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Navigating the Botswana Landscape in Covid Era, Navigating our new Reality

Minister of Finance & Economic Development Peggy Serame
PEGGY O. SERAME


I will start by giving a highlight of the economic performance and how COVID-19 has impacted our economic landscape. I will then discuss some of the Government interventions in the wake of COVID-19 and how our Government intends on building back a more inclusive and resilient economy post the COVID-19 pandemic.

BRIEF ECONOMIC UPDATE

Almost all economic sectors in the domestic economy experienced negative growth in 2020, resulting in the overall contraction of 8.5 percent in 2020; worse than the originally-forecast contraction of 7.9 percent, which shows the severe impact of the outbreak, and partly due to technical adjustments to the GDP figures.

The negative growth during 2020 was most pronounced in the major sectors of Mining, Trade, Hotels and Restaurants, Transport & Communications, Manufacturing and Construction, which more than offset the positive growth rates in Agriculture, Water and Electricity and General Government. These three sectors were supported by some measures that were put forward to contain the virus outbreak. However, signs of recovery are evident in 2021, as the domestic economy expanded by 36.0 percent year-on-year during the second quarter of 2021, compared to a contraction of 26.0 percent in the same period in 2020.

The positive performance during the second quarter of 2021 was due to the rebound of the global diamond market from the COVID-19 crisis, which resulted in improved performance of the mining and diamond trading sectors. Projection for 2021 is 9.7 per cent. In terms of monetary policy, the Bank rate was maintained at 3.75 percent, its lowest ever level, after reducing it from 4.25 percent in September 2020 to encourage domestic investment.

Domestic inflation has been rising since the beginning of 2021. The sharp increase is mainly due to increases in indirect taxes and fuel price adjustments. Headline inflation stood at 8.8 percent as at August 2021, but has declined to 8.4 percent in September 2021. We expect that in the medium term, inflation will return to the Bank of Botswana’s objective range of 3-6 percent as the economy stabilizes, and the transitory impact of one-off price increases falls away.

As at the end of July 2021, the foreign exchange reserves amounted to P52.01 billion, equivalent to 10 months of import cover of non-diamond goods and services. The reserves will, however, be boosted by the recent SDR allocation by the IMF, and the proceeds of loans from the World Bank Group and African Development Bank.

GOVERNMENT INTERVENTIONS IN THE WAKE OF COVID-19

In light of this challenging environment, Botswana just like the rest of the world promptly responded by preparing an Economic Response Plan in April 2020, in order to address the short term economic impacts of COVID-19 pandemic.

These included:

Establishing a COVID-19 Relief Fund, with an initial capitalization of P2 billion from public funds; and individuals, private sector and development partners also contributed to the Fund. Establishment of the Industry Support Fund capped at P1.3 billion. P690 million has been disbursed to date. Government guaranteed loans by commercial banks to firms affected by COVID-19 (up to a maximum of P1 billion in total). Providing tax free wage subsidies to sustain jobs of most affected sectors. Food relief hampers of about P850 per family during lockdown period. Wage subsidy – Government covering half salary for those earning maximum of P5000 per month and all tourism related activities.

Tax Concessions up to March 2021

Financial relief payments (P1,000) for informal sector and small enterprises, that did not benefit from other relief measures, on condition of registration on the LEA database. Several of these short term interventions were funded from the COVID-19 Relief Fund established by Government.

BOTSWANA’S BUILD BACK BETTER AGENDA

Given the uncertainty and severity surrounding impacts of COVID-19 in our economy, there was need to come up with mitigation factors which will address not only the short-term but the medium-term to long-term impacts, hence, the development of the Economic Recovery and Transformation Plan (ERTP). The ERTP was adopted to complement Government’s short-term economic relief. Package that was implemented from April onwards. Therefore, an amount of P14.5 billion was allocated as additional fiscal resources for the ERTP. Expenditure to date stands at around P799 million.

Therefore, the ERTP seeks to reinforce the support already provided for severely affected and vulnerable businesses, workers and sections of the community. The restoration of the economy continues to be guided by the Economic Recovery and Transformation Plan (ERTP), launched as part of the Mid-Term Review (MTR) of National Development Plan (NDP 11), as well as the Government Reset Agenda, launched by His Excellency the President, Dr. Mokgweetsi Eric Masisi in May 2021, which I believe Chief of Staff, Mr. Boyce Sebetela will elaborate on later as per the programme. All these are geared towards taking our economy to another level, despite the economic challenges we are faced with.

