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Businesses defer hope to 2021 as spiritus animalis deteriorates

A vintage philosophy from ancient British economist, John Myanard Keynes who pioneered the use of ‘animal spirits,’ or originally spiritus animalis in Latin, metaphor into the business literature 84 years ago by looking at human behavior in connection with economics, gets a bright reincarnation today.

Bank of Botswana on a quarterly basis offers Business Expectations Survey (BES) – a research which collects information on the domestic business community’s perceptions about the prevailing state of the economy and prospects, hence resembling the Keynes school of thought.

The current economic status involving Botswana and the globe moves governments to borrow a leaf from the father of macroeconomics, Keynes. COVID-19 forces governments into emphasizing the Keynesian economics as demand and supply is now determined by a pandemic which has affected business and consumer confidence across the globe.

According to the March BES, which is the latest offering by the central bank, the dwindling business confidence which was recorded in the last quarter of 2019 was carried onto the first months of 2020 as firms approaches the current COVID-19 economic with less optimism.

March BES which was done for the first quarter of 2020, the time when COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by WHO, paints a gloomy picture on the business confidence in this country. March is the same period when Botswana registered its first corona virus cases, forcing a declaration of a 28 lockdown which put most part of the economic activity on chains.

According to BES report of March, the results suggest that firms were less optimistic about economic activity in the first quarter of 2020 compared to the fourth quarter of 2019. Businesses which were surveyed expected a decrease in exports and imports of goods and services; production; sales; stocks; profitability; and investment in buildings, vehicles and equipment in the first quarter of 2020.

“Overall, businesses expected a decrease in exports and imports of goods and services; production; sales; stocks; profitability; and investment in buildings, vehicles and equipment in the first quarter of 2020,” said the recent BES report.

The recent BES is a product of the survey carried out in the first quarter of 2020, covering the first quarter of 2020 (Q1:2020 – the current period); the second quarter of 2020 (Q2:2020); and the twelve-month period (M12) from April 2020 – March 2021 (Q2:2020- Q1:2021). The central bank reminded that the survey was conducted at the time when the coronavirus (Covid-19) that was first reported in Wuhan (China) began to spread rapidly across the globe and was later declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The current survey whose response rate is 77 percent down from 82 percent recorded in the December 2019 survey looked at 100 businesses from eight economic sectors, namely: agriculture; mining; manufacturing; water and electricity; construction; trade, hotels and restaurants; transport and communications; and finance and business services.

The response rate reduced because firms who were surveyed either took time to respond or did not respond because they were on March lockdown. According BES the mining and quarrying sector will be hard hit because its business predominantly targets the export market which makes firms in the sector less optimistic about economic growth prospects over the survey horizon.

“This is consistent with the unfavourable market conditions, especially with respect to the diamond industry, occasioned by, among others, weaker global demand for rough diamonds associated with the US-China trade war and the interruption of trading due to the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic,” said the Bank of Botswana survey on domestic business confidence.

According to BES, there will be stagnation which will go towards the next 12-month period. Debswana has scaled production and De Beers is no longer doing sales until further notice. Botswana economy depends mostly on diamonds as they are also a mainstay of this country’s exports. Employment is expected to
Firms also do not see the economy to improve this year or on the last three remaining quarters of 2020.

Currently most businesses are on lockdown, save for retail businesses which are categorized as essential services. Consumers at large are on lockdown while business operating hours are shrunk to go with the 8pm daily national curfew.

According to the March BES, employment, which is only recorded for the second quarter, is expected to decline in the current survey. The mind of business’s dwindling spirits when looking at business confidence in the first half of 2020 is coincides with perceptions of weaker overall economic growth in the first quarter of 2020, and the overall contraction expected in the second quarter.

“The perceived generally weaker economic performance in the current survey compared to the previous one could be associated with the disruption of business operations following the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic,” says the BES.

Sleeping animalistic spirit to wake next year

Keynesian metaphorically compares a business mind to a never say die instinct of an animal. Seeming to have adopted the Keynesian school of thought, the BES focus mainly on anticipated direction of change in selected indicators: that is; whether conditions will improve, worsen or remain unchanged. According to the central bank, the results are then consolidated into an overall measure called ‘net balance’. This measure is obtained by summing the positive and negative responses to each question/element by firms belonging to the same sector, which are then weighted by the sector’s contribution to nominal gross domestic product (GDP), according to Bank of Botswana.

