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LOO response to the State of the Nation Address [full text]

DUMELANG SALESHANDO
Dumelang Saleshando PIC. THALEFANG CHARLES
I extend warm congratulations to you all, members of the 12th Parliament, on your electoral successes. As Parliament, we are the depository of our citizens hopes for a better tomorrow. 

Batswana by nature, are blessed with an abnormally high dose of optimism. Our people are such that when confronted by adversity and despair, when the future seems bleak and darkness dominates our surrounding, Motswana will always sign off with the phrase “Go Tlaa Siama”. This in my view, is a positive trait, underpinned by a strong sense of optimism about the future.

2. The travesty that accompanies our people’s sense that it shall be well, is that it is hardly ever accompanied by a commitment to roll out a plan that will reverse the mishaps that they confront, particularly when the hurdles they face require collective action as opposed to individual responses. They delegate the responsibility to marshal their collective wisdom and strength to some unexplained divine intervention. We, the 12th Parliament, do not have the luxury to bank on the possibility of miracles falling like manna from heaven to solve the challenges our nation faces. It is our duty to frankly introspect as the leadership of the country on the State of our Nation as we see it. No doubt, there will be differences of opinion on what really is the true state of our nation, but its our duty to honestly express our views and propose interventions that will turn Botswana into a country of opportunities for all.

3. Having congratulated you colleagues on your electoral success, let me start the ball rolling by taking issue with the Presidents introduction in his State of the Nation Address where he states “I would like to thank Batswana for demonstrating a sense of political maturity and tolerance during the just ended general elections which were characterised by respect for one another, peace and transparency.” The truth is, the just ended general elections cannot be described as having exhibited political maturity, tolerance, respect for one another, peace and transparency. For the first time in the history of our country, key state institutions, namely the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS), Botswana Unified Revenue Services (BURS) played a key role in influencing the outcome of the 2019 the general elections. The Director General of the DISS made public statements about the IEC data base and the 2019 general elections that demonstrated a desire and plan to interfere with the electoral process. The DISS role in the 2019 general elections has put an ugly stain on the credibility of the election outcome. It was inevitable that those who knew that the involvement of the DISS in the election process was likely to compromise their electoral fortunes, will find it difficult to accept the results. I therefore appeal to the nation to be patient with those who may choose to exercise their right to file election petitions. Possible electoral fraud should never be tolerated.

4. The BURS, on the other hand, was overzealous in frustrating the campaign of the UDC. We are not contesting the mandate of the BURS in collecting taxes from all who have to pay, including those in the opposition and its leadership. Where political leaders fail to comply with the tax laws, BURS have a right to insist on compliance. However, the unending searches that were meted out on the UDC president in the run up to the 2019 general elections, were clearly not about ensuring compliance. If indeed Duma Boko was for over a period of over 2 years in breach of our tax laws, why was he never charged and brought before the courts of law? In the case of Duma Boko, the BURS was never on a mission to collect unpaid taxes, they were on a political mission to obstruct and frustrate. The searches were always well timed and calculated to ensure that the UDC campaigns are frustrated. To date, BURS has not stated what it was searching for in the aircrafts utilised by Boko for travel to UDC rallies. At times, BURS alongside DISS targeted Duma Boko’s family in his absence.

5. When we avail ourselves to serve in politics, particularly opposition politics, we are not waiving our rights to be treated with dignity and respect. Our desire to serve our nation does not grant those in government to subject our immediate families to undue harassment and intimidation. Though the BURS and DISS conduct towards the UDC president was unwarranted and sickening, he remained resolute and committed to undertaking all his obligations to the UDC, for this I want to salute and pay tribute to him. He did his best to serve his people and his organization well under difficult and harsh condition. The elections were about political intolerance, immaturity and deployment of state institutions against political opponents.

6. Statements were made by the leadership of the BDP suggesting that UDC had secured campaign funding from sources that were positioning themselves to corruptly take over the resources of our republic. In the mind of the BDP leadership, only their party has a right to access campaign funding from private entities, domestic and foreign. It is common knowledge that the likes of Debeers have in the past bankrolled the BDP, whilst Chinese businesses now dominate contributions to the BDP. This explains why the VIP section at the Presidents inauguration was dominated by foreign nationals. It is not because they love the BDP more than Batswana who voted for it. They sponsored the victory and will be expecting to recover their sponsorship through government tenders.

7. I know as a matter of fact that all political parties represented in this house, received financial assistance from private businesses, local and foreign. Our political infrastructure should never overly depend on the generosity of corporate interests. Public funding of political parties and regulation of private funding is long overdue.

