Experts unconcerned as deficits are decreasing
Although government has recorded three successive budget deficits for the first three years of the National Development Plan (NDP) 11, observers note that the deficits are decreasing.
On Monday, Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Dr. Thapelo Matsheka delivered his maiden budget speech, painting a picture of how the national cake will be shared for the 2020/2021 financial period.
According to Matsheka – who doubles as a Member of Parliament for Lobatse – his budget speech responded to the need to transform the economy to a high-income status.
He announced that a budget deficit – when spending exceeds income – of P5.22 billion is projected, which represents 2.4 percent of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Matsheka noted this marks a significant drop from the 3.9 percent deficit forecast for the previous financial year.
“It represents the first step towards a healthier fiscal position,” declared the Minister.
Speaking to Voice Money shortly after Matsheka’s speech, Chief Economist at First National Bank Botswana (FNBB) Moatlhodi Sebabole confirmed it is evident deficits are dropping.
“It is clear deficits are going down, which is in line with government objectives to keep it at a bare minimum of 4 percent of the GDP,” said Sebabole, adding that another notable highlight was for government to see the economy ‘coming into the hands of the citizens’.
He further mentioned government’s intention to streamline State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) to align them with the transformation agenda.
At the moment there are over 60 SOEs, ranging from regulatory, through academic to commercial ones.
Created to achieve specific goals, Minister Matsheka noted that the poor performance of some of these enterprises indicates they have lost their direction over time.
Indeed, Sebabole feels government is going in the right direction by revisiting the mandates of these organisations.
“While the idea sounds good on paper, implementation will, however, remain key,” warned the Chief Economist.
For his part, FNBB Chief Executive Officer, Steven Bogatsu admitted he had anticipated the deficit to grow due to the rise in public service salaries introduced last year.
“If the Minister has managed to curb the budget deficit to about 2.4 percent, I think he has done very well to try to attempt to balance it,” praised Bogatsu.
He told Voice Entertainment it was also encouraging to note that the Minister has acknowledged the importance of Public Private Partnerships, particularly in the private sector.
Bogatsu also described the reduction of SOEs as a ‘welcome development.
In terms of priorities, the CEO feels the P8.56 billion allocated to the Ministry of Defence, Justice and Security was way more than necessary.
“So, I believe going forward there is still an opportunity to reduce allocation to defence and channel it to more pressing needs such as education and health,” stressed Bogatsu.
BSEL shrugs off COVID-19…….for now
While several stock exchanges around the world have experienced a knock due to the COVID-19 virus, Botswana Stock Exchange Limited (BSEL) has remained steadfast.
According to an analyst at Motswedi Securities, who also serves as the firm’s Head of Research, Garry Juma, this is largely because of BSEL’s illiquidity.
In essence, Juma explained there has been precious little buying or selling of shares.
“What has happened in other markets is that some investors were selling their shares in order to take their money to safe havens,” the analyst told Voice Money this week.
Meanwhile, the BSEL Chief Executive Officer, Thapelo Tsheole says there are many reasons for the local stock market’s unwavering performance amidst the global economic uncertainty caused by coronavirus.
Reiterating Juma’s illiquidity explanation, which he attributed to the excess pools of capital available in Botswana, Tsheole also highlighted the lack of panic buying as a key factor.
The CEO further attributed BSEL’s steady performance to the slow filtering of the effects of the virus into the local economy.
“BSE is the fourth liquid stock exchange in Africa out of 27 stock exchanges but the rest went negative and we went positive. Again the market has been undervalued for some time in terms of Price Earnings ratios, so it was likely to go up from the beginning of the year,” reasoned Tsheole.
It remains to be seen whether the BSEL will continue to withstand the pressure of the virus as negative effects are expected to be felt in the coming weeks. This is especially true after South Africa, a major trading partner of Botswana, announced a nationwide lockdown beginning this week.
The lockdown is meant to contain the spread of the deadly virus, which has seen the country registering nearly 600 cases this week.
“The economic impacts are already here, the question is to what extent will they affect us,” said Juma adding that even if a stimulus package was to be introduced, one way or the other sectors will continue to suffer.
BSEL market performance report for the first three months of the year show that the market returns for 2019 have continued into 2020, registering a steady performance during the first two and half months of the year.
The Domestic Company Index (DCI) has appreciated by 1.46 percent in comparison to a 0.34 percent appreciation in the corresponding period in 2019.