That is why the firms’ negative projection of the economy which is dampened by low business confidence comes with a bit of optimism comes with a positive offset. For example, according to the March BES, there will be signs of increase by firms in investment in plant and machinery in the second quarter of 2020, but will be taken down by general anticipated tight access to credit in the domestic market.

While firms that were met by the BES expect the domestic economy to contract in the second quarter of 2020, there is a hope that things will improve as the year goes. Majority of firms looked at by the March BES expect business conditions to deteriorate in the first two quarters of 2020 some of the hope was deferred to improve in the twelve-month period to March 2021. The improvement which is expected to be carried towards March next year is expected to remain below the level recorded in March 2020.

“The perceived improvement in optimism is in line with the anticipated universal economic recovery in 2021 by the International Monetary Fund. Confidence in the domestic market-oriented firms is mainly driven by the trade, hotels and restaurants, transport and communications sectors,” says the recent BES.
Access to credit

The central bank last week cut the Bank rate by 50 basis points for economic stimulation and improve access to credit. Businesses wish to increase investment in plant and machinery in the second quarter of 2020, but are anticipating tight access to credit in the domestic market.

Firms in the domestic market perceived access to credit to be tight in the first quarter of 2020, mainly because they consider the domestic interest rates to be high, according to a survey on businesses. The business survey further said export-oriented market firms perceived access to credit to be normal, and the interest rates to have remained unchanged in the review period.

Some firms, especially those targeting the domestic market, prefer to borrow from both the domestic market and elsewhere (other than South Africa market) in 2020, according to BES. Most of the export-oriented firms prefer to borrow from both the domestic and South African markets, while they have no plans to borrow from elsewhere.

Firms expect the lending rates and the volume of borrowing from the domestic market to increase in the twelve-month period to March 2021 according to BES.  Lending rates in the rest of the markets are expected to decline, while borrowing from elsewhere is expected to rise considerably and marginally in South Africa. BES says firms also expected inflation to remain stable and within the Bank’s medium-term objective range of 3 – 6 percent, for both 2020 and 2021.

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Government ignores nurses’ COVID-19 anxieties

4th August 2021
Nurses

Health workers are at the front line fighting the deadly, contagious COVID-19. These workers have an immense challenge of welfare and government has since turned a blind eye to dares and crushing odds throttling health officers, particularly nurses.

Botswana Nurses Union (BONU) has once more called on government to invest in the country’s nurses and give the nursing profession dignity.

In May 2020, BONU President, Obonolo Rahube said government should, in line with the advocacy of World Health Organisation (WHO) invest more on nurses and midwives, and further advised government to address challenges that nurses are faced with. The proposal was made on International Nurses Day.

At the time, Rahube urged government to provide subsidised accommodation for nurses and midwives as it has emerged that during the fight against the Corona-virus, accommodation for nurses and midwives is very important. Rahube called on government to provide nurses and midwives with 100% medical cover.

He also called on government to introduce risk allowance for nurses and midwives, noting that as frontline workers during the pandemic, they are at high risk. Nurses also demanded Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), a matter which they lost with costs in court. Also critical during the COVID-19 era for health workers, psychological support is what BONU maintains is still lacking.

In the same year (2020), the Union raised a number of other challenges they are being faced with. These challenges, they asserted, make it testing for them to undertake their duties, especially now that COVID-19 has shaken Botswana’s already weak health system.

BONU expressed disappointment at nurses’ pay, nurses who tested positive for COVID-19 at an alarming rate, violence against nurses, nurses’ contracts which were never renewed and a poorly coordinated vaccination plan for health workers.

Clearly, nurses are not only battling the COVID-19 virus, but also government who has since refused to come to the party.

This week once again, BONU tested waters and slammed government with more demands, some of which have turned into an everyday song while COVID-19 continues to kill more nurses.

At a press conference on Tuesday, BONU President Rahube said over 800 nurses have been infected with COVID-19. Of this number, 34 nurses lost their lives due to COVID-19 related infections.

WHO and other health experts say for countries to emerge victorious from the COVID-19 pandemic, they must fast-track the roll out of vaccine. In Botswana, there is no clear explanations of how the vaccination plan is going.

