Last Updated
Thursday 18 December 2014, 14:58 pm.
Same wine different bottles

"Despite the economic progress of the past 30 years, and some reduction of the very high poverty levels seen in the past, Botswana has not developed a strong sense of pride in itself and its position in the world. The nation has set itself a low benchmark by comparing itself with poor countries, rather than the best in the world."
By Staff Writer Fri 19 Dec 2014, 17:45 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: Same wine different bottles








*The above quotation is from the Vision 2016 document (page 3) and refers to the period 1966 to 1996.  At the time when the statement was made, there was a realisation that Botswana will have to change the manner in which it does business if it is to prosper and build a better life for its people over the next 20 years.  As we approach the year 2016, it is disheartening to note that not much has changed and Botswana still has no strong sense of pride in itself and its position in the world.

*As the world economy evolves and becomes more complex requiring more innovative interventions to transform challenges into opportunities, Botswana remains fixated in its old approach to economic development and planning.  Firstly, the general layout and structure of our budget speech has not changed much since independence.  This is confirmed by a review of some of the budget speeches over the past 30 years.  The 2013 budget speech presented by Hon. Matambo, follows precisely the same approach as the one presented 10 years ago in 2003 by the late Gaolathe, it follows the same template as the 1993 budget speech presented by Hon.Mogae as well as the 1983 budget speech by the late Peter Mmusi 30 years ago.  It is astonishing that the 1983 budget table of contents is more or less identical to that of 2013.  We have religiously maintained the same template, same logic, same approach with only the figures being adjusted on an annual basis.  All our budgets follow the same flow, an introduction followed by a review of the international and regional economic developments, a review of the domestic economy that is followed by the budget outturn, fiscal legislation and a conclusion.  Those who drafted the 1983 budget speech will be surprised to realise that not much has changed in the Botswana budget drafting style over a period of 30 years.

* Not only has the template remained fixed, the philosophy informing the contents of the budget have also not changed over the years.  The main purpose of the section on international and regional review is not only to appraise the nation on the broader economic developments, but to also portray Botswana as a helpless player in the global market with no capacity to influence developments.  There has never been an attempt by any of the budget speeches to spell out how Botswana will take on the world and become a stronger player.  Positive credit ratings are only seen as an opportunity for the country to attract Foreign Direct Investment and not an opportunity for Botswana to invest in the rest of the world and expand the horizon of opportunities for Batswana.  This is not consistent with the vision we have set for ourselves, to have a strong sense of pride in ourselves and our position in the world.

* Madam Speaker, this Budget Speech like the State of the Nation Address by His Excellency the President last November provides us with a litany of statements and lamentations on the economy, global markets and other challenges but little in terms of real solutions on how to deal with these challenges. As I say, the budget speech has become an annual ritual. We have had heard all this before and I know Batswana want to hear real solutions to the serious problems they face. Sadly, ours is a Government that has run out of ideas of how to transform our economy and the reality is catching up with them. Many Batswana - young and old, working and those unemployed look to this Government not to feed them with Christmas gifts, blankets and Ipelegeng slave-like jobs but to create real opportunities for work, businesses, education, decent housing and living. Batswana want to earn their living not to live on handouts wich are neither adequate nor sustainable. This nation has a proud history of feeding itself and working hard in mines and farms but that pride is being killed by a misguided but politically motivated handouts culture of the present Government.

*The various budget speeches are not interesting to most Batswana because there is a complete lack of link between what is presented in the budget speech and their lives. In the past, most Batswana, especially those employed in the public sector and Parastatals were only interested in one section of the budget that made pronouncements on public sector salaries. Since that was removed when we moved to salaries being bargained for through PSBC, there does not seem to be any part of the budget that seems interesting to the public. The development budget for instance ought to mean a lot for local construction companies and employment creation prospects as Government proposes to build new projects worth of millions of pula. Yet because very few get involved, it is the Chinese companies that celebrate these pronouncements of the budget. As the BCP it will be our duty to make a direct link between the budget and lives of Batswana. The skewed distribution of income in this country is an indication of a missing link between generation of income and having mechanisms for them to benefit through such things as effective citizen economic empowerment.

Key challenges facing the economy
Some of the main challenges facing Botswana is the inability of the economy to generate new quality jobs leading to high levels of unemployment and poverty, high levels of economic inequalities, rising cost of living, an economy dominated by foreign interests, corruption, housing crisis, collapsing education and health sectors and general inefficiency within government.

