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.
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.
A squabble has broken out between Pule Mosala Funeral Parlour and the Botswana Police Service (BPS) over the remains of a South African national who has been in the Mosala mortuary for more than nineteen months. The deceased was one of 10 suspects who were controversially shot dead during a lengthy shootout with law enforcement authorities in Gaborone’s Phase 2 early last year.
The deceased individual’s family based in Soweto, has encountered difficulties in repatriating the body which has been in the care of Mosala Mortuary Services. Following the incident, it has emerged that all 10 bodies were transported to PFG mortuary in Lobatse for a brief period while the police attempted to locate their next of kin. It is reported that the families of the deceased were eventually identified and informed to come and identify their loved ones, including other South African nationals who were part of the criminal group. These families also witnessed the autopsy procedures conducted at Princess Marina Hospital in Gaborone.
Except for the family from Soweto, nine of the bodies were claimed and taken by their separate relatives. The Soweto family claims they lack the resources to bring the body back to South Africa and has made it known that they are looking for money. To end the supposed verbal agreement over the body’s storage for repatriation, Mosala Funeral Service has filed a case against the police at the Lobatse High Court.
According to Keakantse Mmotlhana, the company’s Sales and Marketing Manager, 10 people who were killed in Phase 2 by gunfire were all temporarily transferred to one of PFG’s branches in Lobatse by the police while efforts were made to find their next of kin. She expressed outrage at the statement made by the Minister of Defense and Security, recently.
After Assistant Police Commissioner Dipheko Motube called her office to apologize for giving the Minister wrong information during a news conference, she confirmed that they had accepted the apologies. He made it clear that one of the victims was still at Pule Mortuary in Lobatse.
Bushie Mosala, the director and owner of Mosala Funeral Services, confirmed that the body of a South African national has been in his mortuary for the past nineteen months. He expressed his desire for the police to remove the corpse from the mortuary, characterising the situation as a “nightmare.” He has instructed his legal team to file a lawsuit against the police in the Lobatse High Court concerning the body.
Mosala urged the acting Police Commissioner to come forward and apologize to the nation for the situation, asserting that the public has the right to know the truth regarding the body of the South African national, w
C -002Bhich was preserved by the police as evidence.
The South African High Commission in Gaborone had not responded to queries from Weekend Post at the time going of going to press.
Botswana Sectors of Teachers Union (BOSETU) has expressed alarm over a troubling trend by the government. Tobokani Rari, Secretary General of the BOSETU, stated that it appears that these days, whenever there is a dispute between workers and the government, the administration is fast to run to the courts to attempt and muffle unions.
“This is quite disturbing development, we have seen it with the Botswana Doctors Union, there was a disagreement over the shift allowance, government rushed to court, they indeed got order that was saying the doctors should go and do the work. We have seen it with the nurses, they rushed to court they got the order, we are now seeing it with the teachers, they rushed to the court and they got what they wanted,” said Rari, who also served as the Secretary General of BOFEPUSU.
Rari raised concerns that the government’s enforcement of teacher’s work, through a court order will result in reduced classroom productivity and morale. Rari added that this situation would negatively impact labour relations and teachers emotional wellbeing due to dissatisfaction in their work places leading to persistently poor academic outcomes.
“You can get an order that forces people to work, but what happens at work, it heightens emotions, it destroys relationships and the morale goes down and productivity does. Courts and judgments don’t solve productivity issues. Productivity only comes when people are satisfied at the workplace, so if you force them to work through a court order then you may not get the maximum out of the working population,” said Rari
MESD vs BOSETU COURT CASE
“As you are aware, the Ministry of Education approached courts and they were demanding three things from the court in this case between BOSETU and the ministry. First, they were demanding that the joint letter that was written by BOSETU and Botswana Teachers Union (BTU) asking members to stop doing course work because there was no agreement be declared unlawfully and BOSETU should write to its members and withdraw that letter within 24hrs. The second thing that they were looking for, was to interdict BOSETU from further issuing any instructions to that effect going forward. Lastly was that court should hold BOSETU to pay the cost of the lawsuit on a punitive scale,” Rari said.
Rari stated that the court decided to rule in favour of the Ministry of Education on all three relieves sought, that the savingram should be declared unlawful, that BOSETU should withdraw the contents savingram within 24hrs.
Court also said BOSETU should not issue any of such instructions going forward up until the case of contempt that BOSETU has taken to court, the contempt of the 2009 judgment has been decided. Court also awarded cost to the ministry on a punitive scale.
“BOSETU is a law abiding citizen and therefore we are bound by any laws and judgments that are there in Botswana and arise on the courts of Botswana hence we have complied with the order. On the 31st after the court case, we wrote to all our members and told them that the contents of that savingram as far as coursework is concerned has been withdrawn,” said Rari.
Rari said what happened in this case is that the judge decided to listen to the urgency without the responding affidavits of the opposing party, BOSETU, and went on to rule the merit of the case, which surprised the union.
