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Private sector pours scorn on ‘draconian’ SoE

Gobusamang Keebine

The reality of an economy going on its knees came last week with the release of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the second quarter of 2020 with a decrease of 27 percent. While government expects the economy to shrink by 8.9 percent this year, commercial Rand Merchant Bank maintains an expectation of 10.5 percent contraction in growth in 2020.

All industries in the domestic economy contracted, save for General Government which became the major contributor to GDP for the first time in many years by 19.7 percent. When the domestic economy was hit, “due to the impact of measures that were put in place to combat the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic,” all industries fell except Government, Agriculture and government owned utilities; Water & Electricity.

According to Statistics Botswana, Botswana Government business survived a huge contraction because it “instigated robust fiscal policy responses in order to influence macroeconomic conditions.” There was also aggregation of demand of goods and services, employment, inflation and economic growth. This was done despite contributing to deficits or drawing down of budget surpluses. Government also created new Covid-19 focused employment in the Public Administration sector in order to adhere to the disease protocols like recruitment of teachers, Safety and Health Employees (SHE) and other temporary employees across Ministries.

Most private sector players felt the scourge of Covid-19 especially in Mining and Quarrying where there was a decrease in the real value added of Mining by 60.2 percent which was mainly influenced by Diamond and Coal real value added. There are many private companies in the coal and mining business which are losing value, some are listed in the local stock exchange. Diamond production in carats went down by 67.0 percent while Coal production in tonnes decreased by 40.7 percent.

Companies in the industry of Trade, Hotels and Restaurants felt it when its real value added went down by 40.3 percent in the second quarter of 2020 compared to an increase of 5.1 percent registered in the same quarter of the previous year.  The Manufacturing industry recorded a decline of 31.3 percent in real value added during the second quarter of 2020, compared to a growth of 3.5 percent registered in the corresponding quarter of 2019 and this sharp reduction is attributed to a massive decline in the sub-industries of Beverages and Other Manufacturing. These sub-industries include diamonds processing by 58.5 percent and the production of beverages (chibuku and beers) which declined drastically by 84.2 percent due to lockdown during the quarter under review.

It was tools down in the construction industry with all that was coming with the Covid-19 containment measures and lockdowns, the industry recorded a decline of 36.0 percent. The Finance and Business Services industry was also not spared and registered a negative growth of 11.9 percent due to the decline in the real value added of Business Services and Real Estate by 24.4 and 17.8 percent respectively.

All the firms in the transport business also suffered, the Transport and Communications value added decreased by 16.9 percent in the second quarter of 2020,compared to 5.4 percent recorded in the same quarter of the previous year. This steep decline was most significant in the sub-industries, and was attributed to the lockdown measures that restricted movement of passengers and permitted limited goods freight traffic.

Last week when parliament moved to extend the State of Emergency (SoE) for a further six months, the private sector took a firm stance against SoE before exposing its negative implications on the local economy.  In a statement released this week, Business Botswana leader of the private sector, stopped short of calling SoE a draconian anti-progressive law which will weigh heavily on the already feeble economy.

According to Business Botswana, such an extension would, without a doubt cause further damage to an economy that is already on its knees.  In the 2020/21 – 2022/2023 Economic Recovery and Transformation Plan (ERTP) much more emphasis, at least on the document, was on jumpstarting the economy by igniting the private sector.  But many critics are already sceptical on the ERTP implementation, in the specified time frame. Some economists believe implementation of ERTP will further open the economy.

According to a report seen by this publication, government is expected to publish ERTP in 4Q:2020. But the implementation of ERTP is expected to begin in 2021. “With its success relying heavily on prudent project management by government,” says the report.
In the ERTP BusinessPost made a scientific observation that words “sector,” “informal” and “private” were the most used, meaning the mentioned were in the minds of those who made the fiscal plan. But this is not a reflection of what is on the ground, with many companies crying for rescue.

Meanwhile the Business Expectation Survey done during this country’s first lockdown stated that the businesses are ‘credit-shy.’  Also, companies are failing to hold on to jobs, they hanging onto these jobs because they are forced to by SoE laws despite the stinging financial implication from Covid-19.  Already more than 400 local companies have officialised an intent to purge jobs at the Commissioner of Labour according to information received by this publication last month.

“Several instruments were put in place to support businesses but a number of these are not in place and for those that are, it is impossible to access them; the question therefore is what is government going to do in the next 6 months different from the previous 6 months?” said Business Botswana president Gobusamang Keebine. Business Botswana President said the Covid-19 pandemic has caused a lot of damage to the economy as businesses are currently operating at bare minimum.

He said that while most companies have folded others are continuing by way of liquidations to avoid the extended debt the SoE places on these companies.  “Most employees, though not retrenched as it would be contrary to the SoE are home without pay; any further disturbance to the business environment will kill enterprises and they are certainly going to find it difficult to start all over again,” said Keebine.

