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Sweeping changes proposed for mining sector

BPC should pay for infrastructure setup

The Botswana Institute of Development Policy Analysis (BIDPA) has proposed extensive Policy recommendations in a Study into the Consequences of and Responses to the Depletion of Botswana’s Diamonds, estimated to creep in after 2027.


The Botswana After Diamonds report hovers on major issues of Encouraging more mining and exploration activity; Diamond production rate; and Planned infrastructure projects.  BIDPA calls on government to be aggressive when dealing with these matters and to take real steps to mitigate the aftermath of 2027.


First among other issues, BIDPA sneaks into the legal and fiscal regime for mining in Botswana which is currently very competitive with the country being ranked in position 4 by resource Stocks magazine and 8th position by the Fraser Institute. Of the eleven exploration and mining companies in Botswana interviewed in the study, the majority find the mining laws in Botswana to be ‘fine and useful’ and the administrative process to be ‘fair and open’.


According to the BIDPA study, the issues relevant to mining laws are – future and current tax regime, and land claim and land issues. BIDPA recommends that Botswana’s level of mineral Royalties take into consideration the profitability of mining project and the latter, other things being equal, depends on the value of the mineral being mined. In this way, base metals and coal attract the lowest royalty rate of 3 % followed by precious metals, that is, gold, silver and platinum group metals at 5% and lastly diamonds at 10 %.


“We therefore do not believe there is additional incentive in lowering these rates as the level of prospecting activity is very high. We also would not recommend that these be raised as this may discourage the prospecting activity, which would do more harm than good. We however believe that there is always room to modernise the royalty formula, for instance, going to a sliding scale formula so that even some diamond mines that may have similar levels of profitability to other minerals such as base metals and coal are not overburdened by fixed royalty rate of 10 %,” reads part of the study report.  


According to the study, which was edited by Roman Grynberg, Margaret Sengwaketse and Masedi Motswapong, BIDPA is convinced that the fiscal regime is well defined for non-diamond minerals while for diamonds section 51 of the Act stipulates that there will be a negotiation. “We believe that it is the secrecy of the negotiated regime that may be creating uncertainty and government should find ways of addressing this.”  In response to this concern, BIDPA notes: 

“Regarding the taxation issues, we believe government should find means to publicise those mining regimes that, after negotiation, still end up with the standard tax regime for mining to provide comfort to the current junior mining companies exploring for diamonds.”


Government should continuously explain the benefits of overlapping prospecting licences. According to the BIDPA researchers, it seems that this has not been sufficiently explained to the mining industry. In addition they have recommended that government should consider an Act for the Coal Bed Methane (CBM) gas and its accompanying regulations to assist in guiding activity in this area.  


Meanwhile BIDPA notes that there is a lot of interest in exploration in Botswana, with the whole of the country taken up by exploration companies with only the swamps and some deep sand-covered areas of the Kalahari remaining open as they are inaccessible. “There is therefore need to ensure that only value-adding applications for exploration are approved to eliminate huge land holdings without the accompanying progress towards mine development.  


The study also highlights the issue of water and power. “While some projects may be located near existing water and power infrastructure, the challenge faced by the project developers is that there are no set mechanisms for them to obtain such water and power. We therefore recommend that government consider a mechanism whereby the water and power utility companies develop the infrastructure to support the mining project and then recover the cost of such development through higher charges until their cost have been recovered. This would facilitate project development as they would be spared the upfront costs, which also improve project economics,” observers the BIDPA analysts.  


The BIDPA study also touches on diamond production rate, stating that it seems Debswana is placing itself in the position of ‘swing producer’, adjusting its target production so as to leave the global supply/ demand balance in a position of shortage rather than surplus, and hence tending to push prices up, or at least maintain them if there are other negative forces at work.

In their view, the cushion of 10 million carats p.a between Debswana’s peak production and its recent production levels is certainly enough to influence the global supply/demand balance according to whether those 10 million carats p.a are being produced or not. “And the experience of the past three years does suggest that international market prices have responded to Debswana’s actual planned production rates,” they state.


BIDPA advises that in the short term Government should study the various production scenarios with the view to possibly revising the current long-term mining plans, which seem to be informed by the validity period of the mining leases for Debswana, which all run until 2029. Furthermore, BIDPA is of the view that Government should consider a policy of postponing possible projects at Debswana mines so that these are phased in at the end of the open-pit mining operations.

“These projects are profitable on their own (stand-alone- projects) and would not depend on the existing open-pit operations.”


Regarding rail and port infrastructure, future coal export projects and some copper and silver projects in the Ghanzi copper belt would rely on this, BIDPA says. “We therefore believe that government should be a joint venture partner in order to ensure that future projects benefit. We, however, caution that due to the scale and possible risks involved, government should conduct a thorough due diligence ahead of any participation in such infrastructure projects.”