Government is committed to supporting economic recovery post COVID-19 through some of the following interventions:

Establishment of the Industry Support Fund capped at P1.3 billion, of which 690 million has been disbursed to date. The Bank of Botswana reduced primary reserve requirement (PRR) from 5 percent to 2.5 percent and this is still maintained.  Liquidity support measures for commercial banks which include reducing the cost of borrowing by banks from the central bank and extending the range of eligible collateral for such funding, while the capital adequacy ratio was reduced from 15 percent to 12.5 percent.

The Bank of Botswana has reduced the cost of accessing overnight funding facility, Credit Facility, to the Bank Rate (3.75 percent) from the cost of Bank Rate plus 6 percent. The launch of the revised Botswana Exporter Development Programme (BEDP) through the Botswana Investment and Trade Centre (BITC) initiative to support export-led growth.  The BEDP aims to support local firms to penetrate export markets and participate in export value chains. Similarly, the UNDP-supported Supplier Development Programme is helping to build links between large firms and potential small- and medium sized suppliers.

Saving Botswana’s population from COVID-19;

Promoting export-led growth and diversification, including the development of value chains and economic clusters;
Investment in productive infrastructure, including digital infrastructure;
Building resilience, including citizen economic empowerment, supporting SME development, diversifying the domestic supply base and responding to climate change;
Promoting the digital transition.

Strong economic recovery of around 9.7 percent is expected this year. However, risks and uncertainties remain, given an exponential increase in COVID-19 cases and related mortality experienced in the last few months in a number of Countries. Although, the number of new cases recorded on a daily basis has been declining steadily in recent weeks, there is still a risk for the fourth wave towards the end of the year. It is therefore, important that we continue to comply with all the health protocols as advised by the experts leading the fight against the disease, and also increase our uptake of the available vaccines.

The recent decline in new cases can be attributed to increased vaccination roll-out, coupled with containment measures that Government has put in place. Globally, the pandemic seems to be under control, primarily due to the widespread of vaccine rollout. This has allowed many countries to relax movement and border restrictions. However, risks still remain.

As I conclude, let me highlight that the COVID-19 pandemic has persisted longer than anticipated, and therefore, concerted efforts will continue to be made towards saving lives of Batswana through increased vaccination rollout and as well as intensifying measures that will accelerate economic recovery going forward.

Finally, the build back agenda at national, company, or individual level must take into account the lessons learnt from this pandemic and build ecosystems that are resilient, leveraging technology and partnerships, while we develop and monetize skills for the next few decades to achieve a green recovery. I do hope these are some of the issues will be discussing throughout the day.

Peggy O. Serame is Honourable
MINISTER OF FINANCE AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

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DIS blasted for cruelty – UN report

26th July 2022
DIS BOSS: Magosi

Botswana has made improvements on preventing and ending arbitrary deprivation of liberty, but significant challenges remain in further developing and implementing a legal framework, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said at the end of a visit recently.

Head of the delegation, Elina Steinerte, appreciated the transparency of Botswana for opening her doors to them. Having had full and unimpeded access and visited 19 places of deprivation of liberty and confidentiality interviewing over 100 persons deprived of their liberty.

She mentioned “We commend Botswana for its openness in inviting the Working Group to conduct this visit which is the first visit of the Working Group to the Southern African region in over a decade. This is a further extension of the commitment to uphold international human rights obligations undertaken by Botswana through its ratification of international human rights treaties.”

Another good act Botswana has been praised for is the remission of sentences. Steinerte echoed that the Prisons Act grants remission of one third of the sentence to anyone who has been imprisoned for more than one month unless the person has been sentenced to life imprisonment or detained at the President’s Pleasure or if the remission would result in the discharge of any prisoner before serving a term of imprisonment of one month.

On the other side; The Group received testimonies about the police using excessive force, including beatings, electrocution, and suffocation of suspects to extract confessions. Of which when the suspects raised the matter with the magistrates, medical examinations would be ordered but often not carried out and the consideration of cases would proceed.

“The Group recall that any such treatment may amount to torture and ill-treatment absolutely prohibited in international law and also lead to arbitrary detention. Judicial authorities must ensure that the Government has met its obligation of demonstrating that confessions were given without coercion, including through any direct or indirect physical or undue psychological pressure. Judges should consider inadmissible any statement obtained through torture or ill-treatment and should order prompt and effective investigations into such allegations,” said Steinerte.

One of the group’s main concern was the DIS held suspects for over 48 hours for interviews. Established under the Intelligence and Security Service Act, the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) has powers to arrest with or without a warrant.

The group said the “DIS usually requests individuals to come in for an interview and has no powers to detain anyone beyond 48 hours; any overnight detention would take place in regular police stations.”

The Group was able to visit the DIS facilities in Sebele and received numerous testimonies from persons who have been taken there for interviewing, making it evident that individuals can be detained in the facility even if the detention does not last more than few hours.

