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Choppies revenue up to P5.4 billion amid new strategy

CHOPPIES

Choppies Enterprises Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Ramachandran Ottapathu has said the retail giant is regaining its feet after tumultuous spell which saw the company being suspended on the stock exchange as well poor performance of its operations in some countries.

Choppies returned to trading on the Botswana Stock Exchange (BSE), where it is primarily listed, on the 27th of July 2020 subsequent to release of its 2018 and 2019 financial results which have been backlogging for the past two successive financial years.

BSE suspended Choppies in 2018 after the company failed to publish its financial results pending “changes in auditors as well as the legal and forensic investigations” hence a subsequent boardroom fracas played before the media.

For the same reason, Choppies shares were also suspended in its secondary market, the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE). Choppies remains suspended on JSE.

Speaking to WeekendPost on Thursday, the Choppies supremo said they have learnt numerous lessons over the past few years relating to operations expansion, expressing confidence that the strong financial performance that the company posted recently is a testament to creation of a new path.

“The company had few loss making units that have been disposed of. The remaining places where we operate [Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Namibia] are solid performers from all the four regions in spite of high inflation in Zimbabwe, we still continue to make money. Zambia is growing well and Namibia is also in strong footing,” Ottapathu said.

Choppies recently decided to cease its operations in South Africa, Mozambique, Kenya and Tanzania owing to poor performance. Despite this divesture Ottapathu is confident other regions will be key in the growth of Choppies in the next few years.

“We will get some growth in Zambia, Namibia and Zimbabwe depending on what the country is going through. We are not going to be in a hurry to expand in Zimbabwe but other countries we will do expansion in a phased manner,’’ he said.

Asked on what went wrong in other regions Ottapathu said: “It was too new in those countries. Nobody had the patience to wait, we had to go with a new tide that people have to make money immediately.”

Ottapathu could not rule out the possibility of returning to the markets where they exited, indicating that only time will tell.

“It is too early for me to make a comment on that. We will be expanding in a cautious manner and we will do an expansion programme in a very thoughtful process,” he said.

In the latest financial results, Choppies indicated that it is in the process of restructuring its debt. The Debt Restructuring Plan will allow the Company to repay the lenders in smaller tranches than the previous structure which will release some cash to the Company and improve the cash flow going forward, the statement stated.

The Choppies board is of the view that the buffer that has been provided by lenders coupled with improved profitability levels will go a long way in keeping the Company as a going concern for the short, medium to long term.

“That is one of the lessons we learn in the whole thing, debt is a killer. We want to reduce the debt. We will repay the debt even if dividends are delayed by a year, we will rather pay the debt,” Ottapathu said.

Despite events of the past few years, Ottapathu is self-assured that shareholders are confident about the future of the company.

At the height of Choppies saga, Ottapathu was suspended as the CEO of the company pending investigations resulting from allegation of wrong doing that have been raised by one of the previous auditing team members.

“Majority of them are confident, that is why they put us back in the driving seat. We brought in new board members and they are working well with us,” said Ottapathu.

As he previously indicated, Ottapathu said his suspension followed his proposal to the then board led by former President Festus Mogae to have the company board “refreshed” to bring in people with relevant experience in the retail business.

After garnering support from majority shareholders, the board was refreshed, with Mogae and other board members comprising of Dorcas Kgosietsile, Heinrich Stander, Ronald Tamale and Wilfred Mpai resigning their seats in September 2019.

During the year under review there has been changes in the Board of Directors of Choppies and the current board, which is led by Uttum Corea and comprises of among others; Farouk Essop Ismail, Ramachandran Ottapathu, Carol Jean Harward, and Tom Pritchard.

CHOPPIES FINANCIAL PERFORMANCE

Choppies negative equity increased from P80.1 million at June 2019 to P467.1 million as at June 2020. The main contributor for the increased negative equity is the P469.6 million loss from discontinued operations.

Group revenue, for the year ended June 2020 comprising of sale of goods, from the continuing operations, increased by 1.1 percent to P5 421 million (2019: P5 359 million).

This increase was inflation driven in Botswana and Zimbabwe against a backdrop of negative sale volumes in Botswana and Zimbabwe due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Group’s continuing operations revenue is estimated at P190 million.

The Board has considered it prudent to not declare a dividend for the period under review.

Botswana

The Botswana business continued to show strong resilience in an increasingly competitive and disruptive market due to Covid-19. This year was a period of consolidation, rationalising and balance sheet management with only 3 new stores opened totalling 91 stores.

