The World Economic Forum (WEF) has just released the Global Competitiveness Report 2016/17(GCR). The theme for this year’s Report is “Declining Openness a Major Threat to Global Competitiveness”. The GCR 2016-2017 finds declining openness to be threatening growth and prosperity. It reports that a ten-year decline in the openness of economies at all stages of development poses a risk to countries’ ability to grow and innovate.
In this Report Botswana is ranked at #64 out of 138 countries which is a notable improvement from the previous year where the Country was ranked 71 out of 140 countries. The quality score has also improved from 4.2 to 4.3 out a total of 7. These results are worth celebrating as the country has moved 7 places up and the improvement comes at a time when Botswana is celebrating its 50 years of independence.
The good news about this performance is that, Botswana’s competitiveness has improved in almost all the twelve pillars used by WEF to assess competitiveness. A notable improvement is on the Goods Markets Efficiency pillar, jumping from 95th (in 2015) to 73rd in 2016. The Report indicates that local competition has intensified and anti-monopoly policy is starting to be effective (jumping from 71 to 63). The degree of Customer Orientation and buyer sophistication has also improved modestly.
There has also been some improvement on the Higher Education and Training pillar with a ranking of 88th compared to 100th last year. This is attributed mainly to the improvement in the tertiary education enrolment rates, quality of the education system and internet access in schools.
The establishment of the Innovation Hub is now starting to show some results as the Innovation Pillar has improved from 102 last year to 84 this year. Though the quality score of this Pillar is still low at 3.2 out of 7, the Hub’s efforts are worth celebrating. The Report shows that there has been some improvement in the Capacity to Innovate, Company Spending on Research and Development and University-Industry Collaboration in Research and Development. Initiatives linked to the likes of the Human Resource Development Council Research and Innovation Grant probably contributed to this improvement.
Botswana’s Macro-Economic Environment is still considered among the best in the world ranked in the top 10 countries. In addition Botswana has been doing well in the Institutions pillar for the past 6 years. This year, the latter is ranked 37 as in last year. This may indicate however, that more effort needs to be made to improve this area as it is stagnant. There is some improvement in the infrastructure pillar (from 96th to 90th). This is mainly due to the improvement in the air infrastructure, mainly the completion of the Sir Seretse Khama International Airport and the Francistown International airport.
In the Health and Primary Education pillar, there has been some notable improvements in both the quality score (4.5 to 4.7) and the ranking (119 to 113) compared to last year. Though there has been some great improvement in the life expectancy from 47.4 years to 64.4 years, this is still considered among the lowest in the world. Overall this pillar remains an area of main concern in the Report and has rankings that put the country amongst the lowest performers. Tuberculosis incidence and its impact on business are still very high. HIV prevalence rate (25.2%) and business impact of HIV/AIDS are also still very high.
Although Poor work ethic in the national labour force continues to be the most problematic factor for doing business in the country, the severity of this problem, however has significantly dropped from 19% last year to 16.2% this year. There has also been a significant drop in the intensity of inefficient government bureaucracy from 12.7% to 9.5%. Access to financing has moved up as the second most problematic factor this year followed by inadequately educated workforce.
Beyond 50 years of Independence, Botswana has to leverage on technology and innovation in order to enhance business sophistication. A business sophisticated economy tends to be innovative, productive and competitive in nature. Thus private sector involvement and active participation in the development of Botswana is very important.
For the eighth consecutive year, Switzerland ranks as the most competitive economy in the world, narrowly ahead of Singapore and the United States. Following these two is Netherlands and then Germany. The latter has climbed four places in two years. The next two countries, Sweden (6th) and the United Kingdom (7th) both advance three places, with the latter’s Global Competitive Index score being based on pre-Brexit data. The remaining three economies in the top ten are Japan (8th), Hong Kong SAR (9th) and Finland (10th) all move backwards.
In sub-Saharan Africa, Rwanda is one of the most improved nations moving 6 places to 52nd. It is closing in on the region’s traditionally most competitive economies, Mauritius and South Africa, although both these countries register more modest improvements, climbing to 45 and 47 respectively. Lower down the rankings, Kenya climbs to 96, Ethiopia holds steady at 109 while Nigeria slips three to 127.
This century is always looking at improving new super high speed technology to make life easier. On the other hand, beckoning as an emerging fierce reversal force to equally match or dominate this life enhancing super new tech, comes swift human adversaries which seem to have come to make living on earth even more difficult.
The recent discovery of a pandemic, Covid-19, which moves at a pace of unimaginable and unpredictable proportions; locking people inside homes and barring human interactions with its dreaded death threat, is currently being felt.
