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It’s a battle: Petroleum operators decry ‘BERA bullying’

BERA

The Botswana Energy Regulatory Authority (BERA) find itself at war with its clientele, fuel stations operators following an aggressive “audit” exercise that seeks to ensure compliance with the Authority’s regulations. However, fuel stations operators accuse BERA officials of harassment and irrational decisions to close fuel stations on account of non-compliance.

It has emerged that the decision to close non complying petrol stations stems from the accusation that they have failed to install oil separators at their site of operation. However, operators hit back at the accusation, claiming they were not given ample time to comply since this is a costly exercise that needs close to P200 000 for one site; the cost balloons in instances where the operator has more than one site.

According to literature, an oil separator is a system for separating petroleum from water that has been contaminated with petroleum products. For instance if rainwater finds its way into an underground gasoline storage tank, over a period of time the water forms a layer on the bottom of the tank and the gasoline floats above. Petroleum products are lighter than water and will, therefore, float on top of water. Therefore, “because of this tendency of the two liquids to arrange themselves in layers, manufacturers of oil/water separators have been able to develop equipment that contaminated water can be fed into, and which creates an action resulting in relatively clean water coming out one port and petroleum product coming out the other”.

Oil/water separators are widely used at petroleum terminals and other locations where spills and overfills of product combine with surface water to create contamination.  While operators say they are not averse to the instruction from BERA to install the separators, they argue that there several implications in the aftermath of installing the devices. They state that they are forced to connect the separators to the clean water and sewage water reticulation system, an environmental hazard since the oil/fuel will carried to the water streams that have links with human use.

They are also of the view that there should have been a forum where the new BERA regulations are comprehensively dealt with in the presence of authorities such as District, Town and City Councils. “Who will be liable should the oil waste from separators contaminate surface water or drinking water?” asked another operator who spoke on condition of anonymity.

But when contacted, BERA spokesperson Tshepang Monare was resolute, “The Authority has since September 2017, when it officially started its operations been conducting assessments at Petroleum Retail Service Stations for different reasons and objectives around the country. This has never stopped and it will continue as it one of the ways in which the Authority executes its mandate ( section 6 (2) g of the BERA Act). In furtherance, BERA started consultations with the Petroleum Industry on several assessment criteria from as back as April 2018.

One of the assessment criterion is the Star Rating Program, which after consultations with the industry on the development of the program and finalization, started being implemented in October 2021 and is ongoing in the Gaborone and surrounding area. The program will be rolled across the country in phases. BERA together with the industry has developed a booklet that defines the program, a copy of which may be collected from the Authority,” he said.

Monare further stated that the requirement for control of waste from filling stations in Botswana has been around for years now. One such requirement is contained in the Waste Management Act which dates back to 1998 when that Act was enacted. Therefore technically this requirement has been there for at least 23 years.

According to some operators who spoke to this publication, they have requested meetings with BERA to address this and several other issues but they keep on being thrown from pillar to post. In their view, BERA’s paternal approach borders on bullying but they state that this may come at a painful cost because closing fuel stations willy-nilly is likely to lead to job losses. “In an environment where unemployment rate is over 20 %, we had hoped that BERA will be consultative and advisory so that we protect jobs and grow the economy,” said one of the operators.

BERA is adamant that practically all filling stations in Botswana should have had converted or ensured compliance before the ongoing Star Rating program since the last version of the BOS 580 standard that give the requirement was approved on the 12 November 2015. Monare said BERA has noted since the commencement of inspections for filling stations in 2017 that some filling stations had installed oil separator while some had not installed them at all. “BERA has been issuing nonconformities for such at every inspection it conducts and sites are given an opportunity to come up with an action plan to close the identified non-compliances,” he said.

Furthermore, the operators argue from a cost perspective that minimum wage was recently raised for petrol attendants to about P1500; and that they are just emerging from a COVID-19 pandemic when business was constrained; and this is in addition to their small margin they get from the fuel price of about 78 thebe. They argue that installing oil separators in all their sites at a go will hit hard on their cash flow and may affect operations.

BERA explained that margins for filling stations are regulated by Botswana Energy Regulatory Authority (BERA) and the determination is done through different approaches such as retail margin model that looks at all costs associated with forecourt operations at filling stations. “Currently, the retail margin stands at 78.167 thebe per litre, margins are reviewed on an annual basis in order to address ever increasing costs operating fillings”.

However, Monare said BERA enforces Botswana laws and standards that are energy related and ensures that regulation is done in accordance with international best practice. He said other requirements are found in the BOS 580 series of standards, which are Petroleum Industry Code of Practice standards. “These standards specifically require that oil interceptors be installed/constructed for containment of controlled waste, which predominately is hydrocarbons from petroleum products. It is worth noting that the petroleum industry assisted BOBS in the development of such standards, by way of participation in technical committees,” he explained.