Revenue grew by 2.7 percent to P4 260.1 million (2019: P4 147.2 million) despite sale volumes reducing by 4.7 percent. The gross profit margin improved to an impressive 24.4 percent (2019: 24.1 percent) with increased consumer demand in an economic environment of low interest rates and a weak Rand. In addition, improved buying and further addition of house brands contributed to profitability.

Financial services and value-added segments contributed well to the bottom line with significant effort and resources placed behind these to improve the service delivery and profitability.

EBITDA (i.e. before accounting for IFRS 16) grew by P58.2 million or 22.5 percent to P316.6 million (2019: P258.3 million).

Zambia

Choppies is becoming a significant player in the Zambian market and is currently number 2 in its market segment with a total of 21 stores (2019: 21). Revenue grew by 3.5 percent to P604.1 million (2019: P583.5 million) and the gross profit margin to 17.6 percent (2019: 17.2 percent). In the rapid declining currency situation, input costs are not sufficiently recovered by sales proceeds in Kwacha. This situation is made worse by some overheads like rent which are normally fixed in US dollars, a situation currently been re-negotiated.

EBITDA losses (i.e. before accounting for IFRS 16) reduced significantly by P33.6 million to a P4.4 million loss (2019: P38.0 million loss).

Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe is one of the most challenging markets to operate in, with hyperinflation in three digits, concerns surrounding the economy, changes in the money market and public disturbances. Revenue declined by 18.6 percent to P414.1 million (2019: P508.5 million) resulting from an 87.5percent weakening of the local currency against the Pula during the previous 12 months.

Gross profit margins improved slightly to 19.0 percent (2019: 18.8percent) with EBITDA on a comparable basis (i.e. before accounting for IFRS 16) at P15.7 million (2019: P15.1 million). The abrupt changes and volatility in the currency makes operating in Zimbabwe extremely difficult. This resulted in all the gains obtained at country level getting eliminated when converted at group level due to the weak currency when compared to the Botswana Pula.

Despite all these issues, the business remains self-sustaining without any cash flow constraints. However, repatriation of profits to Botswana will continue to be difficult until the economy undergoes a structural change.

Namibia

The Namibian operation is still relatively small, with five stores (2019:5), and is yet to reach a critical mass needed to generate sustainable profitability levels. Revenue increased by 18.7 percent to P142.1 million (2019: P119.7 million) with gross profit margins improving to 18.3 percent (2019: 16.6 percent).

The trends in sales growth and substantial improvement in gross profit levels are indicative of the future potential of the region. Based on the trends and similarities this market has to Botswana, the Namibian operation is expected to be a substantial contributor to the profitability of the Group in the longer term.

EBITDA losses (i.e. before accounting for IFRS 16) increased to P11.3 million (2019: loss P9.2 million) due to the rental payment of three non-operational stores.

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Details emerge in suspected Batswana poachers in Namibia

28th June 2022
suspected Motswana poacher arrested

New details about a suspected Motswana poacher arrested in Namibian and his accomplice who is on the run were revealed when the suspect appeared in court this week.

The Motswana Citizen who was shot and wounded by Namibia’s anti poaching unit is facing criminal charges under criminal case number (CR NO 10/06/2022) which was registered at the Divundu Police Station in the Mukwe constituency of the Kavango East Region on 10 June 2022.

It is alleged that a patrol team laid an ambush after discovering a giraffe’s fresh carcass in a snare wire and hanging biltong.  According to the Charge Sheet, the suspect Djeke Dihutu, aged 40 years, is charged with contravening and transgressions of Nature Conservation Ordinance andcontravening Immigration Act 07 in Mahango Wildlife Core Area, Bwabwata National Park. Dihutu’s first court appearance was on the 17th of June 2022, Rundu and it was postponed to the 07 July 2022. He is currently hospitalized in hospital under Police Guards.

Commenting on this latest development, the Namibian Lives Matter Movement National Chairperson Sinvula Mudabeti applauded the Namibian Anti Poaching Unit for its compliance with what it called the universal instrument on the Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials adopted by the United Nations General Assembly resolution 34/169.

“We are aware that the duties of the police carry a great deal of risk, but our police has shown that they have a moral calling and obligation to protect even foreigners suspected of serious crimes on Namibian soil,” said Mudabeti.

According to him, whereas the Botswana Police Service, the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) and Directorate of Intelligence Service (DIS) have “very low moral ethics, integrity, accountability and honesty, the Namibian security agencies has shown very high levels of ethical leadership in the discharge of their duties even under duress.”

He said Namibian’s anti poaching unit has exercised one very important value, that is, the use of force only when it is reasonable and necessary. Mudabeti said this is in harmony with international best practices as enshrined in Article 2 of the UN instrument on law enforcement conduct, “In the performance of their duty, law enforcement officials shall respect and protect human dignity and maintain and uphold the human rights of all persons.

