Monthly Archives: May 2017

Burundi Paralyzed by Fuel Shortages as Leaders Blame Lack of Dollars

NAIROBI � Fuel shortages have paralyzed the small central African nation of Burundi, threatening further damage to an economy already moribund after years of political violence and raising questions about the role of the country's only oil importer.

The problem has damaged two big foreign investors, Kenya's KenolKobil and South Africa's Engen, a subsidiary of Malaysian parastatal Petronas.

The shortages, which forced the government to introduce rationing on May 16, have paralyzed commerce and caused food prices to jump by around a third, raising the prospect of a wave of economic migration. More than 400,000 people have already fled Burundi into the volatile central African region.

Anti-corruption campaigners said the fuel shortages became severe after Burundian company Interpetrol Trading Ltd. received the lions' share of dollars that are allocated by the central bank to import fuel.

"The oil sector is undermined by favoritism and lack of transparency, because the rare hard currency available in the central bank reserves is given to one oil importer," said Gabriel Rufyiri, head of anti-graft organization OLUCOME.

The central bank declined to answer Reuters' questions.

Interpetrol's lawyer, Sylvestre Banzubaze, said: "I am not associated with the day-to-day operations and only intervene on legal questions. You should address your questions directly to Interpetrol sources."

He did not respond when asked for further contacts, and the company does not have a website.

Rufyiri said that government sources told him that the bulk of dollars for fuel purchasing had been allocated to Interpetrol since March this year.

Reuters confirmed with two other sources that Interpetrol received the bulk of dollar allocations. Other companies only received a small fraction of the dollars they needed, the sources said, severely damaging their businesses.

Earlier this month, South African petrol company Engen confirmed it had sold its assets in Burundi to Interpetrol.

Engen declined to comment further. KenolKobil also declined to comment, but Burundian citizens say most of their petrol stations have been closed for three months.

Sole importer

Interpetrol is now the sole oil importer and runs all the fuel storage tanks in the country, said an industry source.

Banzubaze said there was "no link" between Interpetrol's shareholders and any member of the government.

But a 2011 U.S. State Department report described attempts by senior government officials to pressure judges into dropping a corruption case against the company, owned by brothers Munir and Tariq Bashir. Neither the government nor Interpetrol's lawyer responded when asked about the status of the case.

Government officials blame dollar shortages on aid cuts that donors imposed after President Pierre Nkurunziza ran for a third term in 2015, triggering a wave of political violence.

"These days, fuel importers don't get enough dollars to bring petroleum products," said Daniel Mpitabakana, the government's director of fuel management.

Burundi's economy shrank by 0.5 percent last year, and the International Monetary Fund expects no growth at all this year and 0.1 percent next year.

Black market prices for fuel range between 5,000 to 6,000 Burundi francs per liter, vendors said, double the official price of 2,200 francs.

The street exchange rate is 2,600 francs to the dollar, although it is just over 1,700 to the dollar at the central bank. Only the central bank can receive dollar deposits and allocate dollars to businesses.

In the capital, queues at empty petrol stations snaked around the block. One civil servant said he had taken the last three days off work to search for gas.

"I have no fuel for days and I don't know if by chance will get it today," he said, asking not to be named.

Burundi has also been battered by drought and almost two years of political instability. Hundreds of people were killed and hundreds of thousands were forced to flee abroad during the political violence, which still sometimes erupts in low-level clashes.

Almost 3 million of Burundi's 11 million citizens are dependent on food aid, the U.N. says.

Source: Voice of America

MORE SOUTH AFRICAN USING MOBILE PHONES TO ACCESS INTERNET

JOHANNESBURG, According to Effective Measure South Africa's Mobile Report 2017, more South Africans are using their mobile phones to access the Internet.The report, which says that this was an increase of 15 per cent from 2015, adds that mobile is, and...

