This is the second time that His Excellency has presented a SONA since he took the reigns as the President of the Republic in 2018, and the first after his electoral victory following the 2019 general elections.
His is a new administration, and one that proclaims, with welcome boldness, to want to move Botswana forward in the coming years. It is therefore with much hope that our comments on SONA 2019 will be heeded to.
His Excellency (HE) states in his opening remarks, “It is critical for me to present my Government’s achievements and priorities as we chart the way forward in terms of responding to the needs of Batswana”. We find this statement, and the stance it portrays, to be limiting the scope of the SONA. Our belief is that the ‘STATE’ of the nation should be more than just government programmes. The following could have been mentioned:
This being an election year, a lot has happened much of which needed a word from the President to put to rest. There was an unprecedented level of propaganda, tribalistic undertones, divisive voices within the political arena, suggestions of harmful political alliances with foreign entities and many others that cannot be ignored. These represented the ‘state’ we have been in during the reporting period, a state we should be moved as a nation to scorn and get rid of, for the good of our country and people.
Except by reference to government programmes, the ‘state’ of the nation is not presented in terms of such social conditions as corruption, inequality, unemployment, poverty levels, demographic changes, environmental conditions, health and education. We recommend that, just as the SONA starts with ‘World Economic Overview’ and the ‘Domestic Economy’ with quoted statistics and performance indicators, there should be a parallel report on the social aspects, with their quoted statistics. A tekodiso ya sechaba e seka ya nna ya bodiredi hela, kana ya madi hela.
The introductory part of SONA 2019 also starts by asserting the National Transformation Strategy as the blue print of government development agenda. With due respect, we find what government seeks to achieve is not transformational enough. One would have thought government would put emphasis on leveraging on ICT to improve delivery of services through initiatives such as e-government, remote health care and intelligent transport. We are scraping on the surface in terms of radical transformation.
Global economic overview
The SONA addresses the US-China trade relations and their impact on the global economic activity. We are aware of voices of dissent against Botswana’s trade relations with China. B-FAR has taken the trouble of understanding possible ramifications in regard to the US-China relations, and we are of the view that there is nothing wrong with trading with China as long as one is prudent and careful about the conditions of such trade. Whilst countries such as Zambia have taken unnecessary risks out of imprudence and are reported to have had hurtful dealings with China, others like Ethiopia have had unprecedented growth stimulated by their trade relations with China. In this respect, we urge the government to continue actively interacting with China, and seeking opportunities for investment, development and trade, as we also do with US and any other country, in each case as prudent and careful as we can be. Government should not be discouraged in this pursuit, for such voices of dissent are misguided.
The domestic economy
The domestic economic growth is reported as 2.9 percent (2017), 4.5 percent (2018), 3.6 percent (2019) and 4.4 percent (2020). Sadly, this SONA conveniently omits to report the fact that Botswana is outperformed by more than 20 countries in Africa. At 4.5 percent growth in 2018, Botswana ranked 22nd in Africa. We are now counted amongst average performing economies such as Malawi, Uganda and Lesotho, and countries that we have been ahead of such as Kenya and Tanzania are well ahead. This is a situation that SONA should not report in passing, but must express deliberate interventions to change it. Botswana should leverage on the bi-lateral relations with Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania His Excellency has cultivated, to learn from these countries.
We note with hesitation the statement made under this topic that “...to create jobs and this cannot be achieved without rolling out the red carpet for sustainable and impactful investment”. Whilst we commend the efforts of government in facilitating the ease of doing business, we reflect on the sad fact that Botswana has up to this stage marginalised local private enterprise and excluded citizens and citizen business in favour of foreigners in the name of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). This is despite all the ministerial Committee of Supply reports showing that domestic investment outperforms foreign investment year in year out. We are alarmed at this government fascination with FDI and demand that it be balanced out with pro-citizen investment promotion strategies. It so happens that there are rumours of German investors visiting Botswana to assist with a major project, and we demand that a change of position begin to apply to them, with the following characteristics clearly pronounced and agreed:
Citizen partnership: We call for a non-negotiable condition by which investors coming to Botswana have to be accompanied by citizen partners;
Technology transfer: We call for the stipulation of technology transfer terms, including timelines and number and calibre of citizens to be trained;
Ultimate handover: We call for serious consideration of a condition in which investment can be taken over after the lapse of a stated period.
Citizen Entrepreneurship Development Agency (CEDA): We find it very strange that in SONA 2018 it was reported that CEDA disbursed P91m and created 392 jobs, and in SONA 2019, CEDA disbursed P466m and created 2,466 jobs. There is no explanation on the dramatic almost quadruple rise in performance of CEDA and it makes us wonder if indeed there is truth in this reporting. We earnestly urge HE to ensure or demand not only statistical correctness but also a proper comparative presentation in which historical, current and future projections are presented in one report, and any variations explained.
We note with appreciation the achievements made with regard to multilateralism and regional integration, especially the accession of Botswana to both African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and the Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA). Our first advice is that Batswana should be sensitised on the developments in order to adequately prepare themselves. Secondly, since it is clear that inter-trade is the future for Africa, we hold the view that it is not enough for Botswana to react to external pressure only but we should be proactive. B-FAR strongly urges the government of Botswana to not fold its arms and wait for AfCTFA and TFTA, but to take advantage of inter-trade opportunities now. We believe a good start would be a much closer relationship with the Republic of Namibia, at least in selected areas such as wildlife, tourism, transport (including air transport), education, trade and mining. We also urge individual ministries and departments to investigate and take advantage of such regional collaborative partnerships without necessarily waiting for a signal from above. It is the way of collective progress and we want to see it happen NOW.
