Korea offered P30 billion to develop infrastructure
President Lt Gen Dr Ian Khama’s recent visit to South Korea could be the latest indication of a turbulent relationship between the government of Botswana and that of the People’s Republic of China. What could be a further sign of strain is the fact that Botswana has reportedly scoffed off Chinese soft loans.
Chinese in Botswana this week celebrated 40 years of bilateral relations with Botswana, but it was apparent that amid the fanfare glossed with cultural night at Maitisong, the Chinese are deeply concerned at the state of affairs. Chinese companies have enjoyed a cosy relationship with the country’s procurement system but things have changed.
President Khama’s visit to South Korea resulted in a lot of undertakings and this could spell uncertainty for the China-Botswana relationship going forward. The Chinese are already experiencing problems in Botswana in the form of rejected work permits and VISA applications. Senior Chinese officials revealed this week that “we do not know what the problem could be.”
A litany of complaints, both from the Government of Botswana and on the other hand from the Chinese in recent years has created diplomatic strain between the two countries. Botswana is not happy with the quality of construction work by some Chinese companies and the country has lost billions of Pula is failed projects.
According to the Korean Times, a publication based in South Korea Khama has offered South Korean government US$2.6 billion (equivalent to P27.4 billion) to solve the power crisis which is besieging the country and also threatening the economy. Meanwhile a Chinese company is at the helm of the costly and failing Morupule B Power Plant.
Khama is also reported to have offered the South Koreans an opportunity to partner with Botswana government in development of other public infrastructure as part of the P27.4 billion worth of projects. Khama’s visit to South Korea also came in the wake of announcement of the Economic Stimulus Package (ESP) at the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) Special Congress last month.
Khama’s gesture towards the South Koreans essentially means Botswana is now extending an olive branch to Koreans at the expense of long time partner in infrastructure development, China.
In 2013, Khama told South African publication, Business Day that Botswana has had bad experiences with Chinese companies and going forward Botswana will be looking very carefully at any company that originates from China in providing construction services of any nature.
Since the two countries established diplomatic relations, bilateral trade between the two countries has now reached over P300million.
The relationship between the two countries began to diminish in the last five years following failure by the Chinese to complete projects on time, and on budget. Of all the projects under question, the Morupule B, the P11 billion World Bank and African Development Bank funded projects and the Palapye Glass Project were the most contentious.
Khama has not hidden his disappointment with the turn of events as far as delivery of projects on time and on budget is concerned. This is succinctly described by his remarks in 2013 at Tlokweng addressing a Kgotla meeting, where he told attendants that, “Bagaetsho re jelwe…’’ meaning “We were sold a dummy.”
However, Khama recently defended the Chinese and other foreign owned companies from those who called to them to be compelled to partner with local companies in order to be awarded government tenders. Khama said he did not want a situation where the citizens will ride on the back of the Chinese and remarked that Chinese were welcome as long as they hire citizens.
Currently there are 16 Chinese State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) operating in Botswana, 13 of which are top construction companies, all of the construction contractors being ranked at the top grade granted by the PPADB.
PPADB has a contractor grading ceiling in which companies are graded into different categories depending on the experience of the company, qualifications of its employees and equipments/assets the company has to determine the magnitude of tenders they can be awarded.
The threshold of tenders a company can be awarded falls under the following categories are; Grade OC (P1.5 million), Grade A (P4 million), Grade B (20 million), Grade C (P40 million), Grade D, (P85 million) while Grade E has an unlimited threshold. All the Chinese SOEs are grade at E, which means they are dominate most tenders worth over P85 million.
Information reaching this publication indicates that the Chinese government has proposed various projects to the Botswana government on how they could help Botswana to further strengthen her economy. Among the proposals was the setting up of a plant that converts coal into diesel.
WeekendPost inquiries have revealed that the Chinese government in recent times made offers of soft loans to Botswana in the form of interest-free or low-interest concessional loans. It is reported the Botswana government has shown little interest in taking up the offer to develop the country’s infrastructure.
Instead Botswana has turned to her foreign reserves and South Korean companies are likely to benefit. Some Chinese officials who spoke to this publication on condition of anonymity at the celebrations indicated that the offers will be passed on to other African states.
What emerges as the biggest concern for the Chinese is the continued rejection of their citizens when they apply for residence permits and or Botswana Visas. On average it has emerged that China offers 3500 Visas to Botswana citizens annually with a turnaround time of two days. But Botswana issues less than 100 annually, and the Chinese may wait for months to have theirs approved.
A Chinese national who spoke on condition of anonymity at the celebrations at Maitisong recounted a story of her his neghbours, a couple who had a toddler daughter. He said they had applied for residence’ permits only for both parents to be rejected and only the toddler permit was approved. He said they have since gone back to China.
The Chinese are confused they are never certain if they are guaranteed a tomorrow in Botswana, and the potential Chinese investors are almost next to nil because of the current situation with VISAS and permits.
THE VISA, PERMITS PROBLEM IS FAR REACHING
However the Chinese are not the only one crying foul over the matter as a number of key stakeholders, including Botswana Investment Trade Centre (BITC) and Hospitality and Tourism Association of Botswana (HAATAB) has over time complained of unexplained rejections of foreign entrepreneurs and tourist VISAs and work permits.
