LESSONS FROM COVID-19 – WHAT’S NEXT FOR THE CREDIT LENDING SECTOR?
As Botswana is grappling with the second wave of Covid-19 infections, it is becoming increasingly evident that there is no quick solution to the current dynamics playing out. In light of possible further waves of the pandemic, Batswana and the markets will have to continuously adapt to a rapidly changing environment.
The credit lending sector is no exception, and all lenders, be it banks or microfinance institutions, have been impacted to some extent or another by the pandemic.
A tightening credit environment
All lenders have been forced to tighten their credit policies in response to the uncertainty brought about by the pandemic. At this stage it is unclear what impact the second wave will have on the economy, and whether a projected growth of 8.8% will be achieved in 2021. Talks of possible third and fourth waves before herd immunity is reached adds to market uncertainty.
As signalled during the recent Budget Speech by Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Dr Thapelo Matsheka, we do anticipate a change in monetary policy as a result of upwards pressure on inflation, although this is expected to remain in the Bank of Botswana’s target range of between 3% and 6%.
The increase in the VAT rate from 12% to 14%, alongside an increase in fuel tax of 1 Pula per litre will impact on the disposable income of everyone, although there is some relief for those earning P4,000 per month, in the form of a higher tax exemption threshold.
As a result, the credit lending sector will be much more fixated on containing non-performing loans, which means there will likely be a tightening on lending. Loans to higher-risk small, medium, and micro enterprises (SMMEs) will likely be harder to come by, notwithstanding Government’s efforts to assist businesses through an Industry Support Fund (ISF).
With Government focused on reducing the public sector wage bill from its current levels of 15% of GDP to 10% in the short to medium term, competition for market share among payroll-dependent lenders is expected to increase considerably. Competition inevitably will lead to innovation to the benefit of consumers, and we expect a number of rapid digital transformation to follow.
Lessons from a black swan event
Covid-19 took everyone by surprise, with sales reducing significantly under hard lockdown restrictions. This is a scenario no-one had planned for in their risk assessments. The biggest impact to the sector has been the inability of customers to visit branches and transact on their business. Especially moving between zones made people uneasy to travel. Yet customers insisted on talking to us – which demonstrates the need for two-way communication.
With hindsight, we realise how misleading the power of perception can be. Especially as most businesses originally regarded news of the pandemic as something similar to SARS, that will be contained in a few countries.
The main lesson learnt, and something we’ve implemented into our risk assessment is to plan for the worst. The sector could have positioned itself differently some time ago, finding ways of serving and educating customers on financial matters virtually.
Rapid digital transformation
Within this crisis lays the opportunity – we anticipate that Covid-19 will stimulate rapid evolution of online credit processes, especially as Government continues to roll-out online connectivity as part of its Vision 2036 aspirations of turning Botswana into a high-income country.
Through technology, credit scoring will become much more sophisticated, which will allow for credit decisions to be reached within two hours, with same-day pay-outs.
The use of mobile services is further likely to escalate rapidly. A lot of our clients, for instance, live in villages far from formal financial service centres, but almost everyone has a cell phone. A driving factor in the success of mobile money will be education, and in this regard we have already pushed the boat out by educating our agents to teach customers on how to use the technology.
Protecting your credit record and good name
We have noticed a trend where people are living on credit, which is not sustainable. Borrowers often also don’t investigate the terms and interest rates of their contracts. A good credit record is worth its weight in gold, and Batswana will do well to shop around for the best service, advice and repayment terms.
Borrowers should take care to no overexpose themselves – the 40% minimum take-home pay threshold by Government is a guideline and loans should only be taken if it is absolutely needed. Loans should also be paid off in the shortest amount of time possible, to avoid unnecessary interest charges. Dudu Garekwe is Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of FirstCred Limited
Botswana mining production picked up significantly in the last quarter of 2021 when compared to the same quarter in 2020 albeit a decline when mirrored against the preceding quarter; Q3 2022, Statistics Botswana revealed in the latest Index of Mining production report released this week.
The Index of Mining Production stood at 82.0 during the fourth quarter of 2021, showing a year-on-year increase of 28.1 percent from 64.0 recorded during the fourth quarter of 2020. Comparison on a quarter on-quarter basis shows a decrease of 19.6 percent from the index of 101.9 realised during the third quarter of 2021.
