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On Oil and Water

STUART WHITE
THE WORLD IN BLACK-N-WHITE


I know this is the time of year when a huge amount of optimism is generally called for.  Everyone has come back to work after the Christmas hols brim full of vim and vigour and keen as mustard to hit the ground running. 

All over town there will be motivational planning meetings with rousing words from line managers and bosses designed to put a stick of metaphorical dynamite under their staff and re-launch the business with a go-getting attitude from the get-go.  It’s the traditional New Year clean sweep and fresh start.

Yet behind all that bottled enthusiasm and ra-ra rabble-rousing there are already worrying signs for the business year to come.  Eskom has welcomed in 2015 with warnings of imminent load-shedding, due they say to the increased drain on supply as schools re-open and businesses gear up to full capacity. 

In reality, of course, it has nothing whatsoever to do with any educational establishment or any commercial enterprise and is due wholly and utterly to the mismanagement of the energy supplier itself which, if it were part of the private sector, would quite simply have gone out of business as being unfit for purpose and wholly unreliable.  

They simply have not made provision to supply South Africa’s electrical energy needs so here in Botswana we can bet our bottom energy dollar that there won’t be enough to meet ours either.  Mark my words, power cuts are imminent this side of the border too and small enterprises without a back-up generator system will suffer from sudden, unannounced downtime.

Then there is the water shortage.  This, of course, is out of the hands of mere mortals but it is another frightening factor.  The Gaborone dam is now officially in a failed state, capacity being less than under five percent which is too low for pumping.  In this instance emergency provision was made in the form of the North-South water carrier and the city is now receiving all its water from feeder dams in the north of the country where rainfall has been plentiful. 

But like the farmer’s wife who puts all her eggs in one basket, this is still a precarious and precipitate situation with all the potential for catastrophic failure.  And it is anyway but a partial solution with severe water restrictions still in place with all the associated knock-on effects that has on water-reliant industries – construction, brewing, bottling etc. – not to mention the small businesses which are also water dependent – car washes, hairdressers and suchlike.  The ability of these large and small enterprises is badly restricted and thus their bottom line will inevitably suffer. 

Not to mention the inescapable fact that when the construction industry is hidebound this also ties up potential growth and development.  Every major new project is effectively put on hold or at the very best the projected turnkey date moves further and further off into the future.

The one positive sign in the continuing fall is the price of oil.  Long-regarded as the failsafe price of fifty US dollars per barrel, the price this week dipped to just over forty six and is still falling. Hence pump prices dropped recently and might be expected to do so again which means cheaper transportation costs for raw materials and finished goods and in theory cheaper wholesale and retail prices across the board. 

I caution ‘in theory’ because in the real world manufacturers and retailers alike have a battery of excuses why prices can’ t be lowered – rising costs of raw materials from  source, rising costs of labour, rising costs of rentals and so on – but it should at least mean they will be hard to justify a current increase.  And at least it means that those of you relying on petrol generators to compensate for power cuts and load-shedding will be paying slightly less for the privilege.

And there are other positive signs for Botswana’s economy also.  A report from ABTA, the Association of British Travel Agencies, in December last year listed Botswana as the No. 2 preferred  emerging destination for British tourists, just behind Austria and just ahead of Cuba. 

So that is assuredly good news for travel and tour operators, hotels and lodges, car hire and air charter companies and a host of other associated businesses.  Though that piece of good news has to  be countered with more depressing news from the United States where African travel bookings has plummeted owing to the Ebola outbreak in parts of West Africa,  Americans being famously feeble in world geography  and ever prone to any health and safety scaremongering.  

So to sum up then I predict that 2015 is going to be an extremely challenging year from a business perspective but that won’t stop us at HRMC holding the obligatory pep meetings, mapping out our new year strategy and setting out our goals, some achievable, some aspirational because as Robert Browning famously said ‘A man’s reach must always exceed his grasp’.  Go get ‘em, team!

STUART WHITE is the Managing Director of HRMC and they can be reached on 395 1640 or at www.hrmc.co.bw
 

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Is COVID-19 Flogging an Already Dead Economic Horse?

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The Central Bank has by way of its Monetary Policy Statement informed us that the Botswana economy is likely to contract by 8.9 percent over the course of the year 2020.

The IMF paints an even gloomier picture – a shrinkage of the order of 9.6 percent.  That translates to just under $2 billion hived off from the overall economic yield given our average GDP of roughly $18 billion a year. In Pula terms, this is about P23 billion less goods and services produced in the country and you and I have a good guess as to what such a sum can do in terms of job creation and sustainability, boosting tax revenue, succouring both recurrent and development expenditure, and on the whole keeping our teeny-weeny economy in relatively good nick.

