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Govt overwhelmed by too many levies

DISCUSSION: BB CEO, Machailo Ellis and her President Mr Mosienyane.

Business Botswana (formerly Botswana Confederation of Commerce, Industry and Manpower (BOCCIM), wants the employment of some of the country’s many levies to be interrogated as they are seemingly compromising the efficiency of tax collection and good governance.


In its final draft report on the impact of commercial levies on businesses, BOCCIM reveals that with the many levies collected in the country, accountability has become an issue as Parliamentary oversight is lacking in respect of the collection and use of a lot of the revenues raised through levies.


“That certain of the levies do not go through the Consolidated Fund and therefore, are not subjected to the oversight of the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning has to be a worry. This is more so considering that no evidence exists to the effect that the Government agency, which has the mandate of collecting taxes, that is, Botswana Unified Revenue Services (BURS) is incapable of doing its work properly.”


It is the view of BOCCIM that allowing entities like the Gambling Authority to collect levies is inefficient because their competence regarding the comprehensiveness of systems management and optimising collections has not been proven.


“The collection of levies by some authorities other than constitutionally provided service, BURS, only serves to compromise the efficiency of the national revenue collection system. For instance, the environmental levy on shopping plastic bags stood uncollected by the appropriate authority for many years. Where some authorities collect, such as in the case of the Casino levy, it is doubtful as to whether the Casino control Board/ Gambling authority has the competence to optimise the intended revenue collection,” the report reads in part.


The contention by BOCCIM was that certain entities are in the habit of collecting levies and upholding funds in excess of what they require for their regulatory of or other such operations. In BOCCIM’s view, the surpluses are evidence that the levies are too high and that having these funds sitting outside the Consolidated Fund cannot be in line with good governance.


“It is desirable to account for all levies in a manner that would be recommendable by constitutional or approved public accounting offices such as that of the Auditor General and Accountant General. Actual practice has been determined to be a challenge or alternatively proven opaque and not consistent with the best practice,” the report further reads.


BOCCIM’s position on levies is that the plurality of levies raises the costs of doing businesses and therefore undermines competitiveness of firms in general. Based on this perspective it is the opinion of BOCCIM that any proven detrimental effect of levies be removed.


“What should be of concern all the time is to be able to review and discard what does not work as intended or what is inconsistent with good practice as supported by empirical evidence,” the reports pointed out.


Some of the levies that are perceived by the business community to be problematic include that of the UHT milk, wheat flour, alcohol, road safety, tourism training and BOTA training levies.


“To the extent that levies such as the one collected by BOTA mainly come from and are meant to aid the private sector’s development, there exists a valid question regarding whether the desired utility is being achieved. A further question is, whether the private sector is being adequately consulted on the utilization and otherwise of funds that pile, and remain unused. So the principle of equitable or recovery is an issue for consideration regarding what was intended and what is happening,” the report further pointed out.


BOCCIM therefore is recommending that a review and analytical work be undertaken by government to establish whether the use of levies and special funds should not be rationalised. Part of the review according to them should be to determine whether the households are in fact benefiting from levies and whether some of the levies are not unduly protective to a few corporate beings, at the cost of introducing anti-competitive tendencies.


“From the over-arching and good governance perspective, it cannot be sustainably argued against the following observation that, the issue of a plethora of “off-budget” levies and special funds undermines good and accountable governance when considering the authority and oversight of Parliament regarding public finances.”


However BOCCIM does acknowledge that there are certain levies that have possible long term justification such as the Road levy and the National Electrification Special Fund. Nonetheless, to the extent that these are taxes, it suggests that, for all intents and purposes, they must go through the designated and unified national revenue process and be accounted for through Parliament.


“It should be for the Parliament to sanction the collection and utilisation of these funds. That is how the efficacy and public financing system can be improved without compromising tax collection,” the reports added.


Renowned economists, Keith Jefferies and Bogolo Kenewendo, Thabelo Nemaorani, noted in a report that as at 2013, there were 37 special funds in existence, 19 of which are financed through levies that the government imposes on different activities.


