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Agric twist: Botswana benchmarks in Israel

The world is evolving from old ways of doing business, providing service and ways of day to day life-technology is today’s blueprint to almost every undertaking.

World economies are devising innovative ways to create employment, grow their wealth base and better service their people and Botswana as a middle income state and developing economy is no exception. Currently the economy is heavily dependent on the finite mineral sector. The country is food insecure and largely depends on imports from neighbouring South Africa for almost every commodity used in our day to day life and the manufacturing sector remains untapped.

The agricultural space which is viewed with significant potential in economic diversification and employment creation is currently not fully explored. Within the agricultural sector, Botswana currently solicits revenue from the Beef sector but the industry is evidently not performing well, not as much faster adapting to modern ways compared to the Namibian and Brazilian industries.

However Botswana is progressing well when it comes to instilling the innovative culture amongst its economic engines and service delivery mechanism. The fundamental focus currently is on transforming the economy to being knowledge based, export led as well as private sector dominated where government only plays the role of facilitator and regulator. Botswana’s need to come up with cutting edge innovative ways of diversifying the economy was emphasized  at the National Innovation workshop organized by the Botswana Innovation Hub (BIH) in Gaborone on Monday.

It has been reiterated that Botswana needed to come up with national frameworks and blueprints that can cultivate the culture of innovation. Dr Theophilus Mooko Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Tertiary Education, Research, Science & Technology said it was no longer a matter of choice whether to be  innovative or not. “Our diamonds and other natural resources are depleting, we have to content with the thought of survival based innovation,” he said.

Mooko said time may not be on Botswana‘s side and that the country needed to tap into existing opportunities within the research and innovation space. He however cautioned that it was necessary to develop innovative strategies that are on the times with the global, technological and innovative outlook noting that otherwise Botswana may realize less progress from any other undertakings. “Our national innovation system would need to link with what is happening with our regional outlook,” he said.

As a developing economy Botswana acknowledges the need to learn and draw inspiration and strategic technical knowhow on issues of planning and policy crafting. In the area of innovation Botswana located Israel which is a country in the Middle East semi deserted with climatic conditions and natural vegetation much similar to that of Botswana or even worse. Israel has done exceptionally well in the area of innovation to attain 95 % food security and almost 100% employment rate. The Middle East country with rich ancient and religious history has also established itself as a ‘start up’ nation.

According to a report recently released by the Israel Innovation Authority,  is Israel home to over 2000 start-ups that were founded in the past decade, 3 000 small medium start-ups and high–tech companies, 30 growth companies, 50 large technology companies and 3 00 research & development centres of multinational corporations. Out of those start-ups 187 raised over 1.7 billion US Dollars in the second quarter of 2016 .The World Economic forum’s Global Competitiveness report 2016-2017 also recognizes Israel as the second most innovative nation in the world . The report ranks countries based on innovation including technological readiness, business sophistication and higher education.

The Agricultural sector which Botswana hopes to explore to reduce its import bill, diversify the economy and create employment with, is a highly developed industry in Israel. Israel is a major exporter of fresh produce and a world-leader in agricultural technologies despite the fact that the geography of Israel is not naturally conducive to agriculture. More than half of the land area is desert, and the climate and lack of  water resources do not favour farming. Only 20% of the land area is naturally arable. In 2008 agriculture represented 2.5% of total GDP and 3.6% of exports. While farm workers made up only 3.7% of the work force, Israel produced 95% of its own food requirements, supplementing this with imports of grain, oilseeds, meat, coffee, cocoa and sugar, figures which have seen a quadruple growth today.

At the workshop on Monday, it was noted that Botswana stands to benefit significantly from their benchmark exercises with Israel.  Gershon Kadar Ambassador of Israel to Botswana said his country takes pride in the agricultural innovation, taking into fact that Israel is relatively a desert .He said their water and irrigation system technology was the best in the world. Kadar revealed that about 35 Batswana students in the disciplines of Agriculture will go for an 11 month program in Israel where they will get exposure to Israel’s high tech world class agricultural innovative centres.

The students are expected to leave for Jerusalem in September this year. He said they will be learning Israel technologies undergoing both practical and academic capacity building from the high level research and innovation centres in the land. Anya Eldan –Vice President of Israel Innovation Authority said it was important that innovation policies have a specific economic call. “Otherwise it will not achieve progress, in Israel our Research & development is the best in the world,” she said. Eldan also noted that Israel had spent 4.5 % of their GDP on research and development. “The idea is not just for government to spent money on research & development to support innovation but to also build programs that leverage that money and brings the private sector on board,” she explained

Mooko asserted that it was important that Botswana learns from Israel’s innovation and to solicit opportunities that arise out of innovation to create jobs and grow the country’s economy. Botswana Innovation Hub Chief Executive Alan Boshwaen said their primary mandate was to drive the national innovation agenda with special emphasis on facilitating the commercialization of innovation.

