Property developers who own mall developments in Botswana are looking at taking the next step in their bid to lobby for a further softening of a Trade Act that compels South African chain stores to partner 51 percent with locals if they are to be granted trading licences.
Retail business is big in Botswana. It is worth close to P15 billion annually. The bulk of this money goes to South African retail giants.
Recently, the Minister of Trade, Industry, and Investment Vincent Seretse reiterated his stance that he was not going to back down and grant South African chain store owners a waiver to widen their footprint in the country by opening new outlets.
If Business Botswana president, Leta Mosienyane’s view that they are free to lobby anyone is anything to go by, then Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi appears to be the next office bearer that the retailers and property developers with the help of Business Botswana will visit to get him to soften Seretse’s clutched fist. Their argument appears to hinge mostly on employment creation, a task that Masisi is overseeing; they will also point to their role in helping diversify the economy; and the potential consequences of forcing this law through.
In an interview this week Mosienyane said majority of South African retailers are members of Business Botswana and they are advocating for sound businesses for all-including South African retailers and the locals. He also believes that 51% is too steep, “its worth billions and one would wonder if Batswana have access to finances to buy that investment.” He further said there are a lot of business models that can be used such as warehousing. He gave an example of South Africa where the government has underwritten the private sector (ABSA) to finance locals and pay them back through dividends.
However Masisi will also have to contend with the views scores of citizen business owners who are finding it difficult to compete with South African retailers and are also struggling to keep up with the rental demands of the top end malls. A number of local business people have written a co-signed letter supporting Seretse’s demands and Business Botswana is said to be not happy with them.
Mosienyane said South African retailers come as clusters and anchors bringing in a value chain which is worth billions. “When they come they push out Batswana and as Business Botswana we would be happy to see if Batswana can compete,” he said. He went on to applaud Minister Seretse for implementing this policy and added he (Seretse) should take another step further to finish off where he started. He said they have the right to lobby anyone including Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi.
Seretse wants South African retailers to partner with Batswana and give them a controlling 51 percent stake in their businesses. Seretse’s crusade is hinged on the argument of citizen economic empowerment; something which he says has eluded this country for a long time. The law has been around for a while just that before Minister Seretse’s ascendance to the throne there has been a series of waivers granted in favour of South African retailers.
Minister Seretse and his assistant are not on the same page on the matter, report suggests. Indications are that Assistant Minister Sadique Kebonang is leaning towards a softened approach that will allow South Africa retailers to continue growing their footprints.
With a number of new malls coming up in places like Gaborone, Mahalapye, Palapye and Francistown, pressure is mounting on Seretse to relax the law. The intervention of Vice President Masisi could strike the balance in such a way that both local retailers, who are predominantly small in terms of balance sheet and giant South African retailers, are appeased. Some of the malls in Pilane and Gaborone had to delay their opening because of the anchor tenants are yet to be given their trading licences. For some in the retail business it is a catch 22 situation because jobs are at stake; while at the same time citizens are not penetrating the retail market because of South African retailers’ over domination of the sector. Mafia Soul founder, Molefe Nkwete observes that Minister is right with his intervention but it needs to be measured to cater for the interests of all parties involved.
Property developers like Time Projects, Turnstar, Nafprop and others are afraid that the law will have adverse effects on their business because the South African retailers form the bulk of their tenants. It is evident though that the South African retailers are not comfortable with a law that compels them to give controlling stake in their businesses away and they have enlisted property developers and Business Botswana to help argue their case against the Minister.
Business Botswana president, Leta Mosienyane who is not in support of Minister Seretse’s law said they are hopeful that a decision that favours property developers and all retailers will be reached. He said as Business Botswana they want laws that are progressive and favour both the local empowerment and foreign investment. He said the laws should not only be inward looking but should promote outside investment.
THE REAL PROBLEM LIES ELSEWHERE?
Mafia Soul’s recent altercation with the Game City mall developer is seen as the snow ball of the ongoing tiff between local retail businesses and property developers. Small retailers believe that overestimated rentals are used to push them out of prime spaces in favour of big retailers.
There is a general feeling among local retailers that South African retailers are favoured ahead of locals.
Mafia Soul has had to endure a period of lost business during the Game City mall renovations and the balance sheet thinned. At some stage they requested that their rent be reduced from P35 000 and the rent was cut by P3000. As the sales continued to drop to as low as 40 % the business owners wrote another letter demanding that the rent be waived for six months and they be compensated with P250 000 for lost business as a result of mall renovations.
But these were both rejected outright and they were told that their lease will be terminated. Following this communication they started experiences frequent electricity cuts occasioned by the property management, something which they challenged from a legal perspective on the grounds that mall developer was not a utility company.
The argument from the likes of Mafia Soul is that their businesses are not given the same treatment as the South African businesses, they point to incentives directed to South African retailers such as Tenant Installation support where a tenant could receive funding to start up and even pay salaries for six months.
They indicate that the reason why they support Minister Seretse’s law is because of the skewed practices that do not favour local retailers. “Let the playing ground be fair and we shall all be in harmony,” said Nkwete, whose business has paid rental accruing to P2.5 million in the last five years at Game City mall.
He confirmed that they currently owe close to P164 000 in rentals as a result of slow business at the mall because of the renovations. He said they have a pending case with Turnstar at the High Court and it is penned of December 6th this year.
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.