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COVID-19 Ministry of Finance interventions

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:

  1. a) Wage subsidies
  2. b) Loan guarantees
  3. c) Build-up of Strategic Reserves such as Grain (maize, Sorghum, pulses); Water (bowsers, trucks, water tanks); and Medical supply/equipment
  4. d) Psycho-social support e.g counselling
  5. e) Burials
  6. f) The evacuation cost of citizens who are currently outside Botswana
  7. g) The national publicity outreach programme
  8. h) Additional staff to support health professionals

Business

Gambling Authority tender dangles as a jittery lottery quandary

30th November 2020
SEFALANA MD: CHANDRA CHAUHAN

Lucrative and highly anticipated national lottery tender that saw several Batswana businessmen partnering to form a gambling consortium to pit against their South African counterparts, culminates into a big power gamble.

WeekendPost has had a chance to watch lottery showcase even before the anticipated and impending national lottery set-up launches. A lot has been a big gamble from the bidding process which is now set for the courts next year January following a marathon legal brawl involving the interest of the gambling fraternity in Botswana and South Africa.

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The uncertainty of getting the next meal in Botswana

30th November 2020
uncertainty of getting the next meal

Households representing more than half of Botswana’s population-mostly residing in rural areas- do not know where their next meal will come from, but neither do they take into consideration the quality and/or quantity of the food they consume.

This is according to the latest Prevalence of Food Insecurity in Botswana report which was done for the 2018/19 period and represents the state of food insecurity data even to this time.
The Prevalence of Food Insecurity was released by Statistics Botswana and it released results with findings that the results show that at national level 50.8 percent of the population in Botswana was affected by moderate to severe food insecurity in 2018/19, while 22.2 percent of the population was affected by severe food insecurity only.

According to the report, this translates to 27 percent of the population being food secure that is to say having adequate access to food in both quality and quantity. According to Statistician General, Burton Mguni, when explaining how the food data was compiled, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), is custodian of the “Prevalence of Undernourishment (PoU)” and “Prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity in the population based on the Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES)” SDG indicators, for leading FIES data analysis and the resultant capacity building.

“The FIES measures the extent of food insecurity at the household or individual level. The indicator provides internationally comparable estimates of the proportion of the population facing moderate to severe difficulties in accessing food. The FIES consists of eight brief questions regarding access to adequate food, and the questions are answered directly with a yes/no response. It (FIES) complements the existing food and nutrition security indicators such as Prevalence of Undernourishment.

According to the FIES, with increasing severity, the quantity of food consumed decreases as portion sizes are reduced and meals are skipped. At its most severe level, people are forced to go without eating for a day or more. The scale further reveals that the household’s experience of food insecurity may be characterized by uncertainty and anxiety regarding food access and compromising the quality of the diet and having a less balanced and more monotonous diet,” says Mguni.

The 50.8 percent of the population in Botswana which was affected by moderate to severe food insecurity are characterized as people experiencing moderate food insecurity and face uncertainties about their ability to obtain food. These people have been forced to compromise on the quality and/or quantity of the food they consume according to the report on food insecurity.

Those who experience severe food insecurity, the 22.2 percent of the population, are people who have typically run out of food and, at worst, gone a day (or days) without eating. According to the statistics, rural area population experienced moderate to severe food insecurity at 65 percent while urban villages were at 46.60 percent and cities/town were at 31.70 percent. Those experiencing the most extreme and severe insecurity were at rural areas making 33.10 percent while urban villages and towns were at 11.90 percent and 17.50 respectively.

According to a paper compiled by Sirak Bahta, Francis Wanyoike, Hikuepi Katjiuongua and Davis Marumo and published in December 2017, titled ‘Characterization of food security and consumption patterns among smallholder livestock farmers in Botswana,’ over 70 percent of Botswana’s population reside in rural areas, and majority (70%) relies on traditional/subsistence agriculture for their livelihoods.

The study set out to characterize the food security situation and food consumption patterns among livestock keepers in Botswana. “Despite the policy change, challenges still remain in ensuring that all persons and households have access to food at all times. For example, during an analysis of the impacts of rising international food prices for Botswana, BIDPA reported that food prices tended to be highest in the rural areas already disadvantaged by relatively low levels of income and high rates of unemployment,” said the study.

