In this article novelist, historian and poet, Teedzani Thapelo*, puts a new twist to BDP privatization strategy arguing that a rigged process of private acquisition can only result in harmful actions like asset stripping leading to massive loss of jobs, and that this thing cannot succeed in a political system already grappling with instability of public revenues, an economy in bad shape, and a departing corrupt political class.
Such a process, he says, is hardly an answer to underinvestment at a time when commercial banks are struggling to keep market friendly relations with Batswana, and that only Asian capital can benefit from vastly unfair contractual agreements, that will ultimately seriously erode our political freedoms and prospects for growth in the long-term
In a previous articles I argued against BDP privatization of public sector enterprises like Air Botswana, Botswana Meat Commission, Botswana Railways, and many others. I don’t want to repeat my objections here. My present bone of contention is anchored on several observations. First, BDP can only implement a rigged privatization process designed to maximize the amount of money Ian Khama, Mokgweetsi Masisi, and their cabinet ministers, can appropriate for themselves.
Not even BDP supporters in the rural areas are going to benefit anything from this process. Botswana workers should not even dream of getting a share. Second, no efficiency gains will accrue to the economy since the process is going to benefit individuals, and not the treasury. Third, value chain investment will be relinquished to Indians, Chinese, and other BDP foreign friends. All this, of course, assumes a small dose of economic sense in their privatization project. The worst that can happen, and, knowing these people, is that, the new owners of these privatized firms are not going to use them to expand industry, and create jobs. Instead, they will find a better incentive to strip assets, and destroy our small industrial base.
Furthermore, Batswana must realize that privatization at all costs is going to destroy our fragile economy, and this, surprisingly, is the road BDP proposes to pursue. The first victims of this madness will be Batswana workers, and immediately thereafter, small businesses, and alongside that, the entire economy, and Batswana as a whole. These people want to create another Zimbabwe in Botswana, another Zimbabwe in SADC.
Does this make sense? Should such a thing be allowed to proceed? Privatization is only good if it is designed to be an effective force for economic growth. BDP privatization, on the other hand, is simply going to result in decline. If anything, it is going to be a powerful force for undermining confidence in democratic, and market, institutions, diminishing, in the process, prospects for foreign investment in the economy. Is this what Batswana want? Are we really that stupid?
Let me explain. What are the fault lines in BDP privatization process? First, false assumptions. I want to debunk the orthodoxy that private property rights here are clearly defined, and BDP new owners of privatized corporations will have sufficient incentive to ensure that the assets are efficiently managed. Fact of the matter is Ian Khama has more than compromised the integrity of the judiciary; which is the bedrock of private property, and fundamental freedoms, and individual rights, he has, in fact, destroyed it. We can no longer trust his judicial appointees to safeguard the interests of Batswana. Our judiciary has been turned into a thieving arm of BDP self-interest.
Like in Zimbabwe, they will always do what it takes to please their BDP masters. Mokgweetsi Masisi is going to make sure they play to his flute, the way Khama did. Once we allow this process to take-off we might as well forget about reversing it through the legal process. This is war, pure, and simple. In Zimbabwe at one point things got so tragic, so hilariously ridiculous, that Mugabe appointed a night watchman, one Chimbote, if I remember the name well, to replace the Chief Justice. Batswana must understand that in Africa the law remains a stable public safeguard only so far as primary patriotism is on its side. Once the looters are in control, the law means nothing. The law is an easy instrument to disarm.
We failed to defend our judges, and the judiciary, against Ian Khama. How can we expect to win a war against vested class economic interests, backed by hot Asian, and Arab petro-dollar money? I see now even the Japanese are coming in to assist BDP in this horrible game of thievery. It’s hopeless to think judges who have already been cowed into submission by BDP can take the side of citizens in the future. A compromised judiciary is like a desperate prostitute; it provides service with bad temper, and administers justice in favour of sleaze.
It might appear we have an appropriate legal structure to guard against harmful actions like asset stripping, but the reality is that under BDP privatization everything is negotiable, and bribes, and intimidation, speak louder than moral rectitude. Political indignation alone will not be enough to reverse BDP privatization. Only a new government can do that, and even then, it will still take long before new capital, and entrepreneurship, can create new industries, and jobs. This is why I say BDP privatization should not be allowed in the first place. The other problem is BDP ideas to cope with problems of underinvestment are not only economically unsound, but outright politically suspect. In the previous articles I wrote about timing, sequencing, and pacing of the process of privatization, and showed why BDP has no interest in these serious aspects of successful, and long-term beneficial, privatization. Today I want to argue about the foreign element in BDP privatization strategy.
