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Embrace the new normal

The Ministry of Finance and Economic Development is currently leading the process to draft the 2018-2019 budget, through consultations with line ministries, economic stakeholders, legislators and the general public.

By mid-December, some shape or form of the bulky budget estimates should have been produced and according to the ministry’s own forecast, a significant deficit is anticipated.

A new normal is unavoidable for the country, simply because the drivers of revenue and growth in decades past, are ebbing away, without ready, robust replacements. At a microcosmic level, one example of this is the recent end of life of Letlhakane Mine, which originally opened in 1975. Debswana’s ‘replacement’ for Letlhakane is a tailings treatment plant, which will produce 800,000 carats annually for 20 years, saving jobs and supporting the economy, for a period.

It is inevitable that going forward, the spending patterns at national level have to change. Batswana will have to become accustomed to greater cost sharing for previously ‘free’ access to services such as health, education and social safety nets.

In fact, across government, equitable access policies such as those around health and other public services, will become increasingly untenable in the future, due to declining revenues and reserves.

However, before asking Batswana to tighten their belts or prepare for a grim future, government has some soul-searching to do in terms of the efficiency of public finance management.

The public finance management system is bleeding both pulas and opportunities, with poor recovery of outstanding amounts and arrears, as well as the blatant

abuse of funds such as is annually revealed before the Parliamentary Committee on Statutory Bodies.

Revolving funds have ground to a halt, as former beneficiaries, including those in the tertiary education sector, neglect to honour their commitments, while those tasked with recovering the funds and keeping the schemes revolving, lack the will, systems capacity or both to do so.

To a large extent, the actions of public servants and learners of yesterday and today, have sabotaged the learners of tomorrow and subjected them to a future of costly education and compromised opportunities.

It is in no doubt that public revenues will come under pressure in decades to come from the end of profitable mining ventures, but an opportunity exists to somewhat ameliorate this by making the public finance management system as efficient as possible.

This, unfortunately, will also call into consideration the size of the public service and its cost, necessitating hard decisions on the part of authorities.

Reductions in the funding of critical sectors such as education and health should be matched by reductions in the size of the public service.These are tough decisions that need to be committed to today and stakeholders sensitised, for the benefit of future generations. 

Today’s thought

“The budget is not just a collection of numbers, but an expression of our values and aspirations.” 

–  Jacob Lew


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