The Global Competitiveness Report (GCR) 2015-2016 released this week cautions that failure to embrace long-term structural reforms that boost productivity and free up entrepreneurial talent harms the global economy’s ability to improve living standards. The Report also notes that the ‘new normal’ productivity growth poses a grave threat to the global economy and seriously impacts the world’s ability to tackle key challenges such an unemployment and income inequality.
In this year’s Report, Botswana is ranked 71st out of 140 countries. This marks an improvement of 3 places, relative to the previous Report. The country’s quality score has also improved from 4.15 out of 7 to 4.19. Therefore Botswana remains at 4th place in the region, behind Mauritius, South Africa and Rwanda who attained positions 46, 49 and 58 respectively.
The macro-economic environment, ranked at 9th position globally, still remains Botswana’s main competitiveness strength. This is mainly attributable to the country’s balanced fiscal budget, higher gross national savings and lower levels of inflation.
Botswana’s reliable and transparent institutions have placed the country at 37th position. This marks an improvement of 2 places from the previous Report. Despite the improvement in ranking the quality score has decreased from 4.5 in 2014-2015 Report to 4.4 this year.
Furthermore, the labour market efficiency pillar still remains one of Botswana’s successes. Though the country has dropped from position 36th previously to 39th this year, Botswana is ranked among the top fifty countries in most of the indicators under this pillar.
Notwithstanding these accomplishments, the country still struggles on other pillars such as business sophistication (111th), market size (105th), innovation (102nd) higher education and training (100th) and goods market efficiency (95th). This is mainly triggered by the fact that Botswana is in transition stage of development from being a factor driven economy to an efficiency driven one. As a result, Botswana performs better on the factor driven pillars relative to efficiency and innovation driven pillars of competitiveness.
The health and primary education remain the least performing pillars (119th). HIV/AIDS remains the biggest obstacle facing Botswana in her efforts to improve her overall competitiveness. The country still registers one of the highest HIV/AIDS rates as well as one of the lowest life expectancies in the world. Botswana’s education system still remains low by international standards though the country has improved from 82nd last year to 77th in this year’s Report in terms of the quality of education.
Meanwhile, the business community in Botswana still regards poor work ethic in the national labour force as the most problematic factor for doing business in the country. The severity of this problem has increased by 0.5% in relation to the previous Report. Inefficient government bureaucracy has moved to second as the most problematic factor followed by restrictive labour regulations. Policy and government instability still remain the least problematic factors for doing business in the country.
Sub-Saharan Africa continues to grow close to 5%, but competitiveness and productivity remain low. This is something countries in the region will have to work on, especially as they face volatile commodity prices, closer scrutiny from international investors and population growth. Mauritius remains the region’s most competitive economy (46th), closely followed by South Africa (49th) and Rwanda (58th). Côte d'Ivoire (91st) and Ethiopia (109th) excel as this year’s largest improvers in the region overall.
First place in the GCI rankings, for the seventh consecutive year, goes to Switzerland. Its strong performance in all 12 pillars of the index explains its remarkable resilience throughout the crisis and subsequent shocks. Singapore remains in 2nd place and the United States 3rd. Germany improves by one place to 4th and the Netherlands returns to the 5th place it held three years ago. Japan (6th) and Hong Kong SAR (7th) follow, both stable. Finland falls to 8th place – its lowest position ever – followed by Sweden (9th). The United Kingdom rounds up the top 10 of the most competitive economies in the world.
This century is always looking at improving new super high speed technology to make life easier. On the other hand, beckoning as an emerging fierce reversal force to equally match or dominate this life enhancing super new tech, comes swift human adversaries which seem to have come to make living on earth even more difficult.
The recent discovery of a pandemic, Covid-19, which moves at a pace of unimaginable and unpredictable proportions; locking people inside homes and barring human interactions with its dreaded death threat, is currently being felt.
Member of Parliament for Kanye North, Thapelo Letsholo has cautioned Government against excessive borrowing and poorly managed debt levels.
He was speaking in Parliament on Tuesday delivering Parliament’s Finance Committee report after assessing a motion that sought to raise Government Bond program ceiling to P30 billion, a big jump from the initial P15 Billion.