According to the paper, about 9 percent of households were found to be food insecure and this category of households included 6 percent of households that ranked poorly and 3 percent that were on the borderline according to the World Food Programme’s (WFP) definition of food security.

Media reports state that the World Bank has warned that disruption to production and supply chains could ‘spark a food security crisis’ in Africa, forecasting a fall in farm production of up to 7 percent, if there are restrictions to trade, and a 25 percent decline in food imports.

Food security in Botswana or food production was also attacked by the locust pandemic which swept out this country’s vegetation and plants. The locust is said to have contributed to 25 percent loss in production.

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Business

Solid demand for diamonds towards the ‘gift’ season

30th November 2020
Diamonds

Global lockdown have been a thorn in diamonds having shiny sales, but a lot of optimism shows with the easing of Covid-19 restrictions, the precious stones will be bought with high volumes towards festive season. The diamond market is however warned of the resurgence of Covid-19 in key markets presents ongoing risks amid the presence and optimist about the new Covid-29 vaccines.

The latest findings published as De Beers Group’s latest Diamond Insight ‘Flash’ Report, which looks at the impact of the pandemic on relationships and engagements, has revealed that in the US that more couples than ever are buying diamond engagement rings. Bridal sales is mostly the primary source of diamond jewellery demand in recent months, De Beers said.

According to De Beers, interviews with independent jewellers around the US revealed that the rate of couples getting engaged has increased compared with the period when Covid-19 first had an impact in the US in the spring.

“In addition, despite challenging economic times, consumers were spending more than ever on diamond engagement rings – often upgrading in colour, cut and clarity, rather than size. Several jewellers speculated that with consumers spending less on elaborate weddings and/or honeymoons in the current environment, they had more to spend on choosing the perfect ring,” said De Beers.

According to De Beers, a national survey of 360 US women in serious relationships, undertaken in late October in collaboration with engagement and wedding website, The Knot. This survey is said to have found that the majority of respondents (54%) were thinking more about their engagement ring than the wedding itself (32%) or the honeymoon (15%), supporting jewellers’ hypothesis that engagement ring sales were benefiting from reduced wedding and travel budgets in light of Covid-19 restrictions.

When it came to researching engagement rings, online was by far the predominant channel for gaining ideas/inspiration at 86% of consumers surveyed, with 85% saying they had saved examples of styles they liked, according to De Beers. According to the survey, only a uarter of respondents said they had looked in-store at a physical location for design inspiration.

“For many couples, the pandemic has brought them even closer together, in some instances speeding up the path to engagement after forming a deeper connection while experiencing lockdown and its associated ups and downs as a partnership. Engagement rings are taking on even greater symbolism in this environment, with retailers reporting couples are prepared to invest more than usual, particularly due to budget reductions in other areas,” De Beers CEO Cleaver said.

According to De Beers Group, its Diamond Insight Flash Report series is focused on understanding the US consumer perspective in light of Covid-19 and monitoring how it evolves as the crisis evolves. Also, the company said, it is augmenting its existing research programme with additional consumer, retailer and supply chain touch-basis to understand the pain points and the opportunities for stakeholders across the diamond pipeline.

Demand for diamonds is as hard and resilient as the precious stone itself. De Beers pocketed US$ 450 million in its recently held ninth rough diamond sales cycle, and the company says it is more flexible approach to rough diamond sales during the ninth sales cycle of 2020, with the Sight event extended beyond its normal week-long duration.

“Steady demand for De Beers Group’s rough diamonds continued in the ninth sales cycle of the year, reflecting stable consumer demand for diamond jewellery at the retail level in the US and China, and expectations for reasonable demand to continue throughout the holiday season. However, the resurgence of Covid-19 infections in several consumer markets presents ongoing risks,” said De Beers CEO Bruce Cleaver recently.

High expectations are on diamonds being a sentimental gift for holiday season or as the most fetished gift. However the ninth cycle was lower than the eighth which registered US$ 467 million. For the last year period which corresponds with the current one, De Beers managed to raise US$ 400.

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