Items filtered by date: Tuesday, 12 February 2019 - Botswana Guardian

The repercussions of an undiversified economy will show their ugly side into the budget in the medium to long term, a situation which will affect all and sundry, economic observers have pointed out. The 2019/2020 budget, presented by finance and economic development minister, Kenneth Matambo this week will - as it has been the case over the years -be funded in majority by revenue from minerals and Southern African Customs Union.

According to the budget speech, total revenue and grants are estimated at P60, 20 billion, a notable increase of P4 billion when compared to the 2018/9 budget which ends this March. Once more, mineral revenue dominates contribution, standing at P21, 09 billion which is 35, 62 percent of the total estimates. Customs and Excise revenue which mainly comes from SACU revenue pool is expected to add P14, 02 billion which is about 23 percent to the total budget. This means the two components contribute two thirds to the national budget.

A seemingly concerned First National Bank of Botswana Chief Economist, Moatlhodi Sebabole told Botswana Guardian on Wednesday afternoon that the current composition in revenue for Botswana ‘leaves the country very exposed’. This is made worse by the fact that SACU and mineral revenues depend on trading conditions which the country does not have control over. This means that the country’s budget is left helpless in the event that market conditions get worse.

Most minerals revenues are received from diamonds exports to major markets such as the United States, China and India. Botswana does not have any control on these markets. Sebabole, who was also part of the FNBB budget review session on Tuesday night said the current trade tensions between US and China who are among the biggest consumers of diamonds, do not bode well for the country’s revenue prospects. This situation once more calls for authorities to up the ante when it comes to economic diversification. For example, De Beers, which sells Botswana’s diamonds to the international markets, experienced its slowest sales in three years last month (January 2019) – indicating possibilities of a turbulent economic climate ahead. 

The provisional rough diamond sales for the first sight, also known as sales cycle, came to about $505 million (P5 billion) - a decline of 25 percent from 2018’s first sale of $672 million and a 30 percent drop from 2017’s corresponding period which netted $720 million. Traditionally, the first sight of the year has always been the largest of the year as traders and manufacturers return to the market after working down their inventories over the festive selling period.

This clearly has sent early red flag signals to the sector, which Botswana depends dearly upon for funding of expenditure.  Responding to this newspaper, Barclays Bank Botswana economist, Naledi Madala said the economy will be in for a challenge this year due to slower diamond demand. “We highlight that growth may falter in 2019 as global demand for diamonds is likely to be challenged by ongoing trade disputes (the US and China are the largest consumers of diamonds). A De Beers report also forecasts lower diamond production in 2019,” stated Madala. Based on this expected poor show by diamonds, Barclays has downgraded the country’s economic growth to 3, 9 percent, a bit less than the ambitious growth of 4, 2 percent projected by Matambo earlier this week.

For Botswana, the budget cannot be without diamonds or mineral revenues. This has been the case since the early 1970s when diamonds were first mined. By depending on SACU revenues for budget funding, Botswana is stuck in a precarious situation. SACU which is made up of Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland depends on trading conditions between the five countries and external markets. South Africa, the trading bloc’s biggest contributor is currently under economic pressure and this will also affect revenue going forward, unless something dramatic happens.

According to the World Bank, South Africa’s economy will grow by 1, 3 percent this year, a downgrade when compared to the ambitious 1, 7 percent forecast made by Finance minister Tito Mboweni in November 2018.  Botswana Guardian has been made aware that South Africa, Africa’s second biggest economy by GDP, continues to push for the revision of the SACU revenue sharing formula, which will ultimately affect Botswana and other countries negatively.

“It becomes even more worrisome, with South Africa intent on seeing a revision to the SACU revenue sharing formula, which could fundamentally result in declining government revenues,” stressed Jonathan Paledi, a Portfolio Manager at Inkunzi Investments.
Nonetheless, contributing to the FNBB budget review on Tuesday, Botswana Unified Revenue Services’s Acting Commissioner General, Segolo Lekau stressed that eligible taxpayers should ‘pay (domestic taxes) for the country to move forward’. In addition, he said tax exemptions as determined by government are also another factor that can boost development. BURS, is the government agency which implements tax and related tax laws in the country.

Related to this, Matambo said there is need to mobilise domestic resources for development. “To this end, efforts will continue to be made to expand our tax base through review of tax legislation and regulations, to enable the revenue authority to effectively discharge its mandate,” said Matambo.

All commentators agree that government is under pressure to diversify revenue base in its bid to move way from mining and SACU revenues. Matambo also agrees that dominance by two components to national budget is not ideal. “The country’s dependency on one commodity for exports, and two major sources of revenues, poses a systemic risk, hence, this Government pledges to continue with efforts to diversify the economy in general, and its exports and government revenues, in particular,” stated Matambo in a prepared speech. 

One of the strategic initiatives identified to promote economic diversification, according to Matambo is the Economic Diversification Drive (EDD), which was established in April 2010. The EDD is based on the approach of Government using its purchasing power to support local production of goods and services. To this end, P17.2 billion or 53 percent of the total cumulative amount of P32.5 billion worth of goods and services purchased by Government since the inception of the programme was from local manufacturers and service providers.  “In an effort to further enhance economic diversification, the Special Economic Zones (SEZ) policy was adopted in 2011.

The main objective of this Policy is to diversify the economic and export base of the country,” added Matambo.  Another initiative aimed at promoting economic diversification is the implementation of the cluster development initiative. The Initiative aims at improving business productivity, value chains and competitiveness.

