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Banks offer BoB a knife to cut rates in April

Banks are now offering Bank of Botswana (BoB) a knife to slice down interest rates during the end of April Monetary Policy Committee meeting, this comes in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak which brought lower growth in the global economic activity, hence presenting downside risks to the outlook and bringing anxiety to the local economy.

The upcoming BoB Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) meeting on 30 April 2020 will not come without discussion of the now notorious global pandemic coronavirus-but the main anticipated action is for the central bank to shed the interest rate in an effort to cushion financial stability and maintaining a sound economic environment.

The last time BoB cut the interest rate was in last year’s August MPC meeting, when it was cut by 25 basis points from 5 percent to 4.75 percent. After observing an inflation which remained weak given subdued demand pressures in the economy, Governor Moses Pelaelo took a knife of monetary ruling and sliced the rate by a quarter percentage point to 4.75 percent. That time inflation rate increased from 2.8 percent in June to 2.9 in July and Pelaelo stated that the inflation was still low albeit closer to the lower bound of the Bank’s objective range of 3 to 6 percent.

An interest rate is a benchmark rate used by banks and other financial institutions as a guide to what they pay savers or charge some borrowers. It could happen that a sudden cut in the Bank rate will immediately reduce the mortgage bill of a minority of homeowners. Reduction of Bank rate may allow banks to freely lend money to households and businesses, hence protection of an economy.

After feeling the COVID-19 economic affliction, the central bank of the most influential and the benchmark world economy, the US, Federal Reserve System (The Fed), got fed up and reduced its target interest rate near zero or by 1.00 percent to a range of 0-0.25 percent.
According to experts central bankers in five key sub-Saharan African countries will meet on interest rates in the next ten days as the focus turns to them for measures to shore up their economies that are expected to be hit by the novel coronavirus. Recently business media outlet Bloomberg has made a survey from 21 economists, from the figure 11 predict a cut of 50 basis points while 10 expect a reduction of 25 basis points.

One of the leading financial institutes First National Bank Botswana (FNBB) Chief Economist Moatlhodi Sebabole said in an interview with BusinessPost that the bank anticipates that there will be cumulative rate cut of around 75basis points in the second half of 2020 (2h20). He noted that the plausible timing of the cuts should start by 50 basis points which could be by the next Monetary Policy Meeting in April.

“At FNBB, we expect the rate cut to come as early as April due to: Anticipated lower domestic growth environment and downward pressures on the already low inflation projection (oil prices now at multi-decade lows) alongside heightened global risk factors. We expect rate cuts because inflation will remain low and below the central bank’s lower inflation objective of 3.00 percent through to 2h20 – as consumer demand remains muted; and supply side pressures remain subdued with lower oil price outlook,” said Sebabole.

Sebabole who is also Chairperson of government’s National Transformation Strategy Team added that FNBB want the rate to be slashed because of the disruption in the supply value chain which will mostly impact foreign earnings on tourism and mining – as well as impacting manufacturing, construction, logistics sectors. He said the factors mentioned will negatively impact business and consumer confidence; as well as consumption and investment levels. The FNBB chief economist, when explaining the need for a rate, said a wider budget deficit is anticipated as healthcare budget will have to be augmented to deal with testing; preventive; protective and treatment (should a covid-19 case be reported in Botswana) of the virus and potentially some fiscal packages to support a fragile economy.

“The US FED has cut rates to close to 0.00 percent (150bp cut in 1Q20 alone); while for South Africa it is anticipated to go by over 50bp in the next few months. These creates more space for Bank of Botswana to cut rates without substantially reducing Botswana’s interest rate gap with its major trading partners. This is in line with group view for SARB (cuts expected in 1H20 to support ailing economy and rising yields); FED has been bold and reduced the rates to 0.00 percent- 0.25 percent already,” Sebabole told BusinessPost.