Alcohol and substance abuse
We note with appreciation the plans by government to set up the National Substance Use Treatment Centre at Serowe. We find it inadequate that rehabilitation is still referred to NGOs. We call upon the government to establish a proper Alcohol and Drug Rehabilitation Centre, to complement the Treatment Centre at Serowe. Over the years, government has accumulated large sums of revenue from the Alcohol Levy to allow for the establishment of a world standard Alcohol and Drug Rehabilitation Centre, in an appropriate location and setting for rehabilitation purposes, and adequately resource it to generate additional revenue from regional and international referrals.
Public sector reforms
B-FAR notes the intention of government to embark on a rationalisation exercise of ministerial portfolio responsibilities and functions. This is a welcome development. We urge the government to extend this exercise to the State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) and quasi-government (”parastatal”) entities. We believe, they too have duplications, overlaps, loss of relevance, shift from mandates and inefficiencies that have become burdensome to the nation. We are aware that such a rationalisation responsibility falls under the Public Enterprises Evaluation & Privatisation Agency (PEEPA). We do not believe PEEPA has performed its obligation in this regard, and indeed it should be amongst those that are reviewed. Once properly refined and sufficiently capacitated, PEEPA should then take its position in the transformational agenda. We further call upon government to appraise senior positions in all of these SOEs as a large part of their inefficiencies has to do with their leadership. To this end, we call upon the removal of underperforming and long-serving officials. Let new brooms sweep. Botswana cannot afford appointments made out of nepotism and any form of favouritism at the expense of excellence calls upon the ushering in of meritocracy in the public service.
Access to Justice and the Rule of Law
We commend the setting up of the Corruption Court. We can never emphasize enough our support for any action that is intended to curb the scourge that is corruption. In addition to these courts, we urge government to augment its capacity, where necessary through the appointment or engagement of external investigative and judicial expertise. We recall the effectiveness of the Christie Commission and the Christie Report which came out of the appointment of Dr Campbell Christie in the early 1990s and believe Botswana can use the same route to dispense of the current high level corruption cases.
We wish to make the following general and cross-cutting comments: There should be emphasis on Public Private Partnership (PPP) to expeditiously deal with infrastructure project backlogs and to create the much needed jobs;
The role of government should ideally be to create a conducive role for the private sector to thrive. In this SONA we see government taking up roles that should be the reserve of the private sector e.g. the Lobu Farm and others.
We recommend an increase in Gross Expenditure on Research & Development (GERD) to support the move towards 4IR and the knowledge economy. This increase, starting with an expansion of the Innovation Fund, should target the private sector exclusively and not government institutions of research as they are bureaucratic and far less responsive to effect meaningful change.
Areas needing timelines
We have observed throughout the SONA that a number of proposed interventions are without timelines, including the following: Automation of the Work Permit processing;
Review of the Immigration Act
Review of EDD, also whether the views of the public will be solicited;
Development of the Language Policy. How can this be done to include or enhance job creation?
Meat Regulator establishment;
Milk Afric Dairy Farm;
Aquaculture Policy development.
Areas needing to be popularised
The following are the areas that we feel government is leaving the population behind in terms of information for the people to understand and appreciate as well as in terms of engagement: The Land Policy Review and Legislation, including the opportunities therein;
The AfCTFA and TFTA. Citizens need to understand these programmes, their impacts and benefits, so as to prepare for them accordingly;
Project Facilitation Fund;
National Health Policy;
The Arts and Craft Strategy for collaboration with eSwatini. This should include offloading facilitation jobs such as the establishment and operation of the e-commerce platform to the private sector.
Cluster Development Programme. Little is known about this programme outside of government. The nation needs to understand how and who is driving it and if there are opportunities for replication.
Youth in Agriculture. How will this be rolled out?
We end our response by highlighting the optimism and hope that Batswana have that things will improve in Botswana as we begin a new period of administration. This optimism is borne out of sheer tiredness at the status quo and the decline in progress that we have experienced in the past few years as well as the hunger for real change. We do not wish this administration to fail or disappoint Batswana.
That will be unforgiveable. We trust and hope that things will be done differently, and that Batswana will be involved and capacitated to make meaningful contributions in the development process ahead of us. Take heed of our comments and those of many other Batswana. Let them add to the collective drive and a rapid and radical development experience towards a prosperous and inclusive Botswana with a High Income status and knowledge-based economy. May this be the first step on that momentous and well-deserved revolutionary journey.
FATSHE LENO, LA RONA. PULA!
*Ontiretse, Seboni and Mokobi are office bearers of Botswana Forum for Action and Reform (B-FAR), an independent and non-party organisation established to lobby and advocate for an accelerated and radical structural and socio-economic transformation agenda for Botswana. Its focus areas include citizen engagement and empowerment, inclusive and participatory growth, innovative economic diversification and rapid and sustainable development. B-FAR works by calling for action and demanding reform to truly and successfully transform Botswana into a prosperous, inclusive and high income nation