Presidential spokesperson, Dr Jeff Ramsay has dismissed as “zero truth” news that President Ian Khama leased a ferry operating at Mohembo region in Okavango to government. The ferry operates between Botswana and neighbouring Zambia.
News of Khama’s alleged ownership of the said ferry shot to national prominence this week, after Botswana Congress Party (BCP) Deputy President, Dr Kesitegile Gobotswang revealed that his party’s delegation to Okavango, in an unrelated matter has uncovered ‘an allegation so compelling’, to the effect that Khama is the owner of the ferry plying Botswana-Zambia’s nautical route.
Earlier in the week, Ramsay released a statement through Ministry of Transport and Communications’ Permanent Secretary, Neil Fitt disproving Gobotswang’s claims as ‘misleading and untrue’.
The statement read in part, “Central Transport Organisation (CTO) operates four pontoons, one in Kazungula and three in Mohembo. All the pontoons are wholly operated by government and were procured through the normal open competitive bidding process. The pontoons in Mohembo are operated and maintained by CTO using available companies to repair some of the technical components.
It continued to say, “the larger pontoon in Mohembo was procured in 2011 through a competitive process, at a cost of P9 410 365.00.The older pontoons have been in operation since the late 1980s.”
On another burning issue of State House land ownership, Ramsay said that even though the Khamas’ own some residences that they have bought like everybody else; they do not own the land that the State House sits on. He said the Khamas’ own Ruretse; a colonial piece of land that was demarcated into two, to form Ruretse and Phakalane; the latter now owned by real estate tycoon, David Magang.
Ramsay, who is also an enthusiastic historian, said that Ruretse is a place where the founding President Sir Seretse Khama built his private house that his wife Ruth Khama continued to reside in until her passing. The house was gutted by fire, destroying historical documents and the family’s pictures some few years after her husband died.
He said that Ruth later decided to sub divide the huge chunk of land and invited some family friends to buy plots.
“The Khamas’ have some properties here and there but the idea of them owning the State House is really absurd,” said Ramsay, continuing that, “this pontoon thing is kind of a small version of the State House issue, to try to imagine the Khamas leasing things to the state.”
He also said that the land that the State House sits on has been public land since 1892 and that the Khamas’ are not the first family to occupy the place now called State House. He revealed that it was occupied by Queen’s Commissioners, Robert Peter Fawcus from 1959 to 1965 and Hugh Selby Norman-Walker from 1965 to 1966- important men to the British crown who were in the protectorate to broker a transition to a republican state.
Asked what might be the source of the never-ending rumours against the Khamas’, Ramsay responded that, “people have always said wild things and since the advent of social media it has escalated.”
He also said that when Seretse occupied the State House, it did not have furniture and the new president had to discuss possibilities of mining concessions with visiting wealthy tycoons and dignitaries such as Harry Oppeinheimer, sitting on pillows.
However, Gobotswang is not moved. He said that the rumour that Khama owns the ferry is “very popular and talked about everywhere you go in Okavango” which “as a leader you cannot overlook”.
Gobotswang expressed great cynicism that government would ever reveal the whole truth on the matter.
He gave other high profile cases such as Seleka Springs which is owned by President Khama’s younger brothers; Tshekedi and Anthony Khama which was allegedly given preferential fat tenders from the Botswana Defence Force at the time President Khama was still the army Commander.
He also said that answers are still not forthcoming in the Mosu case where military resources were alleged to have been used in constructing a compound for Khama and his friends.
“So we are not going to buy that,” Gobotswanag said.
He further hinted that a lot of corrupt activity is happening in the Okavango region such as the allocation of Diseta Island to Khama.
He probed rhetorically, “how can an individual be allocated an island?”
He further said that Botswana government’s secretiveness “will always birth speculation and such ‘rumour will become fact”.
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.”