Member of Parliament for Kanye North, Thapelo Letsholo has cautioned Government against excessive borrowing and poorly managed debt levels.
He was speaking in Parliament on Tuesday delivering Parliament’s Finance Committee report after assessing a motion that sought to raise Government Bond program ceiling to P30 billion, a big jump from the initial P15 Billion.
Government Investment Account (GIA) which forms part of the Pula fund has been significantly drawn down to finance Botswana’s budget deficits since 2008/09 Global financial crises.
The 2009 global economic recession triggered the collapse of financial markets in the United States, sending waves of shock across world economies, eroding business sentiment, and causing financiers of trade to excise heightened caution and hold onto their cash.
The ripple effects of this economic catastrophe were mostly felt by low to middle income resource based economies, amplifying their vulnerability to external shocks. The diamond industry which forms the gist of Botswana’s economic make up collapsed to zero trade levels across the entire value chain.
The Upstream, where Botswana gathers much of its diamond revenue was adversely impacted by muted demand in the Midstream. The situation was exacerbated by zero appetite of polished goods by jewelry manufacturers and retail outlets due to lowered tail end consumer demand.
This resulted in sharp decline of Government revenue, ballooned budget deficits and suspension of some developmental projects. To finance the deficit and some prioritized national development projects, government had to dip into cash balances, foreign reserves and borrow both externally and locally.
Much of drawing was from Government Investment Account as opposed to drawing from foreign reserve component of the Pula Fund; the latter was spared as a fiscal buffer for the worst rainy days.
Consequently this resulted in significant decline in funds held in the Government Investment Account (GIA). The account serves as Government’s main savings depository and fund for national policy objectives.
However as the world emerged from the 2009 recession government revenue graph picked up to pre recession levels before going down again around 2016/17 owing to challenges in the diamond industry.
Due to a number of budget surpluses from 2012/13 financial year the Government Investment Account started expanding back to P30 billion levels before a series of budget deficits in the National Development Plan 11 pushed it back to decline a decline wave.
When the National Development Plan 11 commenced three (3) financial years ago, government announced that the first half of the NDP would run at budget deficits.
This as explained by Minister of Finance in 2017 would be occasioned by decline in diamond revenue mainly due to government forfeiting some of its dividend from Debswana to fund mine expansion projects.
Cumulatively since 2017/18 to 2019/20 financial year the budget deficit totaled to over P16 billion, of which was financed by both external and domestic borrowing and drawing down from government cash balances. Drawing down from government cash balances meant significant withdrawals from the Government Investment Account.
The Government Investment Account (GIA) was established in accordance with Section 35 of the Bank of Botswana Act Cap. 55:01. The Account represents Government’s share of the Botswana‘s foreign exchange reserves, its investment and management strategies are aligned to the Bank of Botswana’s foreign exchange reserves management and investment guidelines.
Government Investment Account, comprises of Pula denominated deposits at the Bank of Botswana and held in the Pula Fund, which is the long-term investment tranche of the foreign exchange reserves.
In June 2017 while answering a question from Bogolo Kenewendo, the then Minister of Finance & Economic Development Kenneth Mathambo told parliament that as of June 30, 2017, the total assets in the Pula Fund was P56.818 billion, of which the balance in the GIA was P30.832 billion.
Kenewendo was still a back bench specially elected Member of Parliament before ascending to cabinet post in 2018. Last week Minister of Finance & Economic Development, Dr Thapelo Matsheka, when presenting a motion to raise government local borrowing ceiling from P15 billion to P30 Billion told parliament that as of December 2019 Government Investment Account amounted to P18.3 billion.
Dr Matsheka further told parliament that prior to financial crisis of 2008/9 the account amounted to P30.5 billion (41 % of GDP) in December of 2008 while as at December 2019 it stood at P18.3 billion (only 9 % of GDP) mirroring a total decline by P11 billion in the entire 11 years.
Back in 2017 Parliament was also told that the Government Investment Account may be drawn-down or added to, in line with actuations in the Government’s expenditure and revenue outturns. “This is intended to provide the Government with appropriate funds to execute its functions and responsibilities effectively and efficiently” said Mathambo, then Minister of Finance.
Acknowledging the need to draw down from GIA no more, current Minister of Finance Dr Matsheka said “It is under this background that it would be advisable to avoid excessive draw down from this account to preserve it as a financial buffer”
He further cautioned “The danger with substantially reduced financial buffers is that when an economic shock occurs or a disaster descends upon us and adversely affects our economy it becomes very difficult for the country to manage such a shock”