For the past two years, the world has been at combat with various COVID-19 variants. A new variant of concern which is considered to have a combination of the greatest hits (Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta) has sent alarm bells around the world.
Botswana’s COVID-19 genomic surveillance, which actively monitors COVID-19 variants in Botswana, picked four samples that were concerning and discovered a completely new variant. In accordance with international obligations, as a responsible member state under the International Health Regulations of 2005, Botswana submitted the suspected new variant for the entire global scientific community to respond to this early finding. Shortly after, the Republic of South Africa, also submitted a similar concerning variant.
The new variant, ‘Omicron’ is named after the 15th letter of the Greek Alphabet to avoid public confusion and stigma. The news spread like wild fire which resulted in European Union member states, the United Arab Emirates and United States of America imposing travel bans on Botswana and other sister SADC nations, resulting in drawing a wedge between nations.
In his address on the occasion of an update on Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi has shunned the response by some countries to Botswana’s detection of the Omicron variant stating that it is unfortunate as it appears to have caused unnecessary panic amongst the public across the world. He considers it defeating the spirit of multilateral cooperation in dealing with this global pandemic.
“The decision to ban our citizens from travelling to certain countries was hastily made and is not only unfair but is also unjustified while remain confident that reason and logic will prevail, the harshness of the decision has the effect of our shaking our belief in the sincerity of declared friendship and commitment of equality and economic prosperity for us,” he said.
President Masisi has appealed to the nations that have imposed travel restrictions on Botswana to reflect and review their travel restrictions stance against the Southern African region.
African leaders and heads of state are in agreement on a matter. Some stating that the travel bans are ‘uncalled for, afro phobic, unscientific, strict, unfair and unjustified’. They have come out to bash the unilateral travel bans and request immediate upliftment of the restrictions imposed on SADC member states by European Union member states, the United Arab Emirates and United States of America.
While Batswana are banned from international travel, locally as at 26th November 2021, a total of 195 068 COVID19 cases and 2 418 deaths had been reported since the beginning of the pandemic.
“We have been steadily witnessing a decrease in the number of new cases and deaths in the last three months. We are currently reporting an average of less 10 infections per 100 000 people compared to 648 cases per 100 000 people at the peak of the third wave. We have also observed a gradual decline in hospitalizations across the country with an average of less than 10 patients at a time at Sir Ketumile Masire Teaching Hospital (SKMTH) and our other health facilities countrywide,” pointed out President Masisi.
Masisi encouraged Batswana not to despair as to date, all the nations’ key indicators remain stable. “This is comforting although it still does not warrant any complacency on our part in terms of behaviour and other attitudinal patterns towards this dreadful disease. We are actively monitoring the evolving situation in view new variant of concern,’’ he sternly advised.
Government through the different Ministries leading the different sectors, has been working tirelessly to prepare for potential outbreaks and a fourth (4th) wave. This will be achieved through; installing oxygen generating plants and increasing skilled human capacity.
With regards to the vaccination programme; as of 29th November 2021, an estimated One Million and Fifty Three Thousand Three Hundred and Sixty One (1 053 361) people translating to 75.7% of the target Batswana citizens and residents over the age of 18 years have received at least 1 dose of the COVID-19 vaccines. A total of Nine Hundred and Fifty Thousand Nine Hundred and Seventy Three (950 973) people translating to 68.4% have been fully vaccinated. This number exceeds the 64% target Botswana has set to achieve by end of December 2021.
Masisi enthusiastically revealed that; “We are one of the three countries in Africa that have achieved the World Health Organisation target of vaccinating at least 40% of the entire population by December 2021. We are committed to ensure that all is done to reduce the transmission of the virus in the country.
More vaccines are being procured to ensure availability for those who have not yet received any dose. Government is also considering booster doses for those who may be identified as qualifying for them.”
President Masisi urged Batswana to continue observing the COVID-19 health protocols of social distancing, washing hands or sanitizing and wearing masks and avoid unnecessary travelling.
