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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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Jackdish Shah loses interest in BDP

17th May 2022
Jackdish

As the preparations for the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) congress are about to kick off, reports on the ground suggest that the party’s Deputy Treasurer Jackdish Shah will not defend the position in August as he contemplates relocation.

According to sources, the businessman who joined the BDP Central Committee in 2015 at the 36th Congress held in Mmadinare is ready to leave the party’s politburo. It is said he long made up his mind not to defend the position last year. A prominent businessman, Shah, when he won the position to assist Satar Dada in 2015 was expected to improve the party’s financial vibrancy. By then the party was under the leadership of Ian Khama.

According to close sources, Shah long decided not to contest because he has fallen out of favour with the party leadership. It is said he took the decision after some prominent businessmen who are BDP members and part of football syndicate decided to push him out and they used their proximity to President Mokgweetsi Masisi to badmouth him hence the decision.

“The fight at the Botswana Football Association (BFA) and Botswana Football League (BFL) has left him alone in the desert and some faces there used their close access to the President to isolate him,” said a source. Media reports say, Shah does not see eye to eye with BFA President MacLean Letshwiti who is also Masisi’s buddy hence the decision.

BFL Chairman Nicholas Zackhem is said to be not in good terms with Shah, who at one point Chaired the then Botswana Premier League (BPL). “He is seriously considering quitting because of what is unfolding at the team (Township Rollers) which is slowly not making financial gains and might be relegated and he wants to sell while it is still worth the investment,” said a highly placed source.

Shah is a renowned businessman who runs internet providing company Zebra net, H &G, game farm in Kasane, cattle farm in Ghanzi region and lot of properties in Gaborone. He also has two hotels in USA, his advisors have given him thumbs up on the possible decision of relocating provided he does not sell some of the investments that are doing well.

Asked about whether he will be contesting Shah could not confirm nor deny the reports. It is said for now it is too early as a public decision will have to be taken after the national council meeting and prior to the national congress. “As a BDP Central Committee member he cannot make that announcement now,” a BDP source said.

BDP is expected to assemble for the National Council during the July holidays while the National Congress is billed for August. It is then that the party will elect a new CC members. The last time BDP held elective congress was at Kang in 2019. The party is yet to issue writ.

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Govt ignores own agreements to improve public service

17th May 2022
Govt

The government has failed to implement some commitments and agreements that it had entered into with unions to improve conditions of public servants.

Three years after the government and public made commitments aimed at improving conditions of work and services it has emerged that the government has ignored and failed to implement all commitments on conditions of service emanating from the 2019 round of negotiations.

In its position paper that saw public service salaries being increased by 5%, the government the government has also signalled its intention to renege on some of the commitments it had made.
“Government aspires to look into all outstanding issues contained in the Labour Agreement signed between the Employer and recognised Trade Union on the 27th August 2019 and that it be reviewed, revised and delinked by both Parties with a view to agree on those whose implementation that can be realistically executed during the financial years 2022/23, 2023/24 and 2024/25 respectively,” the government said.

Furthermore, in addition to reviewing, revising and de-linking of the outstanding issues contained in the Collective Labour Agreement alluded to above and taking on a progressive proposal, government desires to review revise, develop and implement human resource policies as listed below during the financial year 2022/23,2023/24,2024/25

They include selection and appointment policy, learning and development policy, transfer guidelines, conditions of service, permanent and pensionable, temporary and part time, Foreign Service, expatriate and disciplinary procedures.

In their proposal paper, the unions which had proposed an 11 percent salary increase but eventually settled for 5% percent indicated that the government has not, and without explanation, acted on some of the key commitments from the 2019/2020 and 2021/22 round of negotiations.  The essential elements of these commitments include among others the remuneration Policy for the Public Service.

The paper states that a Remuneration Policy will be developed to inform decision making on remuneration in the Public Service. It is envisaged that consultations between the government and relevant key stakeholders on the policy was to start on 1st September 2019, and the development of the policy should be concluded by 30th June 2020.

The public sector unions said the Remuneration Policy is yet to be developed. The Cooperating Unions suggested that the process should commence without delay and that it should be as participatory as it was originally conceived. Another agreement relate to Medical Aid Contribution for employees on salary Grades A and B.

The employer contribution towards medical aid for employees on salary Grades A and B will be increased from 50% to 80% for the Standard Option of the Botswana Public
“Officers’ Medical Aid Scheme effective 1st October 2019; the cooperating unions insist that, in fulfilling this commitment, there should be no discrimination between those on the high benefit and those on the medium benefit plan,” the unions proposal paper says.

Another agreement involves the standardisation of gratuities across the Public Service. “Gratuities for all employees on fixed term contracts of 12 months but not exceeding 5 years, including former Industrial class employees be standardized at 30% across the Public Service in order to remove the existing inequalities and secure long-term financial security for Public Service Employees at lower grades with immediate effect,” the paper states.

