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Tax havens ravage Botswana, continent

BURS to tap into Tax Inspectors Without Borders

 

Botswana could soon benefit from better tax collection and audits, with the assistance of a new initiative from a OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) and United Nations Development Programme dubbed Tax Inspectors Without Borders (TIWB).


An initiative launched by the OECD to capacitate tax audits and collect more taxes, in developing countries, will soon cascade to Botswana tax system. Botswana Unified Revenue Services (BURS) told BusinessPost that through membership of the African Tax Administrators Forum (ATAF), the initiative will reach Botswana and her tax authorities.


Gaitsiwe Motsewabagale, ‎General Manager – Corporate Planning and Communications at BURS, said that while the tax collector was not part of the proceedings at Ethiopia this week, the initiative would possibly reach the country through engagements at ATAF.


TIWB will facilitate targeted tax audit assistance in developing countries worldwide. Tax audit experts will work alongside local officials of developing country tax administrations to help strengthen tax audit capacities, including issues concerning international tax matters, using a toolkit that sets out guidelines for establishing TIWB programmes and protecting against potential confidentiality and conflict of interest concerns.


“Going forward, a dedicated central organising unit, the TIWB Secretariat, supported by an oversight board of stakeholders, will operate as a clearing house to match the demand for auditing assistance with appropriate expertise. The Secretariat, composed of OECD and UNDP staff and based at the OECD in Paris, will facilitate full-time or periodic deployment of experts,” said OECD secretary general at the launch.


A number of pilot projects and international tax workshops are already underway, including in Albania, Ghana and Senegal. Evidence gathered from real time cases in Colombia indicate a significant increase in tax revenue, from US$3.3 million in 2011 to US$33.2 million in 2014, directly attributable to tax audit advice and guidance.


The latest annual report of the local tax authority, being the 2013 Report, states among its operational challenges, that: “There was an insufficient number of taxpayer auditors to perform adequate audits.”


Revenue collected grew by P5.5 billion (22.6 percent), from P24.37 billion in 2011/12 to P29.87 billion in 2012/13. However this growth is attributable to a massive 69 percent increase in revenues from SACU jump in SACU receipts and a 17.4 percent increase in VAT collection, while income tax actually declined by 9.7 percent.


The Tax Inspectors Without Borders (TIWB) project was launched on Monday this week at the Ethiopian meeting, of the 3rd International Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa.


TIWB will facilitate targeted tax audit assistance in developing countries worldwide. Tax audit experts will work alongside local officials of developing country tax administrations to help strengthen tax audit capacities, including issues concerning international tax matters.


A number of pilot projects and international tax workshops are reported to be already underway, in among others, Albania, Ghana and Senegal, providing proof of the effectiveness of the programme.

The scaling up to other others will be rolled out with the help of the UNDP “Evidence gathered from real time cases in Colombia indicate a significant increase in tax revenue, from US$3.3 million in 2011 to US$33.2 million in 2014, thanks to tax audit advice and guidance,” read a statement from OECD.


“The challenges faced by developing countries are being acknowledged internationally and we are delighted to mobilise the best experts worldwide in a practical contribution to domestic resource mobilisation,” OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría said during a launch event in Addis Ababa.

“The new partnership between the OECD and UNDP on Tax Inspectors Without Borders will significantly extend the global reach of existing efforts to build audit capacity while sending a strong message of international support to developing countries.”


 "Effective domestic resource mobilisation is at the core of financing for sustainable development. But efforts to raise domestic resources are often constrained by tax evasion and avoidance, and by illicit financial flows,” said UNDP Administrator Helen Clark.


“The Tax Inspectors Without Borders programme is an innovative and practical way of supporting developing countries to mobilise more domestic resources for development. With its country level presence and local knowledge, UNDP is well-placed to partner with the OECD and the best audit experts to scale-up this important work. TIWB can support countries to realise the post-2015 agenda," Helen Clark said.


However, there is some controversy with regard to some of members of the OECD, comprising 34 rich states, also being classified as tax havens. However, the OECD says members have made efforts to shed the characteristics of such tax havens.

