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.
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.”
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.
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.”