Just before COVID-19 intensified around February this year, a development that put the tourism industry into a standstill, Chobe Holdings, a Botswana Stock Exchange listed tourism & hospitality entity, was counting its blessings delivered during the larger part of 2019 and readying for a promising 2020.
Transactions in US dollar terms did the trick for one of the oldest companies on the BSE bourse. The company, which operates lucrative hotels, safari and camping sites along the mighty Chobe River realized a 10% increase in revenue for its financial year ended 29 February 2020. This, according to Chobe’ s condensed audited financials for the period, is attributable by in large to better achieved bed night rates in US Dollar terms and depreciation of the Pula against the US Dollar. Overall, foreign exchange gains delivered solid operating income.
During the year Chobe registered a slight increase in operating cost at 3%, compared to a larger hike in the prior year, something which company Directors attribute to fruitful cost containment strategies delivered by management. During the period, occupancy remained fairly flat when compared to the same period in the prior year ended February2019 – this was due to increased competition.
Chobe Chief Executive Officer and Chairman, J M Gibson suggests that the other contributing factor to flat occupancy output was negative press around the lifting of the hunting suspension. However on a positive note, cost were contained at inflationary levels, resulting in solid operating profits and offsetting flat occupancy output to deliver impressive Profit after tax, up 19 % when gauged against the prior year ended February 2019.
During the financial year under review Chobe spent P45.9 million, from internally generated cash flows on the purchase of game drive vehicles, a Cessna Caravan as well as significantly improving existing buildings and equipment. As previously reported, the Company, through its wholly owned subsidiary Ker & Downey (Botswana) Proprietary Limited, acquired the entire issued stated capital of Nelie Investments Proprietary Limited, a property owning company holding leases for two game farms in the Hainaveld area for a cash consideration of P15.4 million financed using the Group’s internal cash resources.
Company executives say the two properties will be utilized to increase the extent of the land holdings currently held by the Dinaka Conservancy. Desert & Delta Safaris Proprietary Limited, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Company, acquired the entire shareholding and loans in Quadrum Proprietary Limited and Sedia Hotel Proprietary Limited with effect from 1st August 2019 for a total consideration of P30 million. The entities own the land lease and operate Sedia Riverside Hotel, a 31-room hotel in Maun.
Furthermore P25m, financed from internally generated cash resources, was paid on the effective date with the balance payable on the anniversary of the effective date for the following five years in equal installments of P1m each or the fulfillment of certain conditions.
During the financial year ended 29 February 2019 Chobe adopted IFRS16 Leases for the first time in compliance with International Financial Reporting Standards. This has resulted in significant increases in Depreciation, Finance cost, and recognition of Right of Use Assets and Lease Liability due to all of the Group’s camps and lodges being on leased lands. The adoption of this standard has also resulted in Deferred Lease Obligation being reduced to zero.
A total of P1.8 million was disbursed to employees during the year ended 29th February 2020 as part o the phantom share scheme approved during the year ended 28th February 2013 which allows the Group’s employees to participate in the dividend distributions of the Group. The scheme allows all qualifying staff to share equally in a bonus which is calculated to be equal to the value of dividends attaching to three million shares in the Company.
Regarding the ongoing crisis of COVID-19, the pandemic has caused a 22% fall in international tourist arrivals during the first quarter of 2020 with experts saying this could lead to an annual decline of between 60% and 80% when compared with 2019 figures. It is anticipated that signs of recovery will start emerging in the last quarter of 2020 but mostly in 2021 with leisure tourism expected to recover quickly. The recovery is however dependent on containment of the virus, easing of travel restrictions and reopening of borders.
Chobe Holdings Limited says on their part the marketing push of “don’t cancel, defer” has been largely successful with more than 70% of the confirmed bookings that were scheduled to travel in the period April – June 2020 deferring their travel to 2021. “We are therefore confident of a fairly quick recovery when it is deemed safe for international travel to resume,” said the Chobe CEO.
J M Gibson said during the last couple of years the company has spent considerable cash resources to upgrade its aircraft, motor vehicles, boats, other equipment, buildings and other operating assets. “All our assets are secure and require minimal expense to keep them ready to perform, policies and procedures are in place to ensure there is no adverse deterioration of assets during the lockdown,” he said.
This century is always looking at improving new super high speed technology to make life easier. On the other hand, beckoning as an emerging fierce reversal force to equally match or dominate this life enhancing super new tech, comes swift human adversaries which seem to have come to make living on earth even more difficult.
The recent discovery of a pandemic, Covid-19, which moves at a pace of unimaginable and unpredictable proportions; locking people inside homes and barring human interactions with its dreaded death threat, is currently being felt.