BOTSWANA’S TAX LOSSES

According to studies done and reported by international financial intelligence organ, Global Financial Integrity, Botswana has lost an average of P8,5 billion ($856 million) annually, between 2003 and 2012, however with a market spike in the ‘recession years’ 2007, 2008 and 2009,  illicit financial outflows.

The outflows are characterised by tax evasion, trade misinvoicing in goods transactions, transfer mispricing in services and hot money flows to jurisdictions with higher interest rates or expected changes in interest rates.


This is happening in the context of Africa, as a continent, losing over $60 billion annually from illicit financial activity.


In analysing illicit financial flows (IFFs), GFI utilises sources of data and analytical methodologies that have been used by international institutions, governments, and economists for decades; the data sources and methodologies are providing information on gaps in balance of payments data and gaps in trade data.

Where recorded sources and uses of funds in balance of payments data do not match, the difference is net errors and omissions, indicating an inflow or outflow that was not recorded. Where bilateral trade data does not match – after adjusting for freight and insurance in the data of the importing country – this indicates re-invoicing of transactions between export from one country and import into another country.


Offshore tax havens spread by new computing and telecommunications, provide an unprecedented tax shelter, enabling rich citizens and corporations to escape the national tax system. Wealthy tax evaders save millions, while public services and infrastructure in their home countries, as well as on the small island havens, remain drastically underfunded.


Botswana, herself, has only recently shed its tax haven tag after easing provisions and making amendments. At the time of the OECD report to the G20 in June 2012, Botswana was among the 11 jurisdictions also comprising Brunei, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Lebanon, Liberia, Panama, Trinidad and Tobago, United Arab Emirates, Uruguay and Vanuatu, who could not move to Phase 2 because it was determined at the time of their Phase 1 reviews that critical elements necessary to achieving an effective exchange of information were not in place in their legal framework.

At the same G20 Summit, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, called for Botswana, alongside eleven other countries, to be excluded from the international business community because the country was a tax haven that did not have a "suitable legal framework for the exchange of tax information.”


Parliament approved the amendment of the Income Tax Act in December 2012 to allow the Botswana Unified Revenue Service to exchange information for tax purposes. Additionally, the amendment of the Banking Act was presented in Parliament last year for approval. This amendment was meant to repeal strict banking secrecy provisions and to allow for banking information to be provided for the purpose of exchanging information with treaty partners.

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Business

Lucara jumps back to positive figures as revenue surges by 56%

12th May 2021
LUCARA

Lucara Diamond Corporation, 100% owners of Karowe Diamond mine, has released its results for the first quarter of 2021 ending March 31, 2021.

Figures contained in the report depict strong financial and operational performance for the quarter. Revenue for the three months period jumped by 56% to $53.1 million (approximately P540 million) or $579 per carat sold in Q1 2021.

This includes diamonds sold through a combination of regular tenders, Clara, and through HB Antwerp (HB) under the supply agreement announced in July 2020.

This 56% increase in revenue comes after a slow Q1 2020 which was characterized by intensifying COVID pandemic. Lucara then announced it would hold on and suspend sale of its large stones until the market normalizes.

During the quarter total operating cash costs of $29.24 per tonne processed was incurred, this was 7% lower than Q1 2020. Adjusted EBITDA closed the quarter at $22.2 million, marking a return to higher levels of operating margin.

The company recorded net income of $3.4 million during Q1 2021 (earnings per share of $0.01), as compared to a net loss of $3.2 million for Q1 2020 (loss per share of $0.01).

The value of the rough diamonds transacted through the Clara platform in Q1 2021 was $6.0 million over six sales, double the $3.0 million transacted on the platform in Q1 2020.

Strong price increases have been observed in each of the sales conducted since the beginning of the year.

As at March 31st 2021, the company had cash and cash equivalents of $27.9 million, an increase of $23.0 million from December 31st 2020 and a net debt of $22.2 million.

Following the quarter-end on May 5th 2021, the Company’s $50 million working capital facility was extended with Rand Merchant Bank, a division of FirstRand Bank Limited, London Branch.