The situation around vaccination is chaotic, and this is evidenced by only 28% of nurses who have been vaccinated. President Mokgweetsi Masisi is also disturbed by the COVAX programme as Botswana vaccines arrive in the country missing, every time.

Debates in Parliament on which vaccine to adopt are failing to conclude, in fact, they never gained energy. Rahube told members of the media that nurses are overworked.

“Shortage of nurses puts those available at risk. Some nurses are on isolation, quarantine and some passed on. Nurses do both testing and contact tracing so they end up working stretched hours, at times from 6am to 10pm. There is no how nurses will be able to deliver while exhausted,” he said.

He further indicated that infection control practitioners are not recognised and deployed appropriately, and some regions have shortage of commodities and supplies such as water resistant gowns (nurses are forced to re-use those availed), masks, gloves, scrubs and uniforms.

Oxygen supply is said to be in shortage, something that mounts COVID-19 deaths.

“Patients lose their lives whilst still awaiting to be put on oxygen. Psychological services are in serious need as nurses continue to lose their significant others, faced with resource constraints and many of them are not vaccinated,” said Rahube.

Accommodation still remains a huge challenge for nurses. BONU President said nurses overcrowd with families and colleagues.

In Kauxwi, four nurses share a single house, in Moshaweng two nurses share a single bedroomed house together with their families, with no electricity yet the village is powered. In Kazungula, there are only two staff houses for 11 nurses and their families.

The union stressed that the Chief Nursing Officer is not coming to the party, and the expectation is that the office should be coordinating all nursing issues at the Health Ministry. Rahube indicated that transfers have been frozen, promotions stalled and they continue to lose nursing posts to other Ministries.

In a number of recommendations, BONU urged government to consider compensation and risk allowance for staff affected by COVID-19 related deaths and those infected. “COVID-19 has been declared an occupational health illness, in essence, the employer should facilitate its occupational health division, and there are lots of occupational health nurses who are wrongly deployed, who could be running such programs at the facilities.”

In regard to vaccinations, BONU underlined that there should be clear information relating to vaccines and they should be made accessible. “Local franchise manufacturing of vaccine could use Botswana Vaccines Institute (BVI) and government should be clear and transparent concerning procurement of vaccines. It should also allow stakeholders with capacities of procuring vaccines to do so.”

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Gov’t reforms public procurement

4th August 2021
-Masisi-Serame

Government is moving swiftly to completely overhaul public procurement — a new Bill has been tabled before Parliament this week by Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Peggy Serame and is scheduled for debate in the coming days of the current parliament sitting. 

Through this Bill the country’s purse bearer seeks to dismantle existing public procurement pieces of legislation, transform, merge and form a new public procurement arrangement. The existing public procurement high command base — the Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Board (PPDB) would cease to exist.

This organisation will transition and assume the reigns of a regulator and oversight authority; the actual procurement; floating of tenders, accepting bids, adjudicating and awarding tenders will be fully taken over by Government departments accounting officers.

Accounting officers are Permanent Secretaries and statutory organisation heads and directors or any person who is responsible for the administration and day-to-day management of the affairs of a procuring entity, and any other person, who may be designated as such by the Minister under the act.

Speaking to this Bill this week, Serame revealed that the current Public Procurement and Asset Disposal arrangement will be merged with the local authority’s procurement Act.

“We will now have procurement under one roof, all overseen by accounting officers, it’s all government money coming from one port,” she said.

Minister Serame explained that PPADB will no longer be player and referee at the same time, with a view to improve efficiency and effectiveness in the regulation and management of public procurement processes.

According to Minister Serame, the new public procurement Act will promote competition among suppliers and contractors, and also provide for the fair, equal and equitable treatment of all suppliers and contractors.

PUBLIC PROCUREMENT REGULATORY AUTHORITY 

Should parliament pass this bill the current Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Board (PPADB) will transition into a new body called Public Procurement Regulatory Authority.

The new Authority will be  mandated with setting standards and practices for the public procurement system, regulate and control the public procurement system, ensure the application of fair, equitable, competitive, transparent, accountable, efficient, non-discriminatory, honest, value for money and public confidence in procurement standards and practices.

Furthermore the Authority will monitor and enforce compliance with the new Act and any relevant law by a procuring entity.