Our police have protected the life of a Botswana poacher and accorded him dignity, which is very foreign to our Botswana counterparts,” he said. He said article 3 of the same instrument above, calls for Law enforcement officials to use force only when strictly necessary and to the extent required for the performance of their duty.

“This provision emphasizes that the use of force by law enforcement officials should be exceptional; while it implies that law enforcement officials may be authorized to use force as is reasonably necessary under the circumstances for the prevention of crime or in effecting or assisting in the lawful arrest of suspected offenders, no force going beyond that was used by our Police,” he said.

Furthermore, Mudabeti said, whereas the universally accepted norm of the law of proportionality ordinarily permits the use of force by law enforcement, it is to be understood that such principles of proportionality in no case should be interpreted to authorize the use of force which is disproportionate to the legitimate objective to be achieved.

“Our police have used force proportional to the situation at hand. Great work indeed! Article 6 urges law enforcement officials to ensure the full protection of the health of persons in their custody and, in particular, shall take immediate action to secure medical attention whenever required,” he said.

Mudabeti said the Botswana poacher was immediately taken to hospital whereas the Nchindo brothers who were captured on Namibian soil, beaten, tortured and executed while pleading to be taken to the hospital we left to die.

“The Namibian Doctor gave evidence in court that Sinvula Munyeme’s lungs showed signs of life (during the autopsy) and that he could have survived if he was accorded immediate medical assistance in time but was left to die while BDF soldiers looked and possibly ignored his cry for help,” he said.

Mudabeti said unlike in Botswana where there are no clear separation of powers between the BDF, Botswana Police Service, Department of Intelligence and their Directorate of Public Prosecutions,” we have a system that allows for checks and balances and allows our people and foreigners who are found on the wrong side of the law to be accorded the right to a fair trial.”

He said Botswana citizens are treated with dignity when apprehended in Namibia and not assaulted, tortured and executed. “We are a civilized country that respects international law in dealing with non-Namibian criminals. The Namibian Police have not mistreated the Botswana poacher but have given him the benefit of the doubt by allowing due processes of the law to be followed,” he said.

He added that, “We are a peace loving nation that has not repaid Botswana by the evil that Botswana has done to Namibia by killing more than 37 innocent and unarmed Namibians by the trigger happy BDF.” He concluded that, “Our acts of mercy in arresting Botswana citizens should never be mistaken for cowardice.”

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Gov’t, Unions clash over accommodation

28th June 2022
accomodation

The government has reportedly taken a decision to terminate provision of pool housing and subsidy for civil servants as it attempts to trim the public service wage bill.

This emerges in a dispute that is currently before the Labour Office headquarters lodged by unions representing thousands of civil servants across the country. This publication understands that the decision to cease providing pool housing and rental subsidy for public officers is part of proposals that government put on the table during its negotiations with public service unions in order for it to adjust salaries.

A letter from Labour Office addressed to the Directorate of Public Service Management (DPSM) shows that the directorate is cited as the First Respondent. The letter is titled, “Dispute lodged: Cessation of provision of pool housing and subsidy for pubic officers.”

“This serves as a notification and requirement to a mediation hearing,” the letter informed DPSM. According to the letter, the Botswana Teachers Union (BTU), Botswana Sectors of Educators Trade Unions (BOSETU) Botswana Nurses Union (BONU) and Botswana Land Board &Local Authorities &Health workers Union (BLLAHW) who lodged the complaint are cited as the Applicant.

“Please come for mediation hearing. The hearing will be conducted by Mr Lebang. The hearing is scheduled for date/time 29th June 2022, 09: 00HOURS at Block 8 District Labour Office, Gaborone. Please bring all relevant documents,” reads the letter in part.

According to a document described as a proposal paper on the negotiations on salaries and other conditions of employment of public officers by the employer (government), the government did not only propose to stop providing accommodation to civil servants but also put a number of proposals on the table.

The proposal papers states that the negotiations (which have since been concluded) cover three government financial years; 2022/23, 2023/24 and 2024/25. The government proposed an across the board salary adjustments as follows; 3% for the financial year 2022/23 effective 1st April 2022, across the board salary adjustment of 3.5% for the financial year 2023/24 effective 1st April 2023 subject to performance of the economy and across the board salary adjustment of 4% for the financial year 2024/25 effective 1st April 2024 subject to performance of the economy.

The government also proposed phasing out of retention and attractive (Scarce Skills) Allowance with a view to migration towards clean pay, renegotiate and set new timelines for all outstanding issues contained in the Collective Labour Agreement, executed by the employer and trade unions on the 27th August 2019, to ensure proper sequencing, alignment and proper implementation.
The government also proposed to freeze public service recruitment for the 2022/23 financial year and withdraw the financial equivalence of P500 million attached to vacancies from Ministries, Department and Agencies (MDAs).