In January 2021, Lucara announced the recoveries of two, top white gem quality diamonds (341 carats and 378 carats) from ore sourced from the M/PK(s) unit within the South Lobe. Both stones were recovered unbroken.

In April 2021, Lucara announced the 24-month extension of its novel supply agreement with HB in respect of all diamonds produced in excess of 10.8 carats in size from the Karowe mine to be sold as polished.

In May 2021, Lucara received credit approved commitments from a syndicate of five international lenders for a senior secured project financing debt package of up to $220 million (over P2.3 billion) to fund an underground expansion at the Karowe Mine in Botswana.

Eira Thomas, President & CEO commented: “Lucara has bounced back in the first quarter of the year, demonstrating its resiliency at a time of continued uncertainty in respect of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Our solid performance in the first quarter reflects a stronger business environment, Lucara’s continued focus on operational discipline and our innovative approach to sales.

We also made significant progress towards the completion of a supplemental debt financing package with credit approved commitments received from five international lenders, in support of our plans for underground expansion.

Our outlook for the diamond market remains strong, and with close to 20 years of future mining now ahead of us at Karowe, Lucara is highly levered to an improving diamond price environment, particularly in respect of large, high value gem diamonds, the hallmark of Karowe’s production profile.”

KAROWE PERFORMANCE

Ore and waste mined of 1.1 million tonnes and 0.8 million tonnes, respectively.0.67 million tonnes of ore processed resulting in 80,014 carats recovered, achieving a recovered grade of 11.9 carats per hundred tonnes.

188 Specials (+10.8 carats) were recovered from direct milling during the first quarter, representing 6.8% weight percentage of total direct milling recovered carats, in line with resource expectations.

2 diamonds were recovered greater than 300 carats in weight and 2 diamonds were recovered greater than 200 carats in weight.

DIAMOND SALES

Diamond sales in Q1 2021 were held through a combination of regular tenders, and the Clara platform, for diamonds less than 10.8 carats, and through HB under the supply agreement for those diamonds greater than 10.8 carats.

The Company recognized revenue of $53.1 million or $579 per carat from the sale of 91,760 carats. Price recovery was observed in most size and quality classes.

Included in this amount is variable consideration of $9.1 million which relates to “top-up” payments which arise from polished diamond sales in excess of the initial planned value paid to Lucara.

Beginning in Q2 2020, all +10.8 carat diamonds mined from Karowe were sold to HB pursuant to the terms of the diamond supply agreement described below.

Karowe’s large, high value diamonds have historically accounted for approximately 60% to 70% of Lucara’s annual revenues.

Though the mine remained fully operational following the declaration of COVID-19 as a global pandemic, Lucara made a decision not to tender any of its +10.8 carat production after early March 2020 amidst the uncertainty caused by the global crisis and the significant weakness observed in the rough diamond market.

LUCARA- HB SALES AGREEMENT

The polished diamond market performed better through this period and subsequently, in July 2020, Lucara announced a ground breaking partnership agreement with HB, entering into a definitive supply agreement for the remainder of 2020, for all diamonds produced in excess of +10.8 carats from their 100% owned Karowe Diamond mine in Botswana.

This agreement was subsequently extended for a 24 month period, from January 1, 2021 to December 31, 2022.

Under the supply agreement with HB, Lucara’s +10.8 carat production is being sold at prices based on the estimated polished outcome of each diamond, determined through state of the art scanning and planning technology, with a true up amount payable to Lucara on actual achieved polished sales in excess of the initial estimated polished price, less a fee and the cost of manufacturing.

This unique pricing mechanism delivers regular cash flow for this important segment of our production profile.

Revenue from stones delivered to HB in 2020 will continue to be recognised in 2021 as polished diamonds are sold and “top-up” payments are realised.

CLARA SALES PLATFORM

With global restrictions impeding travel for many diamond manufacturers, interest in Clara- Lucara’s proprietary, secure, web-based digital sales platform- grew significantly in 2020 and that positive momentum continued through Q1 2021.

Six sales were held in the first quarter with total sales volume transacted of $6.0 million, more than double the volume from the comparable period in 2020.

Encouragingly, Clara also observed consistent price increase at each subsequent sale throughout the period.