Moreover, while arrest without a warrant is permissible only when there is a reasonable suspicion of a crime being committed, the evidence received indicates that arrests without a warrant are a rule rather than an exception, in contravention to article 9 of the Covenant.

Even short periods of detention constitute deprivation of liberty when a person is not free to leave at will and in all those instances when safeguards against arbitrary detention are violated, also such short periods may amount to arbitrary deprivation of liberty.

The group also learned of instances when persons were taken to DIS for interviewing without being given the possibility to notify their next of kin and that while individuals are allowed to consult their lawyers prior to being interviewed, lawyers are not allowed to be present during the interviews.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention mentioned they will continue engaging in the constructive dialogue with the Government of Botswana over the following months while they determine their final conclusions in relation to the country visit.

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Stan Chart halts civil servants property loan facility

26th July 2022
Stan-Chart

Standard Chartered Bank Botswana (SCBB) has informed the government that it will not be accepting new loan applications for the Government Employees Motor Vehicle and Residential Property Advance Scheme (GEMVAS and LAMVAS) facility.

This emerges in a correspondence between Acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance Boniface Mphetlhe and some government departments. In a letter he wrote recently to government departments informing them of the decision, Mphetlhe indicated that the Ministry received a request from the Bank to consider reviewing GEMVAS and LAMVAS agreement.

He said: “In summary SCBB requested the following; Government should consider reviewing GEMVAS and LAMVAS interest rate from prime plus 0.5% to prime plus 2%.” The Bank indicated that the review should be both for existing GEMVAS and LAMVAS clients and potential customers going forward.

Mphetlhe said the Bank informed the Ministry that the current GEMVAS and LAMVAS interest rate structure results into them making losses, “as the cost of loa disbursements is higher that their end collections.”

He said it also requested that the loan tenure for the residential property loans to be increased from 20 to 25 years and the loan tenure for new motor vehicles loans to be increased from 60 months to 72 months.

Mphetlhe indicated that the Bank’s request has been duly forwarded to the Directorate of Public Service Management for consideration, since GEMVAS and LAMVAS is a Condition of Service Scheme. He saidthe Bank did also inform the Ministry that if the matter is not resolved by the 6th June, 2022, they would cease receipt of new GEMVAS and LAMVAS loan applications.

“A follow up virtual meeting was held to discuss their resolution and SCB did confirm that they will not be accepting any new loans from GEMVAS and LAMVAS. The decision includes top-up advances,” said Mphetlhe. He advised civil servants to consider applying for loans from other banks.

In a letter addressed to the Ministry, SCBB Chief Executive Officer Mpho Masupe informed theministry that, “Reference is made to your letter dated 18th March 2022 wherein the Ministry had indicated that feedback to our proposal on the above subject is being sought.”

In thesame letter dated 10 May 2022, Masupe stated that the Bank was requesting for an update on the Ministry’s engagements with the relevant stakeholder (Directorate of Public Service Management) and provide an indicative timeline for conclusion.

He said the “SCBB informs the Ministry of its intention to cease issuance of new loans to applicants from 6th June 2022 in absence of any feedback on the matter and closure of the discussions between the two parties.”  Previously, Masupe had also had requested the Ministry to consider a review of clause 3 of the agreement which speaks to the interest rate charged on the facilities.

Masupe indicated in the letter dated 21 December 2021 that although all the Banks in the market had signed a similar agreement, subject to amendments that each may have requested. “We would like to suggest that our review be considered individually as opposed to being an industry position as we are cognisant of the requirements of section 25 of the Competition Act of 2018 which discourages fixing of pricing set for consumers,” he said.

He added that,“In this way,clients would still have the opportunity to shop around for more favourable pricing and the other Banks, may if they wish to, similarly, individually approach your office for a review of their pricing to the extent that they deem suitable for their respective organisations.”

Masupe also stated that: “On the issue of our request for the revision of the Interest Rate, we kindly request for an increase from the current rate of prime plus 0.5% to prime plus 2%, with no other increases during the loan period.” The Bank CEO said the rationale for the request to review pricing is due to the current construct of the GEMVAS scheme which is currently structured in a way that is resulting in the Bank making a loss.

“The greater part of the GEMVAS portfolio is the mortgage boo which constitutes 40% of the Bank’s total mortgage portfolio,” said Masupe. He saidthe losses that the Bank is incurring are as a result of the legacy pricing of prime plus 0% as the 1995 agreement which a slight increase in the August 2018 agreement to prime plus 0.5%.

“With this pricing, the GEMVAS portfolio has not been profitable to the Bank, causing distress and impeding its ability to continue to support government employees to buy houses and cars. The portfolio is currently priced at 5.25%,” he said.  Masupe said the performance of both the GEMVAS home loan and auto loan portfolios in terms of profitability have become unsustainable for the Bank.