Another proposal included phasing out of commuted overtime allowance and payment of overtime in accordance with the law and review human resource policies during the financial year 2022/23, 2023/24 and 2024/25.

The government argued that its proposals were premised on affordability and sustainability adding that it was important to underscore that the review of salaries and conditions of service for public officers was taking place at a time when there were uncertainties both in the global and domestic economies.

“Furthermore there is need to ensure that any collective labour agreement that is concluded does not breach the fiscal deficit target of 4% of GDP,” the proposal paper stated. The proposal paper further indicated that beyond salary adjustments, the Government of Botswana is of the view that a more comprehensive consideration “must be taken on the issue of remuneration in the public service by embracing principles such as total rewards compensation which involves taking a fully comprehensive and holistic approach to how our organization compensates employees for the work.”

The proposal paper also noted that, “Clearly, the increase in salaries and changes to other conditions of service which have monetary consequences will further increase the proportion of the budget taken by salaries, allowances and other monetary based conditions of services.”

“The consequential effect would be a reduction of the portion that can be used for other recurrent budget needs (e.g. maintenance of assets, consumable supplies such as medicines and books) and for development projects,” the proposal states.

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BPF NEC probes Serowe squabbles

28th June 2022
BPF

Opposition Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) National Executive Committee will in no time investigate charges party members worked with the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) membership to tip the scales in favour of the latter for Serowe Sub-council Chairmanship in exchange for deputy seat in a dramatic 11th hour gentleman’s deal, leaving the ruling party splinter under the political microscope.

In a spectacular Sub-council election membership last Thursday, the ruling BDP’s Lesedi Phuthego beat Atamelang Thaga with 14 votes to 12 for Serowe Sub-council Chairmanship coveted seat and subsequently the ruling party’s councilor Bernard Kenosi withdrew his candidacy in the final hour for the equally admired deputy chair paving the way for Solomon Dikgang of BPF, seen as long sealed ‘I scratch your back and you scratch mine’ gentleman’s agreement between the contenders.

Both parties entered the race with a tie of votes torn between 12 councillors each, translating for election race that will go down to the wire definitely. But that will not be the case as two BPF councilors shifted their allegiance to the ruling party during the first race for Chairmanship held in a secret ballot and no sooner was the election concluded then the ruling party answered back by withdrawing its candidacy for the deputy chair position to give BPF’s Dikgang the post on a silver platter unopposed.

BPF councilor Vuyo Notha confirmed the incident in an interview on Wednesday, insisting the party NEC was determined to “investigate the matter soon”. “During the race for the Chairmanship, two more BPF voted for alongside the ruling party membership. It was clear Dikgang voted alongside the BDP as immediately after the vote for Chairmanship was concluded, Kenosi withdraw his candidacy to render Dikgang unopposed as a payback,” Notha added.

As for the other vote, Makolo ward councilor will not be drawn for the identity preferring instead to say: “BPF NEC will convene all the councilors to investigate the matter soon and we will take from there.” Notha will also not be drawn to conclude may be the culprit councilors could have defected to the ruling party silently.

“If they are no longer part of us they should say so and a by-election be called,” was all he could say. As it stands now, the law forbids sitting Councilors and Parliamentarians from crossing the floor to another party as to do so will immediately invite for a new election as dictated by the law. Incumbent politicians will therefore dare not venture for the unknown with a by-election that could definitely cost their political life and certainly their full benefits.

Notha could also not be dragged to link the culprit councilors actions to BPF Serowe region Chairperson Tebo Thokweng who has silently defected to the ruling party and currently employed by the party businessman and former candidate for Serowe West Moemedi Dijeng as PRO for the highly anticipated cattle abattoir project in Serowe.

“As for Thokweng he has not resigned from the party but from the region’s chairmanship,” he said. WeekendPost investigations suggest Thokweng is the secret snipper behind the recruitment drive of the votes for the elections and is determined to tear the party dominance in Serowe and the neighbouring villages asunder including in Palapye going forward.

This publication’s investigations also show BPF’s Radisele and UDC’s Mokgware/Mogome councilors are under the radar of investigations for the votes-themselves associated with the workings and operations of Thokweng.

“NEC will definitely leave no stone unturned with their investigations to get into the bottom of the matter. Disciplinary actions will follow certainly,” Notha concluded, underscoring the need to toe the party line to set a good precedent. For the youthful councilor, the actions of his peers has set a wrong precedent which has to be dealt with seriously to deter future culprits.

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