Sebabole said from April there should be another shed of interest rates in the 18 June 2020 meeting by 25 percent, while maintaining the rate at 4.00 percent to the second half of 2020. Another leading bank, Absa Botswana expects the bank rate to be cut as soon as next month’s MPC meeting. In an interview with BusinessPost this week, Absa Botswana economist Naledi Madala said the central bank is likely to cut the bank rate by 50basis points in April to support domestic economic activity.

“We believe that headline inflation will likely rise hereon as favourable base effects in transport inflation fade. Though inflation is expected to move higher, it would be increasing from record low levels and is expected to remain within the target band. We forecast a year-end inflation rate of 3.4 percent year on year. This gives the MPC room to stimulate the economy,” said Madala.

Madala said with the Covid-19 outbreak spreading across the global economy and working its way through to the real economy via weakening sentiment, supply-chain disruptions and financial market turmoil, headwinds to growth are picking up. As a small and open country that depends heavily on volatile export segments, Botswana is vulnerable to swings in global economic growth and commodity prices, said Madala.

Former Deputy Governor of BoB Keith Jeffries said the central bank might take a decision to cut interest rates, but is sceptical of the move as an effective policy intervention. Jeffries said monetary policy easing is unlikely to be very effecting, government should rather focus on fiscal expenditure based measures to offset the impact and in particular at how to relieve the pressure on businesses experiencing cash-flow stress. 

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Major public services shake-up looms

24th January 2022
Emmah

Public Servants should brace themselves for some changes as the government is in an overdrive mode to overhaul the public sector. The government has also set the tone for the looming changes as it has added the public sector to its looming list of major and sweeping reforms.

This is contained in a savingram from the Permanent Secretary to the President (PSP) Emmah Peloetletse’s office showing how the government intends to “take stock” of all reforms in the public sector through the establishment of an inventory.  Peloetletse’s savingram addressed to various ministries and the Directorate of Public Service Management (DPSM) reveals that the government is working around the clock to implement some changes in the Public Service.

The savingram reminded Permanent Secretaries of various ministries and DPSM that the public sector reforms unit (PSRU) at the Office of the President is mandated with Coordinating Reforms across the Public Service.  “This essentially entails providing the strategic guidance and facilitation in the implementation of reforms across the Public Service. In this endeavour the Unit has in the past with Technical Assistance from European Union developed a template for documenting Reforms in the Public Service and documented ten (10) major reforms across the Public Service,” reads the savingram in part. It added that “The Unit has lately rolled out the Change Management Framework in an effort to facilitate effective and efficient management of change in the Public Service.”

According to the savingram, it has been noted that for a variety of reasons the use of the template for documenting reforms has not been universally used across the Botswana Public Service.  It further states that to facilitate the documentation of the reforms it is essential that an inventory of the various reforms across the Public Service (Central Government, Local Government and State Owned Entities) is established.

“By this correspondent we are seeking your assistance in populating the attached template to provide basic information on the various reforms. The PSRU will, through the various Coordination of focal Persons facilitate the full documentation of the reforms once the inventory is established,” the savingram further stated. The copy of the template among others calls on the focal persons to fill out them form under several headings; they include title of reform, start date, reform objectives, reform components, reform components, progress status.

The savingram echoes President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s announcement last year during his state of the nation address that as a nation Botswana has set itself a lofty goal of becoming a high income country by 2036 and has come up with a list of reforms among them digitisation of government infrastructure. He said the path to achieving this goal dictates that, Botswana takes deliberate steps that will transform its institutions; the way Batswana think and the way they act.

“It is with this in mind, that I presented a Reset Agenda in May 2021, with the following priorities: Save Botswana‘s population from COVID-19, by implementing a series of life saving measures that include a successful and timely vaccination programme, Adherence to COVID-19 health protocols remains key and align Botswana Government’s machinery to the Presidential Agenda, to ensure that the national transformation agenda will be embodied in the public service of the day,” said Masisi. He added that, “this will come with significant Government reforms in all public institutions. We need greater agility and responsiveness like never before in the delivery of public services.”

