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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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WIN drills media executives on Sexual Harassment

27th November 2020
Sexual Harassment

As the media industry comes full circle with sexual harassment policies in the workplace, media houses have been urged to ensure that this process cuts a wide swath so as to broaden the buy in.

Media organizations have begun to reassess and revise their sexual harassment policies as WIN continues to heighten a campaign against sexual harassment in the workplace. All the while a handful of organizations are either at drafting or implementation level of the policy.

To help media organizations crack down on sexual harassment, WAN-IFRA Women In News (WIN) held its 15th Round Table Meeting (Virtual) on 5th November, 2020 aimed at furthering sensitisation on the subject.

Media executives from Sub-Saharan Africa who attended the Roundtable meeting were motivated to climb on the bandwagon to address sexual harassment in the workplace.

A renowned expert in human resource concepts, Carin Anderson, shared on managing and preventing sexual harassment in news organisations. Anderson explored on essential tools that could assist organisations to navigate sexual harassment complaints effectively.

Anderson cautioned media executives against condoning a culture of Sexual Harassment. Linking sexual harassment to the current situation where COVID-19 has put many media houses in the red, Anderson cautioned it could negatively affect productivity.

She said staff could be forced to exit organisations, a development that will ultimately affect the financial performance of the business.

By hook or crook, organisations need to draft and implement comprehensive sexual harassment policies that are comprehensible to staff. According to Anderson, media executives must ensure of policies that have a prevention and cure approach while at the same time avoiding reactionary approaches.

She is of the view that a thorough sexual harassment policy could protect brands, would-be victims and the organisation untainted culture.

While the debate on sexual harassment has been dominated by fits and starts, of late progress has been by leaps and bounds.  Anderson opined that conducting anonymous surveys continues to determine the culture of an organization hence helps create conducive working conditions for employees.

She observed that such surveys are very important because everyone is given a chance to air their views or concerns. In doing so, employees will feel comfortable and free to share their experiences.

Anderson further said anonymous surveys can also help to depict any unwanted behaviours in an organisation. Such surveys promote the culture of calling a spade a spade. She advised all media partners present at the meeting to create a safe and clean environment for their employees than to wait for the symptoms of sexual harassment to manifest.

“Organisations need to implement the policy and create more awareness through training. In order to create more awareness organisations need to come up with code of conduct and set procedures that promote zero tolerance for sexual harassment,” she said.

WIN executive Director, Melane Walker denoted that sexual harassment happens everywhere; and it is very important to have an internal policy that deals with it. Having a written internal policy has helped WIN to significantly navigate sexual harassment quandary, she said.

All participants were encouraged to have a Sexual Harassment policy and to share it with everyone in the organisation.

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Plight of GBV amid Covid-19

26th November 2020
16-days-of-activism

The United Nation’s UNiTE campaign has marked the beginning of 16 days of activism against Gender-based Violence which will end in December 10 2020, under the global theme, “Orange the world: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect!”

The UN Secretary-General’s UNiTE by 2030 to End Violence against Women campaign (UNiTE campaign), managed by UN Women — is a multi-year effort aimed at preventing and eliminating violence against women and girls around the world.

The UN Women’s generation equality campaign emphasises the call for global action to bridge funding gaps, ensure essential services for survivors of violence during the COVID-19 crisis, focus on prevention, and collection of data that can improve life-saving services for women and girls.

Furthermore, the UN Secretary General’s report maintains that this year is like no other. Even before Covid-19 hit, violence against women and girls had reached pandemic proportions.

Globally, according to United Nations, 243 million women and girls were abused by an intimate partner in the past year.

Meanwhile, less than 40 percent of women who experience violence report it or seek help.

Evidently they suggest that as countries implemented lockdown measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus, violence against women, especially domestic violence, intensified- in some countries, calls to helplines have increased five-fold.

“In others, formal reports of domestic violence have decreased as survivors find it harder to seek help and access support through the regular channels. School closures and economic strains left women and girls poorer, out of school and out of jobs, and more vulnerable to exploitation, abused, forced marriage, and harassment,” said the UN.