The number of buyers on the platform increased to 80 and the company is maintaining a waiting list to manage supply and demand. Discussions continue with third party sellers to build supply.

KAROWE MINE UNDERGROUND PROJECT

During Q1 2021, Lucara spent $9.9 million (over P100 million) on project execution activities for the Karowe underground expansion, including shaft and geotechnical engineering, surface infrastructure, dewatering and power line engineering and procurement.

Site construction work commenced early in the quarter and in March the production and ventilation shaft box cuts were drilled and blasted to bulk excavation elevations.

A significant amount of time and effort was also spent on due diligence related to technical, environment and social matters as part of ongoing project financing efforts.

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Business

Inflation to accelerate further in 2021

12th May 2021
Inflation

The first quarter of 2021 continued with unprecedented challenges emanating from the 2020 outbreak of the COVID-19. In Botswana, the economy continues to reel from the effect and impact of the pandemic.

The FABI generated a negative quarterly return, with the index declining by 0.3% for the quarter. Government bonds were the main reason for the decline, registering a return of -0.4% for the quarter under review.

According to Kgori Capital Domestic Fixed Income and Macro Commentary Q1 2021, corporate bonds generated positive returns of 0.9% for the quarter.

Kgosi Capital Portfolio Manager, Kwabena Antwi, says government bonds have continued to come under pressure due to increased supply as government looks for funding for its Economic Recovery and Transformation Plan (ERTP). He says there were three auctions held during the quarter where P8.6 billion of bonds and T-Bills were offered.

“There was decent demand with P10.8 billion of bids received, however, in a similar manner to Q4 2020’s auctions, all auctions were under-allotted with an allotment ratio (allotment divided by securities on offer) of 59.0%. The low allotment was likely due to bids received considered too rich. The key question is how the government plans to fund its projected deficits. Even with the possibility of securing bilateral funding, there is an increase likelihood that projects under its ERTP may be delayed.”

Antwi indicated that inflation breached the lower bound of the Bank of Botswana’s objective range, ending the quarter at 3.2% in March 2021. He says, the main driver of inflation was transport inflation which moved out of deflation territory as a result of the 6.9% increase in pump prices effected in March 2021.

“We expect inflation to accelerate further and briefly touch the 6% upper bound of the Bank of Botswana’s objective range in late Q2 2021/Q3 2021 before accelerating. Our expectation is premised on continued supply-push inflation and base effects arising from the Transport basket,” he said.

GROSS DOMETIC PRODUCT

Kgori Capital highlighted that their GDP growth estimate for 2021 has increased following the release of better-than-expected Q4 2021 economic data which indicated that the economy contracted by 7.9% versus their expectation of an 8.5% contraction.

“We have revised our 2021 growth expectation upwards to 7.2% from 6.3% previously with risks balanced. Whilst there have been no hard lockdowns yet in 2021, curfews have been implemented since January 2021 and alcohol sales were banned between January 2021 and February 2021. Current restrictions are less constricting than the lockdown imposed in 2020 but they will nonetheless constrain business activity in 2021. Forecasts will remain fluid as we get more information on the status of the local and global vaccine rollout as well as the implementation of government’s ERTP.”

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Business

Debswana keeps keen eye on growing Lab-grown diamonds  

12th May 2021
diamonds

Debswana — the world’s leading rough diamonds producer by value says it is “watching” the developments around lab grown diamonds closely as events unfold.

The world‘s largest jewellery maker Pandora, this week announced that it will completely abandon mined diamonds and shift totally to lesser expensive stones manufactured in laboratories citing “environmental reasons.”

Pandora is by far one of the most important jewellery makers in the world.

The company which started as a family-run jewellery shop in Copenhagen, Denmark, is now globally known for its customizable charm bracelets, designer rings, necklaces and watches, crafting them from the world’s finest mined diamonds.

In an announcement that sent shock waves across the diamond industry corridors on Monday, the world’s biggest jewellery maker told global media outlets that it will no longer sell mined diamonds and will switch to exclusively laboratory-made diamonds.