Published in News
Tuesday, 12 February 2019 16:09

Plans to boost beef industries in the pipeline

The latest Statistics Botswana report on agriculture has attributed the decline in the country’s cattle population to stock theft and straying.The Annual Agricultural Survey Report 2017 indicates that cattle losses increased significantly from 48, 571 in 2015 to 79, 799 in 2017.

This comes amid government plans of Cluster Development Initiative (CDI) that has identified beef industry as one of the three clusters government intends to develop to achieve economic diversification.Presenting the 2019/2020 national budget speech Minister Kenneth Matambo said preparatory work is underway to develop three clusters – tourism, beef and finance integrated with knowledge intensive business services, studies have already been commissioned on the sectors.

“These detailed studies will include the assessment of capacity building needs for the identified sectors as part of measures to enhance their domestic and global competitiveness,” said Matambo.On the other hand Lobatse has been identified under the Special Economic Zone for beef and leather production hub among the eight zones government intends to promote.However, as cattle population dropped from 1.4 million in 2015 to 1.1 million in 2017, the birth rate also decreased from 57.9 percent to 47.3 percent while mortality rate declined from 7.1 percent to 5.9 percent and off-take rate also declined from 6.6 percent to 5.5 percent.

Although authorities have attributed the drop to stock theft and straying, Gantsi North legislator Noah Salakae says the meat industry value chain has become weak due to export monopoly created by government through the archaic Botswana Meat Commission Act (BMC) of 1965.

Salakae said the monopoly disadvantages the local farmers through low prices that are below international benchmark.“Low prices drain the national herd because Batswana sell more to meet their needs,’ said Salakae, dismissing government suggestions that liberalising the meat industry will further deplete the national herd.

He said most families have abandoned cattle rearing due to low prices.Meanwhile the goat population increased from 1.1 million in 2015 to 1.2 million in 2017, despite the birth rate of goats dropping from 43.6 percent to 39.1 percent and increase in mortality rate also from 16.7 percent to 23.3 percent while off-take rate improved from 7.1 to 7.3 percent. The sheep population also increased from 214, 234 to 234, 621 during the same period.

Published in News
Tuesday, 12 February 2019 16:04

Taxi drivers, Airtime hawkers to pay tax

Botswana Unified Revenue Service (BURS) is working on several initiatives meant to facilitate Small, Micro and Medium Enterprises (SMMEs), and reduce the burden of filing tax returns. The Tax Administrative Act will be passed this year in Parliament to help consolidate all Tax laws into one instrument. BURS Acting Commissioner Operations, William Nkitseng said this piece of legislation will include among others; Customs and Excise, VAT Act, and Income Tax.

“This is an administrative law that will assist in administering all these tax laws,” Nkitseng said at the 25th Budget review session of First National Bank Botswana. BURS has been working to revamp this law with the assistance of a tax expert from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) since 2017.  Of concern to the SMMEs, is the introduction of the Presumptive Act, which specifically targets small and micro businesses. According to Nkitseng, it is time that Botswana introduces the Presumptive Act. He said currently it is difficult to deal with small enterprises where issues of tax are concerned because of their diverse and ambiguous business models.

This law is most appropriate for the SMME sector, which mostly struggles with record keeping, filing of tax returns, and most do not have a permanent address of operation. To make it easy to administer, Nkitseng said once the law is in operation, a taxi driver for example, will be required to pay a certain amount like P500 upon their license renewal, which will be directed to BURS. “This law will also affect hawkers who may have to pay an amount like P50 whenever they renew their licenses that will be directed to BURS,” Nkitseng said.  In addition to BURS latest developments, the institution will this year implement e-services including a Mobile App that will enable SMMEs to do business with BURS on their mobile devices. 

This App in addition to other e-services is expected to reduce SMMEs’ physical contact with BURS and avoid ambiguous processes. “This we believe will encourage SMMEs to utilise BURS services,” Nkitseng said. Other special provisions meant to promote SMMEs are Section 95 of the Income Tax Act that provides for a waiver to pay SAT installments. It recognises that small businesses may not have capacity to pay these on a quarterly basis. Section 131 of the same Act also allows for business partners to elect to be taxed as partners if their company is below the threshold of P300 000. They may approach the Commissioner General for intervention.

Nkitseng said while tax exemptions are a necessity that reduces the tax burden, promote business growth and help create employment, there is need to know what you are giving away and what you are gaining. “It is important to exercise caution and create a balance between these two.” Botswana’s tax regime has been viewed as harmful when judged against international practices. This led to the revision of International Financial Services Centre (IFSC) legislation to get rid of elements considered as unfair tax competition. “All jurisdictions are fighting for FDI and if Botswana is found to be taking part in unfair tax competition, we need to reconsider those,” Nkitseng said.

While some argue that it is not a good idea to give tax incentives because this denies citizens good infrastructure such as roads and schools, others say these incentives are good for the economy especially for areas designated for specific economic activities like the Special Economic Zones (SEZs). Botswana currently has the lowest tax regime in Southern Africa. “VAT is 12 percent while in both South African and Namibia it is at 15 percent,” Managing Tax Consultant at Aupracon, Jonathan More said, adding that Corporate Tax is at 22 percent, while in South Africa it is at 28 percent.

According to More, low tax rates attract cooperation and buy-in from business and individuals to pay taxes. It is also good for SMMEs because they enable them to retain more profits for investments and or distribution as dividends. IFSC Accredited companies in Botswana are offered an even lower, competitive Corporate Tax incentive framework of 15 percent. In the Selibe-Phikwe Economic Diversification Unit (SPEDU) area for example, companies are offered as low as five percent for the first five years of operation and 10 percent VAT thereafter.

