The Selibe Phikwe Economic Diversification Unit (SPEDU) is injecting some pace into its implementation strategy and seeks to develop a bridge in the estimation of close to P200 million in the Bobirwa area. The project is envisaged to excite the tourism sector in the area with over a billion Pula generation annually when fully operational.
The Platjan Bridge construction is likely to attract interests from a lot of companies and SPEDU is said to be guarded on the modus operandi. Recently they advertised for a company that could help them set up ITTs for the tender for construction as well as the recruitment of a resident engineer to oversee the project. RSS Engineering Pty Ltd was given the job and has now advertised to invite companies for the construction of the Platjan Bridge.
Puna Molebatsi, the Communications manager at SPEDU confirmed the developments and stated that they have engaged RSS as consultants who will help with the drafting of ITTs and tender evaluations. She said all the companies that have been engaged so far a 100 percent citizen owned. “By recruiting a resident engineer we intend to tackle the problem of capacity at SPEDU, but still that person will work with a well-resourced and experienced consulting company,” she said.
SPEDU is carrying out major projects like Motloutse farm electrification, horticultural processing plant, Platjan Bridge construction, mine museum, among other projects. SPEDU was funded by the European Union’s Re-Employment Account that is administered by the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning. SPEDU has about P600 million in the account and one point the funds were a hot potato as some within the structures of SPEDU were adamant that the organisation was failing to add value to the money. But with a steady action plan towards implementing some of the projects, the argument of lost value could fade off.
The Platjan Bridge in Bobirwa is strategic for tourists to access the region and they are still profiling the tourist attractions in the area. The project is a priority area and P200 million has been reserved for its implementation. The hope is that more jobs will be created as the bridge is expected to unlock several opportunities in the area. Business people and farmers in the area have started striking partnerships with South African based investors and it is expected that the Platjan Bridge will ease movement between the two countries in the Bobirwa region.
FALTERING STEEL PROJECT
The faltering steel project saw about P89 million injected into the project and a manufacturing plan was officially opened in October last year and SPEDU was planning to let small businesses in its land banks to tap into the new steel business – but this remains a dream as the projects are struggling to take off.
Pula Steel was to become the country's first steel processing plant, but faces an uncertain future, barely twelve months after it was opened. The project, promoted by government as one of the key diversification drivers, as well as part of the BCL's diversification blueprint dubbed Polaris II, has been experiencing problems since inception.
Reports suggest that the plant was last week closed down by health inspectors, after it failed to meet safety standards. Striking expatriate workers at Pula Steel this week called for the dismissal of the steel processing plant's CEO, Ranvir Vermy.
The workers, who were brought from India to set up and commission the plant, have accused the CEO of failing to train the local workforce, using insulting language against both local and expatriate workers, as well as nepotism.
They accuse him of lack of knowledge or experience in steel processing, but always interferes in technical matters. The workers went on strike last week, complaining about going for months without getting their salaries, which are paid to their Indian accounts, while they are only given a living allowance of 500 Pula. BCL is the majority shareholder at Pula Steel.
OTHER SPEDU PROJECTS
The SPEDU region has a number of dams and the SPEDU management and Board have agreed that it is necessary to tap into the aqua tourism and create water resorts.
The Motloutse farm electrification project that entails supplying power to 44 farms along Motloutse River, they intend to improve the output of the horticultural farms along the river. SPEDU had injected P9 million has been injected into Botswana Power Corporation (BPC) to connect a 42 kilometre powerline and the corporation is yet to conduct the environmental impact assessment study and they had hoped the project will be completed by the first quarter of this year.
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.
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.