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SA retailers lobby Masisi to counter Seretse

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.

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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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