For standardization and  ensuring of world class procurement best practices the Public Procurement Regulatory Authority will  monitor, assess, review and report on the performance of the public procurement system to the Minister and advise on desirable changes, and further issue standardized bidding documents to all procuring entities

This oversight and procurement regulator will conduct periodic inspections of the records and proceedings of a procuring entity to ensure compliance with the Act.

The regulator will institute periodically, in respect of any procurement —a procurement audit during a tender process, a contract audit in the course of execution of an awarded tender, a performance audit after the completion of a contract, and an investigation at any stage of a procurement process.

The Authority will continue to keep and maintain an up-to-date register of contractors, known as the “Contractors’ Register”, in works, services and supplies, or any combination thereof, however classified.

The new Public Procurement Regulatory Authority will be governed by a board of nine (9) non-executive directors appointed by the Minister of Finance and Economic Development.

The Public Procurement Board will be charged with directing the affairs of the Authority. Day to day executive activities of the Public Procurement Authority will be run by a Chief Executive Officer who will be appointed by the Minister on the recommendation of the board.

PROCURING ENTITIES AND ACCOUNTING OFFICERS 

The actual procurement will now be handled by the Accounting Officers who will lead their procuring entities. The entities will consist of the procurement oversight unit, a procurement unit, an ad hoc Evaluation Committee, the user Department; or any other appropriate structure put in place by the Government.

The Accounting Officer will be in charge of establishment of appropriate procurement structures to undertake the procurement functions under the new act, which shall be staffed at an appropriate level in line with the model structure issued by the Public Procurement Regulatory Authority.

The Accounting Officer will also be charged with establishment, as may be prescribed, of a committee within a procuring entity which will oversee procurement activities, establishment, as may be prescribed, of an oversight committee to monitor procurement activities in a procuring entity.

The primary role of the Accounting Officers will be adjudication and award of tenders, including the adjudication of a bid recommendation submitted to him/her through a procurement oversight unit.

The Accounting officer will have powers to cancel a tender process and reject a tender offer at any time prior to entering into a contract, in the manner as may be prescribed, and the Accounting Officer shall not compensate the bidder of a tender that has been cancelled.

Under this proposed Act new set of regulations and guidelines will direct procurement complaints and appeals.

COMPLAINTS & TENDER DISPUTES

A procuring entity  will, after the publication of an award decision — allow a cooling-off period of 10 days in order for the procuring entity to receive and address complaints, if any, from any contractor who is aggrieved by the award decision; and not enter into a contract relating to the award before the expiration of a cooling period.

A contractor who is aggrieved by a breach of any provision of this Act or claims to have suffered or is likely to suffer loss or damages due to a breach of a duty imposed on a procuring entity shall, at the first instance, lodge a complaint before an Accounting Officer for review.

A contractor who lodges a complaint shall have the right to participate in the review proceedings before an Accounting Officer. A contractor who fails to participate in the review proceedings shall be barred from subsequently lodging the same complaint.

Under this proposed Act an Accounting Officer will not entertain a complaint after a contract has entered into force. After considering a complaint and determining that the complaint is a frivolous or vexatious complaint, Accounting Officer shall dismiss such complaint.

Notwithstanding subsection (1), an Accounting Officer may refer a complaint considered and determined to be frivolous or vexatious to the Tribunal for the Tribunal to take any appropriate action as may be prescribed.

An aggrieved person shall submit his or her complaint in writing to an Accounting Officer within 10 days from the date of the publication of an award decision by the Accounting Officer, relating to the complaint.

The Accounting Officer will not entertain a complaint unless it is submitted to him/her within the period referred to under subsection.

A contractor who is aggrieved by a decision of an Accounting Officer may appeal to the Tribunal within 14 days from the date of the decision of the Accounting Officer.

Where a contract has been concluded by a procuring entity, based on an award decision of an Accounting Officer, the contract shall be irrevocable and its execution shall proceed without interruption whether the award decision by the Accounting Officer may in itself remain disputable by a contractor through the Tribunal.

Notwithstanding subsection (5), the Tribunal may suspend and subsequently revoke or terminate the execution of a contract if in the opinion of the Tribunal, sufficient evidence has been adduced to demonstrate that the execution of the contract may cause substantial loss to the public revenue or prejudicially affect public interest.

