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Serame reveals devastating impact of COVID-19

Minister of Finance & Economic Development Peggy Serame

Expert prediction that the impending end to government moratoriums worldwide could set off a wave of evictions and foreclosures has come to pass.

The Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Peggy Serame was speaking on the theme of repossession of immovable properties by financial institutions since the advent of COVID-19 following a question by the Member of Parliament for Bobonong, Taolo Lucas.

Lucas had asked the  Minister to state; the number of persons whose immovable properties have been repossessed by financial institutions due to failure to pay monthly premiums since the advent of COVID-19, the number of people who have defaulted from paying monthly mortgage premiums to financial institutions since the advent of COVID-19 and during the state of emergency period as well as the number of those who have defaulted to pay, out of those who have defaulted how many are earmarked for the repossessions; and if there are any efforts to stem the tide of repossessions of immovable properties by financial institutions given that failure to pay has been occasioned by the economic hardships arising from COVID-19.

In her response Serame disclosed that; “the reference period (advent of COVID-19) is confined to the period from 1st April 2020 to 31st October 2021. This is because current official statistics were not designed and collected based on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Second, “financial institutions” is defined as the eight commercial banks licensed and supervised by the Bank of Botswana and three statutory banks, namely, Botswana Building Society Limited, National Development Bank and Botswana Savings Bank. Third, the available data relates to the number of accounts, as opposed to “number of persons” as requested; in some cases one person has multiple mortgage loan accounts.”

She further observed that “as at 31st October 2021, a month after the expiry of the period of State of Public Emergency, the eight commercial banks and the three statutory banks held 402 815 loan accounts with a total value of P75.4 billion. Of these, 25 712 were for residential property, that is 6.4% at a value of P14.2 billion or 18.9 % of the total loans and advances.”

Serame enunciated that from 1st April 2020 to 31st  October 2021, a total of 184 or 1.9% of the defaulting residential property loans, valued at P136.4 million, had the collateral called upon, meaning the collateralized property was repossessed while 97 properties or 1.0%, valued at P79.1 million, were foreclosed. Foreclosure meaning that the properties were sold to recover the loan amount owed to the financial institutions.

“During the same period, a total of 42 860 loan accounts were in arrears, which means that they had defaulted on their repayment obligations, out of which 9 477 were residential property loan accounts, with a value of P437.1 million.

Out of 42 860 loan accounts which defaulted to pay, 9 477 or 22.1% were residential properties, a total of 184 properties had the collateral called upon, while 97 properties were foreclosed. This means that 87 properties or 0.9% are still earmarked for repossession.”

The minister acknowledged that repossession of residential property, especially owner-occupied residential mortgages, represents a painful experience and loss of welfare for the affected individuals or households.

This is particularly so during a period of limited or reduced income earning opportunities, such as is the case with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, economic depression or other natural or social disasters.

The adverse impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy and individuals that undermined the ability of bank customers to repay bank loans, in accordance with agreed repayment programmes, also entailed significant risks for the safety and soundness of banks.

The most important being undermining the safety of customer deposits through failure to repay loans, notwithstanding the reasons for the default. In this regard, banks use short-term customer deposits or public funds to lend; and, in turn, loan repayments in accordance with agreed terms ensure the availability of funds to meet deposit withdrawals, as demanded by customers from time to time.

On the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, banks, with the regulatory support and encouragement by the Bank of Botswana, afforded customers an opportunity to make rearrangements or restructuring of loan facilities, including a three to six months repayment moratorium. The broader objective was not only to assist the borrower, but also to safeguard the repayment programme and loan servicing capability and, therefore, protection of depositors’ funds.

“With regard to CEDA, I wish to state the following: 70 projects were advertised for sale in execution in the 2020/2021 and 2021/2022 financial years but all these projects had judgement obtained prior to the outbreak of COVID-19; During both financial years, a total of 11 506 businesses defaulted from monthly payments of their mortgage premiums; and A total of 188 businesses were earmarked for repossession but this happened prior to the outbreak of COVID-19 and continued to be non-performing since then.

The Agency introduced the following interventions to assist businesses in mitigating the effects of COVID-19: Moratoriums on repayments, Restructuring and rehabilitation of ailing businesses, Capitalization of defaulting accounts, Capital injection through products such as Letlhabile, COVID-19 Relief Fund, Industry Support Facility and other CEDA products,” said Serame.