8. After the dissolution of the 11th Parliament, President Masisi went on a whirlwind campaign using the Kgotla. All opposition MPs were now former MPs and had no access to the Kgotla. Only President Masisi and his cabinet had the exclusive use of the Kgotla and their campaign propaganda went unchallenged, flying high on the wings of the presidential jets. For example, the president alleged in a number of meetings that a water project, rejected by parliamentarians across the political divide on allegations of corruption, was an act of economic sabotage by the opposition. The president knew all too well that his statement was false. It was however repeated at many Kgotla meetings because the votes it attracted for the BDP, justified the presidential falsehoods.

9. The 2019 elections were also predominantly about a tussle between President Masisi and his predecessor, a feud over which we played no part in igniting. Only former president Khama and the incumbent know the details behind the fall out. The President has long threatened to spill the beans but never went beyond the threat. This tussle denied Batswana an opportunity to maturely reflect on the policy proposals presented by the contesting parties. The Khama Masisi exchanges shifted attention from the key issues of employment creation, decent lives, better quality health care and education. There can be no doubt that this also affected the reputation of Botswana on the global stage. When two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.

10. As in his 2018 state of the nation address, President Masisi has decided not to inform the nation about the details behind the fall out. He has chosen to sweep the matter under the carpet with the hope that it will remedy itself. If this approach does not yield a positive outcome, I hope that the two elephants will meet to resolve their conflict. There must however be a lesson for Botswana to learn. Automatic Succession, where one assumes the presidency because they were favoured by the retiring president, may appear smooth on the surface, but underneath, it comes with dynamites that may cause unexpected earthquakes. It also encourages a culture of bootlicking by occupants of the Vice Presidency office. Hopefully, this will be addressed during the review of the constitution.

11. Behind the dark cloud of the Masisi Khama standoff there was a silver lining that has changed our political landscape. The firm grip of the BDP on the Central District on account of Ga Mmangwato royalty has finally been broken. Love him or hate him, Ian Khama was correct when he pronounced repeatedly to his tribesmen that no party should be allowed to rule for ever. Since independence, Central District has been a One-Party State. From now onwards, Ga Mmangwato will remain part and parcel of our multi-party democracy. The changes to the Central District politics brought by Khama are most welcome.

12. The 2019 elections were also about hyping up the people’s fears. In addition to alleging that the opposition was selling the country to foreign sponsors, we stood accused of trying to bring back former president Khama to rule Botswana. The accusation was made by non-other than those who preached for 20 years that Khama was a God sent Messiah. Some voters cast their votes, not on account of the manifesto messages, but chose to use the vote as a shield against the imagined return of Khama. It escapes my mind to imagine how Khama could possibly return to govern after 2019 when he was not contesting any election.

13. The anti-Khama sentiment was strongest in the south of Botswana, leading to the electoral fortunes of the BDP improving in areas previously hostile to it. Some commentators have accused the south of voting along tribal lines to defend a southerner in the State House. This accusation, in my view is unfortunate and should not be permitted to gain currency. Gaborone, a highly cosmopolitan area and home to many Batswana of different tribal identities, is part and parcel of the south. A number of Batswana like me, are both southerners and northerners and will not condone the them versus us politics. As the electoral dust settles, let us be mindful of the need to unite the nation and has been left more divided by our rough contests for political office.

14. Mr. Speaker, the above are some of the developments that defined the 2019 elections. Add the Fake News and foul language that dominated social media from all quarters, you will agree with me that to describe the 2019 elections using phrases like political maturity, tolerance, respect for one another and peace smacks of denialism. Even intraparty contests leading to the national elections were characterised by intense friction leading to court interventions, with some losers being labelled Manyasa after many years of loyal service to the country. The first election under the leadership of President Masisi has brought to the fore the weaknesses of our system and how it can be abused for electoral gains.

15. Mr Speaker, even as we lament the conduct and integrity of the 2019 elections, we recognise that a government has been constituted, legislators have been sworn in, and the business of improving the lives of our people cannot wait one minute. In a functioning democracy, it would be taken as given that citizens expect and trust that their elected representatives will work hard, diligently, truthfully and faithfully to transform lives and make Botswana the country they want for themselves and their children.

