spending (in real terms) to reach BWP59.9bn (USD8.8bn) in 2022, increasing from BWP56.5bn (USD8.3bn) in 2021.”  According to Fitch Solutions, this is higher than the pre-Covid-19 total household spending (in real terms) of P53.0 billion (USD7.8bn) in 2019 and it indicates a full recovery in consumer spending.

“We forecast real household spending to grow by 5.9% in 2022, decelerating from the estimated growth of 9.4% in 2021. We note that the Covid-19 pandemic and the related restrictions on economic activity resulted in real household spending contracting by 2.5% in 2020, creating a lower base for spending to grow from in 2021 and 2022,” Fitch Solutions says.

Total household spending (in real terms), the agency says, will increase in 2022 when compared to 2021. In 2021 and 2022, total household spending (in real terms) will be above the pre-Covid-19 levels in 2019, indicating a full recovery in consumer spending, says Fitch Solutions.  It says as of December 6 2021 (latest data available), 38.4% of people in Botswana have received at least one vaccine dose, while this is relatively low it is higher than Africa average of 11.3%.

“The emergence of new Covid-19 variants such as Omicron, which was first detected in the country in November 2021, poses a downside risk to our outlook for consumer spending, particularly as a large proportion of the country’s population is unvaccinated and this could result in stricter measures being implemented once again,” says Fitch Solutions.

Growth will ease in 2022, Fitch Solution says. “Our forecast for an improvement in consumer spending in Botswana in 2022 is in line with our Country Risk team’s forecast that the economy will grow by a real rate of 5.3% over 2022, from an estimated 12.5% growth in 2021 as the low base effects from 2020 dissipate,” it says.

Fitch Solutions notes that “Our Country Risk team expects private consumption to be the main driver of Botswana’s economic growth in 2022, as disposable incomes and the labour market continue to recover from the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.”
It says Botswana’s tourism sector has been negatively impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and the related travel restrictions.

According to Fitch Solutions, “The emergence of the Omicron variant, which was first detected in November 2021, has resulted in travel bans being implemented on Southern African countries such as South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Eswatini. This will further delay the recovery of Botswana’s tourism sector in 2021 and early 2022.”  Fitch Solutions, therefore, forecasts Botswana’s tourist arrivals to grow by 81.2% in 2022, from an estimated contraction of 40.3% in 2021.

It notes that the 72.4% contraction in 2020 has created a low base for tourist arrivals to grow from.  “The rollout of vaccines in South Africa and its key source markets will aid the recovery of the tourism sector over the coming months and this bodes well for the employment and incomes of people employed in the hospitality industry, particularly restaurants and hotels as well as recreation and culture businesses,” the report says.

Fitch Solutions further notes that with economies reopening, consumers are demanding products that they had little access to over the previous year. However, manufacturers are facing several problems.  It says supply chain issues and bottlenecks are resulting in consumer goods shortages, feeding through into supply-side inflation.  Fitch Solutions believes the global semiconductor shortage will continue into 2022, putting the pressure on the supply of several consumer goods.

It says the spread of the Delta variant is upending factory production in Asia, disrupting shipping and posing more shocks to the world economy. Similarly, manufacturers are facing shortages of key components and higher raw materials costs, the report says adding that while this is somewhat restricted to consumer goods, there is a high risk that this feeds through into more consumer services over the 2022 year.

“Our global view for a notable recovery in consumer spending relies on the ability of authorities to vaccinate a large enough proportion of their populations and thereby experience a notable drop in Covid-19 infections and a decline in hospitalisation rates,” says Fitch Solutions.
Both these factors, it says, will lead to governments gradually lifting restrictions, which will boost consumer confidence and retail sales.

“As of December 6 2021, 38.4% of people in Botswana have received at least one vaccine dose. While this is low, it is higher than the Africa average of 11.3%. The vaccines being administered in Botswana include Pfizer-BioNTech, Sinovac and Johnson & Johnson. We believe that a successful vaccine rollout will aid the country’s consumer spending recovery,” says Fitch Solutions.  Therefore, the agency says, “Our forecasts account for risks that are highly likely to play out in 2022, including the easing of government support. However, if other risks start to play out, this may lead to forecast revisions.”

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