According to the State of the Nation’s Housing 2021 report by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, income losses during lockdowns left nearly a quarter of both low-income renters  and homeowners behind on housing payments at the start of 2021. Indicating that nearly 40% of homeowners had lost income due to the pandemic, and 9% were behind on their mortgage payments.

The pandemic has highlighted how vital affordable, good-quality, and well-connected housing is to health and well-being. Indeed, the Household Pulse Surveys in the first quarter of this year show a clear relationship between the stress of being behind on housing payments and the incidence of other hardships.

For example, more than three-quarters of households that were unable to cover their rents or mortgages also struggled to pay other expenses. Some 60% of households in arrears experienced feelings of depression or anxiety, while 35% reported being in fair or poor health. Many of these households may have little recourse to get help with these health issues, with a fifth having no public or private health insurance.

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Media have a Role in Accelerating Harm Reduction Adoption

8th December 2022

African Scientists and Experts Call for the adoption of a Harm Reduction in approach in Public Health Strategies and Tobacco Control. Media have a critical role to play in accelerating Harm Reduction efforts by informing and sensitizing cigarette smokers on the availability and benefits of alternative, potentially lower risk products to cigarretes. Traditional cessation and smoking prevention norms are not the only ways that smokers who cannot or don’t’ want to quit can make healthier choices that cause less harm to themselves and those around them.

This was said during the 2nd Harm Reduction Exchange conference for African journalists held in Nairobi, Kenya on the 1st of December 2022. Speaking at the Harm Reduction Exchange Conference, Integra Africa Principal Dr. Tendai Mhizha emphasized the role that journalists and media houses should play in handling misinformation and disinformation in tobacco harm reduction discourse that is actually perpetuating the death and disease caused by people continuing to smoke combustible cigarettes. “There has been a lot of disinformation surrounding the topic of nicotine and the alleged negative effects that e-cigarettes have on public health.

This has led to policies that disfavour risk reduces products and narratives that completely deny their benefits. The media have the difficult responsibility to curb the scourge of disinformation and misinformation on harm reduction just like on other socio-political stances that are prescriptive and do not uphold consumers’ right to healthier lifestyle choices,” Dr Mhizha said.

The Harm Reduction Exchange cast a spotlight on alternative ways to reduce harm among tobacco smokers. Held under the theme Harm Reduction: Making a difference in Africa, the conference focused on the progress being made through harm reduction strategies in all fields related to public health such as drug and alcohol abuse, excessive sugar consumption, skin lightening and other addictive and behavioral practices. A wide array of harm reduction strategies and initiatives that are deployed towards reducing unnecessary deaths through non-communicable diseases were presented and discussed.

On his part, Prof. Abdoul Kassé, a world renowned and awarded Oncologist and a Professor of Surgery at the Cancer Institute in Senegal, said that Harm Reduction is a powerful public A Summary of the HR Exchange 30th November  1st December 2022 health tool that has the potential to reduce cancer by 30% and should be at the centre of all public health development strategies. Harm reduction, he said, has already benefited many people in public health and is the most viable alternative in tobacco control.

It applies to areas where there is a need to reduce the harm associated with a practice or consumption of a substance that is overused in society leading to increased morbidity and mortality. “Innovative Harm Reduction initiatives will help to keep more Africans alive. Tobacco Harm Reduction initiatives, including the use of popular e-cigarettes, nicotine patches and chewing gums, have continued to generate a lot of misunderstanding in both the public health community and in the media. However, there is evidence that the use of potentially less harmful alternatives than cigarettes for those who are not willing or cannot give up smoking with currently approved methods may be a solution, not necessarily the best for everyone but by far better than continuous smoking.

Where cessation repeatedly fails, switching to less harmful products is expected to result in benefits for many smokers,” Prof. Abdoul Kassé said. Similarly, views were expressed by Kenya’s Dr. Vivian Manyeki who said tobacco Harm Reduction has a solid scientific and medical basis, and it has a lot of promise as a public health measure to assist millions of smokers. “Many smokers are unable, or at least unwilling, to achieve cessation through complete nicotine and tobacco abstinence. They continue smoking despite the very real and obvious adverse health consequences and against the multiple public health campaigns. Conventional smoking cessation proposals should be complemented with alternative but more realistic options through Harm Reduction,” Dr. Manyeki said.

