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Should credit be panacea for ‘The Great Pandemic’?

Dr Thapelo Matsheka

There is currently an image of microeconomics heavily eclipsing macroeconomics as economies around the world including Botswana, are going through lockdowns leading to the closure of borders around the world.

This visual should show a system of economics where decisions are mostly human based or business centred taking a bigger shape and replacing plans made by governments in front of a broken vintage mirror reminiscing The Great Depression.

When he rushed to close the country to a complete halt of lockdown on 31 March, in his most sober speech after this country discovered the first face of the invisible enemy; Covid-19, President Mokgweetsi Masisi in paragraph 17 of his speech talked of “Stabilizing businesses.”

With the decision to close down borders, there was obviously no way Masisi was going to speak macroeconomics in his speech given the situation of a pandemic affecting the global village and threatening to wipe out the human race.

The President only bordered his thought on how government can help businesses participate in the domestic economy whereby the Government is to “give businesses some cash-flow relief. Government will guarantee loans by commercial banks to businesses mostly affected by COVID-19.

Give eligible businesses affected by COVID-19 access to credit to support ongoing operations in conditions where credit becomes more difficult to obtain.”

Masisi was talking of credit to businesses but the discussion was more than what was in the black and white document.

However, dynamics shift when microeconomics takes centre stage as compared to macroeconomics especially when there is something which greatly affects humanity and cuts down all the aspects of humanness, like wars, disasters and diseases or a big global economic collapse.

As the global economy is cornered, there comes a time when things seem like déjà vu as the history of The Great Depression after the First World War repeats itself in this era of the novel Corona virus. There was a global wave that saw the collapse of the stock market while populations across the world failed to deal with microeconomics which were caused by macroeconomics when nations went for war.

After WWI, the US banks got hit hard due to credits offered to countries at war. Domestically, financial systems collapsed due to people or businesses who could not pay back banks.

There were many global economic downfalls including ‘Great Trade War’ between China and the US which affected global economics. Recently, the ‘Great Price War’ amongst oil producing giants subsequently resulted in ‘Great Oil Crunch’ not to forget the Brexit saga all this during and amid Covid-19, things went from bad to worse for economies in 2020. But in microeconomics there is an echo that ploughing credit in the population will be the best medicine in this year of economic ills.

As coronavirus took its toll on Botswana’s economy, one of the most fiscal and monetary interventions was when the central bank cut the benchmark policy rate by 50 basis points to 4.25 percent aimed at cushioning the economy by easing borrowing costs across board.

The prudential capital adequacy ratio for commercial banks was also dropped from 12.5 percent to 15 percent. The central bank said the reduction of primary reserve requirement will free up P1.6 billion to be used by banks to finance economic activity.

A recent business expectations survey by Bank of Botswana (BoB) for the second quarter, which was carried out in the constrained conditions of Covid-19 lockdown, says firms do not believe there will be easy access to credit. Firms anticipate “tight access to credit in the domestic market in the second quarter of 2020.

Businesses also expect lending rates in the rest of the markets to decline according to the business expectations survey and this is not what the President wished for in his first Covid-19 speech of 31 March.

Business expectations could have been informed by the statistics which were recently released by BoB. The statistics which were made before Masisi encouraged borrowing as one of the economic panacea in the wave of ‘The Great Pandemic’ shows that commercial bank credit growth in March 2020 swayed more to households than businesses.

This contradicted Masisi’s State of Emergency speech as instead of businesses taking credit from commercial banks, households lead the connection to tellers with credit growth of 15 percent by March 2020. Credit growth in businesses was only four percent.

According to the central bank, annual growth in commercial bank credit increased by 10.7 percent in March 2020, from 6.7 percent in March 2019. However, things were different last March unlike this year where household credit dwarfed that to businesses. Last March businesses had a credit growth of 7.5 percent while households was at 6.2 percent.

According to BoB Annual Report of 2019, which was released recently, commercial bank credit decelerated from 7.7 percent in 2018 to 7.6 percent in 2019. “The slight decrease in the rate of credit growth was mostly associated with sluggish lending to businesses, which decreased from 10 percent in 2018 to -1.7 percent in 2019.

