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Matsheka maiden Briefcase Affair packed with fiscal consolidation headache

When many take their thoughts off this weekend, the next thing that should come in mind is an iconic black briefcase which is synonymous with the biggest annual national event in this country, where it seems fashion meets serious fiscal business action, slated after the next 48 hours -the Budget Speech.

Thoughts right now move to the legendary Parliament building corridors with a lot of anticipations to see the Oscar Awards-esque figure of a black-suited Dr Thapelo Matsheka, strutting on a much photographed red carpet while clenching onto the symbolic black briefcase. The next step will be for Matsheka to take on the altar inside the Parliament chambers where he will give audience to political figures inside the building, which might also include President Mokgweetsi Masisi.

For legislators across the political divide, it will be business as usual inside, but for the business community it will be the most attentive affair, economists will be listening  in coming with a lot of burden of expertise on their shoulders. As for the nation; those at vendor markets, some at drinking spots, others holding slashers clearing out long summer grass along the roadsides, and folks who will be inside their cars as radio sound systems broadcast the Budget Speech.

Some will be sitting under shades with pulled out radio antennas at some village corner while others will have their eyes fixated on Matsheka through their television sets or some viewing livestream broadcast pop ups on their mobile phones trying to make sense out of the thick fiscal language which will come out of the minister’s debut fiscal speech.

The political figure with the briefcase and his audience

More than 95 percent interacted with Matsheka on his personal Facebook page this week, of those more than 50 commentators, were all positive on that he will deliver their promises through the Speech. In an announcement where he stated that he will tour all the five national radio stations before and after the Budget Speech is read, he received more than 300 positive reactions from followers with some “hoping for more enlightenment, considering your past as a lecture”, some reminding him that “public servants and Vocational Training Colleges and brigades are waiting patiently.”

Some were fixated at an apparent democratic or a political gesture of having a Minister addressing the public on the national budge. While one advised the Minister to “be careful of negative voices….this is your first as Minister.” Some, a minority of the interactors, “don’t want to hear politicians talk…we want to see tangible developments….you probably want to lie to us”, someone expects “talk talk but no action, an all-time song put on repeat always”.

Speaking from legislators’ Budget Speech retreat this week at Selibe Phikwe, Matsheka said he would not mind any economic or fiscal issues discussion with the media, but this publication could not engage him further since he was held up at a cabinet retreat.

But Matsheka’s suitcase could be containing a negative budget


During one of Matsheka’s first task in the treasury, the draft mid-term review of National Development Plan (NDP) 11, which covers government’s planned project expenditure for the years running from 2017 to 2023, the Minister painted a gloomy picture of this country’s purse, something which might also reflect on his briefcase this coming Monday.

This year is the halfway year bridging government plans towards the end of NDP 11, to 2023, but according to Matsheka last year, government continues to tackle simmering and growing budget deficits which needs to be tackled amid diamond revenue failing to square up with the ever increasing government revenue.

It was like a good dream when the government foresaw a minor six year budget surplus of just over P1 billion for NDP 11. But a contradicting projection shows that this country will have a budget deficit of over P18 billion over the six year period, which is now on its fourth year. A disturbing trend of budget deficits has been traced back to NDP 10 or the budget of 2013/14, where a shortfall of P7.2 billion was recorded, crossing over to the next financial year where it fell down but only at P -4.8 billion. 

Towards the current NDP, in the 2016 financial period, government had a budget surplus of P8.3 billion before a meagre surplus of P27 million during the beginning period of NDP 11, then a promising P2.7 billion in 2017/2018. After that, government budget has been appearing on a negative, P7.3 billion in 2018/19 and P7.79 billion in 2019/20.

It is not over until the fat lady sings with government budget deficits as they are expected to run over the whole of NDP 11. A notable deficit is expected to record P6.94 billion in 2020/21 financial year, but a revival by a surplus in the year before the end of NDP 11 is projected at P4 billion 2021/22.  

Public wages hike to also weigh in on Matsheka‘s briefcase

In a brief interview with BusinessPost this week, economist Othata Batsetswe said an expected budget deficit will come mostly as a result of planned salary increment which was made by President Masisi last year to run for two financial years. Government should now feel the pinch of public service salary hike, according to Batsetswe.