Mowana Copper Mine in Dukwi will finally pay its former employees a total amount of P23, 789, 984.00 end of this month. For over three years Mowana Copper Mine has been under judicial management. Updating members, Botswana Mine Workers Union (BMWU) Executive Secretary Kitso Phiri this week said the High Court issued an order for the implementation of the compromise scheme of December 9, 2021 and this was to be done within 30 days after court order.
“Therefore payment of benefits under the scheme including those owed to Messina Copper Botswana employees should be effected sometime in January latest end of January 2022,” Kitso said. Kitso also explained that cash settlement will be 30 percent of the total Messina Copper Botswana estate and negotiated estate is $3,233,000 (about P35, 563,000).
Messina Copper was placed under liquidation and was thereafter acquired by Leboam Holdings to operate Mowana Mine. Leboam Holdings struck a deal with the Messina Copper’s liquidator who became a shareholder of Leboam Holdings. Leboam Holdings could not service its debts and its creditors placed it under provisional judicial management on December 18, 2018 and in judicial management on February 28, 2019.
A new company Max Power expressed interest to acquire the mining operations. It offered to take over the Mowana Mine from Leboam Holdings, however, the company had to pay the debts of Leboam including monies owed to Messina Copper, being employees benefits and other debts owed to other creditors.
The monies, were agreed to be paid through a scheme of compromise proposed by Max Power, being a negotiated payment schedule, which was subject to the financial ability of the new owners. “On December 9, 2021, Messina Copper liquidator, called a meeting of creditors, which the BMWU on behalf of its members (former Messina Copper employees) attended, to seek mandate from creditors to proceed with a proposed settlement for Messina Copper on the scheme of compromise. It is important to note that employee benefits are regarded as preferential credit, meaning once a scheme is approved they are paid first.”
A savingram the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development sent to Town Clerks and Council Secretaries explaining why councilors across the country should not have access to their terminal benefits before end of their term has been revealed.
The contents of the savingram came out in the wake of a war of words between counselors and the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development. The councilors through the Botswana Association of Local Authorities (BALA) accuse the Ministry of refusing to allow them to have access to their terminal benefits before end of their term.
This has since been denied by the Ministry. In the savingram to town councils and council secretaries across the country, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development Molefi Keaja states that, “Kindly be advised that the terminal benefits budget is made during the final year of term of office for Honorable Councilors.” Keaja reminded town clerks and council secretaries that, “The nominal budget Councils make each and every financial year is to cater for events where a Councilor’s term of office ends before the statutory time due to death, resignation or any other reason.”
The savingram also goes into detail about why the government had in the past allowed councilors to have access to their terminal benefits before the end of their term. “Regarding the special dispensation made in the 2014-2019, it should be noted that the advance was granted because at that time there was an approved budget for terminal benefits during the financial year,” explained Keaja. He added that, “Town Clerks/Council Secretaries made discretions depending on the liquidity position of Councils which attracted a lot of audit queries.”
Keaja also revealed that councils across the country were struggling financially and therefore if they were to grant councilors access to their terminal benefits, this could leave their in a dire financial situation. Given the fact that Local Authorities currently have cash flow problems and budgetary constraints, it is not advisable to grant terminal benefits advance as it would only serve to compound the liquidity problems of councils.
It is understood that the Ministry was inundated with calls from some Councils as they sought clarification regarding access to their terminal benefits. The Ministry fears that should councils pay out the terminal benefits this would affect their coffers as the government spends a lot on councilors salaries.
Reports show that apart from elected councilors, the government spends at least P6, 577, 746, 00 on nominated councilors across the country as their monthly salaries. Former Assistant Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Botlogile Tshireletso once told Parliament that in total there are 113 nominated councilors and their salaries per a year add up to P78, 933,16.00. She added that their projected gratuity is P9, 866,646.00.
A surge in consumer spending is expected to be a key driver of Botswana’s economic recovery, according to recent projections by Fitch Solutions. Fitch Solutions said it forecasts household spending in Botswana to grow by a real rate of 5.9% in 2022.