*Job creation
Though the Botswana economy has in the past registered high economic growth rates, this has always been accompanied by high levels of unemployment.  This has been in the main due to the fact that the high growth rates were propelled by the mining sector which is capital intensive and therefore creates minimal jobs.  The 2013 budget speech does not offer any new proposals for creating jobs, except to make reference to schemes that are presently in place and have not had any dent on the unemployment rate.  It is our view as the BCP that greater emphasis should be placed on value addition of Botswana mineral products.  Whilst it may be true that other economies are more efficient in processing our minerals, the cost of exporting jobs with the unprocessed raw materials whilst our own people remain unemployed is scandalous and immoral.  We need to create jobs at all cost!  Botswana diamonds, copper, nickel, gold and soda ash continue to create thousands of jobs in foreign countries while our people remain unemployed.  This will not be allowed under the BCP administration. The BCP 2009 manifesto emphasised the need for Botswana to have an outward investment strategy.  Whilst the BDP focus is trying to attract foreign investment to Botswana, we are of the view that investment is a two way street.  We are no longer a poor or low income country that goes to the rest of the world cap in hand, begging the affluent to come to our country.  We have over the years accumulated our own business experience in certain sectors where we can compete with the best in the world.  One such area is the mining sector.  Botswana is home to some of the best managed and profitable mines in the world, yet we have shied away from exploring opportunities by African countries that have seen their mining sectors take off recently.   The quality of the beef produced by Botswana farmers competes favourably with beef from anywhere in the world.  Unfortunately, we have seen our influence in the global beef market dwindling on account of mismanagement by the political leadership.  Many African countries, including some of our neighbours import their beef from places as far as Brazil.

Batswana must enter the global labour market as skilled technocrats or confident entrepreneurs, not as exploitable inexperienced interns who take up foreign engagements not out of choice but desperation.Vision 2016 had promised that in three years time, Botswana will have reached full employment "where the total number of jobs available in the formal or informal sectors is in balance with the job seekers."  With current unemployment estimated at 17.8% and a real unemployment rate that takes into account discouraged job seekers of over 30%, the BDP has no chance of delivering on the 2016 promise.  We believe that the most effective way of eradicating poverty is to offer good quality jobs and allow Batswana to take control of their own destiny through their effort and hard work, not through donations from the President.

*Education and skilled workforce
"By the year 2016, Botswana will have a system of quality education that is able to adapt to the changing needs of the country as the world around us changes.  Improvements in the relevance, the quality, and the access to education lie at the core of the Vision for the future." Page 5, Vision 2016.For Botswana to take on the world, our workforce needs to be appropriately skilled.  There can be no doubt that our education system is in a state of crisis.  The last Form 5 results showed that only one secondary school in the country had a pass rate of over 50%.  The recent Form 3 results were yet another disaster and have been termed the worst in recent history.  The nation waits for the next Form 5 results with no expectation for any inspiring results.  Our education system is systematically failing our young people, reducing them to future recipients of donations from the Presidency for their survival.

The problems confronting the educations system are well known and include a highly demoralised workforce on account of unfavourable conditions of service, high student teacher ratios, shortage of text books, dilapidated class rooms and no effective monitoring of the quality of our education.  Some of these problems were identified as far back as 1994 through the Revised National Policy on Education. Instead of addressing the challenges that confront the education system, the ministers' focus is on engaging in a silent war with the teachers and announcing ill-conceived programmes that could popularise the government in the short term.  The Back to School initiative, though noble in appearance, is nothing but a gimmick that is going to throw our education system deeper into crisis.  Most of the schools in Botswana do not have sufficient physical and human infrastructure to avail effective teaching and learning.  Strained resources that  are collapsing will be stretched more by the Back to School initiative, leading to higher failure rates.

Recent attacks on the teachers by minister Venson-Moitoi do not provide for a fresh start that our education system needs.  Those who hold political positions must know that there comes a time to take responsibility.  Ever since Venson-Moitoi assumed leadership of the Ministry of Education, there has never been a single year when results showed an upward trend, be it at primary, junior or senior secondary levels.  Her leadership has not advanced the interests of the education system and she must accept that for the sake of the nation, she needs to step aside and allow for new leadership to take charge.  Unfortunately, we have come to know that under President Khama, there is no consequence for poor performance by ministers, leaving us with no option but to appeal to the conscience of the ministers affected.

*Citizen economic empowerment
The 2013 budget speech is the first after the adoption of the Citizen Economic Empowerment Policy.  As with any policy, it is crafted in very general phrases and expresses a desire to attain certain objectives.  It was for the budget speech to provide concrete steps that will be taken to bring citizens to the main stream economy.The consultancy that informed the formulation of the policy indicated that the extent of exclusion from the economy was deep rooted.  Some of the findings were as follows:

*The average size of bank loans accessed by citizens is P 170,000 while that for expatriates is P 800,000

* Of the total value of contracts awarded by the PPADB, citizens attract 17% with non citizen owned companies taking up 78%

* In terms of remuneration, expatriates get higher salaries than Batswana holding the same qualifications and same levels of responsibility

*Batswana are seriously under represented at senior management levels in the private sector

The failure of the 2013 budget to give effect to the good intentions of the empowerment policy confirms that there is no political will to bring Batswana to the main stream economy.  The policy was only adopted due to pressure and its objectives will never see the light of day.  There will be nothing about the 2013-2014 financial year that demonstrates a willingness to empower citizens.  Projects under the development plan will continue to be the monopoly of foreign ownd companies, particularly those of Chinese origin.

