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BDP rubbishes UDC proposal on BCL

BDP Secretary General, Botsalo Ntuane

Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) has rejected a proposal tabled by opposition Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) to save the beleaguered BCL mine, which is headed for possible closure.

When addressing the media this week, BDP Secretary General, Botsalo Ntuane,  dismissed UDC’s efforts as political grandstanding aimed at scoring political points amid a desperate situation.

“They have sought to cash some political brownie points from the problems engulfing BCL mine in Phikwe. The fact of the matter is that it is only Government that can bring relief to BCL,” he said.

“There is absolutely nothing UDC can do to assist BCL. They cannot offer any financial guarantees, tax exemptions, loan guarantees or any form of bailout, which is what the BDP government has been doing every time BCL find itself in distress.”

Two weeks ago, UDC called a press conference, addressed by party Secretary General, Ndaba Gaolathe and president, Duma Boko, during which the former called on government to open avenues of national dialogue for stakeholders in order to save the financially riddled BCL.

Gaolathe remarked that it was clear there is a real danger of BCL closure, which will collapse Selibe Phikwe as well as a chance of precipitating a recession of the entire country’s economy despite the fact that the crisis could be averted.  

“There is need to forge a national dialogue on BCL and mining in general to lay bare the seriousness of the financial and economic challenges faced by the BCL,” he had said.

“We should bring stakeholders together to find robust collective solution and demonstrate that BCL could be an opportunity for the country, not just gloom, if we get it right.”

Ntuane has however expressed that the BCL situation has been occasioned by the plummeting of commodity prices.

“In huge economies like Brazil and Australia, privately owned copper mines have shut down. The same applies in neighbouring Zambia where thousands have lost jobs because of this problem,” he stated.

The former legislator also said the fact that BCL continues to survive, albeit in challenging circumstances is because it is a nationalised operation and government still refuses to abandon the mine.

“This is a compassionate government that has at heart the interests of BCL workers, as well as the town of Selebi Phikwe itself and its surrounding communities. Workers must not be misled by the rhetoric and political opportunism of UDC because that won’t improve their situation,” he said.

Gaolathe had argued, when addressing the media that, BCL’s problems are not entirely because of the commodity prices, as he noted that, incompetent leadership in the board and at management level have the larger share of blame.

Gaolathe said it was wrong for government to have had Akolang Tombale presiding over BCL Board because of his track record at Botswana Meat Commission (BMC). BMC is another financially ruined parastatal.

“Government intervention has been ineffectual because of failure to appoint high impact board members, which in turn led to failure to appoint a high impact CEO and management,” he expressed and added that, “finding the right people is not a difficult task because we can identify them. We know them. We can sit down and agree that these are people who are knowledgeable. They do not have to be UDC or BDP (Botswana Democratic Party). They just need to be high impact people.”

BDP also questioned the P6 billion suggested by the UDC as money required to save the fortunes of BCL. Ntuane said UDC leadership was ‘throwing figures around’ without anything which informed their statement.

Also speaking at the BDP press conference was Deputy Secretary General, Shaw Kgathi who said UDC never thought about the impact the amount they suggested could be used to bail BCL would have on the economy.  

Kgathi said Minister of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources, Kitso Mokaila has engaged team of experts with the view of soliciting a well informed analysis of the situation and what ought to be done by government.

Gaolathe had opined that government do not necessarily need to be the one financing the whole P6 billion, as he noted that a proportion of the amount can be through debt.

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13 AUGUST 2022 Publication

12th August 2022

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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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