More and more hawkers, who are still struggling to recover as a result of the hard hitting COVID 19 scourge, are headed for yet another turbulent period, as a result of the recent passing of the controversial Tobacco Control bill. This is according to a fresh industry survey.
The bill is seeking to curb consumption of tobacco products, but a set of clauses within the bill itself have sweeping changes on the way products will be sold, displayed and how they will be consumed.
One of the major clauses is the one which indicates that cigarettes can only be sold in packets, a process which will economically disenfranchise hawkers/SMMEs, as shown by a credible survey, which was recently conducted. A glimpse of a recent research done by Briggs and Associates, on the implications of the legislation, shows that, on average, 71.3 percent of revenue for most of hawkers comes from cigarette selling. Most, if not all hawkers, sell cigarettes on single units.
However, if President Mokgweetsi Masisi can put his signature on the bill to make it into law, cigarettes will now be sold in packages (minimum of 20 sticks), a scenario which will surely drag down sales for hawkers. According to the survey, single cigarette sales account for a massive 91% of sales for hawkers, mainly due to price points, ease of purchase and expendable income.
“Cigarettes are one of the major drawcards for casual shoppers. Due to the level of support provided to family, the loss of sales to customers buying single cigarettes will decimate this trade sector. The overwhelming responses are negative, and hawkers believe this will possibly close their businesses,” noted the survey. The snap survey was conducted on 114 hawkers out of a base of over 1800 hawkers based in the greater Gaborone.
Another major concern that is contained in the Tobacco Control Bill of 2021 is that, all traders of tobacco will now be required to have a license. The hawkers are of the strong feeling that, this clause will be the ultimate death knell to their already limping businesses. “The uncertainty about acquiring a license, how licenses will be allocated and costs of licenses has caused a lot of fear,” pointed out the report. The all powerful Tobacco Control Committee, which the players have been excluded to sit on, will over its implementation (if the bill is signed). The committee, will be made of mostly government representatives and a select health professionals.
One of the hawkers was quoted in the report as saying: "it means I can't sell cigarettes or tobacco products without license and if I can't afford the license, I lose my customers who pass by every minute." Another dejected hawker added: "It breaks my heart to see our government passing laws which disadvantage citizens.
Many of us rely on selling cigarettes, so please let’s all discuss this; don’t just conclude things without us who benefit from it." A call by the tobacco players to have the bill withdrawn on account of poor consultation has been roundly rejected by the health ministry. Instead, a World Health Organization proxy, Anti-Tobacco Network Botswana, was given a rare space on parliament floors to present on why the bill has to be passed against all odds. Some sources are saying it is easy to connect the dots why ATN Botswana was given the space on parliament floors to push for the bill to pass, because President Masisi is a long-time Patron of the advocacy body, which the source of its funding has come under spotlight.
Despite hawkers playing a major role on creation of jobs in the country, government authorities have never consulted the sub sector when drafting the bill. According to the report, from a total of the 114 independent hawkers surveyed, only 60 percent of them admitting having knowledge of the Bill. However, they became aware of it after it was reading about it on mainstream and social media platforms. Moreover, if the bill is signed into law, there will be relative reduction of price. If cigarettes are only sold in packs of 20 or more, consumers will be forced to buy from formal retailers. This will mean they are purchasing for a cheaper unit price. This will mean that it will be cheaper to smoke, and so inevitably, people will smoke more, said the Biggs and Associates report.
In addition, there will be more unemployment, which Botswana cannot afford at this time. The country’s unemployment rate hovers at over 20 percent. However, other independent experts believe it could be more. “As hawkers are pushed into a situation where they are not making profit, they will be forced into unemployment.
Many hawkers are the sole supporters of their extended families, and additional loss of income will have severe economic and social repercussions for themselves, their families and society in a broader context,” noted the report. British American Tobacco Botswana, a stalwart in the sector is of the view that, selling cigarettes in packs will be disastrous given the country’s economic structure. “Botswana is a highly informal trade economy – these are the current market dynamics. Informal traders make a living from the sale of cigarettes, which is mostly in the form of single cigarette sticks. There are livelihoods that will be impacted in this regard,” noted the report.
BAT Botswana, which sells over 300 million cigarettes sticks annually, also posits that, a ban on packs of less than 20 cigarettes could drive adult smokers who cannot afford these packs, to buy products on the illicit market. “Our respectful view is that focus should be on awareness campaigns around Youth Awareness Prevention,” they said in a position paper.
Furthermore, the company which pays millions of Pula in taxes to Botswana government has explicitly made it clear they support regulation of the sector. "As British American Tobacco Botswana, we are not opposed to any form of regulation for the tobacco industry. In fact, we support it! We believe that the regulation of our industry (or any for that matter) should be balanced, fair, implementable and evidence based with robust consultations across the value chain - this, we believe, can only be done through an independent and impartial Regulatory Impact Assessment Study,” Mdu Lokotfwako, Head, Legal & External Affairs, previously said
Ultra Care, a citizen owned medical services provider in the cut throat industry, is seeking to be a player to reckon with.
Coming from humble beginnings, the youth led business is gunning to have branches all over the country which will provide the much needed health services at affordable prices. Below, the company officials reveal their growth story and ambition to KOOBONYE RAMOKOPELWA.
BOTSWANA GUARDIAN: Kindly provide us with Ultra Care’s background; its history and what it stands for?