Keebine said it is best to deal with the results of lifting the SoE than to postpone these where there will be even greater negative consequences. He said unemployment is going to reach peak levels, crime is going to dramatically increase and social ills are going to increase when people lose their properties. Business Botswana advised that rather government should have used the Public Health Emergency (PHE) Act, which is a tool which can achieve the same objective as SoE but without exposing the economy to very stringent restrictions as it is the case now.

“Using the (PHE) tool will relief Government of the need to lay out a lot of money to mitigate loses arising from businesses having to close temporarily due to lockdowns, etc.; money that the economy and Government does not have. Government must be bold and open the economy now and rescue whatever remains and can be rescued than to extend that action by another 6 months,” said Keebine.

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Civil Service volatility: Democracy vs Bureaucracy

19th April 2021
President Masisi

Here is how one Permanent Secretary encapsulates the clear tension between democracy and bureaucracy in Botswana: “President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s Government is behaving like a state surrounded with armed forces in order to capture it or force its surrender. The situation has turned so volatile, for tomorrow is not guaranteed for us top civil servants.

These are the painful results of a personalized civil service in our view as permanent secretaries”. Although his deduction of the situation may be summed as sour grapes because he is one of the ‘victims’ of the reshuffle, he is convinced this is a perfect description of the rationale behind frequent changes and transfers characterising the current civil service.

The result of it all, he said, is that “there is too much instability at managerial and strategic levels of the civil service leading to a noticeable directionless civil service.” He continued: “Changes and transfers are inevitable in the civil service, but to a permissible scale and frequency. Think of soccer team coach who changes and transfers his entire squad every month; you know the consequences?”

The Tsunami has hit hard at critical departments and Ministries leaving a strong wave of uncertainty, many demoralised and some jobless. In traditional approaches to public administration, democracy gives the goals; and bureaucracy delivers the technical efficiency required for implementation. But the recent moves in the civil service are indicative of conflicting imperatives – the notion of separation between politicians and administrators is becoming blurred by the day.

“Look at what happened to Prisons and BDF where second in command were overlooked for outsiders, and these are the people who had sacrificially served for donkey’s years hoping for a seat at the ladder’s end. The frequency of the changes, at times affecting the same Ministry or individual also demonstrates some level of ineptitude, clumsiness and lack of foresight from those in charge,” remarked the PS who added that their view is that the transfers are not related to anything but “settling scores, creating corruption opportunities and pushing out perceived dissident and former president, Ian Khama’s alleged loyalists and most of these transfers are said to be products of intelligence detection.”

Partly blaming Khama for the mess and his unwillingness to let go, the PS dismissed Masisi for falling to the trap and failing to outgrow the destructive tiff. “Khama is here to stay and the sooner Masisi comes to terms with the fact that he (Masisi) is the state President, the better. For a President to still be making these changes and transfers signals signs of a confused man who has not yet started rolling his roadmap, if at all it was ever there. I am saying this because any roadmap comes with key players and policies,” he concluded.

The Ministry of Health and Wellness seems to be the most hard-hit by the transfers, having experienced three Permanent Secretaries changes within a year and a half. Insiders say the changes have everything to do with the Ministry being the centre of COVID-19 tenders and economic opportunities. “The buck stops with the PS and no right-thinking PS can just allow glaring corruption under his watch as an accounting officer. Technocrats are generally law abiding, the pressure comes with politically appointed leaders racing against political terms to loot,” revealed a director in the Ministry preferring anonymity.

The latest transfer of Kabelo Ebineng she says was also motivated by his firm attitude against the President’s blue-eyed Task Team boys. “The Task Team wants to own the COVID-19 pandemic and government interventions and always cry foul when the Ministry reasserts itself as mandated by law,” said the director who added that Masisi who was always caught between the crossfire decided on sacrificing Ebineng to the joy of his team as they (Task Team) were in the habit of threatening to resign citing Ebineng as the problem.

Ebineng joins the Office of the President as a deputy Coordinator (government implementation and coordination office).The incoming PS is the soft-spoken Grace Muzila, known and described by her close associates as a conformist albeit knowledgeable.

One of the losers in the grand scheme is Thato Raphaka who many had seen as the next PSP because of his experience and calm demeanour following a declaration of interest in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Secretary post by the current PSP, Elias Magosi.

But hardly ten months into his post, Raphaka has been transferred out to the National Strategy Office in what many see as a demotion of some sort. Other notable changes coming into OP are Pearl Ramokoka formerly with the Employment, Labour and Productivity Ministry coming in as a Permanent Secretary and Kgomotso Abi as director of Public Service Reforms.

