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Gov’t frees over P900 million

Minister Matsheka

Due to adverse impacts of COVID-19 on the economy, Botswana finds herself in a tight corner, and is forced to revisit the initial budget allocations for the year 2020/21, and suspend some projects to free up funds and redirect money to more pressing issues such as massive spending on public institutions to reconfigure spaces for new normal health protocols.

This is in addition to hundreds of millions of pulas spent on fighting the pandemic itself, that is in terms of procurement of medical supplies and testing equipments, incurring costs on quarantine and isolation facilities in addition to logistical expenditures from contact tracing and curbing the spread of the virus.

On Monday, the Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Dr Thapelo Matsheka told parliament that government prioritization exercise has released over P910 million from deferring and suspending some expenditures planned for this financial year.

Dr Matsheka explained that aside reduced spending from little to zero international travels, cancelled physical meetings and conferences government has put some projects on hold to give way for high priority development projects.

Minister Matsheka shared that much of the freed funds across government budgeting system would be consumed by COVID -19 related projects such as building ablutions, installing health protocol apparatuses for the new normal.

Matsheka further revealed that Government has taken a decision to accelerate national projects under Public Investment Programme contained in the Mid-Term Review of National Development Plan 11.

The Minister noted that the projects have also been amplified by the Economic Recovery and Transformation Plan (ERTP), which is intended to catapult Botswana out of economic downturn caused by COVID-19 pandemic.

When putting Mid-Term Review before Members of Parliament on Monday Minister Matsheka explained that the Public Investment Programme will move swiftly to implement massive development projects with significant economic stimuli, major infrastructure projects in rail and road construction as well as agriculture.

The Minister added that a number of projects associated with the digital transition have been included along with those focused on energy independence and energy exports.

The novel corona virus whose origins are traced to China in the city of Wuhan in December 2019 has restricted international travel for the larger part of 2020 first half, muting global trade and eroding business sentiments across world economies.

Growth  projections  by World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF)  for Global Economy stood at -3 % from initial growth rate of 3 %.

In Botswana authorities projected that the economy would shrink by 13 % against the initial projected growth of 4 % for the 2020/21 financial year. Government however later revised growth rate to a contraction of 8 %.

Minister of Finance & Economic Development, Dr Thapelo Matsheka revealed in April that against initial projected revenue of P62.4 billion, Botswana‘s economy would only generate a projected revenue of about P48 billion.

Government then moved to trim its 2020/21 budget from P67.6 billion to P59.6 billion. Budget deficit would now shoot up from initial P5.2 billion, 2.4 % GDP to over P10 billion which would be over 5 % of GDP, well over government threshold of 4%.

The Minister announced then that Government would therefore do away with some planned expenditures and projects. He revealed that conferences and meetings would be cancelled, especially international travels by government, state funded institutions and parastatals.

Funding to parastatals and quansi-governmental institutions would be significantly reduced. “No luxury of attending international conferences but rather we are going to be a destination of conferences as a country,” he said in April.

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 drop 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 ,Dr Matsheka revealed that Government experts revenue from mineral revenue to only be around P6 billion.

Botswana’s diamond business partner De Beers Group last week released their half year results, figures are showing significant declines in earnings, as well as reduced production owing to depressed demand across global markets.

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Business

Gambling Authority tender dangles as a jittery lottery quandary

30th November 2020
SEFALANA MD: CHANDRA CHAUHAN

Lucrative and highly anticipated national lottery tender that saw several Batswana businessmen partnering to form a gambling consortium to pit against their South African counterparts, culminates into a big power gamble.

WeekendPost has had a chance to watch lottery showcase even before the anticipated and impending national lottery set-up launches. A lot has been a big gamble from the bidding process which is now set for the courts next year January following a marathon legal brawl involving the interest of the gambling fraternity in Botswana and South Africa.

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The uncertainty of getting the next meal in Botswana

30th November 2020
uncertainty of getting the next meal

Households representing more than half of Botswana’s population-mostly residing in rural areas- do not know where their next meal will come from, but neither do they take into consideration the quality and/or quantity of the food they consume.

This is according to the latest Prevalence of Food Insecurity in Botswana report which was done for the 2018/19 period and represents the state of food insecurity data even to this time.
The Prevalence of Food Insecurity was released by Statistics Botswana and it released results with findings that the results show that at national level 50.8 percent of the population in Botswana was affected by moderate to severe food insecurity in 2018/19, while 22.2 percent of the population was affected by severe food insecurity only.

According to the report, this translates to 27 percent of the population being food secure that is to say having adequate access to food in both quality and quantity. According to Statistician General, Burton Mguni, when explaining how the food data was compiled, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), is custodian of the “Prevalence of Undernourishment (PoU)” and “Prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity in the population based on the Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES)” SDG indicators, for leading FIES data analysis and the resultant capacity building.

“The FIES measures the extent of food insecurity at the household or individual level. The indicator provides internationally comparable estimates of the proportion of the population facing moderate to severe difficulties in accessing food. The FIES consists of eight brief questions regarding access to adequate food, and the questions are answered directly with a yes/no response. It (FIES) complements the existing food and nutrition security indicators such as Prevalence of Undernourishment.

According to the FIES, with increasing severity, the quantity of food consumed decreases as portion sizes are reduced and meals are skipped. At its most severe level, people are forced to go without eating for a day or more. The scale further reveals that the household’s experience of food insecurity may be characterized by uncertainty and anxiety regarding food access and compromising the quality of the diet and having a less balanced and more monotonous diet,” says Mguni.