Healso said, when the agreement was signed in August 2018, the prime lending rate was 6.75% which made the pricing in effect at the time sufficient from a profitable perspective. “It has since dropped by a total 1.5%. The funds that are loaned to customers are sourced at a high rate, which now leaves the Bank with marginal profits on the portfolio before factoring in other operational expenses associated with administration of the scheme and after sales care of the portfolio,” said the CEO.

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Botswana ranked 129 in female MPs representation

26th July 2022
Minister of Finance & Economic Development Peggy Serame

The Global Gender Gap Index, a report published by the World Economic Forum annually, has indicated that Botswana is among countries that fare badly when it comes to representation of women in legislative bodies.

The latest Global Gender Gap Index, published last week, benchmarks the current state and evolution of gender parity across four key dimensions (Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment). It is the longest-standing index which tracks progress towards closing these gaps over time since its inception in 2006.

This year, the Global Gender Gap Index benchmarked 146 countries. Of these, a subset of 102 countries have been represented in every edition of the index since 2006, further providing a large constant sample for time series analysis.

Botswana ranks number 66 overall (out of 146 countries), with good rankings in most of the pillars. Botswana ranks 1st in Health and Survival, 7th in the Economic Participation and Opportunity, 22nd in Educational Attainment, and 129th in Political Empowerment.

The Global Gender Gap Index measures scores on a 0 to 100 scale and scores can be interpreted as the distance covered towards parity (i.e. the percentage of the gender gap that has been closed). The cross-country comparisons aim to support the identification of the most effective policies to close gender gaps.

The Economic Participation and Opportunity sub-index contains three concepts: the participation gap, the remuneration gap and the advancement gap. The participation gap is captured using the difference between women and men in labour-force participation rates. The remuneration gap is captured through a hard data indicator (ratio of estimated female-to-male earned income) and a qualitative indicator gathered through the World Economic Forum’s annual Executive Opinion Survey (wage equality for similar work).

Finally, the gap between the advancement of women and men is captured through two hard data statistics (the ratio of women to men among legislators, senior officials and managers, and the ratio of women to men among technical and professional workers).

The Educational Attainment sub-index captures the gap between women’s and men’s current access to education through the enrolment ratios of women to men in primary-, secondary- and tertiary-level education. A longer-term view of the country’s ability to educate women and men in equal numbers is captured through the ratio of women’s literacy rate to men’s literacy rate.

Health and Survival sub-index provides an overview of the differences between women’s and men’s health using two indicators. The first is the sex ratio at birth, which aims specifically to capture the phenomenon of “missing women”, prevalent in countries with a strong son preference. Second, the index uses the gap between women’s and men’s healthy life expectancy.

This measure provides an estimate of the number of years that women and men can expect to live in good health by accounting for the years lost to violence, disease, malnutrition and other factors.
Political Empowerment sub-index measures the gap between men and women at the highest level of political decision-making through the ratio of women to men in ministerial positions and the ratio of women to men in parliamentary positions. In addition, the reported included the ratio of women to men in terms of years in executive office (prime minister or president) for the last 50 years.

In the last general elections, only three women won elections, compared to 54 males. The three women are; Nnaniki Makwinja (Lentsweletau-Mmopane), Talita Monnakgotla (Kgalagadi North), and Anna Mokgethi (Gaborone Bonnington North). Four women were elected through Specially Elected dispensation; Peggy Serame, Dr Unity Dow, Phildah Kereng and Beauty Manake. All female MPs — save Dow, who resigned — are members of the executive.

Overall, Botswana has 63 seats, all 57 elected by the electorates, and six elected by parliament. Early this year, Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) secretary general and Gaborone North MP, Mpho Balopi, successfully moved a motion in parliament calling for increment of elective seats from 57 to 61. Balopi contented that population growth demands the country respond by increasing the number of MPs.

In Africa, Botswana play second fiddle to countries like Rwanda, Namibia, South Africa, Burundi, and Zimbabwe who have better representation of women, with Rwanda being the only country with more than 50 percent of women in parliament.

The low number of women in parliament is attributed to Botswana’s current, electoral system, First-Past-the-Post. During the 9th parliament, then MP for Mahalapye East tabled a motion in parliament in which she sort to increase the number of Specially Elected MPs in parliament to augment female representation in the National Assembly.

The motion was opposed famously, by then Specially Elected MP, Botsalo Ntuane, who said the citizens were not in favour of such a move since it dilute democracy, instead suggesting the Botswana should switch to Proportional-Representation-System. Botswana is currently undergoing Constitutional Review process, with the commission, appointed in December, expected to deliver the report to President Mokgweetsi Masisi by September this year.

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