“However we have been in discussion with our lawyers because if we leave things like this, we feel like we cannot leave that unchallenged. We have taken a decision to appeal the judgment,” Rari confirmed.
2023 COURSEWORK AND INVIGILATION AGREEMENT
“We would like to make our members aware that the following day after the judgment, we were able to meet the Ministry of Education and we have arrived at a conclusion that we signed an agreement that coursework rates will be increased by 5%. If court had ruled that coursework is the duty of the teachers’ means it wouldn’t have been any agreement after the court case, it tells you that the issue is still open and it is on the table. We have arrived at an agreement that there is going to be an increment on all components of coursework and invigilation,” Rari pointed out.
Rari further explained that Article 2 says union party is to submit detailed proposals on the intensity of the coursework for further engagement. Intensity of coursework means where the coursework payment starts in terms of varying from different subjects. He said the outcome based subject that are taught Maun Senior Secondary School and Moeng college which are agriculture and hotel and tourism is that ministry have agreed and acknowledge that there are some peculiarity in their coursework and therefore should be paid in line with the peculiarities that are contained in their coursework.
Rari pointed out the resolutions taken at the conference where the issue of application of corporal punishment was addressed. “BOSETU will issue out a memo to their members to advise them that they should not apply corporal punishment, they should leave it to be applied in line with the Education Act.”
The Botswana Meat Commission (BMC) which had struck a deal with the Ministry of Education to supply some schools in the northern part of the country is counting losses as mass migration of buffalos jeopardize the Commission’s plans.
Information reaching this publication shows that the beef exporter was recently given the greenlight to supply government schools with beef. According to documents seen by this publication, as a result BMC had scheduled to buy and collect cattle in the Nata-Gweta and Boteti constituencies from 11 to 17 September.
This was after BMC and the Ministry of Education struck a deal for the former to supply government schools with beef. Letters exchanged between Ministry officials state that it has been recommended to the ministry to support BMC by allowing it to supply schools with beef products.
The Ministry indicated that it was aware that some schools have contracts that are currently running with suppliers such as local butcheries.
The Ministry revealed that at the same time BMC has 256 tins of frozen quality meat at its Maun Plant.
The Ministry requested the Director-Regional Operations to appoint an officer to manage the procurement of meat for schools that do not currently have running contracts. The Ministry further stated that Modalities of collection will be arranged between the region and the schools identified.
According to the Ministry, a list of schools including the condition of their cold rooms and their number of deliveries and kilograms per week they buy should be compiled. The Ministry also requested its officials to share the list with headquarters and the acting director-Basic Education, and engage BMC accordingly to procure.
But this plan ran into trouble after it emerged that between 300 to 500 buffalos migrated from the buffalo fence area to Nata, Dukwi and Mosetse areas.
The Department of Veterinary Services sprang into acting by revising movement protocol for cloven-hoofed animals with immediate effect following buffalo sightings in zone 3b which covers Nata/Sowa, zone 3c which is around the Dukwi areas as well as zone 6a, which covers the Mosetse area, which fall under zones, 3b, 3c, 5,6a and 8.
The Department of Veterinary Services indicated that as a result, movement of live cloven-hoofed animals and their products out of zones 3b, 3c, 5, 6a and 8 were prohibited and that movement of live cloven-hoofed animals within and into these zones is only allowed for direct slaughter at licensed slaughter facilities under veterinary movement permit issued through BAITS.
The department also indicated that the movement of fresh products derived from cloven-hoofed animals such as raw milk, skins and fresh meat into these zones is also only allowed under a similar arrangement.
Movement of live cloven-hoofed animals into these zones for rearing and other purposes will not be allowed, and farmers and the general public is requested to continue being vigilant and report any buffalo sightings to the nearest veterinary office, the police or the Department of Wildlife and National Parks, the department said.
Meanwhile the Ministry of Agriculture has stated that following the press release on prohibition of movement of live cloven-hooved animals and their products in and out of Zones 3b, 3c, 5, 6a & 8, the acting Minister of Agriculture Karabo Gare, his counterpart Acting Minister of Environment, Wildlife & Tourism Mabuse Pule, acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture Mr. Joshua Moloi, Director of Veterinary Services Dr Kefentse Motshegwa and other government officials visited the areas of Sepako and Dukwi respectively on a mission to consult with communities regarding the invasion of the places by buffalos.
Minister Gare alluded that they have been sent by the President of Botswana, who is equally worried by the current situation. He noted that the affected areas have a total of around 300000 cattle and if the situation goes unchecked, there might be detrimental effects on the economy of this country.
He encouraged the communities to help government going forward by reporting any spotted buffalos in their areas, emphasizing that buffalos are dangerous and can kill people and that care should be exercised at all times.
The Director of Veterinary Services mentioned that they closed the above mentioned zones to allow for testing of buffalos & cattle for foot & mouth disease. The wildlife department’s Director Mr. Moremi Batshabang assured farmers and the community that they will eliminate small clusters of buffalos found within communities and translocate larger clusters to ensure their safety.