The economist explained that the last 10 percent salary increase on public service Grades A to B and a 6 percent increment for Grades C and D which would eat away P2 billion from the national bill will be felt even in this financial year. Government has further increased disciplined forces’ special allowance by 20 percent.

Government revenues failing to go up against the ever stubborn expenditure

Diamonds revenue continue to fall with the unreliable rough diamond sales always going down and the production being restricted by the slowing of demands.  The downward revision of P24.1 billion for extension of the lives of mines dubbed Cut 9 and 3 projects will also hold down Botswana’s dividends.

Latest released statistics from Statistics Botswana, shows Botswana choking at a trade deficit of more than P3 billion. And this current drift is contributed mostly by the dwindling diamond exports, a red flag for the diamond dependent economy. Latest released International Merchandise Trade Statistics which covers the last quarter of 2019 until now for a period running from October 2019, shows Botswana registered a trade deficit of P3, 425.1 million.

Matsheka’s gamble on fiscal consolidation and increase of revenue

Last year Matsheka revealed before Parliament that government plans to increase revenue by increasing taxes. This country‘s tax to GDP is at 22.3 percent and remains below the benchmark of emerging economies. Botswana’s tax to Gross Domestic Product ratio is still below the benchmark for emerging market economies such as South Africa, whose ratio currently sits at 26 per cent compared to Botswana’s 22.3percent for the 2017/18 financial year. Botswana Unified Revenue Service (BURS) in its recent Strategic Plan 2019 to 2024, requires the improvement in the tax to GDP ratio to reach by March 2024.


Increase on taxes in the coming Budget Speech

In the 2017 Budget Presentation, former Finance Minister Kenneth Matambo, hinted that government should increase its revenue base by hiking taxes. Matsheka echoed his predecessor’s words suggesting that government is not ruling out the possibility of increasing tax anytime soon. He is quoted by newspapers saying that Botswana has one of the lowest VAT rates in the world and that government is mulling at extending its tax base to informal or cash-based activities or considering new taxes, increasing tax rates or reducing exemptions.

Tax consultant Jonathan Hore told this publication that it is apparent from the above quotes that there is pressure on government to find ways of increasing tax revenues. He contrasted this country’s VAT with its SADC counterparts and said it is lower and should be from the current 12 percent to 14 percent or 15 percent.

“Economists have pointed out that the Botswana VAT rate is too low and this would be unsustainable in the long run. It is a well-known fact that Botswana has the lowest VAT rate in SADC (12 percent), whilst the average VAT rate in the region is 15.3 percent,” Hore said. The Tax consultant said considering that an increase in the VAT rate automatically increases the prices of goods and services, such a move will be technically correct but it will cut everyone’s purchasing power and significantly hurt the lowly paid and the poor.

“Inflation shot up in 2010 after the VAT rate was increased effective 1 April 2010 from 10 percent to 12 percent and this is expected to also happen should the authorities up the VAT rate. As an alternative, the authorities could consider introducing a Financial Transactions Tax (FTT) at a minimal amount on financial transactions such as bank deposits and withdrawals (both electronic, physical and at ATMs), swiping for purchases with a bank card, the purchase of shares (listed and unlisted), conversion of currencies, international money transfers through designated agents and money transactions facilitated by telecommunications giants, among others,” said the tax consultant.

He said the magnitude of these transactions is so huge and a minimal tax of say P3.50/transaction could raise around P1bn/annum, based on the author’s assumed transactions of 700 000/day. A 3 percent increase in VAT, according to Hore will only yield around P180m/annum, based on BURS records that it collected about P6bn in 2016/2017 year. He further said: “The beauty about FTTs is that they only target the ‘haves’ and they are not inflationary. Other countries which have introduced FTTs or some form/s of FTTs are South Africa, Egypt, UK, Colombia, Zimbabwe and USA.”

Hore also expects the Budget Speech to come with corporate tax hike. It will not be surprising to get a corporate tax hike from the current 22 percent to +/-25 percent, based on previous indications by authorities for the need to increase revenue. Botswana has the second lowest corporate tax rate in SADC as the average corporate tax rate in the region is 28.03 percent.