The bullish Fitch Solutions noted that “This is a considerable deceleration from 9.4% growth estimated in 2021, it comes mainly from the base effects of the contraction of 2.5% recorded in 2020,” adding that, “We project total household spending (in real terms) to reach BWP59.9bn (USD8.8bn) in 2022, increasing from BWP56.5bn (USD8.3bn) in 2021.” According to Fitch Solutions, this is higher than the pre-Covid-19 total household spending (in real terms) of P53.0 billion (USD7.8bn) in 2019 and it indicates a full recovery in consumer spending.
“We forecast real household spending to grow by 5.9% in 2022, decelerating from the estimated growth of 9.4% in 2021. We note that the Covid-19 pandemic and the related restrictions on economic activity resulted in real household spending contracting by 2.5% in 2020, creating a lower base for spending to grow from in 2021 and 2022,” Fitch Solutions says.
Total household spending (in real terms), the agency says, will increase in 2022 when compared to 2021. In 2021 and 2022, total household spending (in real terms) will be above the pre-Covid-19 levels in 2019, indicating a full recovery in consumer spending, says Fitch Solutions. It says as of December 6 2021 (latest data available), 38.4% of people in Botswana have received at least one vaccine dose, while this is relatively low it is higher than Africa average of 11.3%.
“The emergence of new Covid-19 variants such as Omicron, which was first detected in the country in November 2021, poses a downside risk to our outlook for consumer spending, particularly as a large proportion of the country’s population is unvaccinated and this could result in stricter measures being implemented once again,” says Fitch Solutions.
Growth will ease in 2022, Fitch Solution says. “Our forecast for an improvement in consumer spending in Botswana in 2022 is in line with our Country Risk team’s forecast that the economy will grow by a real rate of 5.3% over 2022, from an estimated 12.5% growth in 2021 as the low base effects from 2020 dissipate,” it says.
Fitch Solutions notes that “Our Country Risk team expects private consumption to be the main driver of Botswana’s economic growth in 2022, as disposable incomes and the labour market continue to recover from the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.” It says Botswana’s tourism sector has been negatively impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and the related travel restrictions.
According to Fitch Solutions, “The emergence of the Omicron variant, which was first detected in November 2021, has resulted in travel bans being implemented on Southern African countries such as South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Eswatini. This will further delay the recovery of Botswana’s tourism sector in 2021 and early 2022.” Fitch Solutions, therefore, forecasts Botswana’s tourist arrivals to grow by 81.2% in 2022, from an estimated contraction of 40.3% in 2021.
It notes that the 72.4% contraction in 2020 has created a low base for tourist arrivals to grow from. “The rollout of vaccines in South Africa and its key source markets will aid the recovery of the tourism sector over the coming months and this bodes well for the employment and incomes of people employed in the hospitality industry, particularly restaurants and hotels as well as recreation and culture businesses,” the report says.
Fitch Solutions further notes that with economies reopening, consumers are demanding products that they had little access to over the previous year. However, manufacturers are facing several problems. It says supply chain issues and bottlenecks are resulting in consumer goods shortages, feeding through into supply-side inflation. Fitch Solutions believes the global semiconductor shortage will continue into 2022, putting the pressure on the supply of several consumer goods.
It says the spread of the Delta variant is upending factory production in Asia, disrupting shipping and posing more shocks to the world economy. Similarly, manufacturers are facing shortages of key components and higher raw materials costs, the report says adding that while this is somewhat restricted to consumer goods, there is a high risk that this feeds through into more consumer services over the 2022 year.
“Our global view for a notable recovery in consumer spending relies on the ability of authorities to vaccinate a large enough proportion of their populations and thereby experience a notable drop in Covid-19 infections and a decline in hospitalisation rates,” says Fitch Solutions. Both these factors, it says, will lead to governments gradually lifting restrictions, which will boost consumer confidence and retail sales.
“As of December 6 2021, 38.4% of people in Botswana have received at least one vaccine dose. While this is low, it is higher than the Africa average of 11.3%. The vaccines being administered in Botswana include Pfizer-BioNTech, Sinovac and Johnson & Johnson. We believe that a successful vaccine rollout will aid the country’s consumer spending recovery,” says Fitch Solutions. Therefore, the agency says, “Our forecasts account for risks that are highly likely to play out in 2022, including the easing of government support. However, if other risks start to play out, this may lead to forecast revisions.”