16. Unfortunately, our people have diminished faith in government and representative democracy. They have been let down and lied to so often by their government and leaders that they are now under the grip of the deep malaise of afro-pessimism that afflicts most of the African continent. The BDP government has taught them that it is in the nature of government to serve a privileged few rather than the greatest public good. You have taught them not to expect jobs in the tens of thousands required to turn the tide against joblessness, while countries like Rwanda, with more severe challenges, are able to promise and deliver in excess of 100,000 jobs annually. You have conditioned them to accept that decent work and decent pay are beyond their reach. You have normalised deprivation. You have taught them that they should not expect their government to; take care of the aged in a manner equivalent to some of our less resourced neighbours; to invest enough in students for them to learn effectively, or to protect the dignity of women who cannot afford sanitary pads.

17. The opposition caucus that I lead will take its oath of office very seriously. We will be an unrelenting voice of the voiceless and everyone else on the receiving end of injustice. We will work hard to restore our people’s faith in their elected representatives. We will push ourselves to the limits of our capabilities to help Batswana to build the future they want for themselves and their country. This is our mission and animating objective. We will be crusaders for inclusive development, human rights, human freedom and social and economic justice. We make these commitments because we believe that human rights and human development are the non-negotiable ends we are here to promote and serve.

18. We will speak for poor people, the growing population of unemployed youths, workers whose wages are low and stagnant in an upper middle-income economy, and small businesses who are let down by a grossly underperforming economy, inefficient government and failing regulation. We will speak with one loud voice for people with disability, disadvantaged minorities, women, LGBTs (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) and the environment. We will shout ourselves hoarse to ensure that our education and health systems are reformed and reoriented towards building globally competitive human capital to give our country and our people a fighting chance of realising the benefits of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). We will fight for an economy that works for all, not just for the political and business elites.

Our Nations Wellbeing as we see it 

19. Mr. Speaker, I wish to set forth, in broad strokes, the true state of our nation’s wellbeing. This is the baseline that the BDP government would do well to remember over the next five years. In sum, there are four elements to the state of our nation’s wellbeing. We have an economy that is failing its stakeholders; we are increasingly a dysfunctional society; we are getting marginalised from global prosperity; we are a democracy that increasingly does not work (as stated in my opening paragraphs) and; we are imperilling the future of our children by putting our natural capital to waste.

20. We have governed ourselves for 53 years fairly well. For the better part of those years, mineral wealth had gifted us the financial muscle to excel in both economic and human development. For years, we ran fiscal surpluses and accumulated foreign reserves. Our debt to GDP ratio

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is only 13.2%, a full six percentage points lower than it was in 2012.

​21.We have Africa’s best sovereign credit ratings (A- and A2 by Standard and Poors and Moodys respectively). Our macroeconomic fundamentals have, year after year, been subjects of acclaim from Bretton Woods Institutions. This, we all celebrate as a nation. However, unlike the BDP, we don’t believe that the macroeconomic indicators tell a complete story. This rosy macro picture coexists with unacceptable failure at the micro-economic level. Firms, households, workers, poor people, and the youth are having a hard time identifying with our macroeconomic stability and success. In sum, successive BDP governments have failed to turn economic growth into meaningful change in peoples’ lives. A big part of the reason for this failure is that your approach to development management prioritises economic development over human development. That is why people are invincible to you until the end of your speech. Your SONA should in the first instance be about the human condition in Botswana, i.e., how Batswana are doing? Put a human face to development management by prioritising issues of unemployment, poverty and, inequality. Here is what the statistics that matter say about the state of human wellbeing in Botswana:

 

22. About 16 out of every 100 citizens live below the poverty line, i.e., on less than P881.60 in 2010 prices. The national poverty headcount ratio, itself too high for an upper middle-income country, hides even more shameful levels of poverty in some parts of Botswana. For instance, the poverty headcount rations for some of our regions are as follow; Kweneng West (50.65), Ngamiland West (46.2%), Ngwaketse West (40.3%) and Kgalagadi South (39.5%). Many more Batswana subsist marginally above the poverty line, at risk of falling into poverty. In fact, half of Botswana’s population is either poor or vulnerable to poverty. You must recognise the emergency of poverty and deprivation for what it is to be able to deal with it meaningfully. The macroeconomic stability we are famed for is not working for Botswana’s poor. They are not going to be part of any knowledge economy anytime soon. They need decent jobs, incomes, livelihoods, quality education and quality health services now.

23. An estimated 17.9% of those who want to work and are able to work are officially recorded as unemployed, 33.3% when discouraged job seekers are included. Every year, our institutions of learning throw tens of thousands of young people into the unemployed pool. And yet your party talks, ignorantly I must add, about harnessing the demographic dividend and the knowledge economy. The path to the demographic dividend and the knowledge economy passes through effective human resource development (quality education and quality health), decent jobs and investment in first rate infrastructure. We are failing at all three.