According to Monare, the Authority through various engagements such as workshops and previous inspections continues to notify the retail stations to comply with these legal requirements. “With the BOS 580 standards, gazetted, ALL filling stations, were expected to have ensure compliance to the requirements of the standards after a grace period issued by BOBS after the release of the standard; a grace period for converting or complying with requirements is usually determined by considering several factors as maybe advised by BOBS for each standard and the period never exceeds 5 years as ALL standards are reviewed after 5 years,” he said.

In addition, the operators are against BERA’s apparent intrusion into operational matters where their officials claim to also inspect service levels or service delivery fuel stations. They are of the view that this is not part of BERA’s mandate.  Some of the operators further voiced out on the issue of operating licenses. According to them, BERA is yet to start issuing licenses to fuel stations, “the issue has been dormant for two years.

This was a time when we were issued with some letters recognizing them as players in the energy industry,” said one of the businessman in the energy sector. But these businessmen have their own theory as to why BERA is delaying to issue licenses. They posit that BERA has proposed exorbitant license fees to cabinet and they are yet to be approved. BERA had proposed annual license fees of between P20 000 and P50 000 to be paid by each site owner to BERA coffers. This will be a huge jump compared to the P100 the petrol stations operators pay to Councils to renew their licenses annually.

On the other hand, BERA said it has been issuing licenses since April 2018 and currently there is no licence fee as BERA has not been granted permission to charge for the services rendered. But the process of getting BERA to charge regulatory fees is ongoing, he said.  Meanwhile, Monare said the Authority has not issued any deadline for installation of oil separator pits but it is a legal requirement that no facility should pollute the environment.

In conclusion, Monare said, “the Authority has not “shut-down” any filling station. There has been a few sites that were instructed to halt their operations whilst addressing various non-compliances found during inspections. Most of them addressed the non-compliances and opened within one to two weeks. Currently out of 37 inspections carried out between December 2021 and March 2022, there are only 2 filling stations that are not operating because they are still addressing a few non-compliances whilst 1 site is operating partially. 4 others that had temporarily stopped operating to address non-compliances have since resumed operations”.

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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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African DFIs gear to combat climate change

25th November 2022

The impacts of climate change are increasing in frequency and intensity every year and this is forecast to continue for the foreseeable future. African CEOs in the Global South are finally coming to the party on how to tackle the crisis.

Following the completion of COP27 in Egypt recently, CEOs of Africa DFIs converged in Botswana for the CEO Forum of the Association of African Development Finance Institutions. One of the key themes was on green financing and building partnerships for resource mobilization in financing SDGs in Africa

A report; “Weathering the storm; African Development Banks response to Covid-19” presented shocking findings during the seminar. Among them; African DFI’s have proven to be financially resilient, and they are fast shifting to a green transition and it’s financing.

COO, CEDA, James Moribame highlighted that; “Everyone needs food, shelter and all basic needs in general, but climate change is putting the achievement of this at bay. “It is expensive for businesses to do business, for instance; it is much challenging for the agricultural sector due to climate change, and the risks have gone up. If a famer plants crops, they should be ready for any potential natural disaster which will cost them their hard work.”

According to Moribame, Start-up businesses will forever require help if there is no change.

“There is no doubt that the Russia- Ukraine war disrupted supply chains. SMMEs have felt the most impact as some start-up businesses acquire their materials internationally, therefore as inflation peaks, this means the exchange rate rises which makes commodities expensive and challenging for SMMEs to progress. Basically, the cost of doing business has gone up. Governments are no longer able to support DFI’s.”

Moribame shared remedies to the situation, noting that; “What we need is leadership that will be able to address this. CEOs should ensure companies operate within a framework of responsible lending. They also ought to scout for opportunities that would be attractive to investors, this include investors who are willing to put money into green financing. Botswana is a prime spot for green financing due to the great opportunity that lies in solar projects. ”

Technology has been hailed as the economy of the future and thus needs to be embraced to drive operational efficiency both internally and externally.

Executive Director, bank of Industry Nigeria, Simon Aranou mentioned that for investors to pump money to climate financing in Africa, African states need to be in alignment with global standards.

“Do what meets world standards if you want money from international investors. Have a strong risk management system. Also be a good borrower, if you have a loan, honour the obligation of paying it back because this will ensure countries have a clean financial record which will then pave way for easier lending of money in the future. African states cannot just be demanding for mitigation from rich countries. Financing needs infrastructure to complement it, you cannot be seating on billions of dollars without the necessary support systems to make it work for you. Domestic resource mobilisation is key. Use public money to mobilise private money.” He said.

For his part, the Minster of Minister of Entrepreneurship, Karabo Gare enunciated that, over the past three years, governments across the world have had to readjust their priorities as the world dealt with the effects and impact of the COVID 19 pandemic both to human life and economic prosperity.

“The role of DFIs, during this tough period, which is to support governments through countercyclical measures, including funding of COVID-19 related development projects, has become more important than ever before. However, with the increasingly limited resources from governments, DFIs are now expected to mobilise resources to meet the fiscal gaps and continue to meet their developmental mandates across the various affected sectors of their economies.” Said Gare.

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