Published in News
Tuesday, 12 February 2019 15:56

Drugs and substance abuse on the rise

Police are worried that drugs still remain a problem among students despite their continuous public education campaigns, and efforts to curb this problem.

The Botswana Police Service (BPS) is now looking at taking their fight against illegal possession and use of drugs a notch higher, and using social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, in the hope of reaching more youth.  This was revealed by Officer Commanding: Narcotics, Fauna & Flora, Senior Superintendent Musa Oteng in an interview with this publication this week. He revealed that in recent times they have recorded some worrying numbers where students were found in possession of drugs. In 2017, they recorded 14 cases involving 24 students. In 2018, the number increased to 22 cases involving 37 students. 

“We have observed that there are some adverts on these platforms talking about the benefits of using drugs such as Dagga hence we want to use them,” he explains.  The most commonly used drug by students at both Junior and Secondary schools, he says is Dagga. Other drugs that students use include CAT (Methcathinone), which is predominant amongst students at tertiary institutions as they have money to access it. In 2018, police recorded two cases of CAT. He explained that most of these numbers were recorded at Senior and Tertiary schools. The majority of the students start using drugs at Junior schools, and some as early as Primary schools.

“Dagga dominates especially at Junior and Senior schools,” he explained. Police use continuous public education campaigns to educate and sensitise students about the illegal use of drugs. In 2017, they reached out to 17 000 students at both Junior, Senior and Tertiary schools. The following year, they reached out to close to 21 000 students at these learning institutions. 

Concerning charges for those found in possession of drugs, he explained that they normally engage social workers for underage students, but those of legal age, can be charged for unlawful possession of drugs (less than 60 grams) which attracts either a fine of P20, 000 or jail sentence not exceeding three years, or both if the offender is a recidivist.  Media Coordinator of Botswana Substance Abuse Support Network (BOSASNet), Wazha Dambe explained that the most commonly used substances are cigarettes, alcohol and dagga. Other substances include cough syrups, and hard drugs such as CAT, and Cocaine, as well as emerging drugs which are a mixture of drugs, and other creations such as ARV’s, and Faeces. “This is why we are saying that this is a growing problem,” he said. 

He said on average they get 20 plus clients in a month seeking their many services that include specialised counselling to individuals and families dealing with issues related to substance abuse and dependency. But the numbers vary according to periods of the year.  For example, they have a lot of clients coming through in January seeking help for issues such as health or finances. 

Quizzed on whether he was aware about a new drug that allegedly trades under the name Snow, he said that it could just be a name given to a drug that was already available in the market, or that it could have been an old drug or a new mixture, and is trading under a new name. Snow, allegedly is a mixture of a number of drugs. “The drug names also differ according to location,” he explained. He said that they also offer counselling services on a one on one basis, family sessions, as well as parent support groups.

Published in News

A cabinet minister from the southern part of the country will challenge Vice President Slumber Tsogwane for the position of chairperson of Botswana Democratic Party under the group led by Pelonomi Venson- Moitoi.

The name remains a closely guarded secret as the aspiring candidate is making final arrangements before coming out in the open. No one is willing to shed light on the matter, not even the group leader, Moitoi the first woman to contest for the presidency of the party.
Speaking to Botswana Guardian Moitoi said, “I cannot tell you who is going to be my chairman, as we are still negotiating. I have asked several people, and the person who has agreed will be announced shortly. I will inform you after our agreement”.Asked to confirm if that person is not Minister of Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration, Nonofo Molefhi, Moitoi said: “I have spoken to Molefhi and he said he does not want”.

She said others were of the opinion that “since there is talk of BDP being aligned between North and South, then we agreed to allow our followers from the South to come up with their candidate or submit a name and I agreed to that”. Moitoi could only reveal that their candidate is a cabinet minister coming from the Southern part of the country. Other names that were believed will contest for the chairperson under Moitoi is Minister of Youth Empowerment Sports and Culture, Tshekedi Khama.  “Tshekedi’s name cropped for the position, many talked about him that he has always been promised the chairmanship, first by his brother, former President Ian Khama, but was asked to pave way for President Masisi in Mmadinare. In Tonota again he was asked to step back as Masisi will appoint him chairman and vice president which is apparently the cause of today’s fights.

“Tshekedi was hoping that now he can run for chairman. I had expressed serious reservation that my running should not be tied to a Tshekedi chairmanship because it continues that baggage of the wars currently going on. I do not want to fight an extension of those as I am not privy to any agreements and or promises made to each concerning these positions which are not theirs but belong to the nation. I made my position to Tshekedi and he understood my point. I am very thankful to him that he understood my position”.

Feared Khama?
Moitoi said she is standing in order to exercise her democratic right. Asked why she wants to stand now, was it because they feared former President Lieutenant General Ian Khama, she said, “Yes, maybe. But you heard in the past weeks former president Festus Mogae expressing some regret, I do not know what they are regretting.
“I never said I am quitting constituency politics, but  I said I am quitting politics in order to have time and run my consultancy services which I have been doing even in South Africa. If I were to quit BDP, how would I answer if asked why did you leave at this stage? My conclusion is that the party is not in the form I found it in 20 years ago. This is one of the main reasons I decided to say I still have a role to play hence my decision to make an offer to contest the presidency”.

