First Lady, Mrs Neo Jane Masisi has indicated that the combined impact of the milestones achieved by the partnership between Merck Foundation and African Governments, particularly in the area of health has brought about a significant contribution to positive health outcomes in the concerned countries as they strive towards achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 3.
Speaking at the 10th Annual Merck Foundation, Mrs Masisi, who is also an Ambassador for the Merck Foundation “More than a Mother” campaign said the collective efforts have also effectively contributed to breaking infertility stigma and working towards ending gender-based violence.
Furthermore, speaking to the track record of Merck Foundation, the First Lady of Botswana said since 2019 to date, Merck Foundation has extended more than 41 scholarships to doctors in Botswana covering critical specialties such as: Diabetes, Endocrinology, Dermatology, Gastroenterology, Oncology, Respiratory Medicines, Acute Medicines and Sexual and Reproductive Care. The scholarships were coordinated through the Ministry of Health. She said this initiative has not only added value to healthcare delivery in our public healthcare sector, but has also contributed to building the capacity of our healthcare workers.
THE SCHOLARSHIP BREAKDOWN
Mrs Masisi shared that 18 scholarships have been provided for one year Postgraduate diploma and two year master degree in Diabetes, Endocrinology and Obesity and Weight Management, which contributes significantly to improving diabetes and hypertension care.
“In all this will serve to improve the management of NCDs in our country which continue to pose a burden on our health care systems. Non-communicable diseases in Botswana account for about 46% of total deaths , furthermore, the economic cost of NCDs to the economy is estimated at USD 1.2 billion (BWP 13.2 billion) per year, which is equivalent to 5.92% of the country’s annual gross domestic product (GDP)”, she highlighted.
According to the First Lady, 3 scholarships have been provided to doctors for the Oncology Fellowship program at the Tata memorial center, in India. One of the Botswana doctors has successfully completed the course and has since returned to Botswana to offer her services, observed Mrs Masisi. This further adding to improved access to quality and equitable cancer care in our public healthcare sector.
In addition 3 scholarships have been provided for Acute Medicine and 2 scholarships for Respiratory Medicine. 4 scholarships have been provided for one PG Diploma and MSc in Dermatology and 1 scholarship for PG Diploma in Gastroenterology and Internal Medicine each.
Mrs Masisi further lauded Merck Foundation for the scholarships indicating that an additional 10 scholarships have been provided for hands on training in Embryology and Online one year PG Diploma and two year MSc in Sexual and Reproductive Care. She said these scholarships will go a long way in improving women reproductive health and fertility care, thus empowering women living with infertility stigma.
The First Lady noted that it is most impressive that Merck Foundation remains consistently intentional in enhancing healthcare in the public sector across Africa, Asia, and other vulnerable communities worldwide. “This adds to the development of our nations; a healthy nation is a productive nation. Let me share recent personal testimonies from some of the Merck Foundation scholarships alumni; there is unquestionable benefit at both the professional level (ie benefits to our health sector in turn our communities) and at the personal level where the individuals aspire higher!”
To demonstrate the impact of the scholarships, Mrs Masisi noted that the added skills helped the professionals in the diagnosis and treatment of patients who present with gastrointestinal disorders, resulting in improved morbidity and mortality.
MORE HELP FROM MERCK FOUNDATION
The First Lady, Mrs Masisi further provided insight on the impact of Merck Foundation on communities in Botswana. She said the Foundation provided 20 Sewing Machines towards National GBV Prevention campaign – the main target were women led groups who support GBV victims across Botswana in initiatives such as generating income through micro projects.
She said the result of this assistance has been improved livelihoods for those households and the community at large, who suffer from domestic violence. She said upon Phase 1 of the project review, the benefits have been immense, extending beyond the initial intended objectives.
Mrs Masisi cited a few examples, wherein groups reported that there has been skills acquisition where they learned new skills, increased self-esteem, among others. She further said there were old women who feel more engaged and independent as productive members in the society because of the Merck Foundation interventions.
“There has been revenue generation for the groups (YWCA uniforms for preschool), others are more able to speak out against GBV as they feel empowered, PWD- children with special needs who are a vulnerable group – have reported improved motor skills, overall meaningful interaction amongst women in the rural areas,” said Mrs Masisi.
HEALTH TRAINING FOR OTHER SECTORS
The First Lady observed another critical collaboration where the Botswana government, together with Merck Foundation recently conducted Health Media Training virtually. She said this training was meant to emphasize the critical role of media in educating society on these important social, and health issues.
Part of the training included promoting healthy lifestyles and raising awareness by providing perspectives that could shape how society views these issues. “The participants came from a wide range of sectors including, public and private media houses, academia, students, health experts, public health experts, monitoring and evaluation experts and creatives who use song or poetry to spread key messages,” she shared. According to Mrs Masisi, the next round of training will be offered in-person during the second quarter of 2024.