Earlier this year the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) was told that, reports indicate that an estimated P4 billion was lost by the country on Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the past year alone, and said the practice could hurt the country’s economy and reverse its gains.
This publication has established that earlier this year, an Indian billionaire and his 60 entourage all had their VISAs but was rejected by the immigration department. It is reported that the billionaire, who’s linked to one of the former presidents and is into diamond business had plans to invest in Botswana.
Reports have been rife that the VISA situation has been aggravated by interference by Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DIS) which is being blamed for rejecting applications supposedly for security reasons.
Former President, Festus Mogae has expressed his frustrations at the rate at which Botswana is expelling foreign nationals as he noted that it is self defeating for a country like Botswana which needs skilled professionals and foreign investors.
Businessman and legislator, Guma Moyo has also expressed concern at the sudden exchange of Botswana’s policy towards foreign nationals. “There is chaos at immigration regarding work permits and VISAs,” Moyo told PAC earlier this year. “It is creating a negative impact and countries like India are beginning to think Botswana is a no go area for business.
Part of the problem to the economy has been uncertainty that foreign investors face in Botswana. WeekendPost has been told that investors are not willing to put their money into a country where they are not certain whether they will be here tomorrow or not, hence opting to look elsewhere.
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.
The Global Gender Gap Index, a report published by the World Economic Forum annually, has indicated that Botswana is among countries that fare badly when it comes to representation of women in legislative bodies.
The latest Global Gender Gap Index, published last week, benchmarks the current state and evolution of gender parity across four key dimensions (Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment). It is the longest-standing index which tracks progress towards closing these gaps over time since its inception in 2006.
This year, the Global Gender Gap Index benchmarked 146 countries. Of these, a subset of 102 countries have been represented in every edition of the index since 2006, further providing a large constant sample for time series analysis.
Botswana ranks number 66 overall (out of 146 countries), with good rankings in most of the pillars. Botswana ranks 1st in Health and Survival, 7th in the Economic Participation and Opportunity, 22nd in Educational Attainment, and 129th in Political Empowerment.
The Global Gender Gap Index measures scores on a 0 to 100 scale and scores can be interpreted as the distance covered towards parity (i.e. the percentage of the gender gap that has been closed). The cross-country comparisons aim to support the identification of the most effective policies to close gender gaps.
The Economic Participation and Opportunity sub-index contains three concepts: the participation gap, the remuneration gap and the advancement gap. The participation gap is captured using the difference between women and men in labour-force participation rates. The remuneration gap is captured through a hard data indicator (ratio of estimated female-to-male earned income) and a qualitative indicator gathered through the World Economic Forum’s annual Executive Opinion Survey (wage equality for similar work).
Finally, the gap between the advancement of women and men is captured through two hard data statistics (the ratio of women to men among legislators, senior officials and managers, and the ratio of women to men among technical and professional workers).
The Educational Attainment sub-index captures the gap between women’s and men’s current access to education through the enrolment ratios of women to men in primary-, secondary- and tertiary-level education. A longer-term view of the country’s ability to educate women and men in equal numbers is captured through the ratio of women’s literacy rate to men’s literacy rate.
Health and Survival sub-index provides an overview of the differences between women’s and men’s health using two indicators. The first is the sex ratio at birth, which aims specifically to capture the phenomenon of “missing women”, prevalent in countries with a strong son preference. Second, the index uses the gap between women’s and men’s healthy life expectancy.
This measure provides an estimate of the number of years that women and men can expect to live in good health by accounting for the years lost to violence, disease, malnutrition and other factors. Political Empowerment sub-index measures the gap between men and women at the highest level of political decision-making through the ratio of women to men in ministerial positions and the ratio of women to men in parliamentary positions. In addition, the reported included the ratio of women to men in terms of years in executive office (prime minister or president) for the last 50 years.
In the last general elections, only three women won elections, compared to 54 males. The three women are; Nnaniki Makwinja (Lentsweletau-Mmopane), Talita Monnakgotla (Kgalagadi North), and Anna Mokgethi (Gaborone Bonnington North). Four women were elected through Specially Elected dispensation; Peggy Serame, Dr Unity Dow, Phildah Kereng and Beauty Manake. All female MPs — save Dow, who resigned — are members of the executive.
Overall, Botswana has 63 seats, all 57 elected by the electorates, and six elected by parliament. Early this year, Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) secretary general and Gaborone North MP, Mpho Balopi, successfully moved a motion in parliament calling for increment of elective seats from 57 to 61. Balopi contented that population growth demands the country respond by increasing the number of MPs.
In Africa, Botswana play second fiddle to countries like Rwanda, Namibia, South Africa, Burundi, and Zimbabwe who have better representation of women, with Rwanda being the only country with more than 50 percent of women in parliament.
The low number of women in parliament is attributed to Botswana’s current, electoral system, First-Past-the-Post. During the 9th parliament, then MP for Mahalapye East tabled a motion in parliament in which she sort to increase the number of Specially Elected MPs in parliament to augment female representation in the National Assembly.
The motion was opposed famously, by then Specially Elected MP, Botsalo Ntuane, who said the citizens were not in favour of such a move since it dilute democracy, instead suggesting the Botswana should switch to Proportional-Representation-System. Botswana is currently undergoing Constitutional Review process, with the commission, appointed in December, expected to deliver the report to President Mokgweetsi Masisi by September this year.