Shockingly, COVID-19 became a blessing in disguise for Botswana as the European Union (EU) in its fresh dirty-money blacklisting of notorious countries took into consideration that the pandemic may be a major impediment for these nations to comply with Europe’s conditions or standards.
According to the EU recently, COVID-19 has had disruptive global impact on many economies and national administrations around the world, and it would not be fair to put harsh conditions now on these blacklisted countries; like EU funding and doing financial transactions with these dirty money countries through financial systems or by any means.
“The very exceptional and unpredictable situation arising from the Coronavirus pandemic has a global impact and is leading to significant disruption for economies and national administrations around the world.
Therefore, the date of application of today’s (EU’s Delegated Regulation) Regulation listing third countries – and therefore applying new protective measures – only applies as of 1 October 2020. This is to ensure that all stakeholders have time to prepare appropriately.
The delisting of countries, however, is not affected by this and will enter into force 20 days after publication in the Official Journal,” said EU after releasing the blacklist.
According to EU’s Commission last week Thursday, Botswana and other 11 nations of the world are blacklisted and should notoriously be seen as culprits posing a money-laundering or dirty money threat to Europe’s law-abiding single market.
This country and its named and shamed counterparts, The Bahamas, Barbados, Cambodia, Ghana, Jamaica, Mauritius, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Panama and Zimbabwe are seen as prone to financial lawlessness and poses a “high risk” of injecting criminal or terrorist funds into the single market. According to the Commission, EU banks ought to do enhanced due diligence on transactions when thinking of these countries.
Last week EU executive vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis said in a communication that: “We need to put an end to dirty money infiltrating our financial system. Today we are further bolstering our defences to fight money laundering and terrorist financing, with a comprehensive and far-reaching Action Plan.
There should be no weak links in our rules and their implementation. We are committed to delivering on all these actions – swiftly and consistently – over the next 12 months. We are also strengthening the EU’s global role in terms of shaping international standards on fighting money laundering and terrorism financing.”
Addition of a country into the EU blacklist can only mean many bad things to follow and a tarnish to the country’s image, especially Botswana which has been touted for years as an incorruptible model and jewel for democracy. After last week’s listing no funds from Botswana in any form of transaction will be accepted by the Eu community.
European financial systems or banks are told to do further diligence when dealing with “dirty money Botswana,” and Europeans will be under too much scrutiny when they make investment into Botswana. As if that is enough, the EU may consider its funding of Botswana as it does not want to pollute its (EU) money by dealing with a financial rascal of a jurisdiction.
The listing of notorious countries according to EU comes at a time when the world is grappled by COVID-19. Botswana is currently on lockdown and going through a State of Emergency in response to the pandemic to deal with the EU standards and conditions. Botswana and EU are major trading partners and Europe buys most of these country beef.
Botswana and its counterparts which were added last week joins countries already on the list which are Afghanistan, Iraq, Vanuatu, Pakistan, Syria, Yemen, Uganda, Trinidad and Tobago, Iran and North Korea. It is reported that all states except North Korea have committed to changing their rules in order to better tackle money laundering and terrorism financing and hope to be removed from the blacklist.
“We welcome those commitments and invite those jurisdictions to implement them swiftly. Given the Coronavirus crisis, the date of application of today’s Regulation listing third countries – and therefore applying new protective measures – only applies as of 1 October 2020,” said EU.
The European Commission said it, “will immediately identify those countries that refuse to take commitments to address their strategic deficiencies (“non-cooperative jurisdictions”) or those third countries that have an overriding level of risk.”
According to EU, third countries taking commitments to address concerns, as part of the European Commission’s autonomous assessment, will benefit from a 12-month observation period. In case they do not implement those commitments within the agreed period, the Commission will proceed with a listing, said EU.
A question which has been put for the EU is: Will there be any technical assistance available for the countries identified as high-risk third countries? The block said promised to assist the blacklisted countries by, “providing technical assistance to the countries identified as high-risk third countries.”
EU has put itself in the spotlight as an infallible champion of financial morality and leading the war on money laundering and countering terrorist financing. “The Commission currently has a programme (€20 million) under the Global Facility (AML/CFT) to support countries in the world to monitor, disrupt and deny the financing of terrorism and money-laundering.
The Commission aims at supporting more partners to address AML/CFT issues. This process is demand-driven – i.e. countries will have to define their needs and request technical assistance to improve their AML/CFT regimes in the framework of the external aid policy of the Commission,” said the EU.
Marcian Concepts have been contracted by Selibe Phikwe Economic Unit (SPEDU) in a P230 million project to raise the town from its ghost status. The project is in the design and building phase of building an industrial hub for Phikwe; putting together an infrastructure in Bolelanoto and Senwelo industrial sites.
This project comes as a life-raft for Selibe Phikwe, a town which was turned into a ghost town when the area’s economic mainstay, BCL mine, closed four years ago. In that catastrophe, 5000 people lost their livelihoods as the town’s life sunk into a gloomy horizon. Businesses were closed and some migrated to better places as industrial places and malls became almost empty.
However, SPEDU has now started plans to breathe life into the town. Information reaching this publication is that Marcian Concepts is now on the ground at Bolelanoto and Senwelo and works have commenced. Marcian as a contractor already promises to hire Phikwe locals only, even subcontract only companies from the area as a way to empower the place’s economy.