One of the ousted senior officers in the Office of the President warned that there are no signs that the changes and transfers will stop anytime soon: “If you are observant you would have long noticed that the changes don’t only affect senior officers but government decisions as well. A decision is made today and the government backtracks on it within a week. Not only that, the President says this today, and his deputy denies it the following day in Parliament,” he warned.

Some observers have blamed the turmoil in the civil service partly to lack of accountable presidential advisers or kitchen cabinet properly schooled on matters of statecraft. They point out that politicians or those peripheral to them should refrain from hampering the technical and organizational activities of public managers – or else the party (reshuffling) won’t stop.

In the view expressed by some Permanent Secretaries, Elias Magosi, has not really been himself since joining the civil service; and has cut a picture of indifference in most critical engagements; the most notable been a permanent secretaries platform which he chairs. As things stand there is need to reconcile the imperatives of democracy and democracy in Botswana. Peace will rein only when public value should stand astride the fault that runs between politicians and public managers.

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Morupisi fights for freedom in court

19th April 2021
morupisi

Former Permanent Secretary to the President, Carter Morupisi, is fighting for survival in a matter in which the State has charged him and his wife, Pinnie Morupisi, with corruption and money laundering.

Morupisi has joined a list of prominent figures that served in the previous administration and who have been accused of corruption during their tenure in office. While others have been emerging victorious, Morupisi is yet to find that luck. The High Court recently dismissed his no case to answer application.

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Pressure mounts on Biden to suspend Covid-19 vaccine patents

19th April 2021
Joe Biden

United States President, Joe Biden, is faced with a decision to make relating to the Covid-19 vaccine intellectual property after 175 former world leaders and Nobel laurates joined the campaign urging the US to take “urgent action” to suspend intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines to help boost global inoculation rates.

According to the world leaders, doing so would allow developing countries to make their own copies of the vaccines that have been developed by pharmaceutical companies without fear of being sued for intellectual property infringements.

“A WTO waiver is a vital and necessary step to bringing an end to this pandemic. It must be combined with ensuring vaccine know-how and technology is shared openly,” the signatories, comprising more than 100 Nobel prize-winners and over 70 former world leaders, wrote in a letter to US President Joe Biden, according to Financial Times.

A measure to allow countries to temporarily override patent rights for Covid related medical products was proposed at the World Trade Organization by India and South Africa in October, and has since been backed by nearly 60 countries.

Former leaders who signed the letter included Gordon Brown, former UK Prime Minister; François Hollande, former French President; Mikhail Gorbachev, former President of the USSR; and Yves Leterme, former Belgian Prime Minister.

In their official communication, South Africa and India said: “As new diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines for Covid-19 are developed, there are significant concerns [about] how these will be made available promptly, in sufficient quantities and at affordable prices to meet global demand.”

While developed countries have been able to secure enough vaccine to inoculate their citizens, developing countries such as Botswana are struggling to source enough to swiftly vaccine their citizens, something which world leaders believe it would work against global recovery therefore proving counter-productive.

Since the availability of vaccines, Botswana has been able to secure only 60 000 doses of vaccines, 30 000 as donation as from the Indian government, while the other 30 000 was sourced through COVAX facility.  Canada, has pre-ordered vaccines in surplus and it will be able to vaccinate each of its citizens six times over. In the UK and US, it is four vaccines per person; and two each in the EU and Australia.

For vaccines produced in Europe, developing countries are forced to pay double what European countries are paying, making it more expensive for already financially struggling economies.  European countries however justify the price of vaccines and that they deserve to buy them cheap since they contributed in their development.

It is evident that vaccines cannot be made available immediately to all countries worldwide with wealthy economies being the only success story in that regard, something that has been referred to as a “catastrophic moral failure”, head of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The challenge facing developing countries is not only the price, but also the capacity of vaccine manufactures to be able to do so to meet global demand within a short time. The proposal for a patent waiver by India and South Africa has been rejected by developed countries, known for hosting the world leading pharmaceutical companies such US, European Union, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland.

According to the Financial Times, US business groups including pharmaceutical industry representatives, have urged Biden to resist supporting a waiver to IP rules at the WTO, arguing that the proposal led by India and South Africa was too “vague” and “broad”.

The individuals who signed the letter, including Nobel laureates in economics as well as from across the arts and sciences, warned that inequitable vaccine access would impact the global economy and prevent it from recovering.

“The world saw unprecedented development of safe and effective vaccines, in major part thanks to US public investment,” the group wrote. “We all welcome that vaccination rollout in the US and many wealthier countries is bringing hope to their citizens.”

“Yet for the majority of the world that same hope is yet to be seen. New waves of suffering are now rising across the globe. Our global economy cannot rebuild if it remains vulnerable to this virus.”
The group warned that fully enforcing IP was “self-defeating for the US” as it hindered global vaccination efforts. “Given artificial global supply shortages, the US economy already risks losing $1.3tn in gross domestic product this year.”

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