Perhaps, I should start by clarifying one thing. Batswana are now agreed, and the world can easily see, that, within BDP, state enterprises are regarded as modern versions of traditional Tswana cattle posts. For fifty years BDP has used them both to shore up its political fortunes, and create a middle class aligned, sympathetic, and loyal to the ruling party, and its political ideology. As the cattle industry kept on falling behind in development, BDP moved its political cadres, and mostly the bastard, and biological, children of its senior members into parastatals. Lovers, concubines, and loyal foreigners, have also long been strategically placed there to protect BDP economic interests.
It is therefore not surprising to observers like me that at the point of its political departure from public space BDP should try so hard to loot, and destroy, these parastatals. They regard them as part of their economic inheritance; ba tsaya meraka ya bone. They are jealous of a new, different, party, a new political generation, moving into what they consider to be private property. This attitude is typically African; a sickening, and rotten, Tswana mentality, an apparent psychological difficulty to square the imperative exigency of political modernity. Anthropological research has long demonstrated that the simple-minded African always reverts to the niceties of past forms of accumulation the moment he realizes that the new system of politics he has just embraced; in this case, democratic-republican politics, all of a sudden seems to be a threat to his own life, and personal fortunes. Jannong ke mang yo o santseng a dumela go re batho ba madomkrag ba thabologile?
They also worry about the future of their children, and grandchildren, who have up to now, survived on these modern BDP versions of meraka, and other centres of power like Radio Botswana, BTV, and DIS, even certain positions in the military. Finally, there are those within the BDP who are determined not to take the impending road to political oblivion, and a life of poverty, and misery, without looting provisions for that fatal destiny; ba tsaya mofako. Former Gambian leader, Jammeh, is not the only greedy African politician who found it necessary to loot the treasury before running into the political wilderness.
We have in the BDP our own thousands of Jammehs, and if we don’t stop them we should not complain tomorrow when we find our nation destitute. Batswana are now paying a heavy price for allowing this country to be run by cattlemen and their herd boys for such an unconscionable long period of time. But it is not too late. We can still rescue the situation, and make sure Botswana does not revert to past barbarian forms of capital accumulation; that the country continues in the path of democratization of all spheres of public life in our young republic.
The French experience provides refreshing assurance to all our national democratic warriors. Recently elected French president, Emmanuel Macron, has just accomplished an amazing political feat. He managed not only to destabilize, and destroy, the main political parties, in that country-parties that had morphed into daylight corrupt classes enamoured to a culture of dry political emptiness, but also ushered into the French republic, new political personnel, a new diversity of political ideas, a completely new political machine, a new validation of political candidature, and a new political force for France.
What remains to be seen is whether he will now deliver a new interpretation of republican political tools and values, an entirely new political culture, and capital, a new validation of political decisions, and process, and a new sense of French patriotism, and national pride. This young man is only thirty-nine years old. He now leads a parliament whose average age is forty-eight. If young people can do so well in France, the country that gave the whole world democracy, and republicanism, in the first place, why should our own children not do the same here? Come on, don’t disappoint us! You are just as well educated. Like the French, Batswana youth are passionate politicians. Don’t allow your republic, your country, to die. This country is still very rich land, and the future belongs to you. Why are you silent, when BDP has already declared war on society?
Our response to this war by governors should, I think, start with vehement opposition to privatization, and emasculation of labour rights, power, economic security, and constant mobilization, and vigilance, against the depredations of unruly international capital. In recent years the face of international capital in our country has progressively, and disastrously, turned oriental; that is, Indian, Chinese, and Arabian. White South African capital, mostly concentrated in retail and construction for many years, and some few but influential portions of the rural economy; mostly the cattle industry, is retreating home, and BDP, now controlled by Asians, is assisting its departure, through overt intimidation, and outright political pressure. So if we privatize, who is going to finance that process? BDP, and Asians.
And where is the money going to come from? Chinese banks, Indian Banks, and petro-dollar Arab Kings, and their spoiled children. Already this is an alarming pattern. The same money that raised Osama Bin Landen and company, incubated, and gave birth to, modern terrorism, and continues to advance the ideology of radical Islamic fundamentalism, is going to be diverted to Botswana to finance privatization, and looting, of our public assets.
Since this process involves so few corrupt people, it is hard to establish if any jobs are going to be created, if the economy is going to grow strong, and if so, how long this is going to take before it busts, leading to a Zimbabwe style tragic economic meltdown, and national ruin. It is hard to figure out what is going to happen to the thousands of Batswana who lose jobs, and social security. It is hard to estimate the economic damage resulting from a rapid influx of hot money into and out of the country.