Furthermore the First Lady said they are also launching more storybooks to address issues like supporting girl education, ending child marriage, diabetes and hypertension awareness. “These storybooks will be adapted as animation films in English and local language which will be a creative method to sensitize our children and youth for a better future,” she said.
She urged all stakeholders to continue to add value to advocacy efforts, making it more meaningful so as to serve communities. “To our sisters who suffer from the hurt of infertility stigma, we care as Ambassadors of “Merck Foundation More Than a Mother”. Please join us as champions to this cause – speaking against infertility stigma. Help us amplify your voices by sharing your lived experiences – no one can tell your story better than you,” concluded First Lady, Mrs Masisi.
FaR Property Company (FPC) Limited, a property investment company listed on the Botswana Stock Exchange, has recently announced its exceptional financial results for the year 2023. The company’s property asset value has risen to P1.47 billion, up from P1.42 billion in the previous year.
FPC has a diverse portfolio of properties, including retail, commercial, industrial, and residential properties in Botswana, South Africa, and Zambia. The company owns a total of 186 properties, generating rental revenues from various sectors. In 2023, the company recorded rental revenues of P11 million from residential properties, P62 million from industrial properties, and P89 million from commercial properties. Overall, the company’s total revenues increased by 9% to P153 million, while profit before tax increased by 22% to P136 million, and operating profit increased by 11% to P139 million.
One notable achievement for FPC is the low vacancy rate across its properties, which stands at only 6%. This is particularly impressive considering the challenging trading environment. The company attributes this success to effective lease management and the leasing of previously vacant properties in South Africa. FPC’s management expressed satisfaction with the results, highlighting the resilience of the company in the face of ongoing macroeconomic challenges.
The increase in profit before tax can be attributed to both an increase in income and effective control of operating expenses. FPC managed to achieve these results with fewer employees, demonstrating the company’s efficiency. The headline earnings per linked unit also saw an improvement, reaching 26.92 thebe, higher than the previous year.
Looking ahead, FPC remains confident in its competitiveness and growth prospects. The company possesses a substantial land bank, which it plans to develop strategically as opportunities arise. FPC aims for managed growth, focusing on consumer-driven developments and ensuring the presence of supportive tenants. By maintaining this approach, the company believes it can sustainably grow its property portfolio and remain competitive in the market.
In terms of the macroeconomic environment, FPC noted that inflation rates are decreasing towards the 3% to 6% range approved by the Bank of Botswana. This is positive news for the company, as it hopes for further decreases in interest rates. However, the fluctuating fuel prices, influenced by global events such as the war in Ukraine and oil output reductions by Russia and other Middle Eastern countries, continue to impact businesses, including some of FPC’s tenants.
FPC’s property portfolio includes notable assets such as a shopping mall in Francistown with Choppies Hyper as the anchor tenant, Borogo Mall located on the A33 main road near the Kazungula ferry crossing, and various industrial and commercial properties in Gaborone leased to Choppies, Senn Foods, and Clover Botswana. The company also owns a shopping mall in Mafikeng and Rustenburg in South Africa.
The majority of FPC’s properties, 85%, are located in Botswana, followed by 12% in South Africa and 3% in Zambia. With its strong financial performance, competitive position, and strategic land bank, FPC is well-positioned for continued growth and success in the property market.
The Botswana Power Corporation (BPC) has taken a significant step towards diversifying its energy mix by signing a power purchase agreement with Sekaname Energy for the production of power from coal bed methane in Mmashoro village. This agreement marks a major milestone for the energy sector in Botswana as the country transitions from a coal-fired power generation system to a new energy mix comprising coal, gas, solar, and wind.
The CEO of BPC, David Kgoboko, explained that the Power Purchase Agreement is for a 6MW coal bed methane proof of concept project to be developed around Mmashoro village. This project aligns with BPC’s strategic initiatives to increase the proportion of low-carbon power generation sources and renewable energy in the energy mix. The use of coal bed methane for power generation is an exciting development as it provides a hybrid solution with non-dispatchable sources of generation like solar PV. Without flexible base-load generation, the deployment of non-dispatchable solar PV generation would be limited.
Kgoboko emphasized that BPC is committed to enabling the development of a gas supply industry in Botswana. Sekaname Energy, along with other players in the coal bed methane exploration business, is a key and strategic partner for BPC. The successful development of a gas supply industry will enable the realization of a secure and sustainable energy mix for the country.
The Minister of Minerals & Energy, Lefoko Moagi, expressed his support for the initiative by the private sector to develop a gas industry in Botswana. The country has abundant coal reserves, and the government fully supports the commercial extraction of coal bed methane gas for power generation. The government guarantees that BPC will purchase the generated electricity at reasonable tariffs, providing cash flow to the developers and enabling them to raise equity and debt funding for gas extraction development.
