The coronavirus (COVID-19) comes at a time when the world economy was expecting an improvement in economic growth in 2020 as compared to 2019, with a similar upturn expected in Botswana.
As the virus has spread around the world over the past two months, it has become apparent that there will be a very large negative economic impact, both globally and in Botswana. Many countries, including Botswana, have introduced restrictions on travel, population movement and social interaction with the aim of suppressing the spread of the virus.
These restrictions have a negative impact on economic activity, in addition to the direct impact of the health system crisis arising in many countries1.
Governments are, therefore, implementing a variety of measures to mitigate the negative impact of COVID-19. The impact of the COVID-19 shock is particularly acute in specific sectors, and best-practice interventions include a range of targeted fiscal, monetary and financial market measures to help affected households and businesses.
The COVID-19 Economic Advisory Committee has been evaluating the potential economic impact on Botswana, and has prepared a package of interventions designed to mitigate that impact and provide some support to businesses and households, consistent with available fiscal space. The fiscal interventions identified by the Economic Advisory Committee are attached as Annexure 1. Annexure 2 contains sectors which will not be covered by the support programme.
ECONOMIC RESPONSE – PRINCIPLES AND OBJECTIVES
In terms of the mitigating actions being implemented around the world, the objectives are generally to minimise the adverse short-term impact of the COVID-19 recession on firms and households, and to ensure that economy is well placed for recovery when conditions improve.
The latter requires that, as far as possible, firms that are fundamentally sound survive the crisis – if firms disappear, then recovery will be much slower and the permanent impact deeper. During the recession, many firms will have short-term cash-flow problems that could lead to bankruptcy, due to insufficient revenues to meet immediate commitments, even if they are not fundamentally uncompetitive or insolvent. Appropriate action should therefore be taken to help them to contain or reduce costs and defer financial commitments until cash-flow improves.
Similarly, at the household level, for people who lose their jobs or are temporarily laid off, or lose income-earning opportunities (e.g. small-scale traders), action should help to soften the blow of lost income and help them to meet financial commitments.
However, it is important that, as far as possible, interventions are targeted on sectors, firms and households that have suffered the greatest adverse impact. Widespread, untargeted, interventions will be unaffordable, and less effective. Nevertheless, targeting must be practical and implementable in a relatively short time period.
As a general principle, interventions should be flexible and time-limited. The impact of the corona virus is likely to be variable over time, hopefully short-lived, but with the possibility that there may be flare-ups of infections and restrictions at some point in the future. Governments need to avoid getting locked into unsustainable long-term financial commitments, and be able to scale back rapidly when the need for support declines.
There is a general consensus that fiscal interventions are more effective than general monetary policy interventions (such as interest rate reductions) in these circumstances. Fiscal interventions inject money into the economy, directly in the hands of the firms and households that need it. Generalised monetary policies such as reducing interest rates may be useful as a signalling device to support confidence, but are unlikely to stimulate spending and aggregate demand.
In Botswana, as a response to the COVID –19, Government developed an economic response plan with a view to address the following strategic objectives: Support to workers ; Stabilisation of businesses; Ensuring availability of strategic reserves, and Promotion of opportunities for economic diversification.
As part of the comprehensive national response to the threat of COVID-19 Pandemic (Corona Virus), the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development (MFED) established a Special Fund, known as the “COVID-19 Pandemic (Corona Virus) Relief Fund”.
The Fund provides financial resources to cater for the procurement of national relief supplies; evacuation cost for citizens outside Botswana; national publicity outreach programmes; relief of selected industries or sectors; public counselling centres or facilities; additional staff to support health professionals and an economic stimulus package post COVID-19 Pandemic.
Presidential Directive CAB 9(A)/2020 dated 25 March 2020, directed the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development to urgently mobilise P2 000 000 000 (Two Billion Pula) through transfers from Special Funds and appropriation from the Consolidated Fund and that the funds be paid into the COVID- 19 Pandemic (Corona Virus) Relief Fund. More funding is also being mobilized through the private sector, civil society organizations, development partners and the community at large.