“We are especially concerned with ensuring that new innovative products and services emerge at the end of a chain that involves research and engagement of industry role players and other stakeholders,” said Boshwaen. The Botswana Innovation Hub was established to contribute to the country’s economic development and competitiveness by creating new scientific, technological, and indigenous knowledge-based business opportunities. BIH fosters entrepreneurship and technology transfer, generates knowledge-based jobs, and attracts innovative companies and institutions to Botswana.

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Civil Service volatility: Democracy vs Bureaucracy

19th April 2021
President Masisi

Here is how one Permanent Secretary encapsulates the clear tension between democracy and bureaucracy in Botswana: “President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s Government is behaving like a state surrounded with armed forces in order to capture it or force its surrender. The situation has turned so volatile, for tomorrow is not guaranteed for us top civil servants.

These are the painful results of a personalized civil service in our view as permanent secretaries”. Although his deduction of the situation may be summed as sour grapes because he is one of the ‘victims’ of the reshuffle, he is convinced this is a perfect description of the rationale behind frequent changes and transfers characterising the current civil service.

The result of it all, he said, is that “there is too much instability at managerial and strategic levels of the civil service leading to a noticeable directionless civil service.” He continued: “Changes and transfers are inevitable in the civil service, but to a permissible scale and frequency. Think of soccer team coach who changes and transfers his entire squad every month; you know the consequences?”

The Tsunami has hit hard at critical departments and Ministries leaving a strong wave of uncertainty, many demoralised and some jobless. In traditional approaches to public administration, democracy gives the goals; and bureaucracy delivers the technical efficiency required for implementation. But the recent moves in the civil service are indicative of conflicting imperatives – the notion of separation between politicians and administrators is becoming blurred by the day.

“Look at what happened to Prisons and BDF where second in command were overlooked for outsiders, and these are the people who had sacrificially served for donkey’s years hoping for a seat at the ladder’s end. The frequency of the changes, at times affecting the same Ministry or individual also demonstrates some level of ineptitude, clumsiness and lack of foresight from those in charge,” remarked the PS who added that their view is that the transfers are not related to anything but “settling scores, creating corruption opportunities and pushing out perceived dissident and former president, Ian Khama’s alleged loyalists and most of these transfers are said to be products of intelligence detection.”

Partly blaming Khama for the mess and his unwillingness to let go, the PS dismissed Masisi for falling to the trap and failing to outgrow the destructive tiff. “Khama is here to stay and the sooner Masisi comes to terms with the fact that he (Masisi) is the state President, the better. For a President to still be making these changes and transfers signals signs of a confused man who has not yet started rolling his roadmap, if at all it was ever there. I am saying this because any roadmap comes with key players and policies,” he concluded.

The Ministry of Health and Wellness seems to be the most hard-hit by the transfers, having experienced three Permanent Secretaries changes within a year and a half. Insiders say the changes have everything to do with the Ministry being the centre of COVID-19 tenders and economic opportunities. “The buck stops with the PS and no right-thinking PS can just allow glaring corruption under his watch as an accounting officer. Technocrats are generally law abiding, the pressure comes with politically appointed leaders racing against political terms to loot,” revealed a director in the Ministry preferring anonymity.

The latest transfer of Kabelo Ebineng she says was also motivated by his firm attitude against the President’s blue-eyed Task Team boys. “The Task Team wants to own the COVID-19 pandemic and government interventions and always cry foul when the Ministry reasserts itself as mandated by law,” said the director who added that Masisi who was always caught between the crossfire decided on sacrificing Ebineng to the joy of his team as they (Task Team) were in the habit of threatening to resign citing Ebineng as the problem.

Ebineng joins the Office of the President as a deputy Coordinator (government implementation and coordination office).The incoming PS is the soft-spoken Grace Muzila, known and described by her close associates as a conformist albeit knowledgeable.

One of the losers in the grand scheme is Thato Raphaka who many had seen as the next PSP because of his experience and calm demeanour following a declaration of interest in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Secretary post by the current PSP, Elias Magosi.

But hardly ten months into his post, Raphaka has been transferred out to the National Strategy Office in what many see as a demotion of some sort. Other notable changes coming into OP are Pearl Ramokoka formerly with the Employment, Labour and Productivity Ministry coming in as a Permanent Secretary and Kgomotso Abi as director of Public Service Reforms.

One of the ousted senior officers in the Office of the President warned that there are no signs that the changes and transfers will stop anytime soon: “If you are observant you would have long noticed that the changes don’t only affect senior officers but government decisions as well. A decision is made today and the government backtracks on it within a week. Not only that, the President says this today, and his deputy denies it the following day in Parliament,” he warned.

