The COVID-19 global pandemic which put the world to stand still for 2 months, has delivered some of the worst catastrophic shocks to global economies in history. In sub Saharan Africa, corona virus landed the region into its worst economic recession since 1970, in what the International Monetary Fund – Africa Department calls an “Unprecedented threat to Development”.
What economists and leading minds projected when COVID-19 intensified in March, was that resource based economies would be hard hit by this pandemic compared to non –resource intensive countries. This according to leading minds would be due to restricted international travels, curtailed trade and movement of goods as well as halt in productivity as factories closed worldwide.
Botswana stands out as one of those countries in Africa and by extension the whole world, that depend heavily on resource anchored revenue for government budget and economic activity, worse enough, a finite resource! The country’s leading economic sectors can somewhat be referred to as industries dependent on consumers luxury spending. At the first sign of COVID19 escalation, these sectors, being mining and tourism started receiving blows, heavy blows far worse than those experienced during the 2008/09 global financial crisis.
The mining sector started receiving a sharp decline in demand of rough diamonds as a result of cautious spending by traders because inventories were getting filled up without downstream uptake. The closing of cutting and polishing firms in China and India exacerbated the situation as wholesale financiers held onto their cash; the crisis was further worsened by closing of jewelry outlets in United States as the country went on lockdown.
Travel restrictions to curb the spread of the virus finished off the industry, sealing the crisis into what will clearly be terrible year for the multibillion dollar luxurious money spinner. For the tourism industry which is Botswana’s second largest contributor to GDP, travel restrictions straight way delivered a heavy blow of completely zero revenue. Safaris, hotels and lodges closed for over 2 months, activities within the sector are unlikely to resume into full peak anytime soon.
According to Moody’s Investor Services, an international rating agency and global think tank, corona virus has only amplified Botswana‘s already risky and vulnerable economic setup. The London based finance and economic minds said the corona virus shock has crystallized Botswana’s vulnerabilities arising from the limited economic diversification given its heavy reliance on a single commodity for growth, exports and budget revenues, slow progress towards economic transformation, and an increasingly rigid expenditure structure in the budget.
Last week on Friday 29th May 2020, the agency released rating action for Botswana, maintaining the A2 long-term local and foreign currency issuer ratings. A2 rating is the sixth highest rating in Moody’s Long-term sovereign ratings. Countries rated A2 are considered to be of upper-medium grade and are subject to low credit risk.
This rating is within the High credit quality bracket, which boasts of strong capacity for timely fulfillment of financial obligations. Possesses many favorable credit characteristics but may be slightly vulnerable to adverse changes in business, economic and financial conditions. Moody’s has however changed the outlook from stable to negative, meaning the rating can go down anytime within a period of six months to two years.
The negative outlook according to the statement reflects increasing risks to Botswana’s fiscal strength due to the severe shock to its growth and the government’s revenue resulting from the corona virus pandemic impact on the economy and the important diamond sector in particular. “Significantly lower growth, much weaker government revenues and higher borrowing requirements will aggravate already deteriorating fiscal trends and risk accelerating the erosion of fiscal buffers,” reads the statement from London.
Furthermore, Moody’s says the disruptions caused by the corona virus will likely slow progress in terms of fiscal consolidation and economic diversification, which are key to preserve the fiscal and external buffers in the longer term. Against a projected GDP growth of about 4 % by local forecasts, COVID 19 has overturned Botswana’s growth prospects to a 13 % decline in economy during the year 2020. Against initial projected revenue of P62.4 billion, Botswana‘s economy is only expected to generate revenue of about P48 billion.
Government has trimmed its budget from P67.6 billion to P59.6 billion. Budget deficit will now shoot up from initial P5.2 billion, 2.4 % GDP to over P10 billion which will now be over 5 % of GDP, well over government threshold of 4%. The decline in government revenue will be attributable to a massive reduction in Mining & Mineral revenue which is anticipated to shrink by over 33 %. The decline in mining and mineral revenue is predominately as a result of halt in rough diamond sales due to travel restriction and stand still in trading across the industry.
The diamond industry is Botswana‘s key foreign income earner and largest contributor to GDP. It was projected that diamond revenue will bring to the table a total of P20 billion, however Government now experts revenue from mineral revenue to only be around P6 billion. Trade & Hotels revenue will go down over 32 %. Manufacturing will go down by 10 %, Transport and communication will decline by over 4 %.Non Mineral tax revenue will shrink by P2 billion from initial projection of P14 billion to P12 billion. Revenue from Value Added Tax (VAT) will go down from P8.6 billion to P7.6 billion.
Moody’s says an upgrade in Botswana’s rating in the foreseeable future is very unlikely given the negative outlook. Botswana ‘s outlook would only change back to stable according to the agency if the current wave of deteriorating fiscal metrics would be countered by credible fiscal measures aimed at rebuilding fiscal buffers in the long term and reduce fiscal vulnerabilities posed by the rigid budget structure.
