Local Authorities play a critical role in implementing government policies and delivering allocated national resources to the rural settlers and ordinary citizenry, therefore they have to be capacitated and well-resourced to be in a position to unearth the economic potential of their constituents better and effectively deliver government programs.
This emerged at the Botswana Association of Local Authorities (BALA) National Members Assembly held in Gaborone this week. When officially opening the two day meet Vice President Slumber Tsogwane said transformation of local authorities to resource and capacitate them with strategic and efficient service delivery mechanisms cannot be over emphasised. Tosgwane, who was responsible for local authorities as Minister of Local Government and Rural Development prior to taking up He noted that one of the cardinal requirements was transforming the institutions leadership.
He said today ‘s local authorities were faced with challenges of localizing development agendas explaining that transformative leadership was key to strengthening local democracy , mitigate in administrative disputes and management challenges as well as promote good governance. Vice President underscored that local government leaders need to be academically equipped to be able to mitigate the challenges that come with leadership demand.
“There is need for local government discipline to develop training modules to equip local government leadership and its institution practitioners, we need transformational leadership that comes with imaginative and creative solutions to local community problems” he said. Further deliberations at the BALA assembly also suggested that local authorities have to be autonomous so as to actually be able to make investment decisions and better tap into the ideals of special economic zones, Public Private Partnerships and other developmental agendas for major infrastructural developments and significant economic undertakings.
The current government structure houses Local Authorities under one Ministry , being Local Government & Rural Development .Central government makes all key economic decisions and administration undertakings ranging from economic planning, financial management and national resources allotments. Local authorities being implementers of government policies and actual resident administrators do so with little input on budgetary processes, developmental planning and domestic resources mobilization.
This was reiterated as an impediment that does not only make local authorities toothless spectators in economic planning and policy formulation but also result in poor implementation of the very government initiatives. Observers not that dependence of local authorities on central government for development process planning, maintenance, human resources recruitment and training needs, is an impediment to efficient implementation of plans and economic policies. Planning by local authorities is observed as frustrating as it is not normally clear how much funds a district or local authority will be allocated from the national treasury.
Vice President Tsogwane said localising sustainable development goals, national economic framework, urban development plans requires a decentralized government administration system. “We need to identify and close on bottlenecks that are currently hindering the decentralization policy because local authorizes are key partners in implementation of government economic programs” he said.
Tsogwane revealed that decentralisation has been identified as critical in realising the vision of a fairer, more equitable and sustainable future for all, explaining that President Masisi’s administration has prioritised making the vision a reality. Strategic public administration experts note that decentralising government administration and giving local authorities and district councils more administrative powers and economic decision making control automatically enhances their autonomy and confidence in economic undertakings.
“Local administrative set ups should have full authority in making key economic decisions from land usage and allocation ,investments approvals, mega development projects undertakings and intra-national trade regulations ,that will not only improve service delivery in their respective districts but also unleash various economic potential as per different district geographical setup, climate conditions and natural resources available,” shared Janoslaw Wleczork Wleczork economist and public administration expert at the International Monetary Fund(IMF).
A government administration set-up in which agricultural policies, trade regulations, investment decision making to name a few are collectively crafted, processed and disseminated from one centre without an immures and intense consideration of different regional factors from district to district has been noted as a an array of bottlenecks that does not only cause delay in service delivery but deters full utilisation of natural resources and economic ability of the respective districts.
Wleczork highlighted in various IMF commentary on Botswana , that for developing country with an upcoming economy that Botswana is, decentralization is not only a reform strategy to be adopted but it is increasingly seen as an integral part of the development process. “Some of the factors that cartelized developing countries to consider decentralization are among others the anticipated improved efficiency, improved governance & equal resources distribution” he shared.
However in Botswana despite the previous decentralisation policy adoption made over years since independence, the powered institutions being local authorities and district council remain economic toothless entities. According to a research conducted by Theophilus Tebetso Tshukudu published in May 2014 on decentralisation of public administration , the decentralisation process adopted appears to have been un-integrated and uncoordinated as delegation of economic powers and developmental duties by the central government to lower levels appears illusive.
“Some of the functions that are ostensibly decentralised to the local authorities are actually not, or are only partially so. These include financial management, human resources management, and management of information technology services” observed Tshukudu. The research highlights that regional development planning has been faced with a number of limitations, constraints and challenges.
The constraints relate to plan formulation, implementation and monitoring, administrative guidance, vertical and horizontal communication that has coursed a gap between the intension of decentralisation and the reality on the ground. Tshukudu observes that Decentralization must be done earnestly and with strategic plan put in place for its implementation.“The central government must ensure through its various mechanisms the effective cascading of ownership and custodianship by the local authority on issues of economic and development planning” he said.
The study further suggested that it is however very imperative for Local Authorities themselves to rise to the occasion and strengthen their economic structures and development committees. “District paramount chieftaincy, District councils through council secretariats and political leadership need to come up with economic development strategies and plans that are integrated and aligned to central government National Development Plans at the same time fitting their own district and regional developmental requisites”
“Every District in Botswana has different vegetation, climate conditions and way of life of the inhabitant people, it is entirely upon the Local Authorities to craft economic undertakings that can develop their district and generate revenue for the authority. That includes taking advantage of available opportunities to attract investors, tap into public private partnership (PPPs) projects to enhance infrastructural development and business facilitations which will eventually result in employment creation and improved lives of their local people” recommended Tshukudu.