Sponsor
Moitoi says just like she struggled with the AU (African Union Commission) campaign and other campaigns she is starting with what she has then talk to her friends. “I do have friends that I always rely on in times of need and these are locally-based friends. I am careful on who I talk to”.
Dismissing allegations that Khama is one of her sponsors Moitoi said: “I will ask Khama to assist if need be just like I will go to anybody else. But, what people should know is that twice Khama fired me from his cabinet and twice he returned me after interventions of some people.
“He fired me because I was able to face him and tell him what I believe is right instead. I wonder if this is when he can be my ally and ask me to contest when I do not want to; No, I took an independent decision. For now I must say I will approach him like any other as he too is influential. I must confess that I had spoken to him and he promised me support, I do not mind him or others”.

Relieved
Moitoi was relieved when Masisi announced at the BDP special retreat in Palapye on Saturday that he will contest the election against her. Masisi said Moitoi’s challenge is within the party’s constutition and he embraces it and is ready to compete.
Speaking to Botswana Guardian before attending the retreat Venson-Moitoi said she believes she has been declared a candidate. “But instead of the elders calling me if they thought I had done anything out of order, they endorsed the other candidate. That is interesting, that shuts the door on my face as the other candidate.
 “I am now declared a candidate I believe because when I wrote a letter expressing my interest hoping that I will be called to explain myself. I was more or less endorsed by default to run which I am now doing in full force

Uphill struggle
Although she is confident about victory, indications are that Moitoi is facing an uphill battle as numerous factors are against her. For example, women who are in the majority and some party structures are not rallying behind her.
Moitoi says the structures of the party such as Women’s Wing have a dual role. They have an adjudication role, but the members have an individual role as voters.
“For instance, the Chairperson of the Women’s Wing has a vote as an individual. But, she also carries a responsibility to pronounce on behalf of the Women’s Wing the word of the collective, so the two are embodied in one. But the question then comes in to make sure that when one carries the word of the collective, it is not clouded by the intentions of the individual”.

Recommendation
She said the position of the women’s wing, she is a member of, is not known because there has not been a congress yet. “We are waiting, normally it takes place before the national congress. As far as I am concerned there has not been a women’s congress. So they cannot purport to be a resolution at the women’s congress. There was a recommendation at the general assembly attended by all women. I am party to that recommendation which said we must support the president for the next 10 years”. “I facilitated all the groups. Later I made my announcement. The normal sequence of events will be now that a member of the women’s wing has made an announcement at the next congress, the women must now debate a decision of one of them against a recommendation they had already made committing to the president.

“They debate that and decide whether they support one of their own or stay with the president. That debate can either win or lose by a vote. That is when the chairperson of the women’s wing will then pronounce the position. For now I do not know what the chairperson was pronouncing”.

Videos
As for the circulating videos which showed party elders in the bodies of members of the council of elders endorsing President Masisi, Venson-Moitoi said they are unfortunate. “These are people to whom we run when we feel injustice has been done. So much damage has already been done by the structure. The chairperson of the women’s wing caused damage by making a declaration which does not exist, the elders take sides how do we make peace?
In my view what peace do we make when we were running over the things that build peace?”

Why now?
“I am standing because I am a Democrat who has a constitutional right to do so. When I used the word women it is because the person attacking me was a man who used language that was demeaning to me as a person and I was responding to him.
“I was asked are you okay, what is this, this has never been done before. I felt that there was intimidation. Those who say I have never supported women do not know me well. Those are women who know nothing about my track record.”

Venson-Moitoi added, “we support women in various ways. Some of us are placard carrying, others are demonstrators; others help women daily in our daily assignments without going to TV to announce... if you go to my constituency you will find houses that I have built for destitute women.  “You will find girls who originally dropped out of school that I have helped and are now working. Today in Gaborone, there are 10 women working as taxi drivers, who I took out of poverty as Minister of Education.  I do things differently, just because I did not win a court case against women and children.”

Will Moitoi accept the outcome?
“Yes, I have always accepted the outcome of elections. How many times have I lost elections? I have lost elections even in the BDP. I have lost against Moyo Guma who is now my Secretary General in Maun. I have lost against Tebelelo Seretse, except that this time I am not going to lose”.

Published in News
Tuesday, 12 February 2019 15:39

Who could be Venson-Moitoi’s choice?

There are 10 Cabinet Ministers in the southern part of the country, but who amongst them would dare to challenge the vice president, Slumber Tsogwane for the position of BDP chairmanship? Below Botswana Guardian hazards an opinion
Vincent Seretse: Minister of Infrastructure and Housing Development and MP for Lentsweletau - Mmopane.

Although bruised by the manner in which he lost the primary elections to Wilhelmina Makwinja, Seretse has not approached the court to seek redress. It is said he was approached to be chairman under the Pelonomi Venson- Moitoi led team which is challenging President Mokgweetsi Masisi for the presidency. Seretse would not confirm or deny. “I heard people are talking about it. But the fact is I will never stop people from thinking what they are thinking about, and what they want to say. For now, I have not made any decision. One only makes a decision when you feel comfortable that indeed the people are gravitating to the point of you being comfortable that you are indeed needed then as cadre, then I will consider my position.

“I am listening very attentively to all what I hear as well, when I feel the movement has come people want me to serve them in any capacity and are ready to send me, then I will be ready to answer the call because I am a cadre in good standing and ready to serve the party,” said Seretse. Kitso Mokaila - Minister of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism. A retired captain of Botswana Defence Force and an engineer- he is a good instruction taker and follows to the letter as well as being loyal to the leader of the day. He has gone on record as saying he supports Masisi. But the man is intrinsically unpredictable.