24. About 60% of Botswana’s workers earned less than P2000 per month in 2016. An estimated 30.2% earned less than P1,000 a month. In this upper-middle, 56% of the workers subsist P1,000 below the Living Wage. In fact, 70.8% of our workers earned less than P4,000 per month in 2016, the year on which BDP government had promised prosperity for all! We have developed the economy without commensurate development of the people! Even when they find work, our people remain poor. They are the working poor. We are degrading work and assaulting the dignity and worth of workers. This is the reason the UDC proposed rapid transition to a living wage of P3,000 per month. Unless you dismantle the structural rigidities that have seen the stellar growth of the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s deliver so little gain for the majority of our people, you will continue to tell workers that a Living Wage of P3,000 a month will cause the economy to collapse. We propose, Mr Speaker, that the nation needs a plan that can bridge the performance gap between the macro-economy on the one hand, and on the other the labour market, firms, and households. It requires profound transformation of the economy which is not contained in the 2019 SONA.

25. Our education is in a crisis. According to the Botswana Examination Council, only 24.56% of BGCSE (Form 5) candidates from government and government-aided schools achieved Grade C or better. Let that sink, 24.56%! The year before, i.e., 2017, the pass rate was 24.05%. The results say our education system is failing more than 75% of its children and we know why. It is a result of, among others, poor working conditions for teachers, inadequate school infrastructure, a permanent state of conflict between teachers and the government, and generally poor leadership and management of education, from headquarters to schools. At the tertiary level, none of our Universities appears in global university rankings. You must reconcile talk of a knowledge economy with the reality of our education system.

26. We have an emergency in health as well. Many critically ill citizens who cannot afford private health care die every day without receiving the urgent help they need. They are routinely given appointments for critical tests or medical procedures on dates they will not live long enough to reach. Our hospitals and clinics often run out of basic live-saving drugs such as hypertension pills, purely because of mismanagement of logistics. This, Mr Speaker is the lived reality of our people. Our health system is in crisis. No wonder child mortality and maternal mortality have both risen dramatically in recent times. The system is collapsing. Health professionals are demoralised because of poor conditions of service.

27. Productivity is stagnating. That means our modest economic growth is attributable primarily to growth in the labour force and capital (acquired and natural). Stagnating productivity growth is the reason our growth performance is poor. And I put it to you that it is a result of poor leadership and poor management by your government. You have sacrificed merit in the appointment of people to critical positions, from the executive to the administrative level of government. With every passing election, our parastatals and foreign missions have to carry the burden of being managed by BDP election losers.

28. As a country, we are sliding down global competitiveness rankings. We were 56th in the world in 2009. We are 91st in 2019. Other countries are sweeping past us in the competitiveness stakes and we are getting marginalised from global prosperity. The Global competitiveness Index (GCI) is consistent in pointing out the areas where we fail the most. They are market size (112th), health (111th), infrastructure (108th), business dynamism (104th), ICT adoption (100th), Innovation capability (99th), Product Market (95th) and Skills (94th). The underlaying factor behind our poor performance in all these areas is poor public sector performance, on which we rank 113th in the world.

29. Botswana is running out of fiscal space. Increasingly, the state’s capacity to finance development is eroding, in part because we have relied extensively on the revenue yield from mining and have neglected to broaden and deepen the non-mining tax base. There also are two insidious attacks on fiscal capacity, corruption and wasteful expenditure. Tens of billions of public resources have been lost through poor project design and execution (Morupule B comes to mind) and naked corruption, e.g., BMC and the Palapye Glass project. Resources that are badly needed to fix infrastructure, education and health, and to invest in the growth and development of small business have been lost needlessly and no one has been held to account. The DISS and DCEC allege that there is 100 billion pula missing from Bank of Botswana and the President does not see the need to address this in his State of the Nation Address.

30. Our social capital is eroding and we are becoming an increasingly dysfunctional society. In 2018, our homicide rate (deaths per 100,000 population, was better than that of only 15 of the 146 countries surveyed for the Global Competitiveness Index (GCI). The value and sanctity of life is being lost. Gender Based Violence is on the increase. Women and children bear the brunt of homicides. Crime is generally on the rise. Citizens and their property are not safe anywhere – not in their homes, not on the street and not at work! Most worrisome, the state itself is becoming lawless, with DISS in the lead in gaining notoriety. We are seeing people being arrested and actions with far reaching consequences for their lives being taken when the state does not have evidence to sustain its case. This is not law enforcement. It is abuse of citizens’ rights.