The 50.8 percent of the population in Botswana which was affected by moderate to severe food insecurity are characterized as people experiencing moderate food insecurity and face uncertainties about their ability to obtain food. These people have been forced to compromise on the quality and/or quantity of the food they consume according to the report on food insecurity.

Those who experience severe food insecurity, the 22.2 percent of the population, are people who have typically run out of food and, at worst, gone a day (or days) without eating. According to the statistics, rural area population experienced moderate to severe food insecurity at 65 percent while urban villages were at 46.60 percent and cities/town were at 31.70 percent. Those experiencing the most extreme and severe insecurity were at rural areas making 33.10 percent while urban villages and towns were at 11.90 percent and 17.50 respectively.

According to a paper compiled by Sirak Bahta, Francis Wanyoike, Hikuepi Katjiuongua and Davis Marumo and published in December 2017, titled ‘Characterization of food security and consumption patterns among smallholder livestock farmers in Botswana,’ over 70 percent of Botswana’s population reside in rural areas, and majority (70%) relies on traditional/subsistence agriculture for their livelihoods.

The study set out to characterize the food security situation and food consumption patterns among livestock keepers in Botswana. “Despite the policy change, challenges still remain in ensuring that all persons and households have access to food at all times. For example, during an analysis of the impacts of rising international food prices for Botswana, BIDPA reported that food prices tended to be highest in the rural areas already disadvantaged by relatively low levels of income and high rates of unemployment,” said the study.

According to the paper, about 9 percent of households were found to be food insecure and this category of households included 6 percent of households that ranked poorly and 3 percent that were on the borderline according to the World Food Programme’s (WFP) definition of food security.

Media reports state that the World Bank has warned that disruption to production and supply chains could ‘spark a food security crisis’ in Africa, forecasting a fall in farm production of up to 7 percent, if there are restrictions to trade, and a 25 percent decline in food imports.

Food security in Botswana or food production was also attacked by the locust pandemic which swept out this country’s vegetation and plants. The locust is said to have contributed to 25 percent loss in production.

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Business

Solid demand for diamonds towards the ‘gift’ season

30th November 2020
Diamonds

Global lockdown have been a thorn in diamonds having shiny sales, but a lot of optimism shows with the easing of Covid-19 restrictions, the precious stones will be bought with high volumes towards festive season. The diamond market is however warned of the resurgence of Covid-19 in key markets presents ongoing risks amid the presence and optimist about the new Covid-29 vaccines.

The latest findings published as De Beers Group’s latest Diamond Insight ‘Flash’ Report, which looks at the impact of the pandemic on relationships and engagements, has revealed that in the US that more couples than ever are buying diamond engagement rings. Bridal sales is mostly the primary source of diamond jewellery demand in recent months, De Beers said.

According to De Beers, interviews with independent jewellers around the US revealed that the rate of couples getting engaged has increased compared with the period when Covid-19 first had an impact in the US in the spring.

“In addition, despite challenging economic times, consumers were spending more than ever on diamond engagement rings – often upgrading in colour, cut and clarity, rather than size. Several jewellers speculated that with consumers spending less on elaborate weddings and/or honeymoons in the current environment, they had more to spend on choosing the perfect ring,” said De Beers.

According to De Beers, a national survey of 360 US women in serious relationships, undertaken in late October in collaboration with engagement and wedding website, The Knot. This survey is said to have found that the majority of respondents (54%) were thinking more about their engagement ring than the wedding itself (32%) or the honeymoon (15%), supporting jewellers’ hypothesis that engagement ring sales were benefiting from reduced wedding and travel budgets in light of Covid-19 restrictions.

When it came to researching engagement rings, online was by far the predominant channel for gaining ideas/inspiration at 86% of consumers surveyed, with 85% saying they had saved examples of styles they liked, according to De Beers. According to the survey, only a uarter of respondents said they had looked in-store at a physical location for design inspiration.

“For many couples, the pandemic has brought them even closer together, in some instances speeding up the path to engagement after forming a deeper connection while experiencing lockdown and its associated ups and downs as a partnership. Engagement rings are taking on even greater symbolism in this environment, with retailers reporting couples are prepared to invest more than usual, particularly due to budget reductions in other areas,” De Beers CEO Cleaver said.

According to De Beers Group, its Diamond Insight Flash Report series is focused on understanding the US consumer perspective in light of Covid-19 and monitoring how it evolves as the crisis evolves. Also, the company said, it is augmenting its existing research programme with additional consumer, retailer and supply chain touch-basis to understand the pain points and the opportunities for stakeholders across the diamond pipeline.

Demand for diamonds is as hard and resilient as the precious stone itself. De Beers pocketed US$ 450 million in its recently held ninth rough diamond sales cycle, and the company says it is more flexible approach to rough diamond sales during the ninth sales cycle of 2020, with the Sight event extended beyond its normal week-long duration.

“Steady demand for De Beers Group’s rough diamonds continued in the ninth sales cycle of the year, reflecting stable consumer demand for diamond jewellery at the retail level in the US and China, and expectations for reasonable demand to continue throughout the holiday season. However, the resurgence of Covid-19 infections in several consumer markets presents ongoing risks,” said De Beers CEO Bruce Cleaver recently.

High expectations are on diamonds being a sentimental gift for holiday season or as the most fetished gift. However the ninth cycle was lower than the eighth which registered US$ 467 million. For the last year period which corresponds with the current one, De Beers managed to raise US$ 400.

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