Botswana Sectors of Educators Trade Union (BOSETU) president, Winston Radikolo says the education budget for this financial year, just like in the years before, does not cater for upgrading, maintenance of infrastructure in schools many of which remain in appalling conditions.
Speaking at a BOSETU national budget review recently Radikolo observed that the budget allocation for the education sector was not crafted to deal with deep running and glaring challenges such as unavailability of textbooks in schools, state of disrepair of facilities, dysfunctional equipment, just to mention a few.
Radikolo also observed that while the Ministry of Basic Education had reported during the ministry’s budget presentation last year that it had employed 1,823 temporary teachers for expanded schools and to relieve teachers who are away on study or maternity leave as well as those on light duty due to ill health, the 2021-2022 budget does not seem to cater for staffing needs of expanded schools.
“It is fair to conclude that the proposed recurrent budget allocation for the Ministry of Basic Education goes nowhere near addressing already existing challenges; as a result, the ministry is likely to continue to engage temporary teachers, something that is not acceptable,” he said.
Radikolo decried that billions of pula go to training of many Batswana who graduate as qualified teachers who later struggle to be absorbed as qualified teachers, despite the existence of over 2,000 vacancies for full time teachers. Radikolo further observed that instead of employing full time professionals, government had over the years turned to hiring graduates as Tirelo Sechaba interns, a system he condemned as exploitative since it paid graduates peanuts for years before dumping them and going on to the next group to exploit and abuse, adding that such programmes have no place in modern society and deserve to be scrapped off with immediate effect so that government does not continue with the exploitation and abuse of such graduates in the way it had been doing over the years. The BOSETU president observed that the cosmetic increase of P500 million in Basic Education’s recurrent budget should not mislead anyone since it is clear in the budget notes that the so-called increase is mainly driven by personnel emoluments for teachers and service charges, especially water and electricity in schools.
“This provides the reality with respect to where funding of basic education is concentrated, a phenomena that has persisted over the years. As a result, there has not been any deliberate shift towards funding education reform initiatives such as the ETTSP, GECAF, Multiple pathways, just to mention a few, they remain lip-service,” observed the BOSETU president.
Radikolo further posited that like the lower education ministry budget even the proposed budget allocation for higher education/tertiary education also presents a scenario where the focus is on maintaining what is already in place.
“It is driven by the tertiary students’ sponsorship programme, which entails allowances, tuition fees and medical expenses for government-sponsored students enrolled in both public and private tertiary institutions,” Radikolo
“Overall, the recurrent budget for the three ministries of basic education, tertiary education, and labour and employment, is certainly insufficient and there are no indications that there has been any effort to steer it towards engendering the necessary education reforms.”
Speaking at the same event BOSETU National Treasurer, Samuel Aboneng called for the suspension of a wide range of new levies recently proposed by the government to raise funds, saying Batswana are still reeling from the hard blows of the coronavirus (COVID-19), which has affected livelihoods quite negatively.
Aboneng challenged the Botswana government to use the pandemic to borrow more under its capacity to support its budget deficit. The BOSETU treasurer said it was disappointing that the country has never before utilised its allowable limits to borrowing to support its budget expenditure. Aboneng added that if there was ever a circumstance to use to change that tradition, COVID-19 pandemic economic effects provided the government with the rare opportunity to inject more funding without harming anyone.
“We urge government to postpone the fiscal changes in this current period of crises. Households and workers need support from government rather than being required to lose more of their very limited resources to government during a crises; while we appreciate the challenges that government is facing in raising the required revenue to finance the budget, we do not think the timing is right for raising of VAT by two percentage points and implementation of a levy on sweetened beverages, fuel levy, plastic levy and introduction of levy on second hand vehicles imported into Botswana; teachers and Batswana in general are at their weakest financial point given the impact that the pandemic has had on their livelihoods and may not be able to withstand these changes in the cost of living,” Aboneng said.
“All these levies and change in VAT will have an impact on the increasing inflation.
Even though the impact on inflation will be short term to medium term, there are however potential long term effects of reduced living standards of Batswana in general. We believe that these levies and tax changes could have been delayed to a post-COVID-19 period.
It is worth noting that taxes and levies if too high also have the deleterious effects of dampening the growth of the economy,” the BOSETU national treasurer added. Aboneng added as BOSETU, they are worried that Government seems to have given up on trying to diversify the economy to generate growth and revenue and instead it has turned to its ordinary citizens to directly increase its purse. “With the current high-income inequalities, such regressive tax and levy measures will do more harm to the poorer households and increase the already worse income inequalities in the country.”