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Wasting a crisis!

KGOSIETSILE NGAKAAGAE
I am always conscious of the impulse to be wise after an event.

In my early secondary school years, my father would bring books home, every now and then. One of the books was on the construction of the Hoover Dam in the USA. Fascinated by the book title, I struggled, against severe limitations, to comprehend the story about the monumental engineering feat. I only understood a small fraction of it - just enough to keep me interested until the last page. I recall though, that there was substantial deference to mistakes that were made during its construction as well as the tremendous engineering solutions quickly devised in the face of every unforeseen challenge.

But I remember, poignantly, one line in probably the closing chapter of the book, and it has stayed with me since: “of course building a dam, is more difficult than talking about it”.

Since then, I always caution myself of taking the position of an officious bystander. I may not understand why the most accomplished penalty takers in football miss a penalty when it matters the most, but I know that it is never on purpose. Human failings, may constitute a ground to forgive an act. They must, at the same time act as an opportunity to harness opportunities as well as the best of our energies and skills.  Further, they offer us teaching points, if similar lapses are to be avoided, or chances for same minimised.

It is important, firstly, to appreciate the efforts of the COVID-19 task force, to the extent that the nation has not been overwhelmed by the virus.

But generally, Africa has not been overwhelmed by the virus, and we had no special vulnerability. Therefore our relative success, whilst very commendable, is by no means phenomenal. And by all accounts, it does look like things may in fact get worse before they get better. Forgive me, therefore, if I sound rather grudging in my commendation. There, still, is a lot of work to be done.

My concerns are mainly from economic and governance perspectives. It would be naïve to lose sight of the fact that no consolidated report has been made on our gains so far. We have been contented with regular, television and media briefings on the spread of the virus and health protocols necessary to minimize same. But such protocols were only part of a wider combat strategy for which there has largely been no accountability .

From the onset, there was massive capital outlay sought and granted by the legislature the stated purpose of which was to enhance combat readiness. That was about half a year ago. The year, 2020, is coming to an end. There is no consolidated report on COVID-19 expenditure. The spending of a public

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amount in the tune of P2.5bn is going on, or has gone on, without deference to financial accountability and transparency. Such was particularly necessary because we were concerned with emergency funding, which by nature necessitated direct contractor appointments, and set the scene for graft. Somewhere between the many updates that the medics make on BTV, we ought to be updated on expenditure, and the success of technical, and socio-economic capacity enhancement  efforts.

That, remains, uncomfortably missing. It is impossible, in such instance, for public confidence to be sustained in government’s efforts and the whole effort has been undermined by allegations of corruption.    

The situation is made even more worrisome by the fact that the COVID-19 interventions were not built around indigenous citizens. From the onset, the explanation given by government was that the technologies, capacities and PPE’s necessary for the effort, and for which the massive capital outlay was required, were scarce in the international markets. Accordingly, such had to be externally procured.

The better fraction of the capital amount would, therefore, not benefit the indigenous Motswana. At a time of crisis, it is important to keep money home. It is for that reason, that COVID-19 precipitated a drop in diamond sales. The massive, emergency expenditure has not boosted the manufacturing sector in any way.

Only, the briefcase businessman, with profit margins of up to four hundred percent. The fact that we could not get any form of manufacturing, around COVID-19, essentially means that we are not ready for the next virus, and should therefore have a mountain of cash on the side for emergency expenditure. Supposing, we could not get any industry to set up here with expedition, how impossible was it to ensure that secondary stages of manufacturing of PPE’s were in fact carried out here, once the emergency response consignment had been sourced? Jobs would have been created. I doubt, that, we did not waste a crisis. We speak big on economic transformation and employment creation; but we act small. After seven months at it, there should be something to show besides rising COVID-19 numbers.

Even then, we are transitioning into an economic recovery phase after the massive knock we received. The threat has not gone away. We only have the fortitude to attempt a recovery because of ever increasing hopes of a vaccine of which we will only be a consumer.

Only an economic recovery program centered on the indigenous citizen provides hope for job creation and economic growth. Our reaction, off the blocks, was not indigenous citizen-focused. There is nothing to say that the recovery will be. And that is worrisome because we are in fact, wasting a crisis.



Chief On Friday

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