Budget unfriendly to the unemployed, poor- Keorapetse

Dithapelo Keorapetse. PIC MORERI SEJAKGOMO
Dithapelo Keorapetse. PIC MORERI SEJAKGOMO

Though yet to launch its manifesto, the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) looks set to echo the 2019 main message of creating a 100,000 jobs and increasing salaries and allowances amongst other things.

On behalf of the official opposition in Parliament, the UDC, Dithapelo Keorapetse on Wednesday responded to the Budget Speech that was delivered by the Finance Minister Peggy Serame this Monday. In what he termed a message of hope titled, ‘For the Many Not the Few: Odyssey of New National Economic Order’, the Leader of Opposition said the budget is unkind to the unemployed, the poor and those who are subsisting at the margins of the society. Keorapetse also said they have as the UDC listened, watched and read the fifth Budget Speech since the ruling party “dubiously got their quinquennial mandate in 2019.”

He said the party, at the helm its President, gave a litany of promises which undoubtedly proved that they regard telling the truth as simply no more than a life choice. He said they believe that a new order is in the offing beyond October 2024. “We remain resolute that 100, 000 meaningfully remunerating jobs within 12 months is achievable and that this economy can afford a living wage regime informed by empirical evidence on the cost of living. Those who are working must be paid a living wage of not less than P3, 500 if you consider our 2019 P3 000 living wage pledge. We believe that Old Age grants should not be anything less than P1, 500 for our senior citizens and we intend to start it at age 60,” he said.

The Selebi-Phikwe West legislator further said tertiary education students at Education Colleges, Institutes of Health Sciences, Technical Colleges and Universities should be getting an allowance of at least P2, 500 per month. He also said the UDC holds a firm believe that sanitary pads should be provided freely to women and girls especially in schools. “We will abolish completely pink tax. We are of an unwavering opinion that all Batswana must have health care insurance scheme commonly known as medical aid. Unemployment benefit scheme or fair entitlement guarantee scheme for workers is guaranteed under the UDC and provision of unemployment stipend for the unemployed will be provided. We promise a comprehensive debt relief plan for Batswana who are currently deluged by debt and abolishing civil imprisonment for genuine failure to pay debt,” he said. Regarding positioning Botswana as MICE Hub, Keorapetse said Botswana will not reach world class standards if there is no improvement of the public transport system. He said the current combi and taxi system is outdated, unsafe and not user friendly. Keorapetse said UDC would invest in a Rapid Urban Transit System in major urban areas starting with Gaborone and Francistown to integrate the current public transport operators ( combis) into the system and upgrade the combis to safer and more comfortable types (with affordable financing from CEDA, etc). This infrastructure investment, he said, would also help to reduce the need for car ownership leading to reduced environmental pollution from cars.

With respect to corruption, Keorapetse called on Serame to commit to instituting a forensic investigation of how much Botswana loses to corruption on an annual basis (going back 10 years) including a full audit of COVID-19 emergency expenditures and agree with the UDC Bill to make DCEC more independent by securing the tenure of the Director General and insulating him or her from expulsion at the whims of the President. He urged for the delinking DCEC staff from mainstream public service and most importantly funding the anti-corruption agency more to train investigators and corruption prevention professionals. Keorapetse further lamented that the economy remains firmly in the hands of foreigners and naturalised citizens, with Batswana subsisting at the margins, eating crumbs from the wealthy foreigners’ tables.

“Parliament was informed through an answer by this Minister responding to my question that a total of P3, 615, 051, 908.45 was spent from the Development Fund over the past five financial years. Of this amount, P2, 723, 978, 232.55 or 75% was paid to foreign companies while P784, 960, 542.15 or 22% was paid to Batswana companies. The rest was paid to Joint Ventures. LOO also lamented the bad state of public hospitals, clinics and other facilities which he said are falling apart. “We are worse in Selebi-Phikwe with a hospital with resources less than that of a primary hospital but treated same as a district hospital catering for Bobirwa, Tswapong, Mmadinare and up to Serule areas. We need a new well equipped hospital with adequate number of doctors, specialists, nurses and other professionals. This is the case in most of Botswana hospitals. There’s inadequate medicines, equipment such as scanners, X-ray machines, defibrillators, ecg machines and others, and very few specialists causing years delays in medical procedures and consequently untimely deaths. Nurses and doctors are demoralised because of low pay and some have left the country and this is worsened by being compelled to work unfavourable conditions through court orders sought by this government,” he said.

