According to several local dealers, the relocation of locally-mined diamond sales, from London to Botswana is yet to produce the envisaged benefits to the local economy.
The US$5 billion dollar injection to the economy through the rough and polished diamond sales, is seen by observers as having the potential for a ,multiplier effect of two and a half times itself; P130 billion into the local economy annually, if harnessed to its full potential.
In an interview with BusinessPost, Mmetla Masire of the Diamond Hub said that after the relocation of the De Beers Sales to Gaborone, Government is now looking at developing a jewellery industry. Government, through the Diamond Hub, has instituted an internal study that will inform the development of jewelry manufacturing industry.
“We are lucky to have Shrenuj Botswana, the sole jewellery manufacturer in the country, and they can provide a test model for how best we can develop manufacturing.”
However, local diamond dealers are crying foul at the lack of legislation that compels diamond buyers to transact through them.
One local dealer who preferred anonymity told BusinessPost that: “These diamond buyers pay brokers fees everywhere, except here,” saying the law in other world centres, empowers the local dealers to reap substantially from billion dollar industry.
“So basically what has happened is that sales from moved from overseas and there are no other benefits for us.”
The dealer cites larger brokers such as Rothschilds and Henning as having their own clients and thus setting up in the country to facilitate their trade.
“But of the 200 buyers that come to ODC every month, if I had just 10 of them, I would have hired close to 12 people,” said the dealer.
“We actually had a manager at ODC, (name withheld) who told one of our clients that they did not need us, that they can buy direct; needless to say the client was gone the following month.”
“Imagine you had ten licensed brokers all employing about 10 to 15 people minimum,” said the dealer.
“We organise some business for ourselves and then when they realise they don’t need, us they bail”
But Masire insists that the issue of dealers’ contribution to the trade should be put in the proper context. “Botswana’s diamond trade processes are much smaller and uncomplicated; in India, you will have 800 diamond cutting factories and it makes sense to have locals there who know the terrain better; same as in Antwerp,” said Masire.
Masire says that the conundrum is caused by the need for buyers to view their purchases, and this necessitates their visits to Botswana, where they find out that they don’t need to deal through the brokers and dealers.
He concedes that in Botswana, there is no law that compels diamond buyers to go through dealers when transacting for diamonds. He adds that some diamond producing countries in the region, such as South Africa and Namibia, have suffered from over regulation and this has to be avoided.
“Dealers and brokers have complaints but they must lobby Government and make Government understand their point of view; they must group themselves or form associations because a one by one approach cannot be as effective.”
DIAMOND SECTOR OPPORTUNITIES Masire tells this publication that the opportunities in the diamond sector are infinite and the thinking that the sector is risky, is old thinking. He says that, perhaps Government has helped to perpetuate the perception that diamond business is low; on the contrary, the business is growing but not at pre recession levels.
“The industry changed post the recession and we have seen what used to be families now turning into companies that run the trade; banks have also become strict on the diamond trade, insisting that traders put up some of their own money when transacting, to share the risks involved,” said Masire.
Masire reveals that there are opportunities for training in the diamond sector, with only two institutions holding the fort, namely Afrimond Diamond Institute who teach broadly on issues surrounding the industry, and the GIA (Gemological Institute of America) who teach mostly about valuations.
He says the security sector also could hinge on the diamond industry, with Brinks and Malca-Amit, being the only significant players.
While only as much as 150 new jobs have been created with the relocation from London, the intention was to bring the diamantaire traffic to Botswana for multilier business and for Der Beers clients to access diamonds from other sellers; besides De Beers, other diamond companies are also holding their auctions in Botswana, with Lucara having held its first auction in November of 2014 and one to follow in two weeks.
ANTWERP VS BOTSWANA Botswana still has some way to go in emulating or even surpassing Belgium as a diamond centre, but the stage is set for this development to possibly take place in future. Botswana has since asserted itself as one of the global diamond centres of repute, after the relocation of Der Beers Global Sight Sales, a move meant to facilitate the arrival of diamantaires.
The world’s largest diamond trading hub with 80 percent of the world’s rough diamonds and 50 percent of polished diamonds traded through Antwerp Yearly turnover with a turnover of over €42 billion in 2011.
1st Belgian export product outside the EU. The leading component of Belgian trade with India, China and Russia Diamonds Account for 5 percent of Belgian Exports. Leader in global diamond compliance and Corporate Social Responsibility and 1,850 registered diamond businesses in Antwerp.
Diamonds create an added value of €1500 million for Belgium with more than 34,000 jobs in Flanders, contributing to 70 percent of Belgian trade surplus with High-end niche manufacturing. The fiscal and parafiscal contribution of the diamond sector is €300-€800 million year. Antwerp has in its Presence of the world’s largest diamond mining companies; BHP-Billiton, Rio Tinto, Alrosa and De Beers. Diamonds are an iconic facet of Antwerp’
Though Antwerp is currently the largest hub in the world, it is not sitting on its laurels, considering the threat from Botswana and other centres.
Cathy Berx, Governor, Province of Antwerp, Belgium, in a foreword of the Antwerp diamond Masterplan document released in 2012, mentions that: “I was first approached by some key players of the diamond industry who expressed their concern about the future of their sector in Antwerp. Citing aggressive competition and an ‘uneven playing field’, they feared that without a clear vision and strategy, the sector’s prospects of survival were slim.
Despite its problems, I felt there was tremendous potential; with strong leadership, unity and vision combined with a sense of innovation, professionalism and openness, the sector was capable of creating a new and brighter future for diamonds and for Antwerp.”
“My office was happy to facilitate a repositioning exercise that the sector would own and take responsibility for.”
“In addition to the many ideas and initiatives put forward, problems were identified, solutions discussed and new business areas targeted to keep Antwerp as world-leader in diamonds. I am particularly glad to see the exercise has been honest in tackling important issues such as transparency, compliance, individual responsibility, CSR and innovation driven by new technology. There was also a strong plea for a competitive fiscal operating template, as without this, successfully competing with India, Dubai or Botswana in the future, will always remain an uphill struggle,” said Cathy Berx.
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”