During the fiscal year 2012/13, the different levies generated over P995 million in revenue, with the largest contributors being the National Electrification levy (P232 million), the Vocational training levy (VTF) (P215 million), the road collections levy (P210 million) and lastly the Alcohol levy (P162 million).


“Since the levies do not go through the normal budgetary process and legislative scrutiny, they compromise tax efficiency and transparency. Some stakeholders argue that the funds collected from the levies are utilised without fully involving those who contribute, such as the private sector, and as a result, channels of accountability have become blurred. The lax tax system and lack of transparency also provides an opportunity for exploitation,” the economists wrote.

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UDC founder warns against merger

19th October 2020
Ex UDC Convener: Mpotokwane

Lebang Mpotokwane, one of the conveners who presided over the opposition cooperation talks that resulted in the formation of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), has advised against changing the current umbrella model in favour of a merger as proposed by others.

The Botswana Congress Party (BCP) leader, Dumelang Saleshando recently went public to propose that UDC should consider merging of all opposition parties, including Alliance for Progressives (AP) and Botswana Patriotic Front (BNF).

Saleshando has been vehemently opposed by Botswana National Front (BNF), which is in favour of maintaining the current model.  BNF’s position has been favoured by the founding father of UDC, who warned that it will be too early to ditch the current model.

“UDC should be well developed to promote the spirit of togetherness on members and the members should be taught so that the merger is developed gradually. They should approach it cautiously. If they feel they are ready, they can, but it would not be a good idea,” Mpotokwane told WeekendPost this week.

Mpotokwane and Emang Maphanyane are the two men who have since 2003 began a long journey of uniting opposition parties in a bid to dethrone the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BCP) as they felt it needed a strong opposition to avoid complacency.

Tonota born Mpotokwane is however disappointed on how they have been ejected from participating in the last edition of talks ahead of the 2019 general elections in which BCP was brought on board.  However, despite the ejection, Mpotokwane is not resentful to the opposition collective.

He said the vision of opposition unity was to ultimately merge the opposition parties but he believes time has not arrived yet to pursue that path. “The bigger picture was a total merger and we agreed that with three independent parties, members might be against merger eventuality so the current model should be used until a point where they are now together for as long as possible,” he said.

“UDC should gradually perform better in elections and gain confidence. They should not rush the merger. We have been meeting since 2003, but if they rush it might cause endless problems. If they are ready they can anyway,” he advised. For now the constituent parties of the umbrella have been exchanging salvos with others (BCP and BNF).

“There are good reasons for and against merging the parties. Personally, I am in favour of merging the parties (including AP and BPF) into a single formation but I know it’s a complex mission that will have its own challenges,” Saleshando said when he made his position known a week ago.

“Good luck to those advocating for a merger, it will be interesting to observe the tactics they will use to lure the BPF into a merger,” former BNF councillor for Borakalalo Ward and former BNF Youth League Secretary General, Arafat Khan, opined in relation to BCP’s proposed position.

Mpotokwane, who is currently out in the cold from the UDC since he was ejected from the party’s NEC in 2017, said the current bickering and the expected negotiations with other parties need the presence of conveners.

“We did not belong to any party as conveners so we were objective in our submissions. If party propose any progressive idea we will support, if it is not we will not, so I would agree that even now conveners might be key for neutrality to avoid biasness,” he observed. Despite being abandoned, Mpotokwane said he will always be around to assist if at all he is needed.

“If they want help I will be there, I have always been clear about it, but surely I will ask few questions before accepting that role,” he said. UDC is expected to begin cooperation talks with both AP and BPF either this week or next weekend for both upcoming bye-elections (halted by Covid-19) and 2024 general elections and it is revealed that there will be no conveners this time around.

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BDP attaches Boko’s property

19th October 2020
DUMA BOKO

The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) moved through its lawyers to attach the property of Umbrella for Democratic (UDC) President Duma Boko and other former parliamentary contestants who failed in their court bid to overturn the 2019 general elections in 14 constituencies.