According to the UN, in April 2020 as the pandemic spread across the world, the UN Secretary-General called for “peace at home”, and 146 member states responded with their strong statement of commitment.

“In recent months 135 countries have strengthened actions and resources to address violence against women as part of the response to Covid-19. Yet, much more is needed,” said the report.

Moreover, they submit that as today, although the voices of activists and survivors have reached a crescendo that cannot be silenced or ignored, ending violence against women will require more investment, leadership and action.

“It cannot be sidelined; it must be part of every country’s national response, especially during the unfolding COVID-19 crisis,” contended the UN report.

For the 16 Days of Activism, UN Women handed over the mic to survivors, activists and UN partners on the ground, to tell the story of what happened after COVID-19 hit.

According to Dubravka Šimonovic, special rapporteur on violence against women, there is urgent need to end pandemic of femicide and violence against women.

Ahead of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, she emphasizes that as the world grapples with the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and its negative impact on women, a pandemic of femicide and gender-based violence against women is taking the lives of women and girls everywhere.

Therefore, she is calling on all States and relevant stakeholders worldwide to take urgent steps to prevent the pandemic of femicide or gender related killings of women, and gender-based violence against women, through the establishment of national multidisciplinary prevention bodies or femicide watches/observatories on violence against women.

These bodies should be mandated to 1) collect comparable and disaggregated data on femicide or gender-related killings of women; 2) conduct an analysis of femicide cases to determine shortcomings, and recommend measures for the prevention of such cases, and 3) ensure that femicide victims are not forgotten by holding days of remembrance.

“Data this mandate has collected since 2015 through my Femicide Watch initiative corroborates the data available from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, and indicates that among the victims of all intentional killings involving intimate partners, more than 80% of victims are women.  Many of these femicides are preventable. Since 2015, a growing number of States have either established femicide watches or observatories, and in an increasing number of countries, it is the independent human rights institutions, civil society organizations, women’s groups and/or academic institutions that have established femicide watches or observatories,” she argued.

GBV in Botswana

UNFDP (United Nations Population Fund) Botswana cites that, locally over 67 percent of women have experienced abuse, which is over double the global average.

“Gender-based violence undermines the health, dignity, security and autonomy of its victims, yet it remains shrouded in a culture of silence and normalization. Victims of violence, the majority of which are women and girls, can suffer sexual and reproductive health consequences, including forced and unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections including HIV, and even death,” indicated UNFDP

In his 2020 State of the Nation Address (SONA) he delivered on Monday 9th November at the Gaborone International Convention Centre (GICC), President Mokgweetsi Masisi said government is concerned about the snowballing of GBV incidences, saying, they have prioritized drafting of a Sexual Offenders Bill to be tabled during the sitting of the 12th Parliament.

“The Bill will establish a Sex Offenders’ Registry to record and publicise names and particulars of all persons convicted of sexual offences. To date twelve districts have set up the District Gender Committees in Chobe, Kweneng, Kgatleng, Kgalagadi, Maun, Serowe, Selibe-Phikwe, North East, Bobirwa Sub District, Mabutsane Sub District, Goodhope Sub District as well as Mahalapye Sub District. These committees will promote gender equality and women’s empowerment, and also address gender based violence,” Masisi said.

The President highlighted that the Botswana Police Service, which has been dealing a lot with GBV cases has taken swift action and introduced a Toll-Free number for reports on gender based violence. He further indicated that the Police will establish a Gender and Child Protection Unit

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Transgender persons in Botswana live a miserable life

23rd November 2020
Transgender persons

An international report complied in South Africa dubbed ‘Legal Gender Recognition in Botswana’ says that the transgender and gender non-conforming people in Botswana live a miserable life. The community experiences higher levels of discrimination, violence and ill health.

In this report, it has been indicated that this is because their gender identity, which does not conform to narrowly define societal norms, renders them more vulnerable. Gender identity is a social determinant of health, which means that it is a factor that influences people’s health via their social context, their communities and their experiences of social exclusion. The Ministry of Health and Wellness has recognized this, and transgender people are considered a vulnerable population under the Botswana Second National Strategic Framework for HIV and AIDS 2010-2017.