A complainant who wishes to lodge a complaint shall exhaust the dispute resolution processes provided in this Act before the complainant refers the complaint to a court.

PUBLIC PROCUREMENT TRIBUNAL 

The Tribunal will be a body established independently from Public Procurement Regulatory Authority, and shall constitute retired High Court judges or practicing attorneys who qualify to appoint high court judge.

The Tribunal shall adjudicate over any matter brought before it by a complainant for a breach of any of the provisions of this Act, or any appeal brought in accordance with the provisions of this Act.

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COVID-19 hits hard on BITC

4th August 2021
BITC

The COVID-19 pandemic which weakened world economies had left a devastating impact on Botswana Investment and Trade Centre (BITC) existence in 2020. According to the group’s 2019/2020 Annual Report, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) was sluggish for the first two quarters at P126 million and P426.96 million respectively. They then took an upward trajectory in Q3 and 4 at P1396 million and P1456 million respectively.

The year closed with a reduced performance at 73% for Q4. According to the financial report, export earnings opened the year at 83% which is approximately P671 million, before dropping to 81% (P1299.55 million). However, Quarter 3 experienced a slight rise in performance to 82%, or P1978.42 million before a drop in performance to close Quarter 4 at P74.9%, which was P2403.91 million.

Even if that is the case, the Centre continued to promote local investors by facilitating for local entrepreneurs to produce and find markets for their products both locally and internationally. The trend for Domestic Investment/Expansions indicated a continual upward performance surge from Quarter 1 through Quarter 4.

In percentage points, performance results reflected opening of 93% performance followed by a dip in performance to 82% Quarter 2, and then an increase to 100% in Quarter 3 and closing performance of 84.2% in Quarter 4.

For this financial year under review, BITC posted solid financial results with a surplus of P872.968, representing a decline from the previous year’s surplus of P13.991.337. The Centre started on track from the beginning of the financial year with successful execution of activities planned for the year.

However, following the subsequent onset of COVID-19 in the last quarter for the financial year, a few of the activities were negatively affected resulting from restricted cross border transfers. The impact is expected to be severe in the following financial year, especially on the Centre’s financial statements, clearly reflecting the negative impact of COVID-19.

In the financial year ended March 2020, BITC received a total subvention of P96.504.860 which represents a 5% decrease from the previous year’s subvention of P101.830.560. the Grant subvention received for the past 5 years has not been constant due to the financial constraints that the government has experienced over the years which prompted for alignment of financial resources to cover the Centre’s strategic imperatives.

For the year under review BITC’s annual FDI capital inflows realised stood at P1.456 billion against an annual target of P2 billion, which is largely attributable to more than expected performance from the Financial Services sector. The total Domestic Investment for the period was P875.5 million against the set stretched target of P952 million. The total number of jobs registered by the organisation during the year under review was 3329, against an annual target of 3340.

BITC ACHIEVEMENTS

Notwithstanding that, BITC realised high level achievements for the year under review. Chief Executive Officer Keletsositse Olebile said facilitated to establish the Selibe-Phikwe citrus project, which has a job creation expectation of 1000 vacancies as well as the expansion of Kromberg and Shubert Company through the allocation of land for construction of 7000 square metres factory to manufacture wire harness for Mercedes Benz, with over 800 jobs expected this year.

Further, the Centre continued to deliver improved investor facilitation services to both local and foreign investors through the Botswana one Stop service centre (BOSSC). “BOSSC houses relevant government departments under one roof to provide prompt, efficient and transparent services to investors. The services offered by this Centre have grown from slightly above 130 applications for government authorisation in 2013 to 752 in the year under review,” said Olebile.

BITC continued to monitor Botswana’s performance in global competitiveness indicators such as the World Bank’s ease of Doing Business Index. “In an endeavour to improve the investor facilitation mechanism in the country, we have motivated for the drafting of a Business Facilitation Law, which will expedite the setting up and operations of businesses in Botswana.”

ECONOMIC DIVERSIFICATION DRIVE

BITC continued to respond to government’s call to stimulate direct investment and growth of local companies by procuring goods and services from locally based manufactures and services providers. The message to promote locals to actively grow the national economy has been driven through campaigns such as ‘PushaBW’ which utilised an Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) approach. As at March 2020, local purchases constituted 84% (2019:85%) of the total procurement with foreign purchases at 16% (2019:15%).

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