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Budget speech - same song, different dj – (part 1)

KGOSIETSILE NGAKAAGAE
I took time off to go through Minister Dr Thapelo Matsheka’s speech which by all accounts has been well received in many quarters.

The upshot of the same is thematic and consists in a real or imagined economic transformation journey that the nation has freshly embarked upon. Let us not be fooled. This journey is 54 years old. There is no running away from that reality, and there is no fooling the public that it’s a new era. I do not say that it has been doom and gloom; far from it.  But I do say that in terms of the touted “economic transformation” (as distinct from governance and infrastructure development), it has been a journey to nowhere.

As such, the speech constitutes a poor apology for the fifty plus years in which the same mantra has been sung with no tangible results. I notice, in particular, a crafty, semantic deviance from the fifty year old mantra of “economic diversification” to “economic transformation”. I had a hard time trying to locate the distinction. In the end, I have concluded that same constitutes empty rhetoric. Transformation is not development; on the contrary it is adaptation; a survival imperative.  The imperative of economic diversification as such, remains relevant if economic development is to be a priority.  No one doubts government’s commitment to economic transformation, whatever that means. The trouble is that the dream of vision 2036 and economic transformation, hangs on the coattails of an undeniable record of inability after ten five year long indulgences.

Whatever is meant by the alignment of both the recurrent and development budgets with the transformation agenda is nebulous in the absence of a clear and measurable outcomes. On this score, I am mindful of two imperatives. That the vision 2016, that ought to have delivered what the honourable minister is promising, failed cataclysmically and that the same government that now sells Vision 2036, flatly refused to account for it. There were no measurable imperatives on the basis of which progress on deliverables could be measured. As such there is no accountability. But then, that is always the case with politicians. They never commit to measurable objectives. They always hype, or feign commitment to popular causes. In the circumstances I receive the budget with extreme caution.  Frankly, the speech is essentially last year’s speech entered through another door. Other than hear how many jobs government expects out of the allocation of public resources as per the budget, we are simply told that the allocations have been made in line with government’s commitment to growing the private sector and creating employment opportunities.

Having said that, I was struck by a few aspects of the speech. Paragraph thirteen makes a cursory reference to unemployment in particular that it stands at a staggering rate

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of 20.7% and a seasonal variance of 17.6%. This ought to be the focal point of the speech. The jobs problem is both futuristic and immediate and so must be the interventions. Whist I acknowledge, as the Hon Minister said, that the recurrent budget is consumeristic, we need to understand how such expenditure, which is of course absorbed by the private sector in exchange for goods and services takes us a notch forward in terms of the young and old roaming the streets. We want to see a clear correlation between expenditure and objective. We don’t just want another budget speech next year. We want accountability for the deliverables in the present one. Absent that, the whole speech is just farce. 

Dr Keith Jefferies is quoted as having opined that most of the problems we have do not issue from resource constraints but from poor management of the same and lack of accountability. Essentially, we should be in much better positions regard being had to what we have now. I relate that to a jab thrown by the minister towards the end of his speech where he speaks of his ministry’s commitment to rebuilding the economy’s financial buffers that were “seriously eroded over the past few years”. I must state that wastage must not be seen as distinct to corruption. Corruption is the key cause of resource wastage at several levels. The wastage occurs, firstly, when project conceptualisation is not made with national socio-economic imperatives in mind, but where both the recurrent and development budgets are nothing but a feeding trough for the elite. The BDF, to which a chunk of both the recurrent and development budgets will go, remains the most corrupt and therefore, wasteful department of government.  I need not remind you that not so long ago, we bought an obsolete fleet of Land Rovers since decommissioned by the British. Government sells cars here when they five years old, and buys fossils from Britain.

 It is also wastage when we fail to ensure that capacity is built for local provision of basic supplies like ammunition to the army precisely because we must continue with the corrupt middleman procurement system, a largesse of the elite. The sizeable deployments to the BDF and the near total external procurement mean one thing only; the exportation of jobs. It is worth remembering that government arrogantly forged forward with the ESP whilst it was clear to the public that the whole thing was an excuse for looting. Resource wastage and institutionalised BDP corruption, of which the very cabinet that dew up the speech remains a part, should be the starting point.



Chief On Friday

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These Judges! They are either captured by UDC or BDP

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