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Job losses loom large

Botswana Power Corporation (BPC) intends to retrench, CEO Jacob Raleru

The Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs has informed President Lt Gen Ian Khama that 55 companies have submitted notifications of intent to restructure which might lead to retrenchment of employees during the next quarter, as required by the Employment Act.

This comes in the wake of further job losses reported by other companies including Kgalagadi Breweries this month. KBL retrenched 88 employees at its Lobatse plant.  Information on possible retrenchments surfaced at President Khama’s briefing by the Ministry last week.

According to Pearl Matome, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs, fourteen companies retrenched a total of 297 employees between March and June 2015. The sector that has had the highest number of retrenched employees is the diamond polishing industry. Zebra Diamond and Leo Schechter Botswana retrenched a total of 82 employees between them.

Notifications of intentions to restructure and retrench came from companies including – Botswana Power Corporation (BPC); Botswana Housing Corporation (BHC); Diamond Trading Company Botswana (DTCB); Botswana Investment and Trade Centre (BITC); Botswana Public Officers Pension Fund (BPOPF); and the Directorate of Public Service Management (DPSM), among others.

Matome has also revealed that the Employers’ Organisations Act is being reviewed with particular attention to dismissal process of non performing employees as there is an impression by employers that the process is long and therefore compromises productivity. She pointed out that the current laws were inherited from the pre-independence era and seem to be undermining productivity.

BPC going through transformation

A decision by the Botswana Power Corporation is currently subject to a Management Contract for a period of three years to enable the Corporation to achieve performance turnaround and organisational transformation.

This is said to have influenced the decision to restructure.

The decision was taken pursuant to a Business Operations Review consultancy that was carried out on BPC by an energy consultancy firm based in Ireland, ESB International Limited in 2013.

 A change process for BPC is envisaged that was largely brought about by the Corporation’s transformation from a retailer of power to an electricity generator with a higher asset base due to increased generation and transmission infrastructure.

“It is imperative that BPC be transformed from its current operating status to a financially viable power utility and  a BPC 2018 end state strategy has been developed to achieve this,” read an earlier statement by the BPC.

This is seen as an opportune time for the project given the following developments in the Botswana electricity industry; The external expertise will assist BPC to ready itself for competition in the electricity industry in line with Government’s decision to open up the market to independent power producers; With the imminent setting up of an electricity regulator, BPC will also be assisted to prepare itself to operate within a regulated environment.

The Management Contract service provider took over the operations of Botswana Power Corporation for a three year period to facilitate the transformation. The management and staff of BPC are participating in the transformation process with a view to leading the transformed organisation at the end of the contract period. It is expected that at the end of the three year Management Contract the service provider will deliver a transformed BPC in line with the agreed performance indicators.

DTC Botswana goes for efficiency

Diamond Trading Company Botswana (DTC Botswana) is a 50/50 Joint Venture partnership between the Government of the Republic of Botswana and De Beers. DTC Botswana sorts and values Debswana Diamond Company’s rough diamond production.

Debswana Diamond Company (Pty) Ltd is a 50/50 Joint Venture partnership between the Government of the Republic of Botswana and De Beers. DTCB could be embarking on a restructuring process because of market pressures and the need to optimise its operations.

BITC wants a lean organisation

BITC is mandated to promote export led investment and seek export markets for Botswana products. The parastatal has been operating amidst a still, subdued global economy that is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

However, despite the economic gloom, BITC believes that Botswana remains an attractive destination for investment not only in terms of the growing size of an increasingly affluent consumer base, but also taking into account the returns that investors have been able to achieve in Africa over the years.

BITC has a complex organisational structure, its possible re-organisation may phase out some positions, and there is little suggestion that there will be new posts created. Sources say the BITC may be looking at making the organisation leaner while still executing its mandate efficiently.   
DPSM may phase out posts

Government’s employing organ, the Directorate of Public Service Management has also notified the Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs of its intentions to restructure which may lead to retrenchments. This is despite the fact that government currently has over 10 000 vacancies.

The Minister of Finance and Development Planning has on a number of occasions indicated that government is going leaner and was looking at lowering the wage bill. There is generally a freeze of recruitment within government and most government departments are working towards having streamlined organisational structures. DPSM is likely to lead the way in trimming down staff numbers.

BHC has notified Government  

“The signs of recovery from the global financial crisis are creeping in at a slow pace and Botswana is not an exception. The local GDP is expected to grow by 5.9% during 2014. The growth is driven by the recovery in the mining sector, especially diamonds. The contribution of mining to GDP is still much less than the pre-2008 levels. This slow recovery has had a negative impact on the Botswana Housing Corporation as Government scaled down on new construction projects, leading to low activity in the construction and infrastructure sector. The prospective BHC customers were also affected as they struggled to afford the houses. In some cases, prospective customers prioritised other basic necessities like food and clothing over home ownership. It is evident that the BHC customers have not benefited from the low interest rates currently prevailing in the market due to issues of affordability of our houses,” wrote BHC chairperson in her report in the BHC 2014 annual report.

BHC as a parastatal is not doing badly. Their balance sheet looks healthy despite reduced economic activity which is acknowledged by the chairperson. It is evident that they may be going through a phase where they need to realign their workforce and slot them into a new structure that will promote efficiency. Observers are not expecting a full scale retrenchment but rather restructuring.
Government Austerity program  

When a government tightens its belt in tough economic times the entire nation feels the squeeze. With less money to pay for the full spectrum of government services because of declining tax revenues and increasing debt, deep cuts in expenditures would seem inevitable. Minister Kenneth Matambo has already alluded to the fact that government will have to make cuts in spending. He was emphatic on the need to reduce the government workforce among other things.  

At its simplest, an austerity program, usually enacted by legislation, may include one or more of the following:

A cut, or a freeze without raises, of government salaries and benefits.

A freeze on government hiring and layoffs of government workers.

A reduction or elimination of government services, temporarily or permanently.

Government expenditures may cut. Previously planned government spending programs – infrastructure construction and repair, healthcare and veterans' benefits, for example – may be cut, suspended or abandoned.

An increase in taxes, including income, corporate, property, sales and capital gains taxes.

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DIS blasted for cruelty – UN report

26th July 2022
DIS BOSS: Magosi

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.

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Stan Chart halts civil servants property loan facility

26th July 2022
Stan-Chart

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.

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Botswana ranked 129 in female MPs representation

26th July 2022
Minister of Finance & Economic Development Peggy Serame

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.

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