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Union of Blue Bloods

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Joseph’s and Judah’s family lines conjoin to produce lineal seed

Just to recap, General Atiku, the Israelites were not headed for uncharted territory. The Promised Land teemed with Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. These nations were not simply going to cut and run when they saw columns of battle-ready Israelites approach: they were going to fight to the death.

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Security Sector Private Bills: What are they about?

9th September 2020

Parliament has begun debates on three related Private Members Bills on the conditions of service of members of the Security Sector.

The Bills are Prisons (Amendment) Bill, 2019, Police (Amendment) Bill, 2019 and Botswana Defence Force (Amendment) Bill, 2019. The Bills seek to amend the three statutes so that officers are placed on full salaries when on interdictions or suspensions whilst facing disciplinary boards or courts of law.

In terms of the Public Service Act, 2008 which took effect in 2010, civil servants who are indicted are paid full salary and not a portion of their emolument. Section 35(3) of the Act specifically provides that “An employee’s salary shall not be withheld during the period of his or her suspension”.

However, when parliament reformed the public service law to allow civil servants to unionize, among other things, and extended the said protection of their salaries, the process was not completed. When the House conferred the benefit on civil servants, members of the disciplined forces were left out by not accordingly amending the laws regulating their employment.

The Bills stated above seeks to ask Parliament to also include members of the forces on the said benefit. It is unfair not to include soldiers or military officers, police officers and prison waders in the benefit. Paying an officer who is facing either external or internal charges full pay is in line with the notion of ei incumbit probation qui dicit, non qui negat or the presumption of innocence; that the burden of proof is on the one who declares, not on one who denies.

The officers facing charges, either internal disciplinary or criminal charges before the courts, must be presumed innocent until proven otherwise. Paying them a portion of their salary is penalty and therefore arbitrary. Punishment by way of loss of income or anything should come as a result of a finding on the guilt by a competent court of law, tribunal or disciplinary board.

What was the rationale behind this reform in 2008 when the Public Service Act was adopted? First it was the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise.

The presumption of innocence is the legal principle that one is considered “innocent until proven guilty”. In terms of the constitution and other laws of Botswana, the presumption of innocence is a legal right of the accused in a criminal trial, and it is an international human right under the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 11.

Withholding a civil servant’s salary because they are accused of an internal disciplinary offense or a criminal offense in the courts of law, was seen as punishment before a decision by a tribunal, disciplinary board or a court of law actually finds someone culpable. Parliament in its wisdom decided that no one deserves this premature punishment.

Secondly, it was considered that people’s lives got destroyed by withholding of financial benefits during internal or judicial trials. Protection of wages is very important for any worker. Workers commit their salaries, they pay mortgages, car loans, insurances, schools fees for children and other things. When public servants were experiencing salary cuts because of interdictions, they lost their homes, cars and their children’s future.

They plummeted into instant destitution. People lost their livelihoods. Families crumbled. What was disheartening was that in many cases, these workers are ultimately exonerated by the courts or disciplinary tribunals. When they are cleared, the harm suffered is usually irreparable. Even if one is reimbursed all their dues, it is difficult to almost impossible to get one’s life back to normal.

There is a reasoning that members of the security sector should be held to very high standards of discipline and moral compass. This is true. However, other more senior public servants such as judges, permanent secretary to the President and ministers have faced suspensions, interdictions and or criminal charges in the courts but were placed on full salaries.

The yardstick against which security sector officers are held cannot be higher than the aforementioned public officials. It just wouldn’t make sense. They are in charge of the security and operate in a very sensitive area, but cannot in anyway be held to higher standards that prosecutors, magistrates, judges, ministers and even senior officials such as permanent secretaries.

Moreover, jail guards, police officers and soldiers, have unique harsh punishments which deter many of them from committing misdemeanors and serious crimes. So, the argument that if the suspension or interdiction with full pay is introduced it would open floodgates of lawlessness is illogical.

Security Sector members work in very difficult conditions. Sometimes this drives them into depression and other emotional conditions. The truth is that many seldom receive proper and adequate counseling or such related therapies. They see horrifying scenes whilst on duty. Jail guards double as hangmen/women.

Detectives attend to autopsies on cases they are dealing with. Traffic police officers are usually the first at accident scenes. Soldiers fight and kill poachers. In all these cases, their minds are troubled. They are human. These conditions also play a part in their behaviors. They are actually more deserving to be paid full salaries when they’re facing allegations of misconduct.

To withhold up to 50 percent of the police, prison workers and the military officers’ salaries during their interdiction or suspensions from work is punitive, insensitive and prejudicial as we do not do the same for other employees employed by the government.

The rest enjoy their full salaries when they are at home and it is for a good reason as no one should be made to suffer before being found blameworthy. The ruling party seems to have taken a position to negate the Bills and the collective opposition argue in the affirmative. The debate have just began and will continue next week Thursday, a day designated for Private Bills.

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