PAYE is also lower, with South Africa PAYE rate said to be higher at 45 percent. While Botswana’s PAYE is at 25 percent the average PAYE rate in SADC at the highest bracket is 32.6 percent. Hore expects both PAYE and VAT to be increased on Monday, but that will result reduced purchasing power for the public, as increased PAYE takes away part of disposable income and so does a VAT increase. The tax consultant said this may further contract the economy due to reduced disposable income.
Hore also expects government to also introduce presumptive taxes for the first time and this will mean taxing even the informal sector.

But tax experts believe there will rather be reduction of tax exemptions than increase of tax rates by government. This is because some see increment of taxes to be an economic impediment while minimizing exemptions would be more efficient.
Economist Batsetswe is of a strong view that government should rather maximize its collection of taxes than to jump at the decision of increasing tax rates. He believes when government increases taxes they will have far reaching consequences on the working population and the poor. He also said minimizing exemptions and increase of taxes may also scare away investors.  

Advice

Batsetswe expects Matsheka to mention reinforcement of moratorium on new parastatals; rationalization of parastatals and some being privatized. He also advised that government should refrain on building new offices or buildings and give the task to the private sector or a PPP arrangement takes over, something which should start with the Monday Speech. As it was said in last year budget planning paper and the State of the Nation Address, Batsetswe also agrees the public service should be rationalized and a freeze of new jobs is needed as Botswana wage bill is high.

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Details emerge in suspected Batswana poachers in Namibia

28th June 2022
suspected Motswana poacher arrested

New details about a suspected Motswana poacher arrested in Namibian and his accomplice who is on the run were revealed when the suspect appeared in court this week.

The Motswana Citizen who was shot and wounded by Namibia’s anti poaching unit is facing criminal charges under criminal case number (CR NO 10/06/2022) which was registered at the Divundu Police Station in the Mukwe constituency of the Kavango East Region on 10 June 2022.

It is alleged that a patrol team laid an ambush after discovering a giraffe’s fresh carcass in a snare wire and hanging biltong.  According to the Charge Sheet, the suspect Djeke Dihutu, aged 40 years, is charged with contravening and transgressions of Nature Conservation Ordinance andcontravening Immigration Act 07 in Mahango Wildlife Core Area, Bwabwata National Park. Dihutu’s first court appearance was on the 17th of June 2022, Rundu and it was postponed to the 07 July 2022. He is currently hospitalized in hospital under Police Guards.

Commenting on this latest development, the Namibian Lives Matter Movement National Chairperson Sinvula Mudabeti applauded the Namibian Anti Poaching Unit for its compliance with what it called the universal instrument on the Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials adopted by the United Nations General Assembly resolution 34/169.

“We are aware that the duties of the police carry a great deal of risk, but our police has shown that they have a moral calling and obligation to protect even foreigners suspected of serious crimes on Namibian soil,” said Mudabeti.

According to him, whereas the Botswana Police Service, the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) and Directorate of Intelligence Service (DIS) have “very low moral ethics, integrity, accountability and honesty, the Namibian security agencies has shown very high levels of ethical leadership in the discharge of their duties even under duress.”

He said Namibian’s anti poaching unit has exercised one very important value, that is, the use of force only when it is reasonable and necessary. Mudabeti said this is in harmony with international best practices as enshrined in Article 2 of the UN instrument on law enforcement conduct, “In the performance of their duty, law enforcement officials shall respect and protect human dignity and maintain and uphold the human rights of all persons.

Our police have protected the life of a Botswana poacher and accorded him dignity, which is very foreign to our Botswana counterparts,” he said. He said article 3 of the same instrument above, calls for Law enforcement officials to use force only when strictly necessary and to the extent required for the performance of their duty.

“This provision emphasizes that the use of force by law enforcement officials should be exceptional; while it implies that law enforcement officials may be authorized to use force as is reasonably necessary under the circumstances for the prevention of crime or in effecting or assisting in the lawful arrest of suspected offenders, no force going beyond that was used by our Police,” he said.

Furthermore, Mudabeti said, whereas the universally accepted norm of the law of proportionality ordinarily permits the use of force by law enforcement, it is to be understood that such principles of proportionality in no case should be interpreted to authorize the use of force which is disproportionate to the legitimate objective to be achieved.