The main contributor to the year-on-year increase in mining production came from Diamonds, the country‘s flagship export commodity contributed 23.1 percentage points. Gold and Soda Ash were the only negative contributors to mining production, at negative 0.8 and negative 0.1 of a percentage point respectively.
On annual basis, the total index of mining production stood at 86.0, showing an increase of 37.0 percent in 2021 when compared to 62.8 registered in 2020. The 37.0 percent increase in annual mining production followed a decrease of 28.1 percent in 2020 and a decrease of 3.9 in 2019.
Although the total index of mining production increased in some parts of the period 2011 to 2021, experts at Statistics Botswana have observed and noted that it has been decreasing at an average annual rate of 0.7 percent during the last ten (10) years.
The increase in the total mining production in 2021 was mainly due to the growth realized in diamond production which contributed 33.1 percentage points to the total mining production growth. Diamond production increased by 24.2 percent (1, 038 thousand carats) from 4, 290 thousand carats during the fourth quarter of 2020 to 5, 329 thousand carats during the same quarter of 2021.
The increase was a result of intensified production strategy aligned with stronger trading conditions. The quarter-on-quarter analysis shows that production registered a decrease of 18.0 percent (1,172 thousand carats) during the fourth quarter of 2021 compared with 6, 500 thousand carats during the third quarter of 2021.
Copper in Concentrates production commenced during the third quarter of 2021 following 6 years of non-production since closure of BCL, Mowana and Boseto Mine in Toteng. The Toteng Mine has since returned to production under new ownership Khoemacau Copper Mining and is currently the only copper producing operation.
Mowana Mine has also been reborn under new ownership and it bears the nomenclature Kopano Copper Mine, production is expected to start soon. Some assets of BCL have been taken up Premium Nickel Resources, a subsidiary of Canadian North America Nickel.
During the fourth quarter of 2021, an amount of 4, 225 tonnes of Copper in Concentrates was produced. The quarter-on-quarter analysis shows that production decreased by 43.8 percent (3,292 tonnes) during the fourth quarter of 2021 compared with 7, 517 tonnes produced during the third quarter of 2021.
Gold production decreased by 49.1 percent (109 kilograms) during the fourth quarter of 2021, from 222 kilograms during the same quarter of the previous year to 113 kilograms during the period under review. Similarly, the quarter-on-quarter analysis reflects a decrease of 35.9 percent (63 kilograms) from 176 kilograms in the preceding quarter to 113 kilograms during the fourth quarter of 2021. The decrease was a result of the deteriorating lifespan of the mine arising from resource depletion.
Soda Ash production decreased by 4.4 percent (3, 116 tonnes) from 70, 159 tonnes during the fourth quarter of 2020 to 67, 043 tonnes produced during the period under review. On the other hand, quarter-on-quarter analysis shows that production went up by 2.8 percent (1, 848 tonnes) during the period under review, from 65, 195 tonnes during the previous quarter.
Salt production went up by 27.9 percent (31, 385 tonnes) to 143, 751 tonnes during the fourth quarter of 2021, from 112, 366 tonnes during the same quarter of the previous year. On the other hand, quarter-on-quarter analysis shows that salt production registered a decrease of 15.4 percent (26, 075 tonnes) compared with 169, 826 tonnes during the third quarter of 2021.
Silver production commenced during the third quarter of 2021 following 6 years of non-production as the associated mine was undergoing liquidation. During the fourth quarter of 2021, 3, 626 tonnes of silver were produced.
The quarter-on-quarter analysis shows that production decreased by 46.3 percent (3,131 tonnes) during the fourth quarter of 2021 compared with 6, 757 kg produced during the third quarter of 2021. Although the production is still at infancy, it is worthy to note that the mine is under new management following liquidation in 2015.
Coal production increased by 9.3 percent (40, 099 tonnes), from 429, 382 tonnes during the fourth quarter of 2020, to 469, 481 tonnes in the current quarter. The increase came as a result of the efforts made to meet increased demand from both domestic and international markets, particularly that new markets have been identified.
On the other hand, quarter-on-quarter comparison shows that coal production decreased by 14.5 percent (79, 746 tonnes) compared with 549, 227 tonnes during the third quarter of the current year. Copper-Nickel-Cobalt Matte recorded zero production during the period under review. The affected mines are still under liquidation.
