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Economic Recovery projects halted as funds dry 

The government has decided to halt some development projects that had not yet commenced to make funds available for COVID-19 expenditure, BDF Mozambique deployment, and tertiary financing under the Ministry of Tertiary Education, Science, Research, and Technology.

 On Wednesday, Parliament approved a Supplementary Budget request by Minister of Finance and Economic Development Peggy Serame totaling P2.49 billion.  In the funds requested by Minister, Government will pump over P1.1 billion into the COVID-19 fund to purchase vaccines, PPE, and associated medical items such as syringes, needles, and surgical masks.

Ministry of Defence, Justice, and Security will be allocated P204.5 million under the Botswana Defence Force to cover the costs of deploying and sustaining troops in Mozambique.  Regarding the Ministry of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology, over P1.16 billion was requested, of which P401 million will cater for sponsoring new students at tertiary institutions.

The Ministry will pump P762 million into restoring the amount initially approved for tuition fees and allowances. When deliberating on the source of funding, Serame explained that to finance the supplementary expenditure, the government will tap into the development budget in addition to dipping into Special Funds.

Serame explained that the Ministry of Finance will be withdrawing finance warrants for some of the approved Development Budget, “targeting projects and programs that have not yet commenced to accommodate the Supplementary budget.”

“Working with Ministries and Departments, my Ministry has taken care not to disrupt ongoing projects for now. However, if the COVID-19 pandemic persists unabated, there is a chance that ongoing projects may be suspended in the future to allow the country to deal with the disease,” she said.

The Minister revealed that the government would reallocate P2.08 billion from the approved Development Budget, given the tight budgetary situation and the uncertainty around the economy’s recovery, to accommodate part of the urgent supplementary requests.
She explained that this is to be achieved by invoking Section 28 (2) of the Public Finance Management Act. The Act provides that “The unspent balance of any warrant issued under this section may at any time be withdrawn or reduced by the Minister if, in his or her opinion, the exigencies of the financial situation render such withdrawal or reduction expedient.”

Serame, however, noted that this action does not in any way alter the Appropriation (2021/2022) Act, No.2 of 2021, as approved by Parliament in March this year, “but rather seeks to delay the implementation of some projects to accommodate the urgent needs to fight the pandemic.”

The over P2 billion withdrawal from the Development Budget will be made against the approved Domestic Development Fund (DDF) amount of P14.2 billion across programs and projects to provide room within both Consolidated and Development Funds to accommodate the Supplementary budget.

The Minister told Parliament that projects earmarked for delayed implementation have not yet started, and new contracts have not been signed. In contrast, ongoing projects will be allowed to continue for now to avoid disruption.

Expressing some reservations on the proposed source of Supplementary Budget funding, Chairman of Parliament Finance & Estimates Committee Thapelo Letsholo said Development Budget as a source of financing for recurrent expenditure is always problematic.

“We are concerned as the Finance Committee that it appears that once again, the Development Budget has been identified as a source of funding despite our caution against this practice last year,” said Letsholo, who is also a Member of Parliament for Kanye North.

The Kanye lawmaker submitted that other sources of funding within the Recurrent Budget could be explored and accessed, considering that the recurrent budget has never been fully expended over the last five years.

“While we are informed and appreciate that this time monies will be going back into the Consolidated Fund for re-appropriation, the concern remains that these are coming out of the Development Budget to fund recurrent expenditure,” he said.

Letsholo further added that the ugly head of project delays and the slow pace of movement across Government projects was a thorny issue.

“We have been informed that some of it are attributable to COVID-19. Notwithstanding, and as previously articulated, these delays have the potential to hamper economic development and deprive Batswana of opportunities and a better standard of living,” he said.

Letsholo cited the Economic Recovery and Transformation Plan (ERTP), which was designed to lessen the negative impact and set the economy on a path of transformative recovery.

“We articulated our belief that should the envisaged projects of the ERTP be delivered on time, and within budget, there was potential to turn around the Botswana economy within a short time, to empower Batswana, and to set Botswana on a path of achieving an inclusive and positively transformed future.”

Letsholo decried slow utilization of development budgets expressing concerns that government will now move some of the funding for ERTP projects back into the Consolidated Fund.
On Thursday, Kwabena Antwi, Portfolio Manager at Kgori Capital, said in the company’s quarterly market insight this week that it was not clear how the government plans to navigate the uncharted territories of COVID-19 and economic slowdown. “The question remains on how the Government plans to fund its projected deficits,” he said.

Kwabena said even with the P2.7 billion loan from the World Bank to support Botswana’s economic recovery, “there is an increased likelihood that projects under its ERTP may be delayed due to insufficient funding.”

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Mental health concern amid COVID-19 pandemic 

24th September 2021
Mental Health

With the advent of COVID-19, mental health and psychosocial has become a major concern around the world. There is   significant increase in the rates of stress, anxiety and depression globally.

In creating awareness and support on mental health and psychosocial support, the Ministry of Local Government & Rural Development, through the Department of Social Protection (DSP) hosted a virtual regional mental health and Psychosocial Support Forum (MHPSS).

The MHPSS Forum brings together stakeholders from different sectors providing Mental Health and Psychosocial Support services particularly to children, youth, families and the workforce, as well as Academia, International Cooperating Partners, Community Implementing Partners and the media.

It aims to facilitate learning, information exchange and advocacy to promote mainstreaming of Mental Health and Psycho-Social Support (PSS) into policies, programmes, services and funding priorities for children and youth in Botswana.