Some observers have blamed the turmoil in the civil service partly to lack of accountable presidential advisers or kitchen cabinet properly schooled on matters of statecraft. They point out that politicians or those peripheral to them should refrain from hampering the technical and organizational activities of public managers – or else the party (reshuffling) won’t stop.

In the view expressed by some Permanent Secretaries, Elias Magosi, has not really been himself since joining the civil service; and has cut a picture of indifference in most critical engagements; the most notable been a permanent secretaries platform which he chairs. As things stand there is need to reconcile the imperatives of democracy and democracy in Botswana. Peace will rein only when public value should stand astride the fault that runs between politicians and public managers.

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Morupisi fights for freedom in court

19th April 2021
morupisi

Former Permanent Secretary to the President, Carter Morupisi, is fighting for survival in a matter in which the State has charged him and his wife, Pinnie Morupisi, with corruption and money laundering.

Morupisi has joined a list of prominent figures that served in the previous administration and who have been accused of corruption during their tenure in office. While others have been emerging victorious, Morupisi is yet to find that luck. The High Court recently dismissed his no case to answer application.

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Pressure mounts on Biden to suspend Covid-19 vaccine patents

19th April 2021
Joe Biden

United States President, Joe Biden, is faced with a decision to make relating to the Covid-19 vaccine intellectual property after 175 former world leaders and Nobel laurates joined the campaign urging the US to take “urgent action” to suspend intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines to help boost global inoculation rates.

According to the world leaders, doing so would allow developing countries to make their own copies of the vaccines that have been developed by pharmaceutical companies without fear of being sued for intellectual property infringements.

“A WTO waiver is a vital and necessary step to bringing an end to this pandemic. It must be combined with ensuring vaccine know-how and technology is shared openly,” the signatories, comprising more than 100 Nobel prize-winners and over 70 former world leaders, wrote in a letter to US President Joe Biden, according to Financial Times.

A measure to allow countries to temporarily override patent rights for Covid related medical products was proposed at the World Trade Organization by India and South Africa in October, and has since been backed by nearly 60 countries.

Former leaders who signed the letter included Gordon Brown, former UK Prime Minister; François Hollande, former French President; Mikhail Gorbachev, former President of the USSR; and Yves Leterme, former Belgian Prime Minister.

In their official communication, South Africa and India said: “As new diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines for Covid-19 are developed, there are significant concerns [about] how these will be made available promptly, in sufficient quantities and at affordable prices to meet global demand.”

While developed countries have been able to secure enough vaccine to inoculate their citizens, developing countries such as Botswana are struggling to source enough to swiftly vaccine their citizens, something which world leaders believe it would work against global recovery therefore proving counter-productive.

Since the availability of vaccines, Botswana has been able to secure only 60 000 doses of vaccines, 30 000 as donation as from the Indian government, while the other 30 000 was sourced through COVAX facility.  Canada, has pre-ordered vaccines in surplus and it will be able to vaccinate each of its citizens six times over. In the UK and US, it is four vaccines per person; and two each in the EU and Australia.

For vaccines produced in Europe, developing countries are forced to pay double what European countries are paying, making it more expensive for already financially struggling economies.  European countries however justify the price of vaccines and that they deserve to buy them cheap since they contributed in their development.

It is evident that vaccines cannot be made available immediately to all countries worldwide with wealthy economies being the only success story in that regard, something that has been referred to as a “catastrophic moral failure”, head of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The challenge facing developing countries is not only the price, but also the capacity of vaccine manufactures to be able to do so to meet global demand within a short time. The proposal for a patent waiver by India and South Africa has been rejected by developed countries, known for hosting the world leading pharmaceutical companies such US, European Union, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland.

According to the Financial Times, US business groups including pharmaceutical industry representatives, have urged Biden to resist supporting a waiver to IP rules at the WTO, arguing that the proposal led by India and South Africa was too “vague” and “broad”.

The individuals who signed the letter, including Nobel laureates in economics as well as from across the arts and sciences, warned that inequitable vaccine access would impact the global economy and prevent it from recovering.

“The world saw unprecedented development of safe and effective vaccines, in major part thanks to US public investment,” the group wrote. “We all welcome that vaccination rollout in the US and many wealthier countries is bringing hope to their citizens.”

“Yet for the majority of the world that same hope is yet to be seen. New waves of suffering are now rising across the globe. Our global economy cannot rebuild if it remains vulnerable to this virus.”
The group warned that fully enforcing IP was “self-defeating for the US” as it hindered global vaccination efforts. “Given artificial global supply shortages, the US economy already risks losing $1.3tn in gross domestic product this year.”

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