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Covid-19 Task Force meddled in tenders-report

24th January 2022
Dr. Kereng Masupu

The Presidential COVID-19 Task Force reportedly meddled in the awarding of tenders for COVID-19, a new Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report has revealed.

The Committee expressed concern that it has noted that there are two centres for covid procurement being the Ministry of Health and the Covid Task team in the Office of the President. The report says the Committee questioned the Accounting Officer on why the COVID 19 task team is usurping the powers of the Ministry of Health by engaging in covid procurement when the Ministry of Health is the one which has the experience and mandate of dealing with the pandemic. The report says clarification was also sought on why direct appointment is the preferred method for covid procurement.

“In her response the Accounting Officer stated that the task team was mainly engaged in the procuring of quarantine facilities and was assisting the Ministry of Health due to the heavy workload brought about by the COVID 19 pandemic,” the report says. The report says the Accounting Officer further stated that direct procurement was used because COVID 19 was treated as an emergency and that procurement was mainly from companies that have been traditionally used by the Ministry of Health.

“This however, is not the case as there has been report of new companies being awarded COVID -19 contracts. The use of direct procurement method should only be used in exceptional cases as it’s a non-competitive method which increases the risk of inflated pricing and close relations with particular suppliers to the detriment of others,” the report says.

It says since most covid procurement fell under emergency, there is need for openness and transparency regarding the procurement.  The PAC recommended that in order to ensure transparency and accountability all COVID 19 related procurement should be periodically published in the PPADB website giving full details of the companies receiving procurement contracts and the beneficial owners of the companies.

It says with the passage of time the impact of covid is no longer unexpected so direct awards should gradually be abandoned as the medium and long-term needs of the pandemic can now be predicted. “Judgement should be used even during direct awards to ensure that prices are not higher than the market prices,” the report says.

In a related matter, the report says the Central Medical Stores (CMS) was unable to cater for the required quantities of medical supplies with order fulfilments of about 35% resulting in shortages and insufficient drugs to Athlone Hospital and the surrounding clinics.
“In his submission the Accounting Officer had indicated that CMS was unable to supply the exact quantities required by the hospital and surrounding clinics due to the fact that supplies from CMS have to be rationed in order to cover other facilities around the country,” says the report.

The committee expressed concern about the inadequate supply of drugs to government facilities which puts the lives of patients at risk due to non- availability of essential supplies. It recommended that the Ministry identifies and prioritise measures that need to be taken to ensure that there is adequate supply of essential medicines which are needed in the public health system.

Meanwhile the report says the Ministry of Health and Wellness coordinates the operations and functions of some institutions which receive government subventions and secondment of staff from the government. These institutions include 10 NGO’s, two mission Hospitals, three mission clinics and two schools of Nursing.

It says in its endeavour to enhance efficiency and effectiveness of government support to NGOs the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development developed some Policy Guidelines for Financial Support to Non- Governmental Organisations.  According to the PAC report, the guidelines were meant to ensure that there is consistency, accountability and transparency in administering public funding to NGOs. However, the Ministry of Health did not comply with the very important guidelines.

“The main areas of non-compliance were the following: (i) There was no Evaluation Committee to vet proposals from NGOs, in some instances NGOs had formed part of the evaluation forum when their requests were being considered,” the report says.  It says there was continued funding of NGOs even when they failed to submit narrative and financial progress reports; and (iv) Continued funding of NGOs that failed to submit audited financial statements and management letters as required. The Committee expressed concern at the lapses in the administration of grants by the Ministry despite the large sums of public money awarded to these NGOs.

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BDF killings of Namibians: Court unable to rule on missing gun

24th January 2022
BDF

The Kasane Regional Magistrate Court refused this week to rule on whether three Namibians and their Zambian cousin shot dead by members of the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) were in possession of a rifle or not prior to their deaths.