3.0 SCOPE OF THE FISCAL INTERVENTIONS
3.1 The proposed fiscal interventions for Botswana fall into a number of categories, as follows:
a) Wage subsidies
b) Loan guarantees
c) Build-up of Strategic Reserves such as Grain (maize, Sorghum, pulses); Water (bowsers, trucks, water tanks); and Medical supply/equipment
d) Psycho-social support e.g counselling
f) The evacuation cost of citizens who are currently outside Botswana
g) The national publicity outreach programme
h) Additional staff to support health professionals
The recent study on youth entrepreneurship in Botswana has identified difficult access to funding, land, machinery, lack of entrepreneurial mindset and proper training as serious challenges that continue to hamper youth entrepreneurship development in this country.
The study conducted by Alliance for African Partnership (AAP) in collaboration with University of Botswana has confirmed that despite the government and private sector multi-billion pula entrepreneurship development initiatives, many young people in Botswana continue to fail to grow their businesses into sustainable and successful companies that can help reduce unemployment.
University of Botswana researchers Gaofetege Ganamotse and Rudolph Boy who compiled findings in the 2022 study report for Botswana stated that as part of the study interviews were conducted with successful youth entrepreneurs to understand their critical success factors.
According to the researchers other participants were community leaders, business mentors, Ministry of Trade and Industry, Ministry of Youth, Gender, Sport and Culture, financial institutions, higher education institutions, non-governmental institutions, policymakers, private organizations, and support structures such as legal and technical experts and accountants who were interviewed to understand how they facilitate successful youth entrepreneurship.
The researchers said they found that although Botswana government is perceived as the most supportive to businesses when compared to other governments in sub-Saharan Africa, youth entrepreneurs still face challenges when accessing government funding. “Several finance-related challenges were identified by youth entrepreneurs. Some respondents lamented the lack of access to start-up finance, whereas others mentioned lack of access to infrastructure.”
The researchers stated that in Botswana entrepreneurship is not yet perceived as a field or career of choice by many youth “Participants in the study emphasized that the many youth are more of necessity entrepreneurs, seeing business venturing as a “fall back. Other facilitators mentioned that some youth do not display creativity, mind-blowing innovative solutions, and business management skills. Some youth entrepreneurs like to take shortcuts like selling sweets or muffins.”
According to the researchers, some of the youth do not display perseverance when they are faced with adversity in business. “Young people lack of an entrepreneurial mindset is a common challenge among youth in business. Some have a mindset focused on free services, handouts, and rapid gains. They want overnight success. As such, they give up easily when faced with challenges. On the other hand, some participants argue that they may opt for quick wins because they do not have access to any land, machinery, offices, and vehicles.”
The researchers stated that most youth involved in business ventures do not have the necessary training or skills to maintain a business. “Poor financial management has also been cited as one of the challenges for youth entrepreneurs, such as using profit for personal reasons rather than investing in the business. Also some are not being able to separate their livelihood from their businesses.
Lastly, youth entrepreneurs reported a lack of experience as one of the challenges. For example, the experience of running a business with projections, sticking to the projections, having an accounting system, maintaining a clean and clear billing system, and sound administration system.”
According to the researchers, the participants in the study emphasized that there is fragmentation within the entrepreneurial ecosystem, whereby there is replication of business activities without any differentiation. “There is no integration of the ecosystem players. As such, they end up with duplicate programs targeting the same objectives. The financial sector recommended that there is a need for an intermediary body that will bring all the ecosystem actors together and serve as a “one-stop shop” for entrepreneurs and build mentorship programs that accommodate the business lifecycle from inception to growth.”
Botswana Housing Corporation (BHC) is said to have recorded an operating surplus of P61 Million, an improvement compared to the previous year. The housing, office and other building needs giant met with stakeholders recently to share how the business has been.
The P61 million is a significant increase against the P6 million operating loss realized in the prior year. Profit before income tax also increased significantly from P2 million in the prior year to P72 million which resulted in an overall increase in surplus after tax from P1 million prior year to P64 million for the year under review.
Chief of Finance Officer, Diratsagae Kgamanyane disclosed; “This growth in surplus was driven mainly by rental revenue that increased by 15% from P209 million to P240 million and reduction in expenditure from P272 million to P214 million on the back of cost containment.” He further stated that sales of high margin investment properties also contributed significantly to the growth in surplus as well as impairment reversals on receivables amounting to P25 million.
It is said that the Corporation recorded a total revenue of P702 million, an 8% decrease when compared to the P760 million recorded in the prior year. “Sales revenue which is one of the major revenue streams returned impressive margins, contributing to the overall growth in the gross margin,” added Kgamanyane.