“The decision to stabilize the outlook may also be supported by evidence of progress in implementing growth-enhancing reforms targeting an improvement in economic diversification and business environment,” says the London based economic think tank. Conversely, indications of challenges in halting the fiscal deterioration after the severe but temporary corona virus shock suggesting a durable deterioration of fiscal strength will likely prompt a downgrade.
Furthermore an increase in financial support to state-owned enterprises that lead to a material weakening of the fiscal metrics would also likely result in a lower rating. Any signs that susceptibility to event risk has increased due to higher liquidity risk resulting from larger gross borrowing requirements or a further deterioration of the external position compared to current expectations will also increase the likelihood of a downgrade.
Moody’s says given Botswana’s strong dependency on the diamond industry for growth, exports and budget revenues, the country is more exposed than peers at the current rating level to the risks associated with the corona virus shock.
The partnership between Debswana and Botswana Oil Limited (BOL) which was announced a fortnight ago will create under 100 direct jobs, and scores of job opportunities for citizens in the value chain activities.
In a major milestone, Debswana and BOL jointly announced that the fuel supply to Debswana, which was in the past serviced by foreign companies, will now be reserved for citizen companies. The total value of the project is P8 billion, spanning a period of five years.
“About 88 direct jobs will be created through the partnership. These include some jobs which will be transferred from the current supplier to the new partnership,” Matida Mmipi, Head of Stakeholder Relations at Botswana Oil, told BusinessPost.
“We believe this partnership will become a blueprint for other citizen initiatives, even in other sectors of the economy. Furthermore, this partnership has succeeded in unlocking opportunities that never existed for ordinary citizens who aspire to grow and do business with big companies like Debswana.”
Mmipi said through this partnership, BOL and Debswana intend to impact citizen owned companies in the fuel supply value chain that include transportation, supply, facilities maintenance, engineering, customs clearance, trucks stops and its support activities such as workshop / maintenance, tyre services, truck wash bays among others.
“The number of companies to be on-boarded will be determined by the economics at the time of engagement,” she said. BOL will play a facilitatory role of handholding and assisting emerging citizen-owned fuel supply and fuel transportation companies to supply Debswana’s Jwaneng and Orapa Letlhakane Damtshaa (OLDM) mines with diesel and petrol for their operations.
“BOL expects to increase citizen companies’ market share in the fuel supply and transportation industries, which have over the years been dominated by foreign-owned suppliers. Consequently, the agreement will also ensure security of supply for Debswana operations, which are a mainstay of the Botswana economy,” Mmipi said.
“Furthermore, BOL will, under this agreement, transfer skills to citizen suppliers and transporters during the contract period and ensure delivery of competent and skilled citizen suppliers and transport companies upon completion of the agreement.”
Mmipi said the capacitating by BOL is limited to providing citizen companies oil industry technical capability and capacity to deliver on the requirements of the contract, when asked on helping citizen companies to access funding.
“BOL’s mandate does not include financing citizen empowerment initiatives. Securing funding will remain the responsibility of the beneficiaries. This could be through government financing entities including CEDA or through commercial banks. Further to this, there are financial institutions that have already signed up to support the Debswana Citizen Economic Empowerment Programme (CEEP),” Mmipi indicated.
While BOL is established by government as company limited by guarantee, it will not benefit financially from the partnership with Debswana, as citizen empowerment in the petroleum value chain is core to BOL’s mandate.
“BOL does not pursue citizen facilitation for financial benefit, but rather we engage in citizen facilitation as a social aspect of our mandate. Citizen facilitation comes at a cost, but it is the right thing to do for the country to develop the oil and gas industry,” she said.
Mmipi said supplying fuel to Debswana comes with commercial benefits such as supply margins. These have traditionally been made outside the country when supply was done by multi-nationals for a period spanning over 50 years. With BOL anchoring supply for Debswana, this benefit will accrue locally, and BOL will be able to pay taxes and dividends to the shareholders in Botswana.
PwC Africa has presented the eighth edition of the VAT in Africa Guide – Africa re-emerging. This backdrop of renewal informs on the re-emergence of African economies and societies which have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In this edition, which has been compiled by PwC Africa’s indirect tax experts, covers a total of 41 African countries. It is geared towards sharing insight with our clients based on the constantly changing tax environments that can have a significant impact on business operations.
Within Africa, governments continue to focus on expanding the tax net by improving revenue collection through efficient compliance systems and procedures. PwC Africa has observed that revenue authorities also continue to take a keen interest in indirect taxes as part of revenue mobilisation initiatives.
Maturing VAT system and upskilling SARS
“In South Africa, VAT is becoming more relevant as a revenue source for the government,” says Matthew Besanko, PwC South Africa’s Indirect Tax Leader. “Strides have been made to upskill South African Revenue Service (SARS) staff and identify VAT revenue leakages, particularly in respect of foreign suppliers of electronic services to people and businesses in South Africa.”