“Our police have used force proportional to the situation at hand. Great work indeed! Article 6 urges law enforcement officials to ensure the full protection of the health of persons in their custody and, in particular, shall take immediate action to secure medical attention whenever required,” he said.

Mudabeti said the Botswana poacher was immediately taken to hospital whereas the Nchindo brothers who were captured on Namibian soil, beaten, tortured and executed while pleading to be taken to the hospital we left to die.

“The Namibian Doctor gave evidence in court that Sinvula Munyeme’s lungs showed signs of life (during the autopsy) and that he could have survived if he was accorded immediate medical assistance in time but was left to die while BDF soldiers looked and possibly ignored his cry for help,” he said.

Mudabeti said unlike in Botswana where there are no clear separation of powers between the BDF, Botswana Police Service, Department of Intelligence and their Directorate of Public Prosecutions,” we have a system that allows for checks and balances and allows our people and foreigners who are found on the wrong side of the law to be accorded the right to a fair trial.”

He said Botswana citizens are treated with dignity when apprehended in Namibia and not assaulted, tortured and executed. “We are a civilized country that respects international law in dealing with non-Namibian criminals. The Namibian Police have not mistreated the Botswana poacher but have given him the benefit of the doubt by allowing due processes of the law to be followed,” he said.

He added that, “We are a peace loving nation that has not repaid Botswana by the evil that Botswana has done to Namibia by killing more than 37 innocent and unarmed Namibians by the trigger happy BDF.” He concluded that, “Our acts of mercy in arresting Botswana citizens should never be mistaken for cowardice.”

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Gov’t, Unions clash over accommodation

28th June 2022
accomodation

The government has reportedly taken a decision to terminate provision of pool housing and subsidy for civil servants as it attempts to trim the public service wage bill.

This emerges in a dispute that is currently before the Labour Office headquarters lodged by unions representing thousands of civil servants across the country. This publication understands that the decision to cease providing pool housing and rental subsidy for public officers is part of proposals that government put on the table during its negotiations with public service unions in order for it to adjust salaries.

A letter from Labour Office addressed to the Directorate of Public Service Management (DPSM) shows that the directorate is cited as the First Respondent. The letter is titled, “Dispute lodged: Cessation of provision of pool housing and subsidy for pubic officers.”

“This serves as a notification and requirement to a mediation hearing,” the letter informed DPSM. According to the letter, the Botswana Teachers Union (BTU), Botswana Sectors of Educators Trade Unions (BOSETU) Botswana Nurses Union (BONU) and Botswana Land Board &Local Authorities &Health workers Union (BLLAHW) who lodged the complaint are cited as the Applicant.

“Please come for mediation hearing. The hearing will be conducted by Mr Lebang. The hearing is scheduled for date/time 29th June 2022, 09: 00HOURS at Block 8 District Labour Office, Gaborone. Please bring all relevant documents,” reads the letter in part.

According to a document described as a proposal paper on the negotiations on salaries and other conditions of employment of public officers by the employer (government), the government did not only propose to stop providing accommodation to civil servants but also put a number of proposals on the table.

The proposal papers states that the negotiations (which have since been concluded) cover three government financial years; 2022/23, 2023/24 and 2024/25. The government proposed an across the board salary adjustments as follows; 3% for the financial year 2022/23 effective 1st April 2022, across the board salary adjustment of 3.5% for the financial year 2023/24 effective 1st April 2023 subject to performance of the economy and across the board salary adjustment of 4% for the financial year 2024/25 effective 1st April 2024 subject to performance of the economy.

The government also proposed phasing out of retention and attractive (Scarce Skills) Allowance with a view to migration towards clean pay, renegotiate and set new timelines for all outstanding issues contained in the Collective Labour Agreement, executed by the employer and trade unions on the 27th August 2019, to ensure proper sequencing, alignment and proper implementation.
The government also proposed to freeze public service recruitment for the 2022/23 financial year and withdraw the financial equivalence of P500 million attached to vacancies from Ministries, Department and Agencies (MDAs).

Another proposal included phasing out of commuted overtime allowance and payment of overtime in accordance with the law and review human resource policies during the financial year 2022/23, 2023/24 and 2024/25.