Nearly 10 years and over P10 billion later, Morupule B – a 600 Megawatt coal fired power plant that was envisaged to end Botswana ‘s national power crises still can’t deliver to full capacity, forcing the country to pay over P2 billion annually in importation of power from surrounding producer nations.
The latest quarterly report from Statistics Botswana, reviewing the country’s power generation for the fourth quarter of 2021 has written off the progress made during the third quarter, reporting a quarter-on-quarter decrease of 18.9 percent, from an Index of Electricity Generation (IEG) of 137.7 during the third quarter of 2021 to 111.7, giving a clear reflection that the country takes 2 steps forward and 3 steps backward as far as local power generation is concerned.
In the third quarter of 2021, electricity generation had picked up, with a 14.6 percent points jump on IEG, from the Index of 120.2 during the second quarter of 2021. In physical terms, local electricity generation had increased by 14.6 percent (73,723 MWH), from 505,313 MWH during the second quarter of 2021.Statistics Botswana had credited the increase to improved performance of Morupule A and B power stations.
However in a setback during the last quarter of 2021 production of electricity locally took a downturn, both on quarterly and year-on-year basis, mainly due operational challenges at Morupule B. A year-on-year analysis shows a decrease of 9.3 percent in IEG, compared to 123.1 recorded during the corresponding quarter in 2020.
The physical volume of electricity generated decreased by 9.3 percent (48,278 MWH), from 517,627 MWH during the fourth quarter of 2020 to 469,349 MWH during the current quarter.
The quarter-on-quarter perspective shows that local electricity generation decreased by 18.9 percent (109,686 MWH), from 579,036 MWH during the third quarter of 2021 to 469,349 MWH during the period under review. “This decrease was largely due to operational challenges at Morupule B power plant.” Said Statistics Botswana
A decrease in local generation means increase in importation, during the fourth quarter of 2021, the physical volume of imported electricity increased by 16.7 percent (77,716 MWH), from 465,701 MWH during the fourth quarter of 2020 to 543,417 MWH during the quarter under review.
Compared to the previous quarter, electricity imported during the fourth quarter of 2021 increased by 28.0 percent (118,714 MWH), from 424,703 MWH during the third quarter of 2021 to 543,417 MWH.
Botswana imported 53.7 percent of total electricity distributed during the fourth quarter of 2021. Eskom, South Africa’s state-owned power generation outfit was as usual the main source of imported electricity at 40.6 percent of total electricity imports.
The Zambia Electricity Supply Corporation Limited (ZESCO) accounted for 22.0 percent, while the remaining 17.0, 15.0, 4.0 and 1.4 percent were sourced from Electricidade De Mozambique (EDM), Southern African Power Pool (SAPP), Cross-border electricity markets and Nampower, respectively.
Cross-border electricity markets is a Statistics Botswana nomenclature referring to towns and villages along the border which are supplied with electricity directly from neighbouring countries such as Namibia and Zambia.
In terms of distribution year-on-year analysis shows that the amount of distributed electricity increased by 3.0 percent (29,438 MHW), from 983,328 MWH during the fourth quarter of 2020 to 1,012,766 MWH during the current quarter.
The quarter-on-quarter comparison of distributed electricity shows an increase of 0.9 percent (9,028 MWH), from 1,003,738 MWH during the third quarter of 2021 to 1,012,766 MWH during the review quarter.
Electricity generated locally contributed 46.3 percent to electricity distributed during the fourth quarter of 2021, compared to a contribution of 52.6 percent during the same quarter in 2020, a decrease of 6.3 percentage points.
The quarter-on-quarter comparison shows that the contribution of electricity generated to electricity distributed decreased by 11.4 percentage points compared to the 57.7 percent.
MORUPULE B CHALLENGES
The Morupule B project was adopted as the least cost solution to guarantee electricity supply, self-sufficiency and address the challenges in the energy sector of Botswana. The plant comprises of 4 units with capacity of 150 megawatt each, totalling 600 megawatt, all coal fired, together with associated transmission infrastructure.
Located adjacent to the existing 132 megawatt Morupule A plant, Morupule B was constructed at over P10 billion, funded by debt finance from the African Development Bank, and was supposed to have been completed and fully commissioned in 2013, however almost 10 years later the multibillion-pula plant is still not fully operational, instead cost overruns are reported at over P4 billion still counting.