Broadening the tax base and digital economy
In the past year, South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe saw updates to their VAT legislation, or introduced specific legislation targeting electronically supplied services (ESS), which is in line with the global trend of attempting to tax the digital economy. “The expectation is that Botswana will also introduce VAT legislation in due course, while the National Treasury in South Africa has also made mention of revising the rules to account for further developments in the digital economy,” Besanko says.
South Africa’s National Treasury has also drafted legislation with the intention to introduce a reverse charge on gold, which is expected to come into effect later in 2022. While in Zimbabwe, revenue authorities have introduced a tax on the export of raw medicinal cannabis ranging between 10% and 20%, which came into effect on 1 January 2021.
ESG and carbon tax
Key strides have also been made within the Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) space. “ESG leadership, strategising and reporting is essential now for organisations that wish to flourish and remain relevant,” Kabochi says. He adds that companies need to consider how ESG and tax intersect, since tax is a significant value driver when businesses need to deliver on their ESG goals.
In South Africa, a carbon tax regime, which is being implemented in three phases, has been adopted. The second phase was scheduled to start in January 2023, however phase one was extended by three years until 31 December 2025.
Until then, taxpayers will enjoy substantial tax-free allowances which reduce their carbon tax liability. At the beginning of 2022, the South African government increased the carbon tax rate to R144 (about US$9), which is expected to increase annually to enable South Africa to uphold its COP26 commitments.
With effect from 1 January 2023, carbon tax payers in South Africa will also be required to submit carbon budgets and adhere to the provisions of the carbon budgeting system which will be governed by the Climate Change Bill. Where set carbon budgets are exceeded, the government plans to impose penalties. “At PwC, we are continuously focused on our renewed global strategy, ” The New Equation,” Kabochi says. “Through this strategy, a key focus area for PwC Africa is to support clients in adding value to their ESG ambitions and building trust through sustained outcomes.”
The New Equation is also an acknowledgement of the fundamental changes in the business environment in which PwC’s clients and other stakeholders operate. PwC continues to reinvent and adapt to these changes as a community of problem solvers, combining knowledge and human-led technology to deliver quality services and value.
Local and international economists have lowered their projections on Botswana’s economic growth for 2022 and 2023, saying the country is highly likely to fail to maintain high growth rate recorded in 2021 hence will not reach initial forecasts.
Economists this week lowered 2022 forecasts for Botswana’s economic growth rate, from the initial 5.3% to 4.8% and added that in 2023 growth could further decline to 4.0%. The lower projections come on the backdrop of an annual economic growth that recovered sharply in 2021 with figures showing that year-on-year real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth increased to 11.4%, up from a contraction of 8.7% in 2020.
Economists from the local research entity, E-consult, this week stated that the 2021 double digit growth that exceeded projections made at the time of the 2022 budget may be short lived due to other developments taking place in the global economy. E-consult Economist Sethunya Kegakgametse stated that the war in Ukraine has worsened supply problems in the global economy and added that before the war, macroeconomic indicators were seen as improving and returning to pre-COVID levels.
According to the economist the global economy was projected to improve in 2022 and 2023. Recent figures show that global growth projections have been revised downwards from the initial forecast of 4.9% in 2022 with the World Bank’s new estimate for global growth in 2022 at 3.2%.
The statistics also shows that International Monetary Fund revised their growth projections for 2022 and 2023 down by 0.8% and 0.2% respectively, falling to 3.6% for both years. “The outbreak of war has severely dampened the global recovery that was under way following the COVID-19 pandemic,” said the economist.
She stated that despite Botswana being geographically removed from the conflict, the country has not and will not be exempt from the disruptions in the global economy. “The disruptions to global supply chains resulting from the war will have a negative effect on both Botswana’s growth and trade activities.
The economic sanctions against diamonds from Russia will add uncertainty to the market which will have knock on effects to Botswana’s growth, exports, and government revenues,” said the economists who added that the disruptions are driving prices up and result with very high inflation in the local economy.
Kegakgametse projected that in an attempt to limit inflation Bank of Botswana will be forced to raise interest rate “Should the sharp increase in both global and local inflation persist, Bank of Botswana much like other central banks around the world will be forced to raise interest rates in a bid to control rising prices. This would mean an end to the expansionary monetary policy stance that had been adopted post COVID-19 to aid economic growth,” she said.
In the latest projections, the UK based economic research entity Fitch Solutions lowered 2022 real GDP growth forecast for Botswana from 5.3% to 4.8% “In 2023, we see economic growth rate decelerating to 4.0%,” said Fitch Solutions economists who also noted that the 2022 and 2023 economic growth projections may come out lower than the current forecasts, as it is possible that new vaccine-resistant virus variants may be identified, which could result in the re-implementation of restrictions. “In such circumstances, we cannot rule out that Botswana’s economy may post weaker growth than our baseline scenario currently assumes,” said the economists.
According to the projections, Fitch Solution stated that there is limited scope for Botswana government to increase diamond production and exports, following the economic sanctions imposed on Russian diamond mining companies operating in Botswana. The research entity added that De Beers is unlikely to scale up diamond output from Botswana in order to prop up diamond prices.