In a Botswana where president Mokgweetsi Masisi has gone far and beyond to differentiate his government and leadership with that of Botswana’s erstwhile president, Ian Khama, through the prioritization of certain and specific focuses on thematic areas, a budget speech was presented.
The Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Kenneth Matambo indicated, at paragraph 11 of the speech, as a point of reference, that the current government’s priority is to consolidate development gains for economic transformation. It is in this regard that the column takes into consideration, the sentiments of Mmabatho Motsamai.
As a background, and by profession, and practice, Motsamai is a digital developmentalist and focuses on the documentation of inclusive development in Africa. She is the founding editor of The Afrolutionist, an institution that stimulates dialogue of cultural economic, social development and environmental justice.
The first and most glaring attribute to the budget speech that was delivered is the use of statistical information from a considerable number of years ago, without an explanation on the lack of use of more recent information. The risk here is that the economy is measured on possibly inaccurate information. This has the possibility of creating flawed economic models. Motsamai particularly reflecting on the information provided by the Minister on unemployment, notes a disadvantage in the data uptake in the public sector.
The Minister noted a reduction in the unemployment rate, stating that unemployment is at 17.6% (2016). This is at variance with the statistics provided by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which states that as at 2017, unemployment in Botswana was at 18.1% (2017). She notes further that the indicators considered in reflecting on unemployment differ for Botswana and the UNDP, questioning the actual credibility of those considered for Botswana.
Botswana takes the graduate internship program amongst other things into regard when contemplating unemployment rate, whereas a greater factor by the UNDP is that of permanent employment. Many people who are employed, in Botswana are on temporary employment, with ridiculously low wages, owing no doubt, to a considerable extent, to the absence of a minimum wage. These can surely not be markers on deliberating on the unemployment rate.
Mmabatho proposes that for the unemployment rate to be considered to have reduced, it is important, like the United Nations, to consider permanent employment, as this has an advantage in terms of sustainability for development purposes.
One of the themes that comes out very clearly in the president’s plans for the country, as reiterated in the budget speech, is the desire to move Botswana from an upper middle income state to a high income state. With ambiguous data as provided above, the move, intended to be achieved by 2036, will only cripple the civil society sector even more, placing a greater burden on it to ensure the advocacy for the inclusion of the 70% of Batswana.
Motsamai confirms this brilliantly affirming that in fact, in addition to the above, that 30% of the nation is experiencing growth when the majority is not. In fact, she further analyses the Minister’s sentiments on unemployment rate, saying many Batswana, even those who are earning salaries are one unpaid salary away from dipping below the poverty line. Commending the government in efforts at completely removing abject poverty, it is questionable, whether the government is intent on building wealth for the country.
All this of course is said on the backdrop of an understanding that unlike his predecessor who one could assume was a social capitalist, Masisi has a clearly capitalist vision for the nation of Botswana, and one which unfortunately does not always stop to consider those between the portion of the society below the poverty line, and the 30% who are actively building wealth. Motsamai recommends that clear and cohesive strategies should be adopted if Botswana is to sustainably be moved, economically, to a high income country.
All this said, and reflecting on the unclear statistical information, it is difficult to measure what the current government is doing, collectively, when the only information provided is from the previous semi-socialist regime. From reading and listening to many reports on various visits and plans of our current President, one would expect a reflection of these in the budget speech, particularly one presented as Masisi’s inaugural budget speech, to satisfy Batswana that he is indeed moving the country forward.
Referring back to last week’s explorations of the pillared principles of good governance and the rule of law, it is worrying that a pressing issue such as this one on unemployment rate, is not prioritized enough. Of course, as was the case in the state of the business…pardon the error, the state of the nation address, there are promises to create employment through diversification; however the well lamented question is, what is the quality of the jobs that the current government intends to create?