The only thing that is certain is that such a rigged process of privatization is going to lead to political crisis, and social chaos. The streets are going to be the only places where such issues are discussed, further compounding the crisis. Batswana will lose faith in the political process. Is this what we want? We must remember the unemployed are people, with families, whose lives are affected, sometimes devastated, by continued lack of opportunities, and continued absence of incentives to strive above the bare threshold of survival networks, and that, already we have far too many such people in our country; just what is going to happen to them? A privatization process that benefit Indians and Chinese, is nothing but a murder weapon to all these people.
Our political system is already grappling with instability of public revenues, the economy is in a bad shape, and I just wonder; what is going to happen after these foreigners start packing up their bags, and living this mess to us, the fools who benefitted nothing from such a rigged process of private accumulation. Rich BDP members already own houses in European capitals and Middle East capitals. They are learning Chinese. Most already speak Indian languages. Our Kids still speak Setswana, have a hard time learning English, and no chance in hell of ever owning houses, and homes, in Botswana. Ah, Batswana. Would it not make better sense to make our own children, our own people, the focus of any privatization process?
As I write Asian banks entering our market are already squelching the domestic market. Yes, the banks they find here are not local but we have worked with them for years but now the entrants, awash with hot cash, some of it suspect, are attracting depositors away from these banks. Small businesses, and farmers used to get loans from these banks but now they don’t make much money, and even prospective house buyers have a hard time accessing credit. Bank of Botswana interest rate policy now works against the interests of banks that are struggling to keep market friendly relations with Batswana.
Look at these new banks, and you find BDP members are working there, making money through them, abandoning banks that made this country what it is today. After abandoning banks they will also abandon those Batswana who remain behind. Madomkrag are working hard to be Asians; like Robert Mugabe, Jacob Zuma, and their families, Madomkrag are working for future life in India, China, and the Arab world, eating rice, noodles, and drinking green tea, sitting on Persian rugs. What about us?
I know people out there who do not believe these things are actually happening, people who think BDP is fighting a colossal battle against political corruption, and I have bad news for you. This is baloney, absolute rubbish, hogwash. BDP policy is to overlook grand larceny, and take a strong stand on petty theft. Steal a needle at a government office, and the entire anti-corruption machinery will come tumbling on you like a tonne of bricks, and let a cabinet minister or one of those well-connected to political royalty steal millions, and everybody at Government Enclave will pat the chap on the back, giggle nervously, and start asking where he is thinking of retiring, and how often he intends to start pumping grease on the backsides of poor Batswana girls who need money for schools fees and rent.
In other democracies knowing what government is doing is regarded as an essential part of government accountability. Sadly that’s not the case here. Who knows what government is doing here? Not many people, certainly not more than a thousand people. Yet, knowing what government actually does is a right, and not a favour conferred by government. I share this information to help mature our political system, and public processes. But I know BDP will impugn me. Not that I care much about that, unless of course they kill me, in which case I will even care less.
To stave off a bad, premature, badly managed, privatization, let’s work hard to keep this thing off the political agenda of the BDP now, and throughout the coming elections. Under any circumstances, privatization is a difficult task fraught with risks, enormous risks. Under BDP, and the tutelage of heartless Asian money, privatization can only destroy Botswana. BDP is ready, and prepared, to bear the risks of privatization, to benefit a bunch of well-connected foreign nationals; not even Botswana private investors. Does this make economic sense? They are ready, and prepared, to live up to vastly unfair contractual agreements, with foreign looters, so long as the greasing of bureaucratic wheels-to the great advantage of all other Batswana-goes on smoothly. Have Batswana ever wondered why it is so easy for Indians and Chinese extract special privileges from the BDP government? This practice badly distorts market incentives.
It undermines democratic procedure, and process. Why do we allow it? What is so special about these Asians? Their investments do not promote growth. Chinese shoes, Indian loaves of bread…come on! Even Jesus, the Son of Nazareth, could do better than this. Also Asian investments remain stubbornly insensitive to the broader social context. These people abuse, and exploit, Batswana, on a routine, daily basis, with appalling impunity. Why then do we tolerate them so much? Why is BDP sleeping with them? Real incomes in rural Botswana have plummeted because of Asian businesses, and the social costs of this deprivation are huge. In fact we no longer have a middle class in the rural economy. This places an intolerable burden on our small cities. Why do we allow these things to happen?
With incomes and wages falling, and unemployment soaring, aren’t we creating volatile grounds for urban violence? It must be remembered that when government abrogates the social contract, the very thing that binds us together as Batswana, and binds us to the government of the day, then citizens may, out of wounded political consciences, not honour this contract, with each other, and with the government, resulting in chaos. Is this what we want? I don’t think so. But all appearances are that BDP remains unfazed. Nothing disturbs their equanimity. Why are these people so arrogantly self-assured? It is obvious they know something that we don’t. They scoff at our anxieties, and laugh at our misery. Now we are cold lazy people. We don’t know how to steal well. We deserve to be laughed. Time will come when Batswana decide to repay these sordid attitudes in kind, and what then? China is not going to welcome every Motswana carrying BDP membership card. India has long declared war on its own citizens through a marvellous policy of poverty embellishment.