Eric Molale – The specially-elected MP and Minister of Mineral Resources, Green Technology and Energy Security through specially elected ticket lost the by-elections for Goodhope - Mabule constituency to Kgosi Lotlaamoreng II. He remains hopeful that he will rescue the constituency from the hands of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC). Inside party sources say, he will not like to rock the boat by entertaining and, or aligning himself with a group that opposes Masisi. Dr Unity Dow - Minister of International affairs and Cooperation is a woman of substance renowned for speaking her mind freely. She has expressed support for Masisi through many forums including social media. Dow has openly criticised BDP presidential aspirant, Dr Pelonomi Venson –Moitoi including wondering how Moitoi can expect support from women, when she has never supported women herself.

Patrick Ralotsia-  A  great farmer, Member of Parliament for Kanye North and Minister of Agricultural Development and Food Security was appointed by former president Ian Khama following the resignation of Christian De Graaf due to ill health. Ralotsia is one of the stable ministers and was re-appointed into cabinet by Masisi subsequent to taking over in April 1, 2018. He is seen as a level-headed and loyal servant of the system of the day and a staunch Masisi supporter who will not do anything to ruin the relationship.
Dr. Alfred Madigele –Minister of Health and Wellness and MP for Mmathethe - Molapowabojang – although he lost the party primary elections, is a loyal intelligent man of integrity and a good listener. He is service oriented and always wants to operate within the context of the law in order to assist the public. His return to the ministry of health after a short stint at education is a vote of confidence by Masisi that he is able to deliver.

Ngaka Ngaka- The MP for Letlhakeng- Takatokwane and Minister of Nationality Immigration and Gender Affairs. Although he comes from south those close to him say he is not ambitious to lead the party as chairman but is comfortable as both minister and legislator as the workload is demanding. Tshenolo Mabeo - Despite having been in cabinet for some time and an actor of repute, those close to him say he is a relatively quiet and honest person who enjoys doing his assignment to the end.

They rule out the possibility of him entertaining ideas of becoming chairman as he is not charismatic. He is the legislator and Minister for Employment Labour Productivity and skills development Frans Van Der Westhuizen - The gentleman of cabinet. He has always been a junior minister but had a great Christmas present from President Masisi who elevated him to lead the Ministry of Local Government after dropping Pelonomi Venson- Moitoi.

Itumeleng Moipisi – MP for Kgalagadi North and assistant minister of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services lost the primary election to Talitha Monnakgotla. Although this might be a motivating factor for him to accept the offer from the Moitoi team, inside sources say he is relatively new in politics and would like to show his loyalty since Masisi has shown his confidence in him by keeping him in his cabinet.

Published in News

During the early 1990’s HIV/AIDS was a monster sweeping across the entire African continent killing adults, youth, children as well as infants. While the whole continent was in despair, American health researcher, Professor Max Essex arrived as a ‘messiah’ to save the continent from the plague.

Professor Essex, the founder and Chair of Botswana Havard Aids Institute Partnership (BHP) came to Botswana in 1996 and established the HIV research and training partnership between Botswana and United States of America. He partnered with the Ministry of Health to form the BHP. In 1986 Professor Essex was awarded the Lasker Award for research that directly led to the discovery of HIV as the cause of AIDS. His research demonstrated transmission of HIV by blood and the first evidence of its transmission through heterosexual sex. He and his colleagues identified the envelope protein of HIV (gp120) which is still used to this day for HIV diagnosis.

Speaking during Prof. Essex’s farewell ceremony last Thursday at Masa Hotel in Gaborone’s opulent Central Business District - Former President Dr. Festus Mogae highlighted that the African continent was seriously affected by HIV in those early days and many people were dying every single day.  “Botswana was seriously affected by HIV/AIDS and I went around looking for help and Professor Essex and his collaborators from Harvard came to rescue our country,” he said. He said through Essex’s research many lives were saved and many Batswana have been trained in the field. “We now have our children and our own scientists and doctors in this field. “I want to thank Essex for his support to our country because what he has done to us has saved the whole world. I acknowledge all his team because our people has survived from HIV/AIDS,” said Mogae.

According to the Global Information and Education on HIV and AIDS report, Botswana is still one of the countries most affected by HIV in the world, despite its provision of universal free antiretroviral treatment to all people living with HIV. 
Statistics recorded in 2017 indicates that 380 000 people are living with HIV. “At 21.9 percent Botswana has the third highest HIV prevalence in the world, after Lesotho and eSwatini. In 2005, prevalence stood at 25.4 percent suggesting some signs of improvement over the last decade,” reads the report.

Available figures also indicate that young women aged between 15 and 24 who have HIV in Botswana outnumber young men with HIV by more than two-to-one. The national incidence rate is 1.5 per cent, or more than 15,000 new infections per year.
Speaking at the same function BHP official, Rodger Shapiro said BHP has now become more than just the premier HIV research site in Africa as many young scientists have been and are being trained. “We have become part of the larger community in Botswana and we have made lifelong friendships with that community and with each other. Substantial and long-lasting capacity has been built in doing high quality, ethical science that is dedicated to improving the health of the people of Botswana and elsewhere. All of this too was part of Professor Max’s plan,” said Shapiro.