The government argued that its proposals were premised on affordability and sustainability adding that it was important to underscore that the review of salaries and conditions of service for public officers was taking place at a time when there were uncertainties both in the global and domestic economies.

“Furthermore there is need to ensure that any collective labour agreement that is concluded does not breach the fiscal deficit target of 4% of GDP,” the proposal paper stated. The proposal paper further indicated that beyond salary adjustments, the Government of Botswana is of the view that a more comprehensive consideration “must be taken on the issue of remuneration in the public service by embracing principles such as total rewards compensation which involves taking a fully comprehensive and holistic approach to how our organization compensates employees for the work.”

The proposal paper also noted that, “Clearly, the increase in salaries and changes to other conditions of service which have monetary consequences will further increase the proportion of the budget taken by salaries, allowances and other monetary based conditions of services.”

“The consequential effect would be a reduction of the portion that can be used for other recurrent budget needs (e.g. maintenance of assets, consumable supplies such as medicines and books) and for development projects,” the proposal states.

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BPF NEC probes Serowe squabbles

28th June 2022
BPF

Opposition Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) National Executive Committee will in no time investigate charges party members worked with the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) membership to tip the scales in favour of the latter for Serowe Sub-council Chairmanship in exchange for deputy seat in a dramatic 11th hour gentleman’s deal, leaving the ruling party splinter under the political microscope.

In a spectacular Sub-council election membership last Thursday, the ruling BDP’s Lesedi Phuthego beat Atamelang Thaga with 14 votes to 12 for Serowe Sub-council Chairmanship coveted seat and subsequently the ruling party’s councilor Bernard Kenosi withdrew his candidacy in the final hour for the equally admired deputy chair paving the way for Solomon Dikgang of BPF, seen as long sealed ‘I scratch your back and you scratch mine’ gentleman’s agreement between the contenders.

Both parties entered the race with a tie of votes torn between 12 councillors each, translating for election race that will go down to the wire definitely. But that will not be the case as two BPF councilors shifted their allegiance to the ruling party during the first race for Chairmanship held in a secret ballot and no sooner was the election concluded then the ruling party answered back by withdrawing its candidacy for the deputy chair position to give BPF’s Dikgang the post on a silver platter unopposed.

BPF councilor Vuyo Notha confirmed the incident in an interview on Wednesday, insisting the party NEC was determined to “investigate the matter soon”. “During the race for the Chairmanship, two more BPF voted for alongside the ruling party membership. It was clear Dikgang voted alongside the BDP as immediately after the vote for Chairmanship was concluded, Kenosi withdraw his candidacy to render Dikgang unopposed as a payback,” Notha added.

As for the other vote, Makolo ward councilor will not be drawn for the identity preferring instead to say: “BPF NEC will convene all the councilors to investigate the matter soon and we will take from there.” Notha will also not be drawn to conclude may be the culprit councilors could have defected to the ruling party silently.

“If they are no longer part of us they should say so and a by-election be called,” was all he could say. As it stands now, the law forbids sitting Councilors and Parliamentarians from crossing the floor to another party as to do so will immediately invite for a new election as dictated by the law. Incumbent politicians will therefore dare not venture for the unknown with a by-election that could definitely cost their political life and certainly their full benefits.

Notha could also not be dragged to link the culprit councilors actions to BPF Serowe region Chairperson Tebo Thokweng who has silently defected to the ruling party and currently employed by the party businessman and former candidate for Serowe West Moemedi Dijeng as PRO for the highly anticipated cattle abattoir project in Serowe.

“As for Thokweng he has not resigned from the party but from the region’s chairmanship,” he said. WeekendPost investigations suggest Thokweng is the secret snipper behind the recruitment drive of the votes for the elections and is determined to tear the party dominance in Serowe and the neighbouring villages asunder including in Palapye going forward.

This publication’s investigations also show BPF’s Radisele and UDC’s Mokgware/Mogome councilors are under the radar of investigations for the votes-themselves associated with the workings and operations of Thokweng.

“NEC will definitely leave no stone unturned with their investigations to get into the bottom of the matter. Disciplinary actions will follow certainly,” Notha concluded, underscoring the need to toe the party line to set a good precedent. For the youthful councilor, the actions of his peers has set a wrong precedent which has to be dealt with seriously to deter future culprits.

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