Ruling in favour of the BDF members, Regional Magistrate Taboka Mopipi who presided over the inquest said, “It is acknowledged that no rifle has been produced before court to confirm that indeed the deceased were armed and or that there was indeed a gun shot.”  She said the evidence before the court is that search for the rifle(s) that allegedly triggered the gunfire exchange was done by both Namibia and Botswana SCUBA divers and nothing was found. She said when the said search was done, an area of search was demarcated around the scene area which was partly searched due to water animals such as hippos that launched an attack at the area during the search.

“The search was therefore never concluded. This therefore leaves a gap. To that end, the area not extensively searched, the court cannot make a finding whether the rifle in issue was there or not. This is a very crucial piece of evidence,” added Mopipi. She said the joint search did not conclude the exercise and I cannot properly make a finding of fact adding that that the rifle was there as the BDF allege can therefore not be ruled out.

The deceased are Martin Munilweye Nchindo, Ernest Nchindo, Tommy Sinvula Nchindo and Sivula Munyeme. The four deceased persons died on the night of the 5th November 2020, in the waters of the Chobe River (Southern Channel) near Sedudu/Kasikili Island in Botswana. Mopipi said the incident took place at night, in a gloomy atmosphere and that as at the time, movement in that particular area was restricted and or not permitted.

She said it was the evidence of some of the witnesses that the injuries as observed on the four deceased reflected that they were brutally assaulted and or beaten either before or after being shot. “Their evidence gained support from Witness 34, Dr. Bithoma Thotho Amis who observed post mortem on behalf of the families of the deceased and Government of Namibia. This witness however conceded during cross-examination that the injuries as observed have been caused by other contacts and or impacts such as falling and hitting the hard surface of a wooden canoe,” said Mopipi.

She emphasized that inquest proceedings have very serious consequences and therefore, whatever evidence brought before court must be produced by persons of right qualifications particularly the post mortem report which the court has to rely upon.
“The qualification of the expert is crucial in determining the credibility of the report. Upon assessment of both experts, I am inclined to adopt the reports from Witness 18, who is a qualified pathologist. A closer look at the other report indicates that the author, Witness 34 is not a qualified pathologist and it is meddled by issues outside an expert opinion,” she said.

Mopipi said reports compiled by a consultant Forensic Pathologist Dr. Kaone Panzirah-Mabaka show the causes of death as follows; Sivula Munyeme, gunshot injury to the chest and extremities, Martin Nchindo, gunshot wound to the abdomen and pelvis, Ernest Nchindo, multiple gunshot injuries to the chest and extremities and Tommy Nchindo, gunshot wound to the chest and abdomen.

“Medical evidence therefore prove conclusively that the four deceased persons died due to gunshots injuries. It is undisputed that the injuries were inflicted by seven (7) members of the Botswana Defence Force; Lieutenant Moreri Kenneth Mphela, Sergeant Ndingisano Nfazo, Sergeant Puisano Pistor Kgokong, Private Mbikiso Tafila, Private Emmanuel Moganetsi Majuta, Private Barulaganyi Rannosang and Private Oromilwe Motlhabi,” said Mopipi.

Mopipi found that there was a gunshot from the direction of the men to the direction of the BDF section.  “The BDF members retaliated and returned fire. This was done in accordance with Standard Operation Procedures (SOPs) within the BDF. According to the SOPs, in case a soldier is being fired at, they fire back and do not have to wait for a command,” she said. She added that “The gunfire exchange was brief and after it ceased, they used a torch to light where the men were and established that all the four men were motionless, two in one canoe, one in the other and the other man lying on the edge of the river on the Island.”

She said, “The evidence of the witnesses is that, when they followed the intel, the intent was to conduct an investigation. There was clearly no intent on their part to shoot the deceased, they did that as an act of retaliation.”

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