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Battling To Understand

Rain or no rain, heat or no heat, the Economic Stimulus Programme which is being sold as another Ĺyou are either for it or against itĺ, has to take centre stage.

The trouble for me, and doubtless many others, is that I have so small an understanding of what is involved that I can be neither the one nor the other. I pick up a bit here and a bit there but still remain at a loss to understand why this enormous programme was not have been included in the recent budget? Instead, it seems that we now have one budget presented by Finance and one by the Office of President with neither the former nor the National Assembly having any oversight responsibility over the latter. But that being the case, I am also having great difficulty understanding how so many billions of pula can become so readily available without going through the normal approval processes. 

At the outset the President made it clear that the ESP would be funded by tapping into the reserves. But the budget came and went and there appeared to be no word from either the National Assembly or the Bank of Botswana that either or both had agreed that the reserves should be significantly reduced. Is this possible? Or did I somehow miss out on such an important news item? But then I gathered from Mmegi’s excellent editorial of the 16th that the ESP is a three-year programme. This does make some sort of sense given that the programme is so enormous. On the other hand, it is extraordinarily bold to make a commitment to such protracted levels of expenditure without being certain about future levels of income.

If next year, there could be a change of government – the possibility , presumably, cannot be ruled out - will it also feel committed to ESP or will it promptly dump it? Right now, it would seem that no country in the world can be certain about tomorrow’s developments, let alone in a year’s time. Perhaps this was the dilemma faced by Roosevelt when he decided to go for bust. But it needs little knowledge of the New Deal to note that his package leant less heavily on the construction of classrooms, clinics and staff housing. I imagine that the government’s past decision to hold back on such needs was taken precisely because they do not directly contribute to economic growth.  If they didn’t then, how will they do so now?   But I am intrigued. The building sector has long been constrained by the lack of water. But now, all of a sudden, we are about to

initiate a massive construction programme without any indication from where water is to be obtained. Depressingly, I have to assume that we will be building in the same old way as of old. True, lime has given way to cement otherwise we build today as we did in 1965. In respect of building, 50 years of innovation and technological advance has got us nowhere. ESP was an extraordinary opportunity to utilise recent innovations to build cheaper, quicker and more appropriate solar utilising buildings than in the past. But we seem to have blown it. 

 Clearly a great deal of work has been put into the formulation of the ESP, but when a decision is taken to go big without a preliminary trial period, as with the poverty elimination programme, the losses may turn out to be as spectacular as the gains.  Clearly it is pre-occupation with those hoped-for gains which is driving this programme forward.  But it is a gamble and any reasonably competent administrator could probably point to a dozen or more areas where things might go disastrously wrong despite the Office of the President’s attempts to plug all the obvious holes.  Lines of authority might prove to be one of those problem areas with too many being supposedly responsible in one area and none in another. But share a moment to sympathise with the District Commissioners who, as far I can understand, are made locally responsible for just about everything – that is, except for those who are also given responsibility for whatever happens.

 Such as those interestingly grey figures, the Eminent Persons who, like so many others, will be wandering around the country for next three years, at considerable expense of course, checking that all is well. But as a side issue, of no particular significance given the magnitude of what is now unfolding, I do hope that communities, up and down the country, will take note that for the next three years, or more, DCs will no longer have the time to conduct marriages.

Those days are now gone. And because I have a little space left, I note that the abandoned Sekgoma Hospital in Serowe is to be refurbished under ESP. It has long amazed me that such a complex should have been let go without thought for its possible re-use. So what does the Office of the President have in mind for it? Or is the Central District Council the prime mover?

Etcetera II



UDC, BDP Caucus

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