He further stated professional fees revenue line declined significantly by 64% to P5 million from P14 million in the prior year which attributed to suspension of planned projects by their clients due to Covid-19 pandemic. “Facilities Management revenue decreased by P 24 million from P69 million recorded in prior year to P45 million due to reduction in projects,” Kgamanyane said.
The Corporation’s strength is on its investment properties portfolio that stood at P1.4 billion at the end of the reporting period. “The Corporation continues its strategy to diversify revenue streams despite both facilities management income and professional fees being challenged by the prevailing economic conditions that have seen its major clients curtailing spending,” added the CEO.
On the one hand, the Corporation’s Strategic Performance which intended to build 12 300 houses by 2023 has so far managed to build 4 830 houses under their SHHA funding scheme, 1 240 houses for commercial or external use which includes use by government and 1 970 houses to rent to individuals.
BHC Acting CEO Pascaline Sefawe noted that; BHC’s planned projects are said to include building 336 flat units in Gaborone Block 7 at approximately P224 million, 100 units in Maun at approximately P78 million, 13 units in Phakalane at approximately P26 million, 212 units in Kazungula at approximately P160 million, 96 units at approximately P42 million in Francistown and 84 units at approximately P61 million in Letlhakane. Emphasing; “People tend to accuse us of only building houses in Gaborone, so here we are, including other areas in our planned projects.”
Researchers from some government owned regulatory institutions in the financial sector have projected that the banking sector’s profitability could increase, following Bank of Botswana Monetary Policy Committee recent decision to increase monetary policy rate.
In its bid to manage inflation, Bank of Botswana Monetary Policy Committee last month increased monetary policy rate by 0.50 percent from 1.65 percent to 2.15 percent, a development which resulted with commercial banking sector increasing interest rate in lending to household and companies. As a result of BoB adjustment of Monetary Policy Rate, from 1.65 percent to 2.15 percent commercial banks increased prime lending rate from 5.76 percent to 6.26 percent.
Researchers from Bank of Botswana, the Non-Bank Financial Institutions Regulatory Authority, the Financial Intelligence Agency and the Botswana Stock Exchange indicated that due to prospects of high inflation during the second half of 2022, there is a possibility that the Monetary Policy Committee could further increase monetary policy rate in the next meeting in August 25 2022.
Inflation rose from 9.6 percent in April 2022 to 11.9 percent in May 2022, remaining above the Bank of Botswana medium-term objective range of 3 – 6 percent. According to the researchers inflation could increase further and remain high due to factors that include: the potential increase in international commodity prices beyond current forecasts, logistical constraints due to lags in production, the economic and price effects of the ongoing Russia- Ukraine conflict, uncertain COVID-19 profile, domestic risk factors relating to possible regular annual administered price adjustments, short-term unintended consequences of import restrictions resulting with shortages in supplies leading to price increases, as well as second-round effects of the recent increases in administered prices “Furthermore, the likelihood of further increases in domestic fuel prices in response to persistent high international oil prices could add upward pressure to inflation,” said the researchers.
The researchers indicated that Bank of Botswana could be forced to further increase monetary policy rate from the current 2.15 percent if inflation rises persistently. “Should inflation rise persistently this could necessitate an upward adjustment in the policy rate. It is against this background that the interest rate scenario assumes a 1.5 percentage points (moderate scenario) and 2.25 percentage points (severe scenario) upward adjustment in the policy rate,” said the researchers.
The researchers indicated that while any upward adjustment on BoB monetary policy rate and commercial banks prime lending rate result with increase in the cost of borrowing for household and compnies, it increase profitability for the banking sector. “Increases in the policy rate are associated with an overall increase in bank profitability, with resultant increases in the capital adequacy ratio of 0.1 percentage points and 0.2 percentage points for the moderate and severe scenarios, respectively,” said the researchers who added that upward adjustment in monetary policy rate would raise extra capital for the banking sector.
“The increase in profit generally reflects the banking industry’s positive interest rate gap, where interest earning assets exceed interest earning liabilities maturing in the next twelve months. Therefore, an increase of 1.5 percentage points in the policy rate would result in industry gains of P71.7 million (4.1 percent increase), while a 2.25 percentage points increase would lead to a gain of P173.9 million (6.1 percent increase), dominated by large banks,” said the researchers.