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Presidency dismisses Khamas ferry-tale and State House ownership

President Ian Khama

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 The house was gutted by fire, destroying historical documents and the family’s pictures some few years after her husband died.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”.

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Batswana owe banks P79 billion

27th March 2023

The Minister of Finance, Peggy Serame, has disclosed that the total bank credit extended by commercial banks amounted to P79 billion, out of which P53.4 billion was retail loans and advances to households.

Parliament was informed this week in response to a question by the Member of Parliament for Selibe-Phikwe West and Leader of Opposition (LOO), Dithapelo Keorapetse.

“As at 31st December 2022, loans and other advances extended to households by banks constituted the largest share of bank-lending at 67.6 percent, the majority of which was unsecured personal loans at P36.2 billion (67.8%),” said Serame.

She added that the total household Debt to GDP ratio was 21.9%, while the total private business credit to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ratio was 10.8%.

On the other hand, it was noted that outstanding mortgage loans extended to households were P14.2 billion (26.6% of household debt) or 5.9% of GDP. Overall, total bank credit as a ratio of GDP stood at 32.7 percent.

It was acknowledged that there are 10 deposit-taking banks in the country, that is, nine commercial banks and one statutory bank (Botswana Savings Bank). This statistics excludes the National Development Bank (NDB), which is a development finance institution. The nine commercial banks include an indigenous bank, Botswana Building Society Bank Limited (BBSBL), which was issued with a commercial banking license by the Bank of Botswana in October 2022.

Still in December 2022, it was recorded that there were 376 non-bank lenders in Botswana consisting of 246 micro lenders, 66 finance companies, three leasing companies and 61 registered pawnshops.

According to Minister Serame, the loan book value representing the principal amount lent by these entities to individuals and to small, medium and micro Enterprises (SMMEs) is collated by the Non-Bank Financial Institutions Regulatory Authority (NBFIRA), which at 31st of December 2021, the loan book values were P5.6 billion for micro lenders, P1.6 billion for finance companies, P225 million for leasing companies and P14 million for pawnshops.

Government policy is that price control is not effective or desirable, and, as such, interest rates are not regulated. Non-regulation may, among other things, result in an increase in non-interest rate fees and commissions, reduced price transparency, lower credit supply and loan approval rates.

“It is important to note that, from a macroeconomic perspective, household debt in Botswana is neither a pandemic nor considered to be excessive. Indeed, the Bank of Botswana’s periodic and continuous assessments of household debt, including through the annual Household Indebtedness Surveys, suggest moderate household indebtedness and therefore, is of no apparent risk to the safety and soundness of the domestic financial system,” said Serame.

She also alluded this assessment is validated by the recently concluded Financial Sector Assessment Programme (FSAP) on Botswana undertaken by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank Group.

Keorapetse however rebuked the issue of debt not being excessive and noted the Minister thinks it’s fine for Batswana to be debt burdened in a way that their debts diminishes their quality of life.

“A significant portion of Batswana’s salaries go to servicing debts and because she doesn’t see this as a challenge, there can never be any intervention from her side. There is no price regulation on interest, which can go up to 30%+ a month.  Since President Masisi ascended to the high office in 2018, 2 384 Batswana were put in prison for failure to pay debts, that is 467 Batswana every year. So, for us, debt problems are big and concerning,” said Keorapetse.

He said they are worried because Batswana are drowning in debts because of relative poverty, slave wages and unemployment/underemployment, they buy basic needs and services with borrowed money and noted predatory and unethical lending has become a major problem in Botswana’s financial sector.

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How to fleece P14 million from Chinese investor

27th March 2023

The modus operandi of how five men allegedly swindled a Chinese national P14 million last week continue to unravel. Highly placed sources from the intelligence, the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) and Botswana Unified Revenue Services (BURS) revealed to this publication how the whole scam was concocted.

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ENVIRONMENT ISSUES: Masisi asks Virginia for help

24th March 2023

President Mokgweetsi Masisi says the issue of sustainable natural resources management has always been an important part of Botswana’s national development agenda.

Masisi was speaking this week on the occasion of a public lecture at Virginia Polytechnic, under theme, “Merging Conservation, Democracy and Sustainable Development in Botswana.”

Botswana, according to Masisi, holds the view that the environment is fragile and as such, must be managed and given the utmost protection to enable the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“It is necessary that we engage one another in the interchange of ideas, perspectives, visualizations of social futures, and considerations of possible strategies and courses of action for sustainable development,” said Masisi.

On the other hand, dialogue, in the form of rigorous democratic discourse among stakeholders presents another basis for reconfiguring how people act on their environments, with a view to conserving its resources that “we require to meet our socio-economic development needs on a sustainable basis,” Masisi told attendees at the public lecture.

He said government has a keen interest in understanding the epidemiology and ecology of diseases of both domestic and wild animals. “It is our national interest to forestall the dire consequences of animal diseases on our communities livelihoods.”

President Masisi hoped that both Botswana and Virginia could help each other in curbing contagious diseases of wildlife.

“We believe that Virginia Tech can reasonably share their experiences, research insights and advances in veterinary sciences and medicines, to help us build capacity for knowledge creation and improve efforts of managing and containing contagious diseases of wildlife. The ground is fertile for entering into such a mutually beneficial partnership.”

When explaining environmental issues further, Masisi said efforts of conservation and sustainable development might at times be hampered by the emergence and recurrence of diseases when pathogens mutate and take host of more than one species.

“Water pollution also kills aquatic life, such as fish, which is one of humanity’s much deserved sources of food. In this regard, One Health Approach imposes ecological responsibility upon all of us to care for the environment and the bio-diversity therein.”

He said the production and use of animal vaccines is an important space and tool for conservation, particularly to deal with trans-border animal diseases.

“In Botswana, our 43-year-old national premier pharmaceutical institution called Botswana Vaccine Institute has played its role well. Through its successful production of highly efficacious Foot and Mouth vaccines, the country is able to contain this disease as well as supply vaccines to other countries in the sub-region.:

He has however declared that there is need for more help, saying “We need more capacitation to deal with and contain other types of microbial that affect both animals and human health.”

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