The researchers indicate that the projected government mineral revenues from future coal mines are dependent on the existence of rail and port infrastructure to export the washed coal to the world steam coal markets in Asia and Western Europe. “Until concrete steps are seen on the development of the rail and port infrastructure upon which these projects depend, we believe they should be accorded a low probability of being realised by 2026.”


This BIDPA study was conceived about five years ago during the Global Economic Crisis and the impact this had on the economy of Botswana and on the private sector. At that time there was a dramatic decline in the demand for luxury commodities – diamonds and tourism services – which are two of Botswana’s most important export sectors.

These were hit disproportionately as a result of the economic crisis. Diamond mining, the principal source of revenue in the country, declined dramatically in 2009 as the mines at Jwaneng and Orapa were temporarily shut. In 2009 diamond production fell to 17.7 million carats from 32 million the previous year.


In conclusion, BIDPA observes that over the next 10-15 years, government mineral revenues are projected to rise on the back of a projected improvement in diamond prices that would be underlain by strong supply/demand fundamentals.

“While the decline in government mineral revenues from diamonds seems unlikely to occur within the period of projection for this study, we would like to caution that there would be a significant crunch when the open-pit mining operations cease, beginning in about 2027.”

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Civil Service volatility: Democracy vs Bureaucracy

19th April 2021
President Masisi

Here is how one Permanent Secretary encapsulates the clear tension between democracy and bureaucracy in Botswana: “President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s Government is behaving like a state surrounded with armed forces in order to capture it or force its surrender. The situation has turned so volatile, for tomorrow is not guaranteed for us top civil servants.

These are the painful results of a personalized civil service in our view as permanent secretaries”. Although his deduction of the situation may be summed as sour grapes because he is one of the ‘victims’ of the reshuffle, he is convinced this is a perfect description of the rationale behind frequent changes and transfers characterising the current civil service.

The result of it all, he said, is that “there is too much instability at managerial and strategic levels of the civil service leading to a noticeable directionless civil service.” He continued: “Changes and transfers are inevitable in the civil service, but to a permissible scale and frequency. Think of soccer team coach who changes and transfers his entire squad every month; you know the consequences?”

The Tsunami has hit hard at critical departments and Ministries leaving a strong wave of uncertainty, many demoralised and some jobless. In traditional approaches to public administration, democracy gives the goals; and bureaucracy delivers the technical efficiency required for implementation. But the recent moves in the civil service are indicative of conflicting imperatives – the notion of separation between politicians and administrators is becoming blurred by the day.

“Look at what happened to Prisons and BDF where second in command were overlooked for outsiders, and these are the people who had sacrificially served for donkey’s years hoping for a seat at the ladder’s end. The frequency of the changes, at times affecting the same Ministry or individual also demonstrates some level of ineptitude, clumsiness and lack of foresight from those in charge,” remarked the PS who added that their view is that the transfers are not related to anything but “settling scores, creating corruption opportunities and pushing out perceived dissident and former president, Ian Khama’s alleged loyalists and most of these transfers are said to be products of intelligence detection.”

Partly blaming Khama for the mess and his unwillingness to let go, the PS dismissed Masisi for falling to the trap and failing to outgrow the destructive tiff. “Khama is here to stay and the sooner Masisi comes to terms with the fact that he (Masisi) is the state President, the better. For a President to still be making these changes and transfers signals signs of a confused man who has not yet started rolling his roadmap, if at all it was ever there. I am saying this because any roadmap comes with key players and policies,” he concluded.

The Ministry of Health and Wellness seems to be the most hard-hit by the transfers, having experienced three Permanent Secretaries changes within a year and a half. Insiders say the changes have everything to do with the Ministry being the centre of COVID-19 tenders and economic opportunities. “The buck stops with the PS and no right-thinking PS can just allow glaring corruption under his watch as an accounting officer. Technocrats are generally law abiding, the pressure comes with politically appointed leaders racing against political terms to loot,” revealed a director in the Ministry preferring anonymity.

The latest transfer of Kabelo Ebineng she says was also motivated by his firm attitude against the President’s blue-eyed Task Team boys. “The Task Team wants to own the COVID-19 pandemic and government interventions and always cry foul when the Ministry reasserts itself as mandated by law,” said the director who added that Masisi who was always caught between the crossfire decided on sacrificing Ebineng to the joy of his team as they (Task Team) were in the habit of threatening to resign citing Ebineng as the problem.

Ebineng joins the Office of the President as a deputy Coordinator (government implementation and coordination office).The incoming PS is the soft-spoken Grace Muzila, known and described by her close associates as a conformist albeit knowledgeable.

One of the losers in the grand scheme is Thato Raphaka who many had seen as the next PSP because of his experience and calm demeanour following a declaration of interest in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Secretary post by the current PSP, Elias Magosi.

But hardly ten months into his post, Raphaka has been transferred out to the National Strategy Office in what many see as a demotion of some sort. Other notable changes coming into OP are Pearl Ramokoka formerly with the Employment, Labour and Productivity Ministry coming in as a Permanent Secretary and Kgomotso Abi as director of Public Service Reforms.