Moagi highlighted the benefits of developing a gas supply industry, including diversified primary energy sources, economic diversification, import substitution, and employment creation. He commended Sekaname Energy for undertaking a pilot project to prove the commercial viability of extracting coal bed methane for power generation. If successful, this initiative would unlock the potential of a gas production industry in Botswana.
Sekaname Energy CEO, Peter Mmusi, emphasized the multiple uses of natural gas and its potential to uplift Botswana’s economy. In addition to power generation, natural gas can be used for gas-to-liquids, compressed natural gas, and fertilizer production. Mmusi revealed that Sekaname has already invested $57 million in exploration and infrastructure throughout its resource area. The company plans to spend another $10-15 million for the initial 6MW project and aims to invest over $500 million in the future for a 90MW power plant. Sekaname’s goal is to assist BPC in becoming a net exporter of power within the region and to contribute to Botswana’s transition to cleaner energy production.
In conclusion, the power purchase agreement between BPC and Sekaname Energy for the production of power from coal bed methane in Mmashoro village is a significant step towards diversifying Botswana’s energy mix. This project aligns with BPC’s strategic initiatives to increase the proportion of low-carbon power generation sources and renewable energy. The government’s support for the development of a gas supply industry and the commercial extraction of coal bed methane will bring numerous benefits to the country, including economic diversification, import substitution, and employment creation. With the potential to become a net exporter of power and a cleaner energy producer, Botswana is poised to make significant strides in its energy sector.
It is not clear as to when, but before taking a festive break in few weeks’ time UDC leaders would have convened to address the ongoing deadlock surrounding constituency allocation in the negotiations for the 2024 elections. The leaders, Duma Boko of the UDC, Mephato Reggie Reatile of the BPF, and Ndaba Gaolathe of the AP, are expected to meet and discuss critical matters and engage in dialogue regarding the contested constituencies.
The negotiations hit a stalemate when it came to allocating constituencies, prompting the need for the leaders to intervene. Representatives from the UDC, AP, and BPF were tasked with negotiating the allocation, with Dr. Patrick Molotsi and Dr. Philip Bulawa representing the UDC, and Dr. Phenyo Butale and Wynter Mmolotsi representing the AP.
The leaders’ meeting is crucial in resolving the contentious issue of constituency allocation, which has caused tension among UDC members and potential candidates for the 2024 elections. After reaching an agreement, the leaders will engage with the members of each constituency to gauge their opinions and ensure that the decisions made are favored by the rank and file. This approach aims to avoid unnecessary costs and conflicts during the general elections.
One of the main points of contention is the allocation of Molepolole South, which the BNF is adamant about obtaining. In the 2019 elections, the UDC was the runner-up in Molepolole South, securing the second position in seven out of eight wards. Other contested constituencies include Metsimotlhabe, Kgatleng East and West, Mmadinare, Francistown East, Shashe West, Boteti East, and Lerala Maunatlala.
The criteria used for constituency allocation have also become a point of dispute among the UDC member parties. The issue of incumbency is particularly contentious, as the criterion for constituency allocation suggests that current holders of UDC’s council and parliamentary seats should be given priority for re-election without undergoing primary elections. Disadvantaged parties argue that this approach limits democratic competition and hinders the emergence of potentially more capable candidates.
Another disputed criterion is the allocation based on the strength and popularity of a party in specific areas. Parties argue that this is a subjective criterion that leads to disputes and favoritism, as clear metrics for strength and visibility cannot be defined. The BNF, in particular, questions the demands of the new entrants, the BPF and AP, as they lack a traceable track record to support their high expectations.
The unity and cohesion of the UDC are at stake, with the BPF and AP expressing dissatisfaction and considering withdrawing from the negotiations. Therefore, it is crucial for the leaders to expedite their meeting and find a resolution to these disputes.
In the midst of these negotiations, the BNF has already secured 15 constituencies within the UDC coalition. While the negotiations are still ongoing, BNF Chairman Dr. Molotsi revealed that they have traditionally held these constituencies and are expecting to add more to their tally. The constituencies include Gantsi North, Gantsi South, Kgalagadi North, Kgalagadi South, Good Hope – Mmathethe, Kanye North, Kanye South, Lobatse, Molepolole North, Gaborone South, Gaborone North, Gaborone Bonnignton North, Takatokwane, Letlhakeng, and Tlokweng.
The resolution of the contested constituencies will test the ability of the UDC to present a united front in the 2024 National Elections will depend on the decisions made by the three leaders. It is essential for them to demonstrate maturity and astuteness in resolving the constituency allocation deadlock and ensuring the cohesion of the UDC.