Botswana government has been in partnership with BHP since establishment in 1996 and the institution has been leading the research on HIV/AIDS advancing Botswana to become a world leader on the HIV/AIDS disease management.  BHP has also undertaken relevant country specific and regional HIV/AIDS research training and capacity building, which is important in providing evidence-based policy and programming. Dr. Shapiro highlighted that in 1999 when HIV epidemic was out of control and there was no Anti Retroviral Therapy (ART), Professor Essex sent him and another researcher to Botswana. He said BHP was just very small with a team of just five researchers at the time.

He said Professor Essex was in this partnership with the government of Botswana for the right reasons. “Yes he was a scientist and asking scientific questions. But he also knew to go straight to Botswana leaders and listen to them.  “Every time he was here, he asked President Mogae and President Masire before him: ‘how can we help? What can we do to help?’ That was how BHP started and it remains at the heart of BHP’s mission today,” said Dr. Shapiro. For his part Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Alfred Madigele said Professor Essex has been a strong advocate for capacity building and has mentored many Batswana scientists who trained under his direct supervision to attain their PhDs and special laboratory skills through the forgatory grant and other support.
“These scientists have contributed to the acceleration of the decentralisation of our Laboratory capacity and support of our strategic national laboratory plans. I am happy that the MoHW and BHP are committed to continuing the partnership and collaboration beyond his retirement,” said Dr. Madigele.

BHP Excellence
Recently the institution commensurate increase in research output resulted in publications increasing from 24 during 2017 to 29 in the first six months of 2018 making a total of 53 peer reviewed publications during the reporting period. 
The highlight of the scientific endeavour was the successful conclusion of the Botswana Combination Prevention Project whose Primary analysis results were presented at the IAS meeting held in Amsterdam from 23rd to 27th July 2018.
The study results revealed that community HIV incidence can be reduced by at least 30% by implementing a package of proven HIV intervention strategies. The other significant results were from the Tsepamo Study - an Infant Birth Outcomes study monitoring infant birth outcomes for mothers on antiretroviral during pregnancy.  

Preliminary data analysis shows a signal of neural tube defects among infants born to mothers who become pregnant while on Dolutegravir or have Dolutegravir exposure during very early pregnancy. The study is ongoing and scheduled to end in May 2019.
The CTU grant continues to anchor BHP network related research. During this period there were 10 active CTU protocols, five of which have subsequently been closed. The current grant is in year 12 and is due for recompetition for another seven year cycle in 2020. The CTU offers a constant pipeline of research study opportunities from which BHP identifies relevant protocols for its context and region thus also enabling continued funding for BHP research activities.

CTU Protocols include among others, HPTN 081, a study to evaluate the safety and efficacy of VRC01 broadly neutralising monoclonal antibody in reducing acquisition of HIV-1 infection in women in sub-Saharan Africa”; there is also protocols P1093 “Phase I/II, Multi-Center, Open-Label Pharmacokinetic Safety, Tolerability and Antiviral Activity of GSK1349572, a Novel Integrase Inhibitor, in Combination Regimens in HIV-1 Infected Infants, Children and Adolescents.Others are IMPAACT P1026s “Pharmacokinetic Properties of Antiretroviral Therapy during Pregnancy”’; IMPAACT 2010 “a Phase III study to compare the virologic efficacy and safety of three antiretroviral regimens for HIV-1 infected pregnant women and their infants”.

Training and Capacity Building
The BHP Research Laboratory is currently a hub of activities with five PhD, seven MPhil and 10 Research Fellows involved in various projects. There are also three Harvard University undergraduates one student under Forgarty and two students hosted through the malignancy programme who are doing a project entitled “Validation of contrast enhanced microholography (CEM) device for lymphoma diagnosis”. All these outputs are directly linked to the pioneering work of Prof Max Essex, who is now returning to his native country – USA, to concentrate on his passion – writing. Hopefuly, he will still find time to visit and check upon progress on what he started in Botswana.

Published in News
Tuesday, 12 February 2019 15:23

HIV response structure and data flow

A vital document in the HIV response is the National Multisectoral HIV and AIDS Response Strategic Framework 2018 - 2023 which is currently on its third cycle - NSF III. The document serves to guide the national response and is reliant on international and regional frameworks such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the, “…2016 United Nations Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS which sets out the 2030 agenda” meaning that Botswana is intent on using a human-rights based approach, among others in its HIV response. 

The document is also informed by other frameworks addressing different components of the HIV response such as the, “…global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health (2016-2030), the African Union agenda 2063 and the World Health Organisation’s technical guidance on treatment, care and support, elimination of mother to child transmission of HIV, voluntary medical male circumcision, and HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis among others.” At the core of the document which is close to a hundred pages long is the need to“enhance efficiencies through an integrated approach” in order to end AIDS as a public threat by the year 2030.

Dr. Boga Fidzani, a Demographer at the African Comprehensive HIV/AIDS Partnerships (ACHAP) who is also the Executive Officer for Programmes says the NSF III springboards off the SDG’s for setting targets at national level because, “this ensures synchronisation with global commitments associated with fighting the AIDS epidemic and associated socioeconomic challenges.” Fidzani further explains that the policy is a roadmap that keeps targets on track and in check. “The old saying ‘if you don’t know where you are going any road will take you there’ is still relevant,” he says. Outlined in the NSF III are key institutions identified to lead the local HIV response such as the National AIDS Coordinating Agency (NACA) which is tasked with among other activities ‘overseeing the coordination and management of the NSF III’ including the “financial resource mobilisation and allocation.”