Government Investment Account (GIA) which forms part of the Pula fund has been significantly drawn down to finance Botswana’s budget deficits since 2008/09 Global financial crises.
The 2009 global economic recession triggered the collapse of financial markets in the United States, sending waves of shock across world economies, eroding business sentiment, and causing financiers of trade to excise heightened caution and hold onto their cash.
The ripple effects of this economic catastrophe were mostly felt by low to middle income resource based economies, amplifying their vulnerability to external shocks. The diamond industry which forms the gist of Botswana’s economic make up collapsed to zero trade levels across the entire value chain.
The Upstream, where Botswana gathers much of its diamond revenue was adversely impacted by muted demand in the Midstream. The situation was exacerbated by zero appetite of polished goods by jewelry manufacturers and retail outlets due to lowered tail end consumer demand.
This resulted in sharp decline of Government revenue, ballooned budget deficits and suspension of some developmental projects. To finance the deficit and some prioritized national development projects, government had to dip into cash balances, foreign reserves and borrow both externally and locally.
Much of drawing was from Government Investment Account as opposed to drawing from foreign reserve component of the Pula Fund; the latter was spared as a fiscal buffer for the worst rainy days.
Consequently this resulted in significant decline in funds held in the Government Investment Account (GIA). The account serves as Government’s main savings depository and fund for national policy objectives.
However as the world emerged from the 2009 recession government revenue graph picked up to pre recession levels before going down again around 2016/17 owing to challenges in the diamond industry.
Due to a number of budget surpluses from 2012/13 financial year the Government Investment Account started expanding back to P30 billion levels before a series of budget deficits in the National Development Plan 11 pushed it back to decline a decline wave.
When the National Development Plan 11 commenced three (3) financial years ago, government announced that the first half of the NDP would run at budget deficits.
This as explained by Minister of Finance in 2017 would be occasioned by decline in diamond revenue mainly due to government forfeiting some of its dividend from Debswana to fund mine expansion projects.
Cumulatively since 2017/18 to 2019/20 financial year the budget deficit totaled to over P16 billion, of which was financed by both external and domestic borrowing and drawing down from government cash balances. Drawing down from government cash balances meant significant withdrawals from the Government Investment Account.
The Government Investment Account (GIA) was established in accordance with Section 35 of the Bank of Botswana Act Cap. 55:01. The Account represents Government’s share of the Botswana‘s foreign exchange reserves, its investment and management strategies are aligned to the Bank of Botswana’s foreign exchange reserves management and investment guidelines.
Government Investment Account, comprises of Pula denominated deposits at the Bank of Botswana and held in the Pula Fund, which is the long-term investment tranche of the foreign exchange reserves.
In June 2017 while answering a question from Bogolo Kenewendo, the then Minister of Finance & Economic Development Kenneth Mathambo told parliament that as of June 30, 2017, the total assets in the Pula Fund was P56.818 billion, of which the balance in the GIA was P30.832 billion.
Kenewendo was still a back bench specially elected Member of Parliament before ascending to cabinet post in 2018. Last week Minister of Finance & Economic Development, Dr Thapelo Matsheka, when presenting a motion to raise government local borrowing ceiling from P15 billion to P30 Billion told parliament that as of December 2019 Government Investment Account amounted to P18.3 billion.
Dr Matsheka further told parliament that prior to financial crisis of 2008/9 the account amounted to P30.5 billion (41 % of GDP) in December of 2008 while as at December 2019 it stood at P18.3 billion (only 9 % of GDP) mirroring a total decline by P11 billion in the entire 11 years.
Back in 2017 Parliament was also told that the Government Investment Account may be drawn-down or added to, in line with actuations in the Government’s expenditure and revenue outturns. “This is intended to provide the Government with appropriate funds to execute its functions and responsibilities effectively and efficiently” said Mathambo, then Minister of Finance.
Acknowledging the need to draw down from GIA no more, current Minister of Finance Dr Matsheka said “It is under this background that it would be advisable to avoid excessive draw down from this account to preserve it as a financial buffer”
He further cautioned “The danger with substantially reduced financial buffers is that when an economic shock occurs or a disaster descends upon us and adversely affects our economy it becomes very difficult for the country to manage such a shock”