This was mostly due to loan repayments by some companies in manufacturing (some in the diamond cutting and polishing sectors,” said the Annual Report.

Borrowing but not paying back

During The Great Depression the banking sector suffered the most with companies and households failing to pay back the money they owed. This could be the case with ‘The Great Pandemic’.

As much as credit appetite is growing for households than for businesses, the central bank on Tuesday told reporters that it is a good thing as it stimulates domestic demand. It emerged during a dialogue between the central bank and the media this week that the prevalence of Non-Performing Loans (NPLs) has remained an eyesore for the banking sector for years. Households would line up to take loans but not pay back.

There could be a problem looming. When the lending rate increased for households, from 7 percent in 2018 to 18.7 percent in 2019, it was because of personal loans facilities which were offered after government hiked public service salaries in the past financial year.

But in this current financial year, the salaries which were supposed to be increased in this season were not hiked. Credit growth to households could shrink further amid Covid-19 economic effects because of such decisions.

Maybe government by withholding salary hikes spared many from borrowing and failing their debt obligation as coronavirus hit. But some economic pragmatics hold a different view, saying people will shy away from borrowing because their salaries were not increased hence an expected decrease in credit growth.

Non-Performing Loans

Manufacturing and trade sectors dominated the private business NPLs in 2018, accounting for 29.5 percent of the private business NPLs. The NPL ratio for businesses soared, it reached 7.5 percent in 2019 from 7.3 percent in 2018.

Despite the household in-debt of Botswana even when considered low by international standard, the central bank in its recent report has observed that household credit is concentrated in unsecured lending, being 70.1 percent in December 2019.

BoB said: “The significant share of unsecured loans and advances has the potential to cause financial distress in households, given the inherently expensive nature of such credit.

Nevertheless, concern would arise in the event of high levels of borrowing that are out of line with trends in economic and personal income growth, which would amplify the risk of exposure of households and businesses to economic shocks and could adversely affect their ability to repay debt.”

Tuesday this week during a meeting with journalists, Head of Banking Supervision Department, Dr Lesedi Senatla said that anyone who applies for bank loans goes through a thorough assessment to see their credit worthiness. But a problem can occur when an unforeseen event like loss of jobs happen. Masisi in his State of Emergency bars anyone from firing or retrenching workers.

BoB Governor, Moses Pelaelo talked of financial discipline not forgetting the fact that “banks are traders of risk” and a source of income may be lost or reckless uses of finance would lead to defaulting in loans.

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Business

Food prices continue to rise, but at a slower rate

28th November 2022

Prices for cereals or staple foods in Botswana and other Southern African countries continue to rise at a slower pace, following trends in the global markets, according to the latest November 2022 Food Price Monitoring and Analysis by Food Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.

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Still doing business the old way?

18th November 2022

It’s time to get business done better with MTN Business Botswana’s ICT Solutions.

Running a digital businessMTN Business Solutions Botswana, popularly known as MTN Business is an Internet Service Provider. We are a subsidiary of MTN Group Limited, a multinational telecommunications Group headquartered in South Africa, which operates in 19 markets across Africa and the Middle East.

More and more, clients are looking for ways to keep their staff productive in a dynamically changing business environment. Whether your people are working from home, the office or abroad, there is a growing recognition that digitising your operations can offer unprecedented commercial value in flexibility, productivity and growth. This new, digital reality means that it is more important than ever to stay agile – if there is anything that can slow a business down, it is being burdened by othatld technology.

Having made substantial investments in fibre technology, high-speed terrestrial and undersea networks and new frequency spectrum across the markets wherein it operates, MTN is perfectly positioned to respond to this shift in the market.

A few years ago, MTN also made the decision to build an IP capable radio network for its mobile services, giving its core network the ability to seamlessly integrate with enterprise IP networks. The mobile towers deliver services to enterprise clients absolutely anywhere it has a network, shortening the last mile and removing complexity and cost.

