The preliminary findings in the just ended Botswana Railways public inquiry into the accident involving the passenger train points to irregularities in the train’s radio communication system which was found to be ‘absolute’.
This was revealed by Botswana Railways Inquiry Chairman Olefile Moakofi (Chief Executive Officer of Civil Aviation Authority of Botswana) on Tuesday this week, marking the end of the two month long public inquiry that was conducted across the country since January 2020. Even though most of the train personnel interviewed by the inquiry subjected a gross negligence on the part of BR, the Inquiry Chairman on Tuesday pointed that a malfunction on the train communication system could have led to the derailment of train 0501/BD549 between Palla Road and Mahalapye on December 10, 2019 in which two BR crew members lost their lives.
The train derailed at around 2am December 9, near Palla Road. Heavy waters following heavy downpours in the area were fingered as the cause of the accident. The Ministry had set up an eight-man investigative board made of engineers and former BR employees to gather evidence. The inquiry came to an end on Tuesday evening and the team is now busy, working on the report. On Tuesday, Moakofi had told WeekendPost that so far one of the leading causes of the accident is the communication system which from which they cannot even retrieve any messages or communications leading to the fateful day.
Moakofi even though he did not want to pre-empt the report said some of their team members have travelled to South Africa to further the investigations. The radio communication networks are critical to train operations including stringent requirements for reliability, availability, safety and security for these operations. Different security measures are considered based on the assumption of transmission error or communication blackout in RSTT. In general, radio communication for railway operations are considered as “mission critical” for train operations in general and the management of train emergency situations.
Furthermore, railway radio communication systems require the support of legacy technology and to have a long life cycle. RSTT provide improved railway traffic control, passenger safety and improved security for train operations. These systems also provide for interoperability of train operations in some regions. After the accident, Minister of transport and Communications Thulagano Segokgo promised that he is going to set up an independent investigation team to get to the bottom of what could have caused the accident.
According to reports the new Minister was later advised by attorneys for Botswana Railways, that according to the BR Act where there are casualties, the President should institute a Commission of Inquiry. On the fateful day, 10th December 2019, the nation was awoken by bad news that Botswana Railways passenger train en-route to Francistown from Gaborone, was derailed near Bonwapitse River.
The Francistown-bound train carrying around 400 passengers broke down damaging the locomotive, luggage van, generator van, buffet car and four coaches. After the much talked about incident, many questions were raised on why Botswana Railways allowed the movement of trains when they were floods in Mahalapye and knowing that the railway line was not in good conditions. Briefing Parliament about the accident Minister Segokgo revealed that it has come to his attention that the rail coaches were not ensured and that the railway line is very old.
“The railway line was constructed initially before independence and it has been confirmed to me verbally that indeed we do not have insurance on the trains and it is a very disturbing matter which I am addressing at my ministry,” he said. Following the interviews, employees took turns in the hot seat and claimed serious malfunctions within the BR Management. They asserted that the malfunctions coupled with decrepit systems have always presented a ticking time bomb within the organisation.
The December 10 accident, they said, was a result of a toxic environment at their headquarters. They claimed that top management authorised movement of the train, despite their warnings of adverse weather conditions. At the time of going to press the Ministry of Transport and Communications did not respond to WeekendPost inquiry on the matter despite the Inquiry Chairman Moakofi having answered the questionnaire and forwarding to them as protocol dictates. The Ministry telephones rang unanswered the whole of Thursday while a message was relayed that the ministry’s spokesperson Oteng Mokowe was in Lobatse and will address to the WeekendPost inquiry.
Some vendors have been misled Vendors thrive on households goods and fresh produce
Despite the previous false allegations that the Tobacco Control Bill will lead to several 20 000 vendors across the country losing their jobs, several local vendors have expressed that they are ready for the bill and because vendors sell mostly household goods
“This is something that we openly accept and receive as street vendors, the problem is some of our counterparts were misled and made to believe that we will not be allowed to sell cigarettes on our stalls.
Some of us got to understand that the bill states that we have to be licensed to sell cigarettes, we are not supposed to sell them to children under the age of 18 years of age and eliminating the selling of single sticks. We understand that this agenda is meant to develop a healthy nation but not take us down,” said Mbimbi Tau a vendor who operates from Mogoditshane.
