Citizen economic empowerment initiatives are not of greater benefit to indigenous Batswana but naturalised citizens, Parliament heard this week.
Debating the 2015/2016 budget proposals for Trade and Industry ministry delivered yesterday by assistant minister Vincent Seretse, legislators from both camps called on government to ensure that indigenous citizens benefited more from these empowerment schemes.
Gaborone North MP Haskins Nkaigwa said native citizens, were disadvantaged especially when trying to break into enterprises dominated by well-resourced naturalised Batswana.
“Economic empowerment initiatives need to encourage and enable natives to compete with these people whose value chain is hard to break,” he said. Nkaigwa implored the Ministry of Trade and Industry to amplify support and encouragement of production and manufacturing.
He noted the need for parastatals tasked with promoting start-ups and business in general, to have continuous support and training, in order to be at speed with dynamics in the world of entrepreneurship.
Tati West MP, Biggie Butale argued that economic empowerment schemes, specifically the citizen economic empowerment policy and the economic diversification drive must be persuaded to the logical conclusion.
“Batswana must cease to be bemused spectators, they must not only be drivers of this economy but enjoyers of the boom,” he said.
He expressed his disappointment at the level of Batswana’s economic disempowerment as evidenced during his resource mobilisation for political office last year, in which no natives afforded donations exceeding P1million “without feeling the loss”.
Gaborone Central MP, Phenyo Butale charged that the system practised “socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor”.
He said the consistent harassment of informal traders, which he described as “very worrisome”, bore testimony to inequities harboured by the system. He added that the practice forfeited the crux of citizen economic empowerment.
“Vendors are always chased around by the Gaborone City Council and taking away things from them shows that the government is very lenient on the rich and punitive on the poor,” he opined.
Butale agreed with fellow MP Butale from Tati West that Batswana were just spectators of economic empowerment while “the object at play is their own life”.
Francistown West legislator Ignatius Moswaane accused chain stores of sucking life out of small businesses through selling even the smallest of things such as offal, fat cakes and mophane worms, among others.
“These entities that amass huge profits have swallowed general dealers and other small businesses such as butcheries and bakeries,” he decried. “They are very selfish,” said Moswaane.
He said for citizen economic empowerment to be realised, government needed to protect citizens from established businesses whose bottom-line threatened the survival of small enterprises.
Moswaane also questioned the licensing of especially Chinese stores in electronic dealings such as televisions and cell phones as no specialised skills were needed for such.
Rather, he said, locals had to be licensed in this line of trade and would import inventories from the Asian electronic giant as opposed to having Chinese nationals occupy this trade. “Let them go back to China, our people will import these products from there,” he suggested.
Gaborone Bonnington South legislator Ndaba Gaolathe said the ministry needed to chart the economic direction that the country had to take. He encouraged government to bring to the fore well-articulated aspirations coupled with time frames.
“There is lack of clarity as to exactly what direction, and what exactly the trade and industry ministry has to do,” he remarked. The MP said the ministry’s pronouncements had to be aligned to those of the citizenry. He noted that currently, Batswana are forced to look for the aspirations of trade and industry ministry, and that lack of alignment between the two stakeholders hindered societal transformation.
“Are we aspiring for an inclusive economy, sustainable economic activity or global competitiveness? It is not coming through clearly what the aspiration is,” noted Gaolathe.
Responding to the argument, Seretse maintained that his ministry was clear on its aspirations. He alluded to the fact that some of the priority areas were economic diversification and citizen empowerment as well as to encourage manufacturing and local procurement of goods and services.
“That the import bill stands at P68 billion is telling a story,” he said, adding that, “Local procurement has been ongoing for some time now, all locally produced goods and on the right qualities are promoted by government”.
Seretse said there was total alignment with the ministries of Finance and Development, Land and Housing and basically all government ministries. He told Parliament that employment creation was top priority for his ministry.
Parliament approved the ministry and its parastatals’ budget proposal of P925, 383,410 on Wednesday.