The procurement method for the tender is Open Domestic bidding which means Joint Ventures with foreign companies is not allowed. According to Marcian Concepts General Manager, Andre Strydom, in an interview with this publication, the project will come with 150 to 200 jobs. The project is expected to take 15 months at a tune of P230 531 402. 76. Marcian will put together construction of roadworks, storm-water drains, water reticulation, street lighting and telecommunication infrastructure. This tender was flouted last year August, but was awarded in June this year. This project is seen as the beginning of Phikwe’s revival and investors will be targeted to the area after the town has worn the ghost city status for almost half a decade.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has slashed its outlook the world economy projecting a significantly deeper recession and slower recovery than it anticipated just two months ago.
On Wednesday when delivering its World Economic Outlook report titled “A long difficult Ascent” the Washington Based global lender said it now expects global gross domestic product to shrink 4.9% this year, more than the 3% predicted in April. For 2021, IMF experts have projected growth of 5.4%, down from 5.8%. “We are projecting a somewhat less severe though still deep recession in 2020, relative to our June forecast,” said Gita Gopinath Economic Counsellor and Director of Research.
The struggle of humanity is now how to dribble past the ‘Great Pandemic’ in order to salvage a lean economic score. Botswana is already working on dwindling fiscal accounts, budget deficit, threatened foreign reserves and the GDP data that is screaming recession.
Latest data by think tank and renowned rating agency, Moody’s Investor Service, is that Botswana’s fiscal status is on the red and it is mostly because of its mineral-dependency garment and tourism-related taxation. Botswana decided to close borders as one of the containment measures of Covid-19; trade and travellers have been locked out of the country. Moody’s also acknowledges that closing borders by countries like Botswana results in the collapse of tourism which will also indirectly weigh on revenue through lower import duties, VAT receipts and other taxes.
Latest economic data shows that Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the second quarter of 2020 with a decrease of 27 percent. One of the factors that led to contraction of the local economy is the suspension of air travel occasioned by COVID-19 containment measures impacted on the number of tourists entering through the country’s borders and hence affecting the output of the hotels and restaurants industry. This will also be weighed down by, according to Moody’s, emerging markets which will see government losing average revenue worth 2.1 percentage points (pps) of GDP in 2020, exceeding the 1.0 pps loss in advanced economies (AEs).
“Fiscal revenue in emerging markets is particularly vulnerable to this current crisis because of concentrated revenue structures and less sophisticated tax administrations than those in AEs. Oil exporters will see the largest falls but revenue volatility is a common feature of their credit profiles historically,” says Moody’s. The domino effects of containment measures could be seen cracking all sectors of the local economy as taxes from outside were locked out by the closure of borders hence dwindling tax revenue.
Moody’s has placed Botswana among oil importers, small, tourism-reliant economies which will see the largest fall in revenue. Botswana is in the top 10 of that pecking order where Moody’s pointed out recently that other resource-rich countries like Botswana (A2 negative) will also face a large drop in fiscal revenue.
This situation of countries’ revenue on the red is going to stay stubborn for a long run. Moody’s predicts that the spending pressures faced by governments across the globe are unlikely to ease in the short term, particularly because this crisis has emphasized the social role governments perform in areas like healthcare and labour markets.
For countries like Botswana, these spending pressures are generally exacerbated by a range of other factors like a higher interest burden, infrastructure deficiencies, weaker broader public sector, higher subsidies, lower incomes and more precarious employment. As a result, most of the burden for any fiscal consolidation is likely to fall on the revenue side, says Moody’s.
Moody’s then moves to the revenue spin of taxation. The rating agency looked at the likelihood and probability of sovereigns to raise up revenue by increasing tax to offset what was lost in mineral revenue and tourism-related tax revenue. Moody’s said the capacity to raise tax revenue distinguishes governments from other debt issuers. “In theory, governments can change a given tax system as they wish, subject to the relevant legislative process and within the constraints of international law. In practice, however, there are material constraints,” says Moody’s.
‘‘The coronavirus crisis will lead to long-lasting revenue losses for emerging market sovereigns because their ability to implement and enforce effective revenue-raising measures in response will be an important credit driver over the next few years because of their sizeable spending pressures and the subdued recovery in the global economy we expect next year.’’
According to Moody’s, together with a rise in stimulus and healthcare spending related to the crisis, the think tank expects this drop in revenue will trigger a sizeable fiscal deterioration across emerging market sovereigns. Most countries, including Botswana, are under pressure of widening their tax bases, Moody’s says that this will be challenging. “Even if governments reversed or do not extend tax-easing measures implemented in 2020 to support the economy through the coronavirus shock, which would be politically challenging, this would only provide a modest boost to revenue, especially as these measures were relatively modest in most emerging markets,” says Moody’s.
Botswana has been seen internationally as a ‘tax ease’ country and its taxes are seen as lower when compared to its regional counterparts. This country’s name has also been mentioned in various international investigative journalism tax evasion reports. In recent years there was a division of opinions over whether this country can stretch its tax base. But like other sovereigns who have tried but struggled to increase or even maintain their tax intake before the crisis, Botswana will face additional challenges, according to Moody’s.
“Additional measures to reduce tax evasion and cutting tax expenditure should support the recovery in government revenue, albeit from low levels,” advised Moody’s. Botswana’s tax revenue to the percentage of the GDP was 27 percent in 2008, dropped to 23 percent in 2010 to 23 percent before rising to 27 percent again in 2012. In years 2013 and 2014 the percentage went to 25 percent before it took a slip to decline in respective years of 2015 up to now where it is at 19.8 percent.