The other agreement signed by the public sector unions and the government was the development of fan-shaped Salary Structure. The paper says the Public Service will adopt a best practice fan-shaped and overlapping structure, with modification to suit the Botswana context. The Parties (government and unions) to this agreement will jointly agree on the ranges of salary grades to allow for employees’ progression without a promotion to the available position on the next management level.

“The fan-shaped structure is envisaged to be in place by 1st June 2020, to enable factoring into the budgetary cycle for the financial year 2021/22,” the unions’ proposal paper states. It says the following steps are critical, capacity building of key stakeholders (September – December 2019), commission remuneration market survey (3 months from September to November 2019), design of the fan-shaped structure (2 to 3 months from January to March2020) and consultations with all key stakeholders (March to April 2020).

The unions and government had also signed an agreement on performance management and development: A rigorous performance management and reward system based on a 5-point rating system will be adopted as an integral part of the operationalization of the new Remuneration System.

Performance Management and Development (PMD) will be used to reward workers based on performance. The review of the Performance Management System was to be undertaken in order to close the gaps identified by PEMANDU and other previous reports on PMS between 1st September 2019 and 30th June 2020 as follows; internal process to update and revise the current Performance Management System by January 2020.

A job evaluation exercise in the Public Service will also be undertaken to among others establish internal equity, and will also cover the grading of all supervisory positions within the Public Service.
Another agreement included overtime Management. The Directorate of Public Service Management (DPSM) was to facilitate the conclusion of consultations on management of overtime, including consideration of the Overtime Management Task Team’s report on the same by 30th November 2019.

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Health Expert rejects ‘death rates’ links to low population growth

17th May 2022
Health-Expert

A public health expert, Dr Edward Maganu who is also the former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health has said that unlike many who are expressing shock at the population census growth decline results, he is not, because the 2022 results represents his expectations.

He rushed to dismiss the position by Statistics Botswana in which thy partly attributes the low growth rates to mortality rates for the past ten years. “I don’t think there is any undercounting. I also don’t think death rates have much to do with it since the excessive deaths from HIV/AIDS have been controlled by ARVs and our life expectancy isn’t lower than it was in the 1990s,” he said in an interview with this publication post the release of the results.

Preliminary results released by Statistics Botswana this week indicated that Botswana’s population is now estimated to be 2,346,179 – a figure that the state owned data agency expressed worry over saying it’s below their projected growth. The general decline in the population growth rate is attributed to ‘fertility’ and ‘mortality’ rates that the country registered on the past ten years since the last census in 2011.

Maganu explained that with an enlightened or educated society and the country’s total fertility rate, there was no way the country’s population census was going to match the previous growth rates.
“The results of the census make sense and is exactly what I expected. Our Total Fertility Rate ( the average number of children born to a woman) is now around 2.

This is what happens as society develops and educates its women. The enlightened women don’t want to bear many children, they want to work and earn a living, have free time, and give their few children good care. So, there is no under- counting. Census procedures are standard so that results are comparable between countries.

That is why the UN is involved through UNFPA, the UN Agency responsible for population matters,” said Maganu who is also the former adviser to the World Health Organisation. Maganu ruled out undercounting concerns, “I see a lot of Batswana are worried about the census results. Above is what I have always stated.”

Given the disadvantages that accompany low population for countries, some have suggested that perhaps a time has come for the government to consider population growth policies or incentives, suggestions Maganu deems ineffective.

“It has never worked anywhere. The number of children born to a woman are a very private decision of the woman and the husband in an enlightened society. And as I indicated, the more the women of a society get educated, the higher the tendency to have fewer children. All developed countries have a problem of zero population growth or even negative growth.

The replacement level is regarded as 2 children per woman; once the fertility level falls below that, then the population stops growing. That’s why developed countries are depending so much on immigration,” he said.

According to him, a lot of developing countries that are educating their women are heading there, including ourselves-Botswana. “Countries that have had a policy of encouraging women to have more children have failed dismally. A good example is some countries of Eastern Europe (Romania is a good example) that wanted to grow their populations by rewarding women who had more children. It didn’t work. The number of children is a very private matter,” said Maganu

For those who may be worried about the impact of problems associated with low growth rate, Maganu said: “The challenge is to develop society so that it can take care of its dependency ratio, the children and the aged. In developed countries the ratio of people over 60 years is now more than 20%, ours is still less than 10%.”

The preliminary results show that Mogoditshane with (88,098) is now the biggest village in the country with Maun coming second (85,293) and Molepolole at third position with 74,719. Population growth is associated with many economic advantages because more people leads to greater human capital, higher economic growth, economies of scale, the efficiency of higher population density and the improved demographic structure of society, among many others.

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