 

The UDC Parliamentary Plan for the Coming 12 Months

31. As the UDC Parliamentary team we undertake to diligently perform our mandate during the 12th Parliament. To better perform our oversight role, each of the UDC MPs will be assigned a specific role to be our Sector Parliamentary Spokesperson. Our Spokespersons will take the lead in articulating our policy positions as well as to propose amendments to existing laws as well as introducing new laws. We consider ourselves an alternative government and will do all to conduct ourselves as such.

32. High on our priority, will be to amend the DCEC Act to make it more independent and efficient in its mandate to combat corruption. We will also be presenting the Freedom of Information Act which is a critical tool in combating corruption. We will also propose changes to the DISS Act to allow for accountability. These will be done within the next 12 months.

33. We have also decided to prioritise 3 of our election pledges over the coming 12 months. These are job creation, A shift to a living wage of P 3,000.00 in the formal sector within 3 financial years as well as increasing the Old Age Pension to P 1,500.00

34. The starting point with job creation will be to insist on an annual target for the number of jobs to be created. We owe it to our people to make the bold commitments on job creation. We remain convinced that 100,000 in 12 months is possible. If you find this target unattainable, please come forward and state the BDP target. We will support you in the target you set for yourselves, but not having a target is not acceptable and demonstrates lack of commitment to job creation. In the UDC held constituencies, the Constituency Development Funds will be strategically used to focus on labour intensive projects.

35. There is also a need to have an annual target of repatriating the jobs that Botswana has exported. Our raw materials have been used to create jobs in foreign countries whilst our people remain unemployed. We need to move up the value chain and process our raw materials.

36. We will demonstrate through parliamentary questions and motions that a living wage of P 3,000.00 a month is possible within the coming 3 financial years. An upper middle-income country should not be anchored on an impoverished workforce. Likewise, the Old Age Pension of P 1,500.00 will be fully justified to all within the coming 12 months. Failure to increase the Old Age Pension should not be understood to be due to lack of financial capacity.

37. We will be demanding for government expenditure to be refocused on assisting citizen owned small and medium sized businesses. Recently in Kasane I called for government to desist lodging public officials in 5-star hotels. There are many citizen owned lodging facilities that deserve a portion of the government budget. If indeed the World Aids Day will be held in Maun, I trust that the Minister of Health is working on a plan to give residents of Maun a bite of the cherry. Rather than sourcing government vehicles from places outside Maun, I will be happy to assist you in identifying public transport vehicles that are of a standard that will meet the transport needs of the Ministry Officials whilst in Maun.

38. We support the decision to review the constitution and will actively participate in the process. Chief among our proposals will be a non-discriminatory constitution, a constitution that protects socio economic rights and oversight institutions.

39. We will push for public sector reforms. Trade unions in both the public and private sector will as always enjoy our unconditional support.

40. We welcome the decision to open a drug rehabilitation Centre. Alongside this, Gender Based Violence should be declared an urgent crisis and more shelters of refuge be set up for victims.

41. We welcome plan to introduce a Citizen Empowerment Law. We however suspect that like the Citizen Economic Empowerment Policy, it will be crafted in a manner that its impact will be close to minimal. After all, the BDP is too interconnected with big business such that its not in its interest to create space for the small business sector.

42. We are also happy to support government initiatives to open doors for citizens in the tourism sector. Our Ngamiland MPs, the capital of the tourism industry, will engage the Minister responsible for greater details on the envisaged plan. The overriding principle for us will be for the local communities to derive maximum benefits. Inviting the wealthy political elites to invade Ngamiland as investors when the locals remain spectators will not be entertained.

43. We will also be closely monitoring all huge construction projects. The practice of awarding lucrative tenders to huge multinational, predominantly Chinese Government owned companies has to come to an end. Huge contractors have to commit to outsourcing a minimum of a third of their projects to citizen owned companies.

44. We will also insist on live broadcast of Parliament by the year 2020. Too many promises have been made in the past about the live broadcasts and nothing has come to fruition. If the BDP does not deliver on this by the time we get to the 2020 Budget Meeting, I will approach you, Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the opposition bench, to allow us to make private arrangements for live streaming on social media of all presentations by members of the opposition at our cost. I trust that this will not be asking for too much.

 

45. Conclusion

In conclusion, I wish all members of the 12th Parliament a fruitful 5 years. Our job is cut out for us. Our people have been impatiently waiting for the evasive jobs that they deserve, better paying jobs. We owe it to our children to turn our education system around. Corruption is on the rise and we need to defeat it. If we rise above the partisan differences, I am convinced we will find a working compromise to deliver Decent Jobs and Decent Lives for our voters. Lets not wait to tell Batswana in 2024 that “Go tla siama” lets fix this country now.



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