Minister Lynne Brown: Remarks to Select Committee on Communication and Public Enterprises

Minister Brown's remarks to the Select Committee on Communication and Public Enterprises

Chairperson Ellen Prins

Members of the Select Committee

Officials of my Department and Parliament

South Africans

Five weeks ago, I poked my nose into a hornet's nest at Eskom when I instructed the Board to reconsider its proposed pension pay-out of R30m to Mr Brian Molefe.

To say that the consequences of this decision unleashed a storm is to grossly understate the effect. Within moments of publication of the announcement by Eskom chairperson Dr Ben Ngubane that Mr. Molefe was to return as Eskom's Group Chief Executive, the issue was thrust to the centre of societal and political contestation.

Old allegations have re-surfaced and new ones have been brought to light. These include serious allegations � that are regularly reported, and widely perceived, as fact.

Do I regret interfering in the proposed Molefe pension pay-out? Well, I can't say I enjoy having my integrity questioned. But, in the end, if our State-Owned Companies are to perform to their true potential at the vanguard of the developmental and transformative state, we must clear the fog of allegations of impropriety that envelop them � one way or the other.

I therefore pay tribute to Members of Parliament, the media (of course we'd like them to be more balanced) and members of the public who have invested time in investigating and reporting these matters, and I encourage others to contribute to setting things straight.

Chairperson

Allow me to give the Select Committee a brief progress report on unfolding issues pertaining to Eskom.

Firstly, I am a deployee of the ruling party therefore I am subject to the decision of the party.

Secondly, the political and government processes: Since Mr Molefe's return to Eskom I have briefed the top officials, the Deployment Committee and National Executive Committee of the ruling party on the matter. The ruling party requested Government, led by President Zuma, to resolve the matter.

The President established an Inter-Ministerial Committee on Eskom led by the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, the Honourable Michael Masutha and includes the Ministers of Finance, Malusi Gigaba, Minister of Energy Nkhensani Kubayi and I. The IMC has held several discussions and reached consensus.

I know that members would like me to announce the outcome of these deliberations. But all I can promise is that the announcement will be made soon.

Thirdly, the opposition's court case: I don't want to dwell too much on a matter before the court. Let me just say that I have submitted an affidavit, and instructed my legal team to withdraw my opposition to Part A of the relief sought � that I set aside my appointment of Mr Molefe. I will abide by the court's decision on the legality of Mr Molefe's return to Eskom. This is consistent with my support for Mr Molefe's return to Eskom on the proviso that his return is legal.

Fourthly: Let me take the Committee into my confidence on the subject of the Eskom Board. We cannot ignore the fact that the Board is ultimately accountable for the fiduciary duties of the company. To this extend I continue working with the Board to ensure that Eskom's sustainability is maintained and its developmental contribution to the South African economy is enhanced.

Therefore, as the Shareholder Representative, my relationship with the Board is crucial in ensuring that public and investor confidence is restored as we (Eskom and the sovereign) continue engaging with the investor community to improve our investment rating.

Chairperson

A word or two about Eskom's performance. It is not all doom and gloom, as some would have it.

The company:

is an important economic driver;

is the 4th largest utility company in the world;

operates the only nuclear power station on the continent;

employs 46 000 people;

has recorded a profit for the 2016/17 financial year;

is ahead of schedule on its revised build-programme; and

provides more than 90% of the country's electricity.

These are not green shoots; they are giant trees.

Finally

Allow me to express our deepest condolences, on behalf of Government, to the family of Thembisile Yende. I have asked my Department to ensure that Eskom provides the appropriate support to the Yende family and the police investigation.

I thank you.

Source: Government of South Africa

KZN to host social cohesion summit

Pretoria - The KwaZulu-Natal provincial government is set to convene a two-day Social Cohesion and Moral Regeneration Summit.Held under the theme, 'Deepening Social Cohesion and Moral Regeneration towards a United and Prosperous KwaZulu-Natal and Natio...

Quality of life for all citizens a priority for government

Cape Town � President Jacob Zuma says improving the quality of life of all South Africans remains a key priority in the work of government.

The President said this when he led a debate on The Presidency's Budget Vote in the National Assembly on Wednesday.