In a recent study that shed light on the lived experiences of transgender and gender non-conforming people in Botswana, transgender persons often experience discrimination because of their gender identity and expression. The study was conducted by the University of Cape Town, LEGABIBO, BONELA, as well as Rainbow Identity Association and approved by the Health Ministry as well as the University of Botswana.

Of the 77 transgender and gender non-conforming people who participated in the study, less than half were employed. Two thirds, which is approximately 67% said that they did not have sufficient funds to cover their everyday needs. Two in five had hidden health concerns from their healthcare provider because they were afraid to disclose their gender identity.

More than half said that because of their gender identity, they had been treated disrespectfully at a healthcare facility (55%), almost half (46%) said they had been insulted at a healthcare facility, and one quarter (25%) had been denied healthcare because of their gender identity.

At the same time, the ‘Are we doing right’ study suggests that transgender and non-conforming people might be at higher risks of experiencing violence and mental ill-health, compared to the general population. More than half had experienced verbal embarrassment because of their gender identity, 48% had experienced physical violence and more than one third (38%) had experienced sexual violence.

The study showed that mental health concerns were high among transgender and gender non-conforming people in Botswana. Half of the transgender and gender non-conforming study participants (53%) showed signs of depression. Between one in four and one in six showed signs of moderate or severe anxiety (22% among transgender women, 24% among transgender men and 17% among gender non-conforming people).

Further, the study revealed that many had attempted suicide: one in three transgender women (32%), more than one in three transgender men (35%) and three in five gender non-conforming people (61%).

International research, as well as research from Botswana, suggests that not being able to change one’s gender marker has a negative impact on access to healthcare and mental health and wellbeing. The study further showed that one in four transgender people in Botswana (25%) had been denied access to healthcare. This is, at least in part, linked to not being able to change one’s gender marker in the identity documents, and thus not having an identity document that matches one’s gender identity and gender expression.

In its Assessment of Legal and Regulatory Framework for HIV, AIDS and Tuberculosis, the Health Ministry noted that “transgender persons in Botswana are unable to access identity documents that reflect their gender identity, which is a barrier to health services, including in the context of HIV. In one documented case, a transwoman’s identity card did not reflect her gender identity- her identity card photo indicated she was ‘male’. When she presented her identity card at a health facility, a health worker called the police who took her into custody.”

The necessity of a correct national identity document goes beyond healthcare. The High Court of Botswana explains that “the national identity document plays a pivotal role in every Motswana’s daily life, as it links him or her with any service they require from various institutions. Most activities in the country require every Motswana to produce their identity document, for identification purposes of receiving services.”

According to the Legal Gender Recognition in Botswana report, this effectively means that transgender, whose gender identity and expression is likely to be different from the sex assigned to them at birth and from what is recorded on their identity document, cannot access services without risk of denial or discrimination, or accusations of fraud.

In this context, gays and lesbians advocacy group LEGABIBO has called on government through the Department of Civil and National Registration to urgently implement the High Court rulings on gender marker changes. As stated by the High Court in the ND vs Attorney General of Botswana judgement, identity cards (Omang) play an important role in the life of every Motswana. Refusal and or delay to issue a Motswana with an Omang is denying them to live a complete and full-filing life with dignity and violates their privacy and freedom of expression.

The judgement clarified that persons can change their gender marker as per the National Registrations Act, so changing the gender marker is legally possible. There is no need for a court order. It further said the person’s gender is self-identified, there is no need to consult medical doctors.

LEGABIBO also called on government to develop regulations that specify administrative procedure to change one’s gender marker, and observing self-determination process. Further, the group looks out for government to ensure members of the transgender community are engaged in the development of regulations.

“We call on this Department of Civil and National Registration to ensure that the gender marker change under the National Registration Act is aligned to the Births and Deaths Registry Act to avoid court order.

Meanwhile, a gay man in Lobatse, Moabi Mokenke was recently viciously killed after being sexually violated in the streets of Peleng, shockingly by his neighbourhood folks. The youthful lad, likely to be 29-years old, met his fate on his way home, from the wearisome Di a Bowa taverns situated in the much populated township of Peleng Central.

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