My sociology professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science taught us that part of the social contract entails fairness; that the poor share in the gains of society as it grows, and that the rich share in the pains of society in times of crisis-a simple enough political principle to remember for a lifetime. But here the poor shared nothing in times of prosperity, and now the rich are migrating to China, of all the places in this crazy world, in times of crisis. What is wrong with us! Just two million people, in a frightfully huge, and enormously rich, country, and we can’t live together. Surely, there must be something awfully wrong with our government. That much is self-evident. I will not place any blame on economics.
We all know even under the best circumstances possible, a rising tide does not lift all the boats. No economic policy can ever enrich all the people. But politics can level the playfield, and shield the weak from the strong, the poor from the rich, and that is where we need each other. But madomkrag want to eat alone, and when things get really bad, migrate to Saudi Arabia, and other exotic oriental capitals…well, let them go. But never make the mistake of financing their departure. They have crimes at home to pay for; all in good time. This sordid political game of theirs will end in tears, on their part, and triumph, on the part of those now suffering, and, of course, the common national good.
There is need on our part to despair. Hope, we must never forget, is a political concept; perhaps the only political idea that hedge all suffering humanity against fatalism, and political cowardice that often results in the triumph of evil in society. We have got these people where we want them; the wrong side of the law. Our duty is to exact public revenge, and this is something we must teach our children. It is a moral duty. The strongest political tool available to us is the electoral process, and the numbers are on our side. The youth, who BDP has bruised, brutalized, neglected, humiliated, and thrown to the worst possible economic wilderness, are on our side; a strong enough energy to burn down any house in no time. Victory is certain. But we must know what we are going to do with political power. As Joseph Stigliz, to me the most famous Nobel Economics laureate of the previous century, often argues, in his famous international lectures; ‘the essence of freedom is the right to make a choice-and to accept the responsibility that comes with it.’
Let us not repeat in our country the foolishness of the Russians, who forfeited both political freedom, and economic prosperity, through a ridiculously flawed, and politically rigged, mass privatization experiment. In that country privatization decimated a precariously rising middle class, and implanted a terrifying system of crony and mafia capitalism. The entire emerging democratic culture was devastated. Press freedom was destroyed, and the rights of revolting citizens trampled upon to such an extent the country is now not at all different from the Stalinist totalitarianism of the past. Authoritarian political excesses have become a norm in that ill-fated country. Incomes have deteriorated, drastically. Poverty remains a haunting spectre in the lives of citizens.
More than twenty years later this damage stubbornly refuses to be repaired. Political and social instability are on the rise. The future remains cloudy, bleak, and uncertain, and poor Russia has no way of running a controlled experiment, going back in time to try an alternative strategy. This is the sort of disastrous, and frightfully, political cocktail that BDP madness is hell-bent on visiting upon us in this country. What Batswana must understand is that certain political and economic judgement calls have already been made, and these being survivalist strategies, BDP cannot reverse them. The evil they intend doing must see the light of day. They are fully committed to mortgaging this country to foreigners. Never mind what they say in public.
We live on land that is being auctioned on a daily basis. Most of these things are already now in the open; for those like me who want to see. Other Batswana may choose to bury their heads in the sand, and hope evil will not triumph but this is not going to stop the vultures from feeding on the carcass that is dying Botswana. BDP is going to ignore the advice of scholars knowledgeable in our history, economics, and society. They are going to circumvent what laws are in force, if not break them outright, just so they can put into private hands a whole array of major industries. There is already a radical change in how economic decisions are made. The nation, and the people, no longer matter.
We must expect an enormous reallocation, and redeployment, of resources, from certain sectors to areas where financial leakage is possible, and difficult, to detect; especially the mining and energy sectors. Already certain types of public professionals are being weeded out through arbitrary registration. This is a grand, secretive, strategy, to create a BDP-Asians dominated parallel economy, a black market that will benefit select BDP tycoons, and their families, after 2019. BDP simply intends to replace government monopoly of public assets with a cabal of select, and highly favoured, private monopoly. Forget all the twaddle about promoting a burst of economic output, promoting youth entrepreneurship, and social transformation.
Sure, there is going to be a new kind of entrepreneurship; a kind of entrepreneurship that is good at circumventing government rules and laws, new enterprises that are going to help redeploy resources that had previously been inefficiently used, in the direction of BDP beneficiaries through hook and crook. Give them the vote in 2019, and wholