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Going For Goal. But Which Goal?

SANDY GRANT
Every titbit of news last week should have taken second place to the lovely wonderful rain that fell, at least in the greater Gaborone area last week. Useless as far as crops are concerned, but grass will be rejuvenated and dams to an extent replenished.

But then we have just had the Budget and bang on call, following my observation that the P100-120 million Lobatse milk project had not even got a mention, came articles in Mmegi and the Voice reporting on the dispatch of 15 ‘milk’ trainees to Florida. Ten will, apparently, be given five-year contracts. The other five will return to the Ministry.

There was no mention of the 15 other ‘milk’ trainees who were also sent to Florida in August last year. If they have returned, are they already at the start of their five-year contracts and working on the project in Lobatse?  Or are they still in Florida? Seemingly the milk industry is one which is considered unsuited to women because the 25 trainees sent to Florida have all  been male, as far as I can make out. This would mean that the only women who have made it to Florida have been those who were members of the benchmarking Town Council group who got there later last year.  It is usually sensible not to make too much of a single sentence which may have been penned without great thought.

But the Mmegi report concluded with the observation that, ‘ the plant (project) is expected to create employment in the country.’  That is a relief of sorts, I suppose! But for P120 million, should we be expecting anything else? And then there is the government’s reported proposal to increase by two the number of Ministers, from 16 to 18, Assistant Ministers and the Specially unelected members.

But of course this cannot be done without also increasing the number of constituencies. Earlier reports suggested, I believe that the number is to be increased from the present 56 to perhaps 90.  The explanation then given was that the BDP, having had a hard look at Lesotho and Namibia, had concluded that this country has too few constituencies and therefore needs to increase the number. The argument is particularly strange because were the situation reversed, no one would insist that the number should be reduced.

Comparison with Lesotho and Namibia will always be of interest because of the obvious similarities - huge areas with tiny populations and small areas with relatively dense populations. But the proposition that the voting populace in those countries is better served than

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here seems very thin - quality being of greater importance than quantity. But how large should any country’s national assembly be? How large was that of ancient Greece? Too small and it will be over–stretched. Too large and it can become a cosy club of like-minded members, whose cost has lost any relationship with the economy which underpins it. All countries have fast increasing populations. Theoretically, every country, therefore, will be pressing for its electorate to be better represented by an ever-increasing number of MPs and Councillors. Inevitably, this would mean that national assemblies/Parliaments and all those at State and District levels would  need to be demolished and replaced every, say 20 years. Because no country can entertain such an idea, they are all obligated to hold down the number of democratic representatives (and others) despite the increase in their populations.

Increasing the number of constituencies and MPs automatically means increasing, as well, the number of elected and appointed District Councillors. Because the total cost will be enormous, continuous and irreversible, it is essential that the three key factors are clearly spelt out so that everyone can properly understand why such massive change is now felt to be necessary, timely and affordable?  Firstly, the question of necessity seems to come down to that glib phrase, service delivery, which, on its own, has no particular meaning.

Secondly the question of timing needs careful thought and explanation – why  now and not tomorrow – bearing in mind, not least, the current collapse of global markets? Why is it felt that wholesale change is required right now rather than being introduced more pragmatically, bit and bit? 

The big bang approach may have appeal, but it is at odds with the government’s more cautious approach in past years. And then there is the third key question – affordability. Can the country afford to implement such an enormous, costly programme of change whilst simultaneously embarking on the Economic Stimulus Programme?

The nay-sayers appear to believe that the government is prepared to spend such vast sums if this will serve to blow the political opposition apart and ensure that the BDP remains in power for another 50 or a 100 years.

Hopefully, it should have no difficulty in demonstrating that its motivation is of a very different kind.



Etcetera II

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