This week the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has forecasted that the impact of the coronavirus could result in passenger airlines losing up to P1.3 trillion in revenues this year while listed airline prices have fallen on average of nearly 25 percent since the outbreak of the deadly virus last year.
Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak recorded the first case in China last year November, it has since spread across the globe, causing fatalities, fear and economic lows. China is the world’s largest exporter of goods since 2009, its coronavirus deaths have this week exceeded 3000 as the virus continues to spread across the globe. The world is anxious that the almost dependent second biggest economy will also export the coronavirus.
Coronavirus may be shipped or transported by airlines to Botswana. When the World Health Organization (WHO) defines contact with an infected person as being seated within two rows of one another, this could explain how coronavirus spreads inside an airline. National flag carrier Air Botswana just like other airlines across the globe is scanning passengers for coronavirus at airports. “Considering that this health crisis is now of global magnitude and some events are either being cancelled or differed, some business impact is to be expected,” Air Botswana Public Relations and Communications Manager Kefilwe Kebafetotse told BusinessPost this week.
Kebafetotse however explained that at this time it would not be clear to discern the impact of coronavirus on the national airline. She said as this is generally a low airline activity period (known as low season), it would be to establish a clear discernible pattern and determine how much could be attributed to this global health crisis. “This is a low season period which makes impact measurement difficult, advance bookings seem to be not significantly affected from the norm over the next 90 days. The situation over the peak travel period (June to August) will largely depend on the handling of the crisis over the next 30 days or so. Currently our level of operation is comparable to the same period in prior years,” said Kebafetotse.
On Thursday the first case of coronavirus was recorded in South Africa, Botswana’s neighbour and main importer of goods. Between South Africa and Botswana, there are 79 direct flights between Gaborone and Johannesburg covering a distance of 291 kilometres in around 56 minutes. Batswana on social media who usually travel to Botswana by road or air were worried that their neighbour may just sneeze the virus on them. But the problem comes from China where the virus has established itself as incurable and deadly. According to statistics, Botswana exports from China was P570 million during 2018, according to the United Nations COMTRADE database on international trade.
Air Botswana spokesperson Kebafetotse said passengers will note modifications to their boarding procedures so as to accommodate coronavirus control precautionary measures. She said the travelling community and the public are also urged to be vigilant and take the necessary precautions, as advised by health authorities. An eye observation at Sir Seretse Khama International Airport shows a routine check when one jumps off an aircraft, followed by a coronavirus form then few detecting machines and sterilization of hands. But this is not enough for most Batswana who have taken their panic to social media networks.
The ever calm and well-groomed Air Botswana hostess clad in blue dresses always wearing faces oozing with confidence have shown their typical class, assuring safety of passengers and that it is business as usual. However during an observation few days ago when an aircraft landed at the Sir Seretse Khama International Airport, the usual on duty classy countenance always held by air hostesses escaped one face as anxiety took over when she remarked, “where are all these Chinese coming from…I am scared, are we really safe from coronavirus.” She said these words in vernacular as she watched few face masked passengers appearing to originate from the coronavirus infested regions, holding red and black passports engraved in what seemed to be Mandarin letters.
“The approach to handling and managing CONVID-19 in this county is not limited to AirBotswana, there are other two (2) key stakeholders who are playing even bigger roles namely; Ministry of Health – Public Health Authorities and Civil Aviation Authority of Botswana (CAAB). Air Botswana on a regular basis engages with these stakeholders to monitor developments related to the CONVID-19,” reminded Kebafetotse.
She said the Civil Aviation Authority has issued guidelines on Communicable Disease Response Procedure, which the Airline adheres to. “Additional steps to provide assurances emanate from our Operations Manual on Managing Communicable Diseases. You may have noticed that Ministry of Health, through Health Port provide temperature scans on arrival and departure,” Kebafetotse told BusinessPost.
At the beginning of last month Botswana and China agreed to limit travel by citizens of both countries as part of measures to reduce the spread of the deadly coronavirus. That is when Chinese Ambassador to Botswana Zhao Yanbo said those who recently arrived from China are advised to self-house at least 14 days from time of arrival. He said about 150 Chinese who have been to China have volunteered to self-contain.
Minister of Health and Wellness Lemogang Kwape had last month assured Parliament that measures are put in place to ensure the disease does not spread into the country. At the beginning of last month WHO Representative Dr Josephine Namboze and Kwape toured key facilities including the Sir Seretse Khama International Airport in the capital Gaborone, the isolation facility in Block 8 and Sir Ketumile Masire Teaching Hospital, in case of increasing numbers of people needing isolation and management. It is reported that Dr Namboze and Minister Kwape had also toured the busiest land border post between Botswana and South Africa to monitor health facilities and staff. That is the time when the country had 5 suspected cases of coronavirus and until now no confirmed case has been recorded.
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”