The Ministry of Health and Wellness has responsibilities including ‘managing, implementing and strengthening the health sector HIV response’. The Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs has to ‘strengthen its leadership role in advocating for HIV and AIDS relevant policies and legislation addressing key sectors and populations (labour, women, immigration (non-citizens) and prisons’.  Other government ministries are also allocated specific tasks but all have the overall role of developing workplace interventions and conducting relevant HIV research. Fidzani expands on the issue of non-citizens and advocates for their inclusion in the national HIV response and other relating HIV interventions and access to such HIV services. 

He points out that Botswana is a “destination of choice for immigrants” from neighboring Zimbabwe as well as other countries and despite the arguments that “…laws do not permit free access to health services for this group that have been submitted and have won the day” it is in fact self-defeating from a public health perspective to exclude non-citizens as they might end up being the key drivers of the epidemic as long as they live among and interact with citizens.

Another critical aspect to the HIV response is data collection and ensuring that information collected reaches the appropriate institutions and informs the national response. The NSF III reads that, “Strategic information management comprises of the monitoring and evaluation (M&E) surveys and surveillance and HIV research.” This also means that the M&E of the HIV response in Botswana is dependent on the “three ones” principles. “The “one M&E framework” is linked to M&E systems in all sectors that report on HIV indicators – the public health information system, other government ministries, civil society and private sector M&E systems.”

In the early 2000’s Botswana designed a “multi-sectoral, multi-level national response” with a corresponding coordination and reporting structure. “All the sectors are represented at the National AIDS Council, where a national update on the national response is given on a regular basis. The report is based on a prioritised set of nationally agreed indicators, which are reviewed for relevance and accuracy from time to time,” says Fidzani.

Despite this, “recent consultations” have suggested that there is a need to strengthen M&E systems within Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) especially regarding their “…linkages to central government repositories,” says Fidzani. A current agenda is to sustain the HIV response by identifying sustainable interventions and strengthening and capacitating local and indigenous CSOs in order for them to fulfil mandates previously handled by mostly international organisations. CSOs also need to be capacitated so they do not compromise the standards that have been set in terms of service delivery. Another reason civil society is considered “a very important development partner” to Government is because the latter uses a centralised service delivery approach, where facilities are established within a community and then people go to the facility to seek the service. 

This approach according to Fidzani is prone to accessibility challenges resulting from factors such as distance, and operating hours. “CSOs act to extend these services closer to the community, making them more accessible thus improving uptake and by extension, impact.  “It is therefore important for them to have the right capacities so that quality of service is not compromised – hence government plays a key role in defining the operational standards and requisite capacity,” says Fidzani giving one example of the critical role of CSOs in the response to HIV.  “Co-infection between HIV and TB has long been acknowledged and interventions put in place. Civil Society has played a significant role in tracing contacts of TB patients and making sure they are screened for TB.”
Fidzani explains that it is difficult, unscientific even, to compare pre-2008 data with data from the Botswana AIDS Impact Survey (BAIS) series. Before 2008 all statistics on HIV and AIDS were based on “Sentinel Surveillance results” which collected data from pregnant women aged 15 to 49 years. 

“By nature this was a biased ‘sample’ of high risk people who by virtue of being pregnant had been exposed to infection and could therefore not be taken to represent the general population,” explains Fidzani.  This resulted in estimates which were disproportionately high. Fidzani explains that the Botswana AIDS Impact Survey BAIS II of 2004 “corrected the data” because the sample was drawn systematically from across the general population and yielded an estimate of 17.1 percent.   “This gave birth to a new generation of reliable statistics as the BAIS was repeated, with growing improvements in 2008 and 2013.  Another one is on-going as we speak.” Despite the significantly differing methods in collection of data the HIV expert explains that it does not change the fact that Botswana faced, and continues to face, very high levels of HIV infection.

Reinforcing the need for accurate and coordinated data Fidzani explains that national targets would be near impossible to set without existing data as a guide. “We collect data to assess whether we are on track towards achieving set future targets.  Based on what the data tells us, we are able to make decisions on whether to intensify our interventions, make some changes or even totally abandon them,” he says. The HIV expert notes some of the general trends from the data. Data shows that from around the age of 14 years HIV incidence is higher among females relative to males, a pattern which is maintained until the late thirties and early forties. 

“For this reason, NSF III identifies adolescents and young people aged 10-24 as a priority population.” An added factor according to the NSF III is that “…young people aged 15-24 years account for a third of new HIV infections (34 percent) of which 69 percent occur among young women.” The framework goes on to pinpoint and target adolescent boys (10-19) and men specifically in a bid to address poor health seeking behaviours among this sub population. Recent estimates based on 2017/2018 data shows that the number of men who have sex with other men (MSM) is increasing in Botswana; from 2675 compared to about 700 in 2012. Fidzani partly attributes this to the changes in data collection methods. “Much of this difference could be however largely due to methodological differences between the two surveys,” notes Fidzani. Another factor could be that MSM are becoming more comfortable to “come out in a slowly but surely more accepting social and legal environment.”

This leads the demographer to the matter of HIV stigma and its impact on the national response which he says is hard to quantify. “Some people have even argued whether HIV-related stigma is still an issue in Botswana, that maybe self-stigmatisation is the problem. Generally Batswana have high awareness levels regarding HIV and AIDS and as a result attitudes towards those infected have been supportive.  Treatment success has also contributed to the reduction of stigma over the years,” says Fidzani. Similarly the NSF III explains that, “There is insufficient data on the extent to which stigma hinders disclosure and HIV testing resulting to new infections nor the extent to which stigma contributes to AIDS related deaths through delayed initiation on ART.”  The NSF III explains that the public health information system used by the Ministry of Health and Wellness comprises of, “…the Integrated Patient Management System (IPMS), Patient Information Management System (PIMS), District Health Information System (DHIS) and the open Medical Records System (MRS).”

