Sunday, December 5, 2021

Inside Botswana’s “Credit crunch” hide and seek

Sunday Standard investigations have turned up information on behind the scenes intrigues by government to kill a parliamentary motion exposing Botswana’s credit crunch and how the Bank of Botswana’s recent decision to reduce the Primary Reserve Requirement for banks from the current 10 percent to 5 percent, with effect from April 1, 2015 was part of the move to address the problem whose existence it vehemently denies.

Investigations have turned up information that Gaborone Bonnington South MP, Ndaba Gaolathe, had indicated that he would be tabling an urgent motion on Botswana commercial bank’s liquidity problem and how it had led to a credit crunch. The motion reads: “The current liquidity crisis in the banking system is compromising the ability of banks to lend money, as loanable funds have almost dried up even for credit-worthy borrowers. This ‘credit crunch’ is inhibiting economic growth or even job creation.┬áThe health of some key sectors of the economy is also at risk, with real prospects for retrenchments and widespread job loss.┬á Hence measures that were implemented in response to historical excess liquidity need to be reconsidered in the light of changed conditions. Government and/or the Bank of Botswana [BoB] should activate measures to ease the liquidity crisis.”

Within a day, The Speaker of the National Assembly, Gladys Kokorwe convened a meeting between the MP on one side and the Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Kenneth Matambo, the Governor of the Bank of Botswana, Linah Mohohlo and her two deputies on the other. The purpose of this meeting was to discuss if there were merits in pursuing the motion on as urgent a basis as he had proposed. 

Sunday Standard has established that Minister Matambo proposed that he be accorded time to mobilize his officials and monetary authorities (Bank of Botswana) to provide the All-Party Caucus with a full professional appraisal of the liquidity situation in Botswana. This, he argued, was necessary to provide Members of Parliament with a factual account on the basis of which they could nourish the debate, once the motion was brought to the floor.  Gaolatle agreed to the request, despite its effect of postponing a motion otherwise due on the Tuesday afternoon but now shifted to 7 April 2015, the date at which all the necessary briefings would have been conducted, and the Speaker, the Leader of Opposition, several MPs and I would also be available.

Kokorwe confirms that this meeting did indeed take place.

However, two days later, BoB called a press briefing at which Mohohlo sought to downplay the perception that there was any sort of credit crunch. She said the press briefing was “in response to some recent articles in the local media which suggest that, among others, banks in Botswana are in financial difficulties and their customers face a “credit crunch.” And “This ‘credit crunch’ is inhibiting economic growth or even job creation.” At the end of her statement, Mohohlo announced that BoB had decided to reduce the Primary Reserve Requirement for banks from the current 10 percent to 5 percent, with effect from April 1, 2015, ahead of Gaolathe’s motion which was billed for April 7th.

Gaolathe confirmed the meeting to the Sunday Standard but would not divulge precise details about what was discussed during the meeting in Kokorwe’s office.

Making the point that he doesn’t want to divulge details of a closed-door meeting, he nonetheless reveals that during this meeting, the other party “did not inform me of any such plans, nor did they intimate any intention to that effect.” What will also raise eyebrows is that the briefing to the All-Party Caucus never happened and the motion itself has died of unnatural causes. Gaolathe says that although he plans to table “more than one related motions pertaining to monetary policy or the conduct of monetary policy” they will not be identical to the initial one. Some will connect the dots and reach the conclusion that the government wanted to prevent an opposition MP with a refined knowledge of high finance scoring points against it on an issue that it is severely compromised on.┬á

“The decision by the Bank of Botswana to act on this matter is commendable, and whether or not this is a decision made in response to the pressure applied by the proposed motion or not should not be of consequence,” says Gaolathe who seems unwilling to beat up on Matambo and Mohohlo on the way they handled this issue.

Speaking about the motion, the MP says that this “was a delicate, yet so vital a matter to raise in Parliament.” “The delicacy of the subject derives from the complex nature of [BoB] and its mandate; and what made the subject exceptionally “vital” is based on the reality that failure to inject adequate liquidity in the banking system could compromise recovery of the Botswana economy or even lead to business failures and retrenchments that could subsequently become systemic,” he argues.

(READ INDEPTH FOR DETAILS)

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