The Tobacco Control Bill has been passed in several countries and street vendors are operating properly without any challenges faced. Tau further mentioned that there is no way that the Tobacco Control Bill will affect their business operations, all they have to do as vendors are to get the required documentation and do what the bill requires.
Another vendor Busani Selalame who operates from Gaborone Bonnington North was not shy to express his support towards the Tobacco Control Bill, “the problem is that some people within our sector have been misled and now they think that the bill is meant to take our operations down and completely stop selling cigarettes.
I support the fact that we are not supposed to sell cigarettes to children who are under the age of 18 years of age this has always been wrong, as parents we should be cautious of such and ensure that our children are disassociated with cigarettes,” said Selalame.
The Tobacco Control Bill prohibits advertising, promotion and sponsorship by the tobacco industry to prevent messages, cues, and other inducements to begin using tobacco, especially among the youth, to reassure users to continue their use, or that otherwise undermine quitting.
Renowned economist Bakang Ntshingane is of the view that since vendors sell household goods and fresh produce they are likely to keep on making profits despite what the Tobacco Control Bill comes with. He further stated that the Tobacco Control Bill will not be of harm on the local economy since the country does not manufacture or produce any tobacco related products.
BancABC Botswana, the BSE-listed bank today announced its half year results for the six months ended 30 June 2021, against a subdued economic backdrop, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and related lockdowns.
BancABC has remained resilient in the current operating environment as business activity increased in the first half of 2021, with Real GDP up by 0.7% in the first quarter compared to a contraction of 4.6% in the previous quarter. Commenting on the results, Managing Director Kgotso Bannalotlhe said, “Currently, economic activity is relatively stable.
While COVID-19 placed significant pressure on the economy and our overall business, BancABC Botswana has shown remarkable resilience amid a tough operating environment. While the bank operates in an environment that is seeing a rise in COVID-19 infections, it is encouraging that the business has maintained a healthy capital adequacy ratio as well as being successful in improving total expenses with focus on cost containment across the board.”
The retail segment saw an increase in customer deposits this year, signalling an improvement from the previous period and strengthening the current funding mix. This segment has built great momentum and continues to advance its digital strategy, through various products such as the mobile banking app, SARUMoney, as well as enhanced product offerings such as the introduction of fash cash. The Bank has invested in its digital capabilities to ensure a seamless and hassle-free banking experience for all its customers.
The commercial segment was successful in reducing the cost of funding. In addition, Treasury and Global Markets performed well, doubling from the previous comparative period. The current year performance across the bank’s different segments is testament to the bank’s strong income lines, aiding the Bank’s resilience during this time.
“The Bank experienced slow loan book growth due to a constrained economic environment, however, we remain optimistic that as the economy recovers, credit appetite amongst the Bank’s customer-base will increase. In addition, we reported good non-interest revenue, driven by increased trading income on the back of improved margins and volumes. Our outlook remains positive as we expect momentum across the different segments to improve over time,” said Ratang Icho-Molebatsi, BancABC Botswana Finance Director.
In April 2021, BancABC Botswana’s ultimate holding company, Atlas Mara Limited, as well as ABC Holdings Limited and Access Bank Plc announced an agreement to a proposed acquisition of 78.15% of BancABC Botswana. The transaction presented an opportunity for BancABC Botswana’s strong retail banking operation to merge with Access Bank’s wholesale banking capabilities, augmenting itself as one of Africa’s leading banks.
“The transaction provides significant scope for revenue diversification and growth in the corporate and SME banking segment. Increased access to trade finance, treasury, international payments and loans through the wider distribution network offered by Access Bank’s presence in the key trade corridors that connect Africa to the rest of the world, presents solid opportunities for BancABC Botswana”, commented Icho-Molebatsi “With the transaction, BancABC Botswana’s customers stand to benefit from best-in-class digital platforms and product suites, leveraging Access Bank’s group IT infrastructure as well as other fintech solutions”, said Bannalotlhe.
Further, with Access Bank expanding its footprint into Botswana, it will position the Bank to deliver a more complete set of banking solutions to Batswana across the country”, concluded Bannalothle.