This century is always looking at improving new super high speed technology to make life easier. On the other hand, beckoning as an emerging fierce reversal force to equally match or dominate this life enhancing super new tech, comes swift human adversaries which seem to have come to make living on earth even more difficult.
The recent discovery of a pandemic, Covid-19, which moves at a pace of unimaginable and unpredictable proportions; locking people inside homes and barring human interactions with its dreaded death threat, is currently being felt.
Member of Parliament for Kanye North, Thapelo Letsholo has cautioned Government against excessive borrowing and poorly managed debt levels.
He was speaking in Parliament on Tuesday delivering Parliament’s Finance Committee report after assessing a motion that sought to raise Government Bond program ceiling to P30 billion, a big jump from the initial P15 Billion.
Government Investment Account (GIA) which forms part of the Pula fund has been significantly drawn down to finance Botswana’s budget deficits since 2008/09 Global financial crises.
The 2009 global economic recession triggered the collapse of financial markets in the United States, sending waves of shock across world economies, eroding business sentiment, and causing financiers of trade to excise heightened caution and hold onto their cash.
The ripple effects of this economic catastrophe were mostly felt by low to middle income resource based economies, amplifying their vulnerability to external shocks. The diamond industry which forms the gist of Botswana’s economic make up collapsed to zero trade levels across the entire value chain.
The Upstream, where Botswana gathers much of its diamond revenue was adversely impacted by muted demand in the Midstream. The situation was exacerbated by zero appetite of polished goods by jewelry manufacturers and retail outlets due to lowered tail end consumer demand.
This resulted in sharp decline of Government revenue, ballooned budget deficits and suspension of some developmental projects. To finance the deficit and some prioritized national development projects, government had to dip into cash balances, foreign reserves and borrow both externally and locally.
Much of drawing was from Government Investment Account as opposed to drawing from foreign reserve component of the Pula Fund; the latter was spared as a fiscal buffer for the worst rainy days.
Consequently this resulted in significant decline in funds held in the Government Investment Account (GIA). The account serves as Government’s main savings depository and fund for national policy objectives.
However as the world emerged from the 2009 recession government revenue graph picked up to pre recession levels before going down again around 2016/17 owing to challenges in the diamond industry.
Due to a number of budget surpluses from 2012/13 financial year the Government Investment Account started expanding back to P30 billion levels before a series of budget deficits in the National Development Plan 11 pushed it back to decline a decline wave.
When the National Development Plan 11 commenced three (3) financial years ago, government announced that the first half of the NDP would run at budget deficits.
This as explained by Minister of Finance in 2017 would be occasioned by decline in diamond revenue mainly due to government forfeiting some of its dividend from Debswana to fund mine expansion projects.
Cumulatively since 2017/18 to 2019/20 financial year the budget deficit totaled to over P16 billion, of which was financed by both external and domestic borrowing and drawing down from government cash balances. Drawing down from government cash balances meant significant withdrawals from the Government Investment Account.
The Government Investment Account (GIA) was established in accordance with Section 35 of the Bank of Botswana Act Cap. 55:01. The Account represents Government’s share of the Botswana‘s foreign exchange reserves, its investment and management strategies are aligned to the Bank of Botswana’s foreign exchange reserves management and investment guidelines.
Government Investment Account, comprises of Pula denominated deposits at the Bank of Botswana and held in the Pula Fund, which is the long-term investment tranche of the foreign exchange reserves.
In June 2017 while answering a question from Bogolo Kenewendo, the then Minister of Finance & Economic Development Kenneth Mathambo told parliament that as of June 30, 2017, the total assets in the Pula Fund was P56.818 billion, of which the balance in the GIA was P30.832 billion.
Kenewendo was still a back bench specially elected Member of Parliament before ascending to cabinet post in 2018. Last week Minister of Finance & Economic Development, Dr Thapelo Matsheka, when presenting a motion to raise government local borrowing ceiling from P15 billion to P30 Billion told parliament that as of December 2019 Government Investment Account amounted to P18.3 billion.
Dr Matsheka further told parliament that prior to financial crisis of 2008/9 the account amounted to P30.5 billion (41 % of GDP) in December of 2008 while as at December 2019 it stood at P18.3 billion (only 9 % of GDP) mirroring a total decline by P11 billion in the entire 11 years.
Back in 2017 Parliament was also told that the Government Investment Account may be drawn-down or added to, in line with actuations in the Government’s expenditure and revenue outturns. “This is intended to provide the Government with appropriate funds to execute its functions and responsibilities effectively and efficiently” said Mathambo, then Minister of Finance.
Acknowledging the need to draw down from GIA no more, current Minister of Finance Dr Matsheka said “It is under this background that it would be advisable to avoid excessive draw down from this account to preserve it as a financial buffer”
He further cautioned “The danger with substantially reduced financial buffers is that when an economic shock occurs or a disaster descends upon us and adversely affects our economy it becomes very difficult for the country to manage such a shock”