The UDC also suggests absorption of all interns and Tirelo Sechaba participants into the public service, some agencies of the State and parastatals. He said they are skilled, competent and are already rendering a quality service for a smaller pay. “Absorb all the 4, 700 plus temporary teachers. There should be collaboration between Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Education to negotiate for more scholarships for young Batswana offered by bilateral and multilateral partners. Overhaul the tertiary education financing model and fund willing young people locally, regionally and internationally under a grant-loan scheme for postgraduate studies - Master Degrees, PhDs and other professional qualifications, especially those with second class upper divisions and first classes. This will increase their employability locally, regionally and internationally, including self-employment. Sponsor at least 100 sportspersons in world class academies annually and a further 100 talented young people in top creative institutions,” he said. The UDC suggests all businesses of P1 million turnover must have payment terminals in the form of Electronic Data Capture Machine/Card swipe machine linked to BURS to monitor transactions. Restrictions should be imposed on cash transactions to set a ceiling of how much one can pay with cash. “We propose that wealth tax should be considered as a means to redistribute wealth and deal with huge inequalities. There has to be a clear policy on luxury or tax geared towards collecting more from luxury goods rather than taxes on basic necessities. Consider tax incentives for companies that provide quality employment for young people. The UDC is still opposed to pink tax! Removal of VAT from sanitary pads hasn’t helped much to combat period poverty. We recommend VAT removal from water and electricity. Introduce high financial and or bank transactions taxes. Deal firmly with transfer pricing and consider rescinding of a decision to abolish foreign exchange controls, it has resulted in capital outflows including illicit ones and hasn’t helped us in attracting FDI, we attract just about 2% of GDP,” he said.

Keorapetse said only six percent of annual budget has been going to agriculture and the current increase is inadequate. The UDC takes a view that it will finance agriculture in line with the Malabo Declaration, 10% of the budget, and other international standards. “If at all we are serious about improving livestock quality and herd quantity in the country, let us move to establish policies and laws that help Batswana subsistence farmers to commercial ranchers. Farmers need access to affordable capital, infrastructure such as roads, electricity and water. The UDC will include NDP 11 mid-term review recommendations to install primary agricultural infrastructure - particularly irrigation infrastructure in the small holder clusters (and improved roads,” he said. The UDC firmly believes that cultivation and processing industrial hemp is long overdue. Industrial hemp is a Cannabis sativa cultivar used for industrial and personal uses. Hemp products include paper, ropes, linens and textiles for clothing and shoes The P1.4 billion Tati land deal must be scrutinised to establish if it is fair value and an arm’s length transaction. Details of the professional valuations must be made available to Parliament.

“It’s interesting that in between 2006-2008 it is reported that the Ministry of Lands bought 19 freehold farms (20 000ha) from mainly citizens who had bought land from Tati. In these transactions government spent P23.7 million for 20,000ha valuing the land at P1 200/ha. Why the astonishing disparity in land values - even when accounting for land value appreciation over time? It’s interesting that Tati Company financial accounts of 2015 published in the UK company register show a book value of its assets including the land in question as P340 million, the land alone being about P140 million. Could this be another looting scam disguised as a patriotic repurchasing of land from the beneficiaries of colonial plunder? One wonders how much of that P1.4 billion will somehow find its way back to beneficiaries in Botswana. This transaction must the scrutinised,” he insisted.

Editor's Comment
Let’s get the constitutional amendment right

Their concerns highlight the need for meaningful dialogue between government and relevant stakeholders to ensure the best interests of the country are served.This was in addition to other voices from opposition politicians and civil society organisations.The stance underscores the importance of citizen participation in the constitutional amendment process. The AFM rightly assert that such weighty matters demand thorough discussions to reflect the...

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