WeekendPost has established that this week, Deputy Sheriffs were commissioned by Bogopa Manewe Tobedza and Company who represented the BDP, to attach the properties of UDC elections contents in a bid to recover costs.  High Court has issued a writ of execution against all petitioners, a process that has set in motion the cost recovery measures.

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COVID-19 exposes decay in the education system

19th October 2020
Education Systm

Botswana Sectors of Teachers Union (BOSETU) says COVID-19 as a pandemic has negatively affected the education sector by deeply disrupting the education system. The intermittent lockdowns have resulted in the halting of teaching and learning in schools.

The union indicated that the education system was caught napping and badly exposed when it came to the use of Information System (IT), technological platforms and issues of digitalisation.

“COVID-19 exposed glaring inefficiencies and deficiencies when it came to the use of ITC in schools. In view of the foregoing, we challenge government as BOSETU to invest in school ITC, technology and digitalization,” says BOSETU President Kinston Radikolo during a press conference on Tuesday.

As a consequence, the union is calling on government to prioritise education in her budgeting to provide technological infrastructure and equipment including provision of tablets to students and teachers.

“Government should invest vigorously in internet connectivity in schools and teacher’s residences if the concept of flexi-hours and virtual learning were to be achieved and have desired results,” Radikolo said.

Radikolo told journalists that COVID-19 is likely to negatively affect final year results saying that the students would sit for the final examinations having not covered enough ground in terms of curriculum coverage.

“This is so because there wasn’t any catch up plan that was put in place to recover the lost time by students. We warn that this year’s final examination results would dwindle,” he said.

The Union, which is an affiliate of Botswana Federation of Public, Private and Parastatal Union (BOFEPUSU), also indicated that COVID-19’s presence as a pandemic has complicated the role of a teacher in a school environment, saying a teacher’s role has not only transcended beyond just facilitating teaching and learning, but rather, a teacher in this COVID-19 era, is also called upon to enforce the COVID-19 preventative protocols in the school environment.

“This is an additional role in the duty of a teacher that needs to be recognized by the employers. Teachers by virtue of working in a congested school environment have become highly exposed and vulnerable to COVID-19, hence the reason why BOSETU would like teachers to be regarded as the frontline workers with respect to COVID-19,” says Radikolo.

BOSETU noted that the pandemic has in large scales found its way into most of the school environments, as in thus far more than 50 schools have been affected by COVID-19. The Union says this is quite a worrying phenomenon.

“As we indicated before when we queried that schools were not ready for re-opening, it has now come to pass that our fears were not far-fetched. This goes out to tell that there is deficiency in our schools when it comes to putting in place preventative protocols. In our schools, hygiene is compromised by mere absence of sanitizers, few hand-washing stations, absence of social distancing in classes,” the Union leader said.

Furthermore, Radikolo stressed that the shifting system drastically increased the workload for teachers especially in secondary schools. He says teachers in these schools experience very high loads to an extent that some of them end up teaching up to sixty four periods per week, adding that this has not only fatigued teachers, but has also negatively affected their performance and the quality of teaching.

In what the Union sees as failure to uphold and honour collective agreements by government, owing to the shift system introduced at primary schools, government is still in some instances refusing to honour an agreement with the Unions to hire more teachers to take up the extra classes.

“BOSETU notes with disgruntlement the use of pre-school teachers to teach in the mainstream schools with due regard for their specific areas of training and their job descriptions. This in our view is a variation of the terms of employment of the said teachers,” says Radikolo.

The Union has called on government to forthwith remedy this situation and hire more teachers to alleviate this otherwise unhealthy situation. BOSETU also expressed concerns of some school administrators who continuously run institutions with iron fists and in a totalitarian way.

“We have a few such hot spot schools which the Union has brought to attention the Ministry officials such as Maoka JSS, Artesia JSS, and Dukwi JSS. We are worried that the Ministry becomes sluggish in taking action against such errant school administration. In instances where action is taken, such school administrators are transferred and rotated around schools.”

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