*Lands and housing
It is rather surprising that the 2013 budget speech makes no attempt to address the problem of availing serviced land and housing to Batswana.  The only reference to housing is under the section dealing with Poverty Eradication where SHHA is briefly mentioned.  The accommodation and land crisis in Botswana extends beyond the needs of the poor people.  Young professionals are unable to secure affordable houses to rent and are also not able to afford the cost of houses in the open market.  As I indicated in my response to the state of the nation address, it is inconceivable that in a huge country the size of France, with a small population of a little over two million people, we could be talking of shortage of land when France with a population of over 65 million is able to address its land challenges. In 2008, President Khama in his state of the nation address promised that government will set up a new installment purchase scheme under the Botswana Housing Corporation to provide affordable housing for the citizens.  He also promised the construction of high density housing units for the youth, a promise that has not materialised as yet. The unavailability of affordable housing is a major source of concern that should be prioritised in the budget.  There is no justification for high expenditure in the security sector for a nation that is unable to secure basic shelter.

*Other issues raised by the Budget Speech

*Decentralisation
Contrary to the assertion that Government plans to strengthen Local Governance and facilitate decentralisation, there is ample evidence indicating that the reverse is true.Four years ago President Khama promised that his government will introduce a decentralisation policy; there is no indication of that policy being introduced any time soon.  Over the past four years there have been clear moves aimed at disempowering local authorities.  Clinics have been removed from local authorities and placed under the Ministry of Health.  Provision of SHHA houses has also been removed from local authorities.  Water reticulation is also now centralised under Water Utilities, which is not coping with the demand that was previously handled by local authorities.  Most households in Gaborone have not received their water bills for the past six months and collection of sewer waste from domestic households has not been undertaken for months.

*Corruption
Whilst in virtually all his previous state of the nation addresses and budget speeches, the President and Minister of Finance make reference to congratulatory verdicts of international bodies such as Transparency International and World Economic Forum, among others on the state of corruption in Botswana, it is the BCP's view that corruption, mismanagement, non-accountability and unethical governance are widespread and elitist in nature.Bribery, conflict of interest, insider trading and economic crimes such as fiscal and revenue crimes continue unabated. The aforesaid corruption and economic crime offences have been recently reported in parastatals such as Botswana Development Corporation, Botswana Meat Commission and Botswana Export Development and Investment Authority among others.  We challenge the government to disclose the findings by the task force into BMC, the reports of audits at BEDIA and CEDA.

Botswana should consider enacting new legislation on disclosure of assets/interests and liabilities, insider trading, targeted lifestyle audits, freedom of information, whistle blowing, and public funding and regulation of private funding of political parties. Botswana can no longer claim to promote zero tolerance for corruption.  Whereas in the past it was inconceivable that a minister would continue to hold office in light of impending criminal prosecution, this no longer applies to the Khama government.   The practice in the civil service is for all those who face criminal charges to be suspended from duty forthwith.  In the case of cabinet ministers the standard is so low as to allow those on bail to hold office. The statement made by Vision 2016 on page 11 of the document that "A morally and ethically upright, educated society will be matched by a leadership of the same qualities, which will provide role models for its younger generation and an instrument to implement democracy" does not apply under the Khama administration.

*Budget priorities
There is need to reconsider our budget priorities as a country.  A World Bank March 2010 document on Botswana Public Expenditure Review argued that the current planning and budgeting system for Botswana may not be well suited to an environment of constrained resources or to the need to do more with less.  It further argued that given the high remaining development needs in Botswana, a reorientation of public expenditures focusing on improving the quality of spending is needed.  Our budgets do not seem to reflect that need to reorient our spending in terms of national priorities.  Investing more in our security system cannot be a priority that will improve the quality of life to the same extent that a sector like agriculture would.

World Bank reports on military expenditure as a percentage of GDP shows that Botswana spends much more on its security than both developed and developing countries.  On average Brazil spends about 1.5% of its GDP on security, Nigeria with greater security threats spends 1 %, Mauritious with an exposed coastal line spends 0.1% while Botswana consistently dedicates more than 2% of its GDP to the military, whose spending is not transparent.

Conclusion
We note that for the first time, there is an admission that Botswana will not attain the key economic targets set by Vision 2016.  Though the minister only makes reference to the real GDP per capita which will not be at the levels that were expected in 2016, many of the other targets will also not be met. It is clear that Botswana will not be an educated and informed nation in three years time, given the crisis in our education system. Botswana will not be a prosperous, productive and innovative nation by 2016 given the levels of unemployment and poverty as well as our continued over reliance on diamonds. Botswana will not be a compassionate, just and caring nation by 2016 given the high levels of inequality that exist. We cannot be a safe and secure nation when most Batswana can't access housing, for safety starts in the home.   As in 1997 when the Vision for the country was formulated, we still have a government that takes pride in comparing itself with poor countries, setting a very low benchmark for the country.

Batswana need to reflect on the political choices they make during elections.  While the BDP may have done well in the formative years to provide roads, schools and hospitals, the challenges of our time are beyond the abilities of the BDP.  Better quality life will require a different mindset informed by values that are different from the past considerations.   I call on Batswana to once more familiarise themselves with the proposals that the BCP made in 2009 to take Botswana to a higher level of development.We will in the near future be presenting the nation with our 2014 manifesto and trust that Batswana will choose a different route for Botswana, the BDP has run out of ideas and the country needs a new beginning as offered by the BCP.



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