The event is a partnership between The Ministry of Local Government & Rural Development, through the Department of Social Protection (DSP), and the Regional Psychosocial Support Initiative (REPSSI), with Project Concern International Botswana (PCI) and Marang Child Care Network Trust (MCCNT).

The event is held every two years, and Botswana started hosting the Forum in 2014. The theme for this year is ‘Innovate, Integrate, Thrive,’ which prompts us to find new ways to survive the COVID-19 pandemic which we can mainstream into our daily activities.

The Northern Regional Forum in Mahalapye was held on 17-19 August 2021 while the Southern Regional Forum  in  Ghanzi, was  from 21-23 September 2021. Findings from both regions will be presented at the National Forum to be held in Kasane on 12-14 October 2021. The event is held in collaboration with local authorities in each region.

The event is structured in this manner: The first day is a Special Session for Children, where children in the region will talk about the challenges they face that affect their mental health, how they cope and what they think can be done to support them.

The second day is the official opening where the lead ministry gives a keynote address, and presentations from service providers in the region. The third and last day is abstract presentations from different speakers on thematic areas under the theme.

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GMES & Africa Southern Africa to hold a Regional Stakeholder Workshop on Earth Observation Technologies

24th September 2021
GMESAfrica

The Southern African Science Service Centre for Climate Change and Adaptive Land Management (SASSCAL) in collaboration with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) will hold a Hybrid GMES and Africa Regional workshop from 27 – 29 September 2021, at Safari Hotel in Windhoek, Namibia.

The Global Monitoring for Environment and Security and Africa (GMES & Africa) Initiative is a programme formed out of mutual cooperation between Africa and Europe with a focus on Earth Observation (EO) systems.

It was formed to respond to the global need to manage the environment, understand and mitigate the effects of climate change and ensure civil security by providing information to policymakers, scientists, private sector and the public. GMES and Africa aims to promote development of local capacities, institutional, human and technical resources for access to and exploitation of Earth Observation (EO) based services on an operational basis for sustainable development in Africa.

In its first phase, GMES has funded 13 consortiums in Africa. In Southern African, SASSCAL-led consortia is implementing the Wetland Monitoring and Assessment Service for Transboundary Basins in Southern Africa (WeMAST) Project while CSIR is leading the Marine and Coastal Operations for Southern Africa (MARCO[1]South). SASSCAL Members of the consortium include the University of Botswana, University of Zambia, Cape Peninsula University of Technology, University of the Western Cape and Midlands State University, South African National Space Agency (SANSA) and the National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC) of Zambia.

CSIR led consortium includes ABALOBI, Benguela Current Convention, Coastal Oceans Research and Development in the Indian Ocean, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, National Sea Rescue Institute, University of Dar Es Salaam, University of Eduardo Mondlane and the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association).

The workshop will also provide an opportunity to promote and encourage mutual exchanges in terms of sharing best practices, knowledge and experiences as well as allow for the exchange of information and knowledge on new and innovative Earth Observation technologies developed under the programmes and their alignment with the region’s sustainable development strategies.

The workshop will also reveal trends in the use of earth observation data to monitor and assess wetland conditions, threats to sustainable utilisation of wetland resources as well as updating stakeholders on how climate change variability and drought is continually affecting Sub-Saharan Africa’s surface water resources.

The workshop’s envisaged outcomes will be to ensure shared knowledge and understanding of the new and innovative Earth Observation technologies, and their application to society. Expected to visit is a broader pool of international delegates from the two continents (Europe and Africa) both physically and virtual.

This includes the member countries policy makers, line ministers from the SADC countries, public and private sector stakeholders, implementers, Basin Commissions, researchers, and any other stakeholders whose activities are related to coastal areas, rivers, and their ecosystems.

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Vendors ready for the Tobacco Control Bill

21st September 2021
Vendors

Some vendors have been misled
Vendors thrive on households goods and fresh produce

Despite the previous false allegations that the Tobacco Control Bill will lead to several 20 000 vendors across the country losing their jobs, several local vendors have expressed that they are ready for the bill and because vendors sell mostly household goods

“This is something that we openly accept and receive as street vendors, the problem is some of our counterparts were misled and made to believe that we will not be allowed to sell cigarettes on our stalls.

Some of us got to understand that the bill states that we have to be licensed to sell cigarettes, we are not supposed to sell them to children under the age of 18 years of age and eliminating the selling of single sticks. We understand that this agenda is meant to develop a healthy nation but not take us down,” said Mbimbi Tau a vendor who operates from Mogoditshane.

The Tobacco Control Bill has been passed in several countries and street vendors are operating properly without any challenges faced. Tau further mentioned that there is no way that the Tobacco Control Bill will affect their business operations, all they have to do as vendors are to get the required documentation and do what the bill requires.

Another vendor Busani Selalame who operates from Gaborone Bonnington North was not shy to express his support towards the Tobacco Control Bill, “the problem is that some people within our sector have been misled and now they think that the bill is meant to take our operations down and completely stop selling cigarettes.

I support the fact that we are not supposed to sell cigarettes to children who are under the age of 18 years of age this has always been wrong, as parents we should be cautious of such and ensure that our children are disassociated with cigarettes,” said Selalame.

The Tobacco Control Bill prohibits advertising, promotion and sponsorship by the tobacco industry to prevent messages, cues, and other inducements to begin using tobacco, especially among the youth, to reassure users to continue their use, or that otherwise undermine quitting.

Renowned economist Bakang Ntshingane is of the view that since vendors sell household goods and fresh produce they are likely to keep on making profits despite what the Tobacco Control Bill comes with. He further stated that the Tobacco Control Bill will not be of harm on the local economy since the country does not manufacture or produce any tobacco related products.

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