Despite this there are“gaps and challenges” in availability of data at district level (DHIS), availability of community data at district and community level, availability of data at the national level data warehouse including “non-existence of HIV Research Agenda and inadequate capacity to carry out Research impacting negatively in projects planning and funding.”  Other challenges noted in the NSF III are to do with the quality of the data collected such as the use of a “paper-based system” which is said to compromise the data due to its lack of “completeness, accuracy and timeliness.” Another gap is the weak M&E system at times perpetuated by donor funding or lack thereof.

“Most M&E positions are donor supported and the M&E staff tend to leave their posts when programmes close. M&E audits and routine data quality assessments are not conducted regularly,” states the policy document.  To strategically manage this information the NSF speaks to strategies that have been put in place to strengthen, develop, implement, capacitate, allocate, disseminate, recruit, conduct, collaborate and integrate in attempts to circumvent the identified gaps and challenges.

Fidzani agrees that Botswana based on the NSF is in gear to attain the international targets of ending AIDS in the community by the year 2020 at 90-90-90and 2030 at 95-95-95 but he also preaches the basics. “Prevention is always far better than cure, it could avert massive costs related with treatment. However it hinges strongly on behaviour change regarding sexual practices, and this has proved a difficult undertaking,” he says.

Published in News

Records are an important and a powerful tool in attaining good governance therefore should be taken into consideration all the time. Assistant Minister of Youth Empowerment, Sports and Culture (MYESC) Phillip Makgalemele said this at the two-day Records Management and Archives Administration conference that ended on Wednesday this week.

He said the importance of records management cannot be overemphasised since on a daily basis, records facilitate daily operations and decision-making. He urged records management stakeholders to partner as the theme of the workshop - ‘Strengthening Stratergic Partnerships: Records Management, key to good governance and attainment of vision 2036’ – implies. He said it is imperative for archives and records management stakeholders; regulators, information technology, administrators and lawyers to engage one another and form a cohesive environment where all parties can drive this vital function. He added that this could help to attain different organisational goals and most importantly account to the nation.

The key note speaker Professor Patrick Ngulube from UNISA–South Africa appealed to countries to use records to foster good governance through partnerships to build Africa. He said that nothing could be achieved without records, as things may go wrong. Accountability and transparency are the key factors in records other than the custodians, adding that human rights should also be considered in the world of records. “We need sustainable records vital for the Africa that we want,” he said. Prof Ngulume said that this applies socially, politically, economically and technologically.

He is also of the view that this field should partner with universities and governments to enhance the ethics and values since Africa should be built on sound values. Makgalemele said that the Government of Botswana has built three storages of records in Francistown, Kanye and Gaborone for safe keeping of records. He challenged all the attendants to observe ethical issues involved in their workspace and bear in mind that this profession is aimed at protecting human lives.

“The availability of those records is the best protection we have at our disposal,” he cautioned. He also said that he was hopeful that the attendants would learn something from the workshop as it aimed at strengthening strategic partnerships towards vision 2036.
The event was organised by Botswana National Archives and Records Services under MYESC brought experts in the field together to learn from one another.

Deputy Permanent Secretary at Office of Policy Development and Research, Mogomotsi Kaboeamodimo said that it is within their plans to have this kind of platform on annual basis to highlight remarkable contributions which records make in their space of work.

Published in News
Tuesday, 12 February 2019 15:16

LLR pumps P500m on new assets

Letlole la Rona (LLR) intends to pump over 500 million pula into new property acquisition on both the local market and neighbouring Namibia.

Chikuni Shenjere-Mutiswa, LLR Chief Executive Officer said the company plans to finance the transactions through cash anticipated from sale of its hotel properties to Cresta Marakanelo and debt funding. Though optimistic that disposing of the four hotel properties – President Hotel, Bosele Hotel, Cresta Lodge and Thapama will sail through, Shenjere-Mutiswa’s target remains to acquire new properties before the end of the company’s financial year.

“Transactions are by nature uncertain. Prospects are however very good,” said Shenjere-Mutiswa, citing that Cresta transactions will not deter plans to acquire new properties.“We are going to carry out our expansion programme,” said Shenjere-Mutiswa clarifying LLR plans if the Cresta deal does not materialise.On the local market, LLR is eyeing two industrial properties at a cost of 170 million pula and 180 million pula while in Namibia its rental and office properties stands at 250 million pula.

The LLR and Cresta Marakanelo deal has almost reached conclusion. Worth 235 million pula, the transaction is waiting for approval from Botswana Stock Exchange (BSE), Competition Authority, shareholders, unit-holders in LLR and Cresta obtaining funding for the property.

LLR is being pushed to make the sale ahead of its lease agreement with Cresta Marakanelo lapses in June 2020 to avoid huge write down on the assets and potential to reduce ability to pay dividends to shareholders. Shenjere-Mutiswa said inability to pay healthy dividends will raise ‘question marks on our rationale for existence’.

“We are a property income fund institution associated with stable dividend and guaranteed income on a monthly basis,” said Shenjere-Mutiswa highlighting that LLR is not prepared to keep the hotels at a variable rental structure.“The variable rental structure won’t work for us,” he said.

Published in Business
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