Announcing a range of measures across government's priority areas from economic growth and job creation to education, health and safety, the President said government remains committed to improving the wellbeing and welfare of all citizens.

The primary goal as government is to make South Africa a better place to live in for all and in particular, to improve the quality of life of the poor and the working class. Work continues in our quest to build South Africa without poverty, inequality, unemployment or crime.

We want a South Africa without despair, where each person has hope of a better future.

The President said a better life for all citizens means participation in economic activities that will give them dignity and freedom from want.

He said people need jobs or entrepreneurial opportunities.

The partnership between government and business remains key in the drive to reignite growth in this difficult climate. I would thus like to reiterate our commitment to the work done together with business on improving investor confidence in the country.

Our economy must remain competitive, not to merely prevent ratings downgrades but for the good of the country. We also wish to reiterate that we remain committed to the expenditure ceiling in the 2017 budget and to stabilize debt levels.

We also continue efforts of making our country attractive for investments, he said.

He said government launched InvestSA � a one stop shop initiative - earlier this year, bringing critical services needed to establish a business under one roof, such as visas, water or electricity licences and tax requirements, among others.

Ensuring that South Africans are safe

In a week where violence against women and children is back in the spotlight, the President said safety and security remains a priority for government.

He said children fall victim to abuse and violence from people they know, while women are attacked by their intimate partners.

On Tuesday, the President paid a visit to Elsies River in the Western Cape to hold a crime imbizo. This is the area where three-year-old Courtney Pieters lost her life to a heinous attack, with her body being found in a shallow grave next to abandoned railroad tracks in Epping.

The President said during the imbizo, residents said over and above several safety interventions, government should provide support to the community by also sending social workers to provide counselling services.

Indeed, strengthening households and families, reviving the social fabric of society and improving living conditions, are key to the prevention of crime.

We need to unite as communities and all sectors, from business, traditional leaders, faith-based communities and others, to promote safer communities.

He also used the budget vote to condemn human trafficking, saying the despicable act, where women are abducted and subjected to be sex slaves, was tantamount to modern day slavery.

He said South Africans have a right to feel safe and live without fear.

While urging women to report abuse to the police, the President said parents should also support their children when they report abuse.

Addressing issues related to policy uncertainty

The President said there were some outstanding policy issues that government was attending to. This includes, among others, the finalization of the broadband rollout, digital migration and spectrum allocation as a means to reignite economic growth.

On energy security, the Ministers of Public Enterprises and Energy are working together to find an amicable solution to the Independent Power Producers impasse.

With regard to nuclear energy, we reiterate that the programme will be implemented at a pace and scale that the country can afford, he said.

The President said government is awaiting Parliament to conclude the processing of the Minerals and Petroleum Resources Development Amendment Bill for it to be sent back to him.

I sent it back to Parliament due to some issues that I believed would not pass the Constitutional muster, he said.

The President said the Mining Charter will be gazetted in a few weeks' time.

He said through the Charter, government seeks to radically transform the ownership of South African mining assets by ensuring that black people meaningfully and effectively participate in the mining and minerals industries, while ensuring that the mining industry remains globally competitive.

The Mining Charter includes requirements on beneficiation and procurement.

There is also a community development element to ensure that mine communities and major labour-sending communities optimally benefit from mining activities taking place in their areas.

The Mining Charter proposals will also further empower mineworkers with requisite skills and enhanced job opportunities, he said.

The President said, meanwhile, that government continues to provide support to state owned companies by addressing governance and financial challenges.

He said support is being provided to the SA Airways, the SABC and Eskom and other affected entities.

New service provider to be phase in to handle grants

The President said, meanwhile, that government plans to phase in the services of a new service provider to manage the payments of grants.

He said the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) will be submitting the quarterly reports to the Constitutional Court as per its judgment.

SASSA has also begun engagements with other organs of state, including the South African Post Office towards phasing out the services of the current service provider.

The plan is to phase in the services of the new service provider by November this year. This will give the Agency enough time to ensure a seamless transition when the current contract comes to end in March 2018, he said.

Source: South African Government News Agency