One of the ousted senior officers in the Office of the President warned that there are no signs that the changes and transfers will stop anytime soon: “If you are observant you would have long noticed that the changes don’t only affect senior officers but government decisions as well. A decision is made today and the government backtracks on it within a week. Not only that, the President says this today, and his deputy denies it the following day in Parliament,” he warned.

Some observers have blamed the turmoil in the civil service partly to lack of accountable presidential advisers or kitchen cabinet properly schooled on matters of statecraft. They point out that politicians or those peripheral to them should refrain from hampering the technical and organizational activities of public managers – or else the party (reshuffling) won’t stop.

In the view expressed by some Permanent Secretaries, Elias Magosi, has not really been himself since joining the civil service; and has cut a picture of indifference in most critical engagements; the most notable been a permanent secretaries platform which he chairs. As things stand there is need to reconcile the imperatives of democracy and democracy in Botswana. Peace will rein only when public value should stand astride the fault that runs between politicians and public managers.

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Morupisi fights for freedom in court

19th April 2021
morupisi

Former Permanent Secretary to the President, Carter Morupisi, is fighting for survival in a matter in which the State has charged him and his wife, Pinnie Morupisi, with corruption and money laundering.

Morupisi has joined a list of prominent figures that served in the previous administration and who have been accused of corruption during their tenure in office. While others have been emerging victorious, Morupisi is yet to find that luck. The High Court recently dismissed his no case to answer application.

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Pressure mounts on Biden to suspend Covid-19 vaccine patents

19th April 2021
Joe Biden

United States President, Joe Biden, is faced with a decision to make relating to the Covid-19 vaccine intellectual property after 175 former world leaders and Nobel laurates joined the campaign urging the US to take “urgent action” to suspend intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines to help boost global inoculation rates.

According to the world leaders, doing so would allow developing countries to make their own copies of the vaccines that have been developed by pharmaceutical companies without fear of being sued for intellectual property infringements.

“A WTO waiver is a vital and necessary step to bringing an end to this pandemic. It must be combined with ensuring vaccine know-how and technology is shared openly,” the signatories, comprising more than 100 Nobel prize-winners and over 70 former world leaders, wrote in a letter to US President Joe Biden, according to Financial Times.

A measure to allow countries to temporarily override patent rights for Covid related medical products was proposed at the World Trade Organization by India and South Africa in October, and has since been backed by nearly 60 countries.

Former leaders who signed the letter included Gordon Brown, former UK Prime Minister; François Hollande, former French President; Mikhail Gorbachev, former President of the USSR; and Yves Leterme, former Belgian Prime Minister.

In their official communication, South Africa and India said: “As new diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines for Covid-19 are developed, there are significant concerns [about] how these will be made available promptly, in sufficient quantities and at affordable prices to meet global demand.”

While developed countries have been able to secure enough vaccine to inoculate their citizens, developing countries such as Botswana are struggling to source enough to swiftly vaccine their citizens, something which world leaders believe it would work against global recovery therefore proving counter-productive.

Since the availability of vaccines, Botswana has been able to secure only 60 000 doses of vaccines, 30 000 as donation as from the Indian government, while the other 30 000 was sourced through COVAX facility.  Canada, has pre-ordered vaccines in surplus and it will be able to vaccinate each of its citizens six times over. In the UK and US, it is four vaccines per person; and two each in the EU and Australia.

For vaccines produced in Europe, developing countries are forced to pay double what European countries are paying, making it more expensive for already financially struggling economies.  European countries however justify the price of vaccines and that they deserve to buy them cheap since they contributed in their development.

It is evident that vaccines cannot be made available immediately to all countries worldwide with wealthy economies being the only success story in that regard, something that has been referred to as a “catastrophic moral failure”, head of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The challenge facing developing countries is not only the price, but also the capacity of vaccine manufactures to be able to do so to meet global demand within a short time. The proposal for a patent waiver by India and South Africa has been rejected by developed countries, known for hosting the world leading pharmaceutical companies such US, European Union, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland.

According to the Financial Times, US business groups including pharmaceutical industry representatives, have urged Biden to resist supporting a waiver to IP rules at the WTO, arguing that the proposal led by India and South Africa was too “vague” and “broad”.

The individuals who signed the letter, including Nobel laureates in economics as well as from across the arts and sciences, warned that inequitable vaccine access would impact the global economy and prevent it from recovering.

“The world saw unprecedented development of safe and effective vaccines, in major part thanks to US public investment,” the group wrote. “We all welcome that vaccination rollout in the US and many wealthier countries is bringing hope to their citizens.”

“Yet for the majority of the world that same hope is yet to be seen. New waves of suffering are now rising across the globe. Our global economy cannot rebuild if it remains vulnerable to this virus.”
The group warned that fully enforcing IP was “self-defeating for the US” as it hindered global vaccination efforts. “Given artificial global supply shortages, the US economy already risks losing $1.3tn in gross domestic product this year.”

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