Tobacco Harm Reduction was introduced to mitigate the damage caused by cigarette smoking—the most dangerous form of tobacco use, and the leading cause of preventable diseases, including cardiovascular disease, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. “Nicotine has an addictive potential but plays a minor role in smoking-related morbidity and mortality. Across the world, there is growing interest among experts in novel approaches towards tobacco control and there is an ongoing discussion that reducing the negative effects of smoking can be also achieved by tobacco harm reduction,” Dr. Kgosi Letlape, an ophthalmologist and President of Africa Medical Association and the president of the Association of Medical Councils of Africa, said.

Tobacco cessation is a key factor in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases and cancer. Abstinence from tobacco smoking is one of the primary goals for health promotion and management globally but it is unachievable in a huge amount of cases. This task remains unaccomplished despite extensive public campaigns on the health dangers of tobacco smoking. Thus, the development of novel strategies to reduce smoking is imperative. Moreover, the use of innovations in smoking products has been currently adopted by several smokers to reduce the health risks of smoking.

“The Harm Reduction approach prevents drug-related deaths and overdose fatalities and is the only way out for addicts. In the same way these alternative technologies can reduce tobacco harm and accelerate the journey to a smoke-free world as they reduce exposure to toxicants,” Bernice Apondi, A Policy Manager at Voices of Community Action and Leadership Kenya (VOCAL-Kenya), said.

During the Harm Reduction Exchange, journalists drawn from Southern, West and East African countries, including: Nigeria, Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Eswatini, Tanzania, Uganda, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe debated and set forth several resolutions in regards to the present and future as well as the challenges and progress made in Harm Reduction,and science-led regulation.

The Harm Reduction Exchange brought together high-level policy makers, physicians, scientists and health policy experts with media stakeholders from Africa in a lively mix of speeches, presentations, and panel discussions. The key note speakers included Prof Abdoul Aziz Kasse, Ms Bernice Opondi, Joseph Magero, Jonathan Fell, Chimwemwe Ngoma, Clive Bates, Dr. Kgosi Letlape, Dr. Vivian Manyeki and Dr. Tendai Mhizha.

 

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Over 2 000 civil servants interdicted

6th December 2022

Over 2,000 civil servants in the public sector have been interdicted for a variety of reasons, the majority of which are criminal in nature.

According to reports, some officers have been under interdiction for more than two years because such matters are still being investigated. Information reaching WeekendPost shows that local government, particularly councils, has the highest number of suspended officers.

In its annual report, the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) revealed that councils lead in corrupt activities throughout the country, and dozens of council employees are being investigated for alleged corrupt activities. It is also reported that disciplined forces, including the Botswana Defence Force (BDF), police, and prisons, and the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) have suspended a significant number of officers.

The Ministry of Education and Skills Development has also recorded a good number of teachers who have implicated in love relationships with students, while some are accused of impregnating students both in primary and secondary school. Regional education officers have been tasked to investigate such matters and are believed to be far from completion as some students are dragging their feet in assisting the investigations to be completed.

This year, Mmadinare Senior Secondary reportedly had the highest number of pregnancies, especially among form five students who were later forcibly expelled from school. Responding to this publication’s queries, Permanent Secretary to the Office of the President Emma Peloetletse said, “as you might be aware, I am currently addressing public servants across the length and breadth of our beautiful republic. Due to your detailed enquiry, I am not able to respond within your schedule,” she said.

She said some of the issues raised need verification of facts, some are still under investigation while some are still before the courts of law.

Meanwhile, it is close to six months since the Police Commissioner Keabetwe Makgophe, Director General of the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) Tymon Katlholo and the Deputy Director of the DIS Tefo Kgothane were suspended from their official duties on various charges.

Efforts to solicit comment from trade unions were futile at the time of going to press.

Some suspended officers who opted for anonymity claimed that they have close to two years while on suspension. One stated that the investigations that led him to be suspended have not been completed.

“It is heartbreaking that at this time the investigations have not been completed,” he told WeekendPost, adding that “when a person is suspended, they get their salary fully without fail until the matter is resolved”.

Makgophe, Katlholo and Kgothane are the three most high-ranking government officials that are under interdiction.

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Masisi to dump Tsogwane?

28th November 2022

Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) and some senior government officials are abuzz with reports that President Mokgweetsi Masisi has requested his Vice President, Slumber Tsogwane not to contest the next general elections in 2024.

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