Now there is increasing demand from clients to connect their remote sites in all areas, including rural and semi- rural. MTN has assisted clients with overcoming this connectivity hurdle, enabling their staff to get the job done wherever they are.
MTN’s evolution

For MTN, the focus has shifted from just being a core telecommunications services provider, towards also becoming a technology solutions provider. The service offering now also includes Unified Communications, Data Hosting and Cloud Solutions, Security-As-A-Service and Managed Network Services. The scope has changed to being client and industry specific, so the requirements and service portfolio vary from one client to the next. The expectation is that a company like MTN must respond to these challenges, helping clients to get business done better as they shift from old to new technologies.

As many businesses continue to grapple with a digitally dynamic world, they face new challenges that have to be solved. This environment will benefit those that are more digitally enabled and agile. It is a brave new world that will favour online over on-site, wireless over wired and fluid over formulaic. Businesses will seek out partners and suppliers that are every bit as flexible and forward-looking as they are.
Ultimately, clients need partners like MTN Business that will invest in infrastructure, deliver the services they require, have market credibility, are financially sound and have a long-term commitment to their market presence.

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BIE to vitalize the Dignity of Engineers

9th November 2022

Botswana Institution Of Engineers (BIE), has last week hosted a gala dinner in  which they appreciated engineers who worked tirelessly and with dedication for 10 years from 1983 to steer the BIE to its current status.

The event that was held at the Phakalane Golf Estate had brought together young, experienced and veteran engineers and was held under the theme “Vitalize the dignity and eminence of all professional engineers”.

Explaining the theme, the institution’s treasurer, Thanabalasingam Raveendran said that engineers were looked upon reverentially with respect as the educated but with time it seems to have deteriorated. He indicated that there is a need to change the narrative by all means.

“The BIE exists for the welfare and the betterment of us Botswana engineers, we need to recognize specialised units within our Institution. We Engineers strongly believe in Engineers make it happen” Raveendran said.

He indicated that under the theme they appeal to all engineers to energize, to attain quality of being worthy of honour and respect and to achieve recognized superiority amongst the Society.

Raveendran stated that engineers need to ensure their end product is of good quality satisfying the end users expectations and engineers must be honest in their work.

“Approximately 8000 engineers registered with Engineering Regulatory Board (ERB) are not members of the BIE, engineers need to make every effort to recruit them to BIE” he said.

He alluded that BIE being a society, it currently needs to upgrade itself at par with professional institutions elsewhere like the UK and USA.

He further stated that BIE has to have engineering units of specialised disciplines like Civil/Mechanical/electrical etc

“As President Masisi indicated in his inaugural speech, the young people, who make 60 percent of the population of this country, are the future leaders and therefore investing in them is building the bridge to the future” said Raveendran

Kandima indicated that BIE has a memorandum of Understanding with Engineers Registration Board (ERB), where BIE is a recognised provider of CPD training, mentorship programmes and more importantly IPD undertaking to upgrade the skills and know-how of our engineers.

“For us to achieve our mandate and make worthwhile changes to engineering in Botswana, we have to be totally focused and act with intent” said Kandima.

Furthermore, Stephen Williams, past president of the BIE from 1986-1988 told the engineers that  the BIE provides a fertile environment where they can meet, share ideas and grow professionally.

“The BIE is also a nesting place for graduate engineers to learn from their peers and seniors, it also cater for engineering technicians and technologists and so nobody in the technology field is left out” he said.

He further indicated that Botswana Government provides a conductive environment for growth of engineering professionals.

“It must be stated that the Botswana Government recognises the existence of BIE and it can further be stated that the government enables ERB to carry out its mandate as a regulator of engineering professionals” said Williams

He plead with engineering companies to recognize and support BIE as it is the only source of engineering personnel’s for various Industries .

Furthermore, when giving his farewell speech, Michael Pinard , a past president of the institution  said how they are viewed as engineers by the general public might be due to some lack of appreciation as to exactly what role they play in the development of the country.

“The BIE slogan is aptly coined-Engineers make it happen, in other words, what man dreams engineers create” Said Pinard.

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