UCG Ultra Care group was founded by a team of local Batswana Medical Doctors in 2019 to carry out business in the health care industry. Ultra care has two companies under its wing, Ultra Care Clinics and Ultra Care Pharmacies. The group has a clinic in Mochudi (Kgabo Mall) and is currently opening its second and third Medical Center in Ramotswa, where the facility is a combined clinic and retail pharmacy. Ultra Care group is also setting up the third medical Center at Kgabo wholesale Mall, which will be consisting of a fully fledged medical facility with clinic, pharmacy, ultrasound X Ray imaging and dietician services. It is worthwhile to state that, all Ultra Care facilities offer General Practitioner services as well as specialty consultation services on scheduled dates, including but not limited to gynaecology, urology services dermatology services and cardiology services.
BOTSWANA GUARDIAN: Who funded the business?
UCG: Ultra Care Group was funded by equity contributions from the shareholders as well as bank loans.
BOTSWANA GUARDIAN: As a medical services provider, what competitive edge does Ultra Care has over peers in the industry?
UCG: Ultra Care provides clients with integrated one stop services where clients complete all the necessary investigations, treatment plans and follow-ups in one centre. Our services provide clients with convenience as we are able to service clients at the comfort of their homes through the Home Health Care programme that we have.
BOTSWANA GUARDIAN: Ultra Care operates both clinics and pharmacies. How easy is that?
UCG: Clinics and pharmacies or integrated medical centres are ideal health care centres which provide clients with convenience. The two services complement each other as clients are able to access both the doctor for consultation and see the pharmacists for medications all at the same time.
BOTSWANA GUARDIAN: How many clinics and pharmacies does the business have?
UCG: We currently have 3 pharmacies and 3 clinics
BOTSWANA GUARDIAN: How many will be opened in the coming months and years?
UCG: Ultra Care will open 10 More Centres in Botswana over the next 3 years.
BOTSWANA GUARDIAN: How many people are employed by Ultra Care?
UCG: Ultra Care group currently employs three pharmacists, 3 medical doctors, 6 health care auxiliaries. In addition, we have a competent management team which comprises, group Managing Director, finance manager and operations manager.
BOTSWANA GUARDIAN: What citizen economic empowerment initiatives do you have within the business?
UCG: All positions in the company are 100% held by Batswana, including the management positions. Ultra Care believes in all government citizen economic empowerment initiatives, as they will help create a strong and a sustainable economy.
BOTSWANA GUARDIAN: As a business, what kind of corporate social investment initiatives do you have in place for communities you operate in?
UCG: We do quarterly free disease screening and monitoring for those with chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes etc.
BOTSWANA GUARDIAN: How has Covid-19 affected business in general?
UCG: Covid-19 has had a positive impact on the business in general with improved patient volumes.
BOTSWANA GUARDIAN: What does the future hold for Ultra Care as a business?
UCG: Ultra Care intends to expand into all towns in Botswana. We intend to bring affordable health care services to every Motswana out there. We believe strong strategic relationship, including with government, will ultimately lower the cost of health services provision in the country.
Braintec Services, a leading cleaning and hygiene products supplier continues to come with innovative products and services which constantly match consumers’ ever-changing needs as well as industry trends.
The company was formed way back in 2011 to snap up opportunities in the cleaning and security services provisions that had just been created by government. A purely cleaning services company back then, Braintec has now evolved into an integrated company which also produce hygiene products such as sanitizers for retail and industrial clientele. This is in addition to the supply of chemical management equipment and landscaping. According to the General Manager, Brian Ketshabile, there is need to constantly innovate and become relevant, especially in the cutthroat industries that they operate under.
The company competes with well-known local and international brands, and there is need to keep up with pace. “Braintec does not only offer cleaning services but has extended its offerings to accommodate hygiene supplies, cleaning equipment and provision of cleaning chemicals which it manufactures in-house. We have diversified into a one stop shop for all your cleaning needs, which you will not find happening in most cleaning companies,” stressed Ketshabile, who used to work for a state-owned development bank. Being an integrated cleaning services provider, Braintec has managed to win the hearts of many clients and this has propelled their growth astronomically over the past few years. “Currently, our leading clients are in the healthcare industry, where we provide laundry services and products as well as landscaping services to them.
Thereafter, comes the education and commercial markets. We provide institutional contract cleaning and waste management services to these clients. Keeping clean never goes out of fashion. People need cleaning services and products every day, at home, at the office, and at healthcare facilities,” stated Ketshabile, who is also an experienced marketing and communications specialist. Customer service is the company’s number 1 priority. It is perhaps the one strength that has brought them where they are today. The company offers hospitality and healthcare laundry, landscaping, residential and office cleaning, cleaning of upholstery, car valet, as well as installation of chemical management equipment for efficient use of chemicals.
"Over and above that, we have engaged ourselves in the business of manufacturing economical cleaning products, as well as distributing premium cleaning chemicals which range from kitchen, laundry, housekeeping and personal hygiene." Botswana is experiencing a surge in numbers of those who are not employed. Companies such as Braintec need to be praised for being able to provide the much-needed employment, despite the hard hitting COVID-19 pandemic which has negatively affected the economy. The company has been able to hire 78 people. These positions include supervisors, managers, cleaners, gardeners, technicians, among others. "We are looking to increase these numbers in the next year as we continue to grow the business."