The Domestic Company Total Return Index (DCTRI) appreciated by 2.12 percent compared to 0.81 percent increase over the same period last year.
The stone breaker
In this week’s column, we feature energetic former auditor, Redemption Mosala who now serves at the Finance Manager of Belabela Quarries.
The 34-year-old John Mackenzie Secondary School alumni speaks to Voice Money’s KABELO ADAMSON about the nature of the company’s business.
The diminutive father-of-two, who may be short in size but is as chiseled as the tough stones his company dig up, also outlines the measures Belebela Quarries have taken to prepare against COVID-19.
Q. Briefly explain what your role as Finance Manager involves.
I sometimes feel Finance and Administrative Manager would be a more appropriate title (laughing).
I am the financial overseer of the company.
Every Thebe that leaves I should feel the pain!
So the main job overall is to make sure I minimize any wasteful expenditure and whatever expenditure we incur we do the most out of it.
For every Pula that we spend, we make sure that we get top value out of it.
So, it is cost management in a sense. Because we are a medium-size company that is still growing, there are no limited roles.
I am also involved in marketing, as well as taking care of the Information Technology department.
As I said, I do administrative work as well and there are a lot of financial and sales aspects.
The financial aspect involves minimizing costs while the sales part of it is about maximizing the revenue, which is cash in.
I have to set up a system to make sure that the cash flows are in a controlled manner.
Q. When did you join the company and where were you before that?
I joined the company in 2014.
Before that I worked as an auditor for PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).
Q. Kindly explain to our readers the nature of your business.
We are quarrying a type of stone called granite; it is the most abrasive kind of stone you can quarry.
Abrasive as in one of the toughest you can ever find! Obviously our machines suffer a lot, but what it also means is our clients get a good quality product.
The process starts in a simple way, we drill, blast using dynamites then break them into smaller stones.
We put those stones in a jaw and crush into smaller sizes and from there we come up with products which make bricks and for plastering.
Those are our biggest selling products.
Q. What other products do you produce?
We do have road stones, which come in a variety depending on their sizes.
The products are mixed with bitumen which is then placed on roads to make asphalt and tar roads.
We also produce stones, which are usually used on railway lines.
Q. Who makes up the bulk of your clientele?
Our clients are all companies that build roads and construction companies.
When it comes to crush dust, our clients are mostly individuals.
Then we have those who are building these shopping centres.
But I can tell you, 48 percent of our clients are individuals and are actually the heart and soul of this business.
Q. Do you also sell your products outside the country?
No. We don’t sell outside the border because there might be some difficulties in terms of how we export a load of dust.
The other thing that you have to bear in mind is that transport will become more expensive.
For example, if you deliver in Jwaneng you will find that transport costs as much as the product and once you go further say Sekoma, the cost of transport doubles.
So, if you are going to export, you export to where?
We don’t really export as it stands now – instead we offer mobile crushing.
Q. What are the biggest challenges you face in this line of work?
We use all types of equipment such as liners and conveyors and our buckets for loaders which have got blades and those blades break weekly.
We have to replace them every week because the stone is so hard.
All these machines we have to replace the parts and we are spending quite a lot of money every month just to repair them.
Nothing lasts long here.
I can’t give you the exact figures but it’s quite a lot of money!
Q. How many employees do you have?
We normally operate on 70 but we recently employed another 20 to deal with what seems to be an increase in demand.
We have engaged about four students from Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST).
We are trying to take more people from the school and have more skilled guys and we really have a close relationship with BIUST.
Q. Is the company also taking care of the transportation part?
No, we subcontracted the transport business; we are not involved in it at all and are completed by subcontractors.
We have about 15 truck owners that we have engaged most of them funded by CEDA.
One of the most unfortunate things about my job is that every week I get at least four truck owners asking to have their trucks in the system but we have got enough trucks.
There is only so much we can do; we need more big projects in order to engage more truck owners.
The last time I put in more trucks was during the construction of the Phakalane road passing through Glen Valley.
Q. And lastly, how is the outbreak and spread of COVID-19 affecting your business?
Well, as it stands now we are monitoring the situation and listening to all the streams of information that we can including the Ministry of Health here.
But because we are part of a group where a lot of the shareholders are South Africa based and they are telling us the measures to take, we try to tailor-make those measures to suit our situation.
For now, we have done all the disinfecting being advised and so forth.
We will see as time goes on how the situation turns out.