Last Friday, the board of Directors of the African Development Bank Group authorised a $137 million (P1.5 billion) loan to support Botswana’s Post COVID-19 pandemic economic recovery.
The funds, extended under the Bank Group’s Botswana Economic Recovery Support Program, will be used to enact multi-sector reforms that will increase spending efficiency, create jobs and drive inclusive growth.
The project has three components: enhancing domestic resource mobilisation and mitigating fiscal risks to enhance macroeconomic performance and create fiscal space for spending on social safety nets; supporting private sector-led agriculture and industry to bolster productivity and value addition and increase job opportunities, and offering business development services to micro and small enterprises to advance social protection and gender equity. The three components are expected to reinforce one another.
“The African Development Bank is providing support for reforms to enhance private sector-led agriculture and transformation of the industrial sector,” said Leila Mokadem, Director General of the Southern Africa Regional Development and Business Delivery Office. “Agriculture value addition can serve as a springboard for industrialisation and job creation,” she added.
The project aligns with the Bank Group’s Ten-Year Strategy (2013-2022) and its High Five strategic priorities, particularly Industrialise Africa and Improve the quality of life of the people of Africa. The African Development Bank observed that Botswana has a very low risk of debt distress and a positive medium-term growth outlook. However, a lack of economic diversification exposes the country to significant vulnerabilities.
The Bank Group’s active portfolio in Botswana amounts to UA 57.7 million ($81.9 million) and comprises four projects. The financial sector accounts for the largest share of the portfolio by industry (97.1%), followed by agriculture (1.7%) and industry (1.2%). In the past, the African Development Bank partnered with various Botswana government agencies to accelerate economic growth.
On the 21st of February 2020, the bank signed a thematic Line of Credit (LoC) of P900 Million for a 10-year tenor with Botswana Development Corporation (BDC), a wholly state-owned investment agency. This was during that time, the single largest transaction of its nature to ever take place in Botswana.
The LoC was penned to support the BDC’s long-term strategy to scale up its investments in critical sectors, including manufacturing, transport and service sectors, with the overall objective of supporting the transformation and industrialisation of the Botswana economy. BDC eyed a more comprehensive socio-economic benefit with this partnership, including attracting investments into the economy and employment creation.
The African Development Bank is a multilateral development finance institution. It has an overarching objective to spur sustainable economic development and social progress in its regional member countries (RMCs) through mobilising and allocating resources for investment and providing policy advice and technical assistance to support development efforts.
This transaction was poised to support further BDC’s focus on safeguarding its balance sheet to ensure financial sustainability whilst fulfilling its mandate as the Botswana Government’s principal investment arm.
The COVID-19 pandemic has landed massive blows on Botswana; apart from claiming more than 2300 lives thus far, the contagious plague has exacerbated existing growth challenges. The effects of the pandemic have led to an estimated real gross domestic product (GDP) contraction of 7.9% in 2020, according to the World Bank, worse than that of the 2009 global financial crisis.
The contraction reflects the impact that reduced global demand, travel restrictions and social distancing measures have had on output in crucial production and export sectors, including the diamond industry and tourism.
Botswana’s fiscal deficit is set to widen to 11.3% of GDP in FY2020/21, from 5.6% in FY2019/20, reflecting a sharp decline in mineral revenues, a sticky public sector wage bill, and the impact of the COVID-19 spending. Similarly, the current account deficit is estimated to have widened to 8 percent of GDP in 2020 following the sharp decline in diamond exports.
Developments in the global diamond industry will significantly impact the short-term recovery, given Botswana’s dependence on the commodity. While recovery is expected in 2021 due to a favourable outlook for the diamond industry, the economic impact of COVID-19 is likely to be deep and long-lasting. The P1.5 billion African Development Bank loan comes after the World Bank approved a P2.5 billion boost for Botswana early this year.
The Programmatic Economic Resilience and Green Recovery Development Policy Loan (DPL) will support the implementation of Botswana’s Economic Recovery and Transformation Plan and is designed to strengthen COVID-19 pandemic relief while bolstering resilience to future shocks.
In August, Botswana received the International Monetary Fund (IMF) 189 Special Drawing Rights allocation worth P3 billion. The IMF SDR is a non-currency asset that Botswana can convert into hard currency by trading it with other IMF member countries.