Member of Parliament for Kanye North, Thapelo Letsholo has cautioned Government against excessive borrowing and poorly managed debt levels.
He was speaking in Parliament on Tuesday delivering Parliament’s Finance Committee report after assessing a motion that sought to raise Government Bond program ceiling to P30 billion, a big jump from the initial P15 Billion.
Government Investment Account (GIA) which forms part of the Pula fund has been significantly drawn down to finance Botswana’s budget deficits since 2008/09 Global financial crises.
The 2009 global economic recession triggered the collapse of financial markets in the United States, sending waves of shock across world economies, eroding business sentiment, and causing financiers of trade to excise heightened caution and hold onto their cash.
The ripple effects of this economic catastrophe were mostly felt by low to middle income resource based economies, amplifying their vulnerability to external shocks. The diamond industry which forms the gist of Botswana’s economic make up collapsed to zero trade levels across the entire value chain.
The Upstream, where Botswana gathers much of its diamond revenue was adversely impacted by muted demand in the Midstream. The situation was exacerbated by zero appetite of polished goods by jewelry manufacturers and retail outlets due to lowered tail end consumer demand.
This resulted in sharp decline of Government revenue, ballooned budget deficits and suspension of some developmental projects. To finance the deficit and some prioritized national development projects, government had to dip into cash balances, foreign reserves and borrow both externally and locally.
Much of drawing was from Government Investment Account as opposed to drawing from foreign reserve component of the Pula Fund; the latter was spared as a fiscal buffer for the worst rainy days.
Consequently this resulted in significant decline in funds held in the Government Investment Account (GIA). The account serves as Government’s main savings depository and fund for national policy objectives.
However as the world emerged from the 2009 recession government revenue graph picked up to pre recession levels before going down again around 2016/17 owing to challenges in the diamond industry.
Due to a number of budget surpluses from 2012/13 financial year the Government Investment Account started expanding back to P30 billion levels before a series of budget deficits in the National Development Plan 11 pushed it back to decline a decline wave.
When the National Development Plan 11 commenced three (3) financial years ago, government announced that the first half of the NDP would run at budget deficits.
This as explained by Minister of Finance in 2017 would be occasioned by decline in diamond revenue mainly due to government forfeiting some of its dividend from Debswana to fund mine expansion projects.
Cumulatively since 2017/18 to 2019/20 financial year the budget deficit totaled to over P16 billion, of which was financed by both external and domestic borrowing and drawing down from government cash balances. Drawing down from government cash balances meant significant withdrawals from the Government Investment Account.
The Government Investment Account (GIA) was established in accordance with Section 35 of the Bank of Botswana Act Cap. 55:01. The Account represents Government’s share of the Botswana‘s foreign exchange reserves, its investment and management strategies are aligned to the Bank of Botswana’s foreign exchange reserves management and investment guidelines.
Government Investment Account, comprises of Pula denominated deposits at the Bank of Botswana and held in the Pula Fund, which is the long-term investment tranche of the foreign exchange reserves.
In June 2017 while answering a question from Bogolo Kenewendo, the then Minister of Finance & Economic Development Kenneth Mathambo told parliament that as of June 30, 2017, the total assets in the Pula Fund was P56.818 billion, of which the balance in the GIA was P30.832 billion.
Kenewendo was still a back bench specially elected Member of Parliament before ascending to cabinet post in 2018. Last week Minister of Finance & Economic Development, Dr Thapelo Matsheka, when presenting a motion to raise government local borrowing ceiling from P15 billion to P30 Billion told parliament that as of December 2019 Government Investment Account amounted to P18.3 billion.
Dr Matsheka further told parliament that prior to financial crisis of 2008/9 the account amounted to P30.5 billion (41 % of GDP) in December of 2008 while as at December 2019 it stood at P18.3 billion (only 9 % of GDP) mirroring a total decline by P11 billion in the entire 11 years.
Back in 2017 Parliament was also told that the Government Investment Account may be drawn-down or added to, in line with actuations in the Government’s expenditure and revenue outturns. “This is intended to provide the Government with appropriate funds to execute its functions and responsibilities effectively and efficiently” said Mathambo, then Minister of Finance.
Acknowledging the need to draw down from GIA no more, current Minister of Finance Dr Matsheka said “It is under this background that it would be advisable to avoid excessive draw down from this account to preserve it as a financial buffer”
He further cautioned “The danger with substantially reduced financial buffers is that when an economic shock occurs or a disaster descends upon us and adversely affects our economy it becomes very difficult for the country to manage such a shock”