On Feb 5, the Minister of Finance rose from his bench to perform, in accordance to the mandate assigned to him by our constitution, the tabling of our national cake from which he announced the size of slices allocated to various ministries, departments and other institutions for the purpose of sustaining and developing the welfare of our people.
I stand, today, no so much to respond to his presentation, but I rise in exercise of the heavy burden of responsibility to which many citizens of our country have, by the power of the ballot, called us to. Many of them walked many miles, under the scotching October heat of 2014, to cast a vote. This was their way of signing a convenant with all those who sit in this August house.
By their vote, the swaths of our people, right from the crystal clear waters of the Chobe, to the dry sand-dunes of the Kgalagadi, placed their hopes that all those who form this August house will collectively help to break the vicious cycle of poverty that engulfs so many of our citizens.
They believed they were entering into a convenant with leaders who realise their desperation to lift the material condition of their families and communities. In fact the many citizens that voted never really asked for much, they asked for a life of opportunity – opportunity to walk the sacred path to life, freedom, justice and pursuit of happiness.
The people of Botswana are depending on us not only to voice their aspirations – they are also hoping for our leadership in cultivating the path towards our collective vision.
And even though the annual budget presentation by the Finance Minister is not and cannot be the sole instrument by which it is possible to resolve our national challenges and pursue our collective vision – this is nonetheless the opportunity to shed insights about what this nation can and should achieve.
It is the right moment to spell out the opportunities that are before us, many of which we continue to ignore. We rise today so that the historic annuls of this chamber capture the echoes of our appeal and cries, that we should and can do much better as a nation, better than our forefathers could, because we possess more resources than they ever did, and the sea of the global opportunity upon which we voyage is much more endless.
We may not all acknowledge it, but both the pre-independence and post-independence period carry national experiences for which our forefathers enjoyed acclaim as a unique socio-economic story.
First, they established an enduring culture of the consultative Kgotla system and then inspired substantial and sustained economic (GDP) growth - Our economy leaped by an average of nine percent during the 1975 to 2008 period, life expectancy rose from 56 years in 1972 to 65 years in 1991 and infant mortality halved over this same period (97 per 1,000 to 48 per 1,000).
They laid the foundation for a democratic system of governance and planted the belief that we have it in us to achieve prosperity. Every generation that came after our forefathers should have realised that these achievements of the past were neither perfect nor complete. Even more precise, the imperfections and incompleteness of our system have grown more pronounced over the last decade:
a. We are experiencing a worrisome trend of jobless growth, testified by formal sector employment growth of 1.5% per annum from 2009 to 2015, against a population natural rate of 1.9% per annum. Most of the growth is directly inspired by Government, with parastatals growing 4.6% and Ipelegeng labour rising at 3.4% per annum. The closure of several mines and related industries last year added thousands more workers to the unemployed.
b. Growth as a whole declined to 3.3 % and 3.9% during the NDP9 and NDP10 periods, primarily dragged by a slumping mining sector
c. Our economy continues to be a mono-economy (undiversified) despite a raft of Government initiatives over the years starting in the 1970s (the Industrial Development Policy (IDP), Financial Assistance Policy (FAP), Citizen Entrepreneurial Development Agency (CEDA), and the Economic Stimulus Programme (ESP).
d. Income and wealth inequalities persist, although our Gini coefficient is improving, moderately as it did by declining from 64.7% in 2003 to 60.5% in recent times, ranking amongst the worst in the world behind even South Africa and Nambia.
Although formalistic measures of people living above the poverty datum line are improving (now 17%), the majority of our people continue to wallow in hardship especially in the forgotten rural areas and the ghettos of Manaka, Kgaphamadi, Morula, Zola, Bophirima, and Peleng.
And although life expectancy had risen to 65 years in 1991, it declined to 56 years in 2001 and has since bounced back to about 68 years.
e. Our governance system is almost in free fall – The Executive Branch of Government is over-bearing, and through its high centralisation and dependence on the rogue DIS, hundreds of millions if not billions of pulas are leaking from the system without much accounting as is the case at the National Petroleum Fund, mega-tenders are awarded and appointments are made without merit, further turning our country away from a meritocracy.
Through a false sense of the majority rules idea, the majority in Parliament continue to allow the circumstances of a Parliament that is disempowered, a Parliament that is no more than a department within the Office of the President, a Parliament that neither has the capacity nor capability to carry out its own independent analysis on the economy or craft laws outside the intervention of the Executive.
Local councils neither have the budget nor the manpower to bring international standard services to the people. We should not think the budget can or should solve our problems.
This reminder of the glaring and growing pronouncement of the imperfections and incompleteness of our system is not an attempt to pour the blame of our circumstances on the Minister of Finance or to the budgets for which he has been responsible.
To do so would be to fail in the understanding that our economy and social welfare depend on much more than Government budgets. And more, the Minister of Finance is not and cannot be expected to be in control over the actions of the larger Government machinery, or the actions of thousands of other social, political, cultural and economic agents and stakeholders within our system.
If anything, and despite the many imperfections and lapses we need to confront, the Ministry of Finance and Bank of Botswana should receive some credit for managing some of the variables within their control and scope.
They have worked to offer Botswana a macroeconomic environment of relative stability in respect of balance of payments, exchange rates, inflation, interest rates, Government debt levels and budget balances.
But macroeconomic stability alone is far from what we need to transform the economy and livelihoods of the majority of our citizens. Yes, macroeconomic stability provides a reasonable foundation from which all those who wish to offer Botswana a grand vision can work, but it cannot on its own adequately address the imperfections and lapses of our system.
And although the Ministry of Finance may deserve credit in husbanding a reasonable macroeconomic environment, the Government of which they are part, through the same budget, portrays an ominous disinterest in catapulting our nation into a true African paragon of flourish and nation-building.
Today we rise to speak on behalf all Progressives, citizens that have offered their lives to assisting our nation become that paragon of economic flourish and nation-building.
It is really possible to transform the economy of Botswana if we applied ourselves. While it is always tempting to delve directly into Ministry allocations, as the Government budget presentation did, the real gulf we wish to bridge is that of the nation’s development or transformation narrative.
We need to be clear about the possibilities and opportunities that are on the table before us as a nation – which of these opportunities we think are best to run with (because we can’t run away with everything), and how we best run with each opportunity, and how much to invest in each opportunity to reap how much of benefit that we seek for our people.
These are the questions and answers we wish to explore today. Our view of investment is more than just one focused on monetary investment. We the Progressives wish to inspire all of us to invest not just monetary resources, but time and effort towards reaching out to those opportunities that are for our taking as a nation. Our view of opportunity is inspired by how we see the future, and how we think it will unfold.
Our plans and actions are crafted by our active investment in perceiving, interpreting and going ahead of the future here and at global scale. We see the future through the prism of four or so global mega-trends to which our vision and plans are a response, in the context of resolving our local imperfections towards a nation that is an African paragon of economic flourish and nation-building.
I thank you for according us this stage on which we continue to plead that the opportunities for our nation abound out there, and that they are available for our taking as a nation. I still hold firmly to the belief that this is a great nation, and that we have it in us to become a flourishing oasis within a desert, an African paragon of nation-building.
And Madam Speaker, you and i will live to see this day when we become that. Yes, we can do better, much better than we are doing as a nation.
*Ndaba Gaolathe is the leader of Alliance for Progressives (AP). This is his response to the 2018/19 National Budget. This is a abridged version of his speech.