In a media briefing early this year Minister of Minerals & Energy Lefoko Moagi said construction of the plant was budgeted for P9 billion, but the total cost of construction ended up ballooning to over P12 billion. He explained that out of 4 units only 2 were working being Unit 2 and Unit 3, producing 80 megawatt and 150 megawatt respectively.
He said Unit 1 was currently at forced outage because of total failure while Unit 4 was under commissioning following completion of remedial works. “What we are doing in Morupule B is that we are changing the heat exchangers, and we have requested from the initial designers to furnish us with a new design of heat exchangers, technologically advanced with proper output configurations”.
Minister Moagi explained that the units will be restarted gradually until the plant is fully operational at 100 percent output levels. Remedial works were delayed by COVID -19 travel restrictions, and the plant will now be fully operational in 2024.
According to Minister Moagi, Botswana will not incure any cost, remedial cost will be fully taken care of by contractor. “As for us, we had budgeted for P45 million, as incidental costs, because our Engineers will be travelling to Morupule, we will be engaging experts to assess the work for us etc.”
In terms of efforts toward clean energy Minister Moagi said Morupule A wad already implementing clean coal technologies, fuel gas desulphurisation technique in place. “At Morupule B the new heat exchangers that we are installing will have reduced gas emissions,” he said.
De Beers Group is deploying the Tracr™ blockchain platform at scale for its diamond production. Tracr™ is the world’s only distributed diamond blockchain that starts at the source and provides tamper-proof source assurance at scale, enabling Sightholders to provide an immutable record of a diamond’s provenance, and empowering jewellery retailers to have confidence in the origin of the diamonds they purchase.
With more end clients wanting to know the source of the products they buy, the deep meaning associated with a diamond purchase requires a technological step-change to meet their expectations. The introduction of Tracr™ at scale delivers immutable information on the source of De Beers’ diamonds across the value chain and makes source assurance for 100% of De Beers’ production possible.
The Tracr™ platform combines distributed ledger technology with advanced data security and privacy, ensuring that participants control the use of and access to their own data. Each participant on Tracr™ has their own distributed version of the platform, meaning that their data can only be shared with their permission, and only they choose who can access their information.
The advanced privacy technologies used by Tracr™ reinforce data security on the platform. The immutable nature of each transaction on the platform ensures that the data cannot be tampered with when the diamond progresses through the value chain.
The decentralised nature of the platform ensures its speed and scalability, with the ability to register one million diamonds a week onto the platform. With centralised platforms, dealing with large volumes of data can cause bottlenecks, but the decentralised model used by Tracr™ avoids such issues and enables rapid scaling.
The scalability, speed and security of Tracr™ are combined into an intuitive user experience to support ease of use for platform participants. First launched in an R&D phase in 2018 and named by Forbes as one of the world’s 50 leading blockchain solutions in both 2020 and in 2022, De Beers has already registered one quarter of its production by value on Tracr™ in the first three Sights of the year in preparation for this first scale release.
Bruce Cleaver, CEO, De Beers Group, said: “De Beers discovers diamonds with our partners in Botswana, Canada, Namibia and South Africa and, with our long-term investment in Tracr™, we are proud to join with our Sightholders to provide the industry with immutable diamond source assurance at scale.
Tracr™, which will enable the provision of provenance information from source to Sightholder to store on a secure blockchain, will underpin confidence in natural diamonds and represents the first step in a technological transformation that will enhance standards and raise expectations of what we are capable of providing to our end clients.”
Lefoko Moagi, Minister of Minerals and Energy, Government of Botswana said: “The introduction of this advanced provenance technology is extremely exciting and we are very pleased as a large diamond producing country, and shareholder in De Beers, to be a part of this development. Confidence in diamond origin is extremely important and we look forward to seeing the roll out of this new programme delivering new benefits to the diamond industry and giving more assurance to consumers.”
The Tracr™ platform brings together a range of leading technologies – including blockchain, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things and advanced security and privacy technologies – to support the identification of a diamond’s journey through the value chain.
De Beers’ provenance claims have been certified by the Responsible Jewellery Council and trust in the De Beers source of diamonds is also assured by the business’s Pipeline Integrity programme which involves annual third-party verification visits of participants by independent auditors.