Pandora Executives cited concerns about the environment and working practices in the mining industry saying this has led to growing demand for “alternative products”.

Alexander Lacik, Chief Executive Officer of Pandora told UK based media group BBC, that “the change was part of a broader sustainability drive”. He explained that Pandora is taking that direction because, “it’s the right thing to do”.

“Synthetic diamonds are also cheaper, we can essentially create the same outcome as nature has created, but at a very, very different price,” he said.

The move by Pandora, according to Industry experts, reflects a reorientation of the jewellery market brought on by the pandemic and the sentiments of younger buyers, who are more likely to factor in environmental and human rights concerns when choosing products.

“For millennials in particular, the awareness of what a lab-created diamond is, is significantly higher than with the older generation, so it’s a matter of education as well,” Alexander Lacik told American media outlet Bloomberg on Monday.

He added: “These categories of buyers are more concerned about sustainability aspects.”

WE ARE WATCHING THIS SPACE VERY CLOSELY”— DEBSWANA

Two weeks ago, Debswana, a De Beers partly owned company, said the synthetic diamond space is being monitored closely.

In a statement following a virtual stakeholder engagement meeting on the 23rd of April, 2021 Debswana Corporate Affairs said the company is keeping an eye on the new developments.

“We do watch this space very closely and also do know that De Beers does the same, overall, research shows that the size of the lab grown diamond market continues to be very small in comparison to the size of the natural diamond market (a low to mid-single digit percentage of the size,” stated the company.

Debswana said one of the key advancements with regard to lab grown diamonds in 2020 was that new production sources continued to come online, including the new De Beers owned Lightbox facility in Oregon, United States.

The increase in supply, coupled with continued advancements in technology, have seen lab grown diamonds  continue their downward price trajectory throughout 2020, the company said- citing a report by Brain- that lab-grown diamonds are  now retailing at an average of around 35% of the value of an equivalent natural diamond, down from around 65% in 2017.

In addition Debswana cited a research conducted by its parent company De Beers and other industry players that “90% of consumers want gifts that hold their value over time, and natural diamonds are seen as the top gift of this nature, above other jewellery, designer clothing or electronics”.

“Diamonds hold a symbolism, meaning and value that lab-grown diamonds do not provide as a mass-produced product of technology.”

DE BEERS SYNTHETIC DIAMOND BUSINESS

De Beers entered the retail space of synthetic diamonds space in 2018, through its jewellery brand Lightbox.

The company committed an investment of US$94 million (around P1 billion) on an Element Six production facility near Portland, Oregon, US adding to Element Six’s existing UK-based facilities.

Through its wholly owned subsidiary Element Six De Beers Group has been making diamonds in laboratories for 50 years but solely for industrial purposes.

“Lightbox will transform the lab-grown diamond sector by offering consumers a lab-grown product they have told us they want but aren’t getting: affordable fashion jewellery that may not be forever, but is perfect for right now,” said Bruce Cleaver, CEO of De Beers Group in 2018.

Cleaver said his company was making this move informed by an extensive research that signals consumers regard lab-grown diamonds as a fun, pretty product that shouldn’t cost that much.

“We see an opportunity here that’s been missed by lab-grown diamond producers. Lab-grown diamonds are a product of technology, and as we’ve seen with synthetic sapphires, rubies and emeralds, as the technology advances, products become more affordable,” he said.

Initially De Beers has had a policy against synthetic diamonds however in 2018 the global diamond giant reported that after decades of investment into the extensive Research & Development the company could now offer consumers high quality gems with customer tailored cuts that suits fashion requisites better at affordable prices.

“While it will be a small business compared with our core diamond business, we think the Lightbox brand will resonate well with consumers at the same time provide a new, complementary commercial opportunity for De Beers Group,” observed the Group CEO.

De Beers Lightbox Jewellery brand is retailing in the market, with the product uptake by consumers satisfactory.

However, De Beers reiterated in many forums that it will remain a natural diamond business. In 2019 at the Diamond Conference held in Botswana, Bruce Clever said the over 100 year old mining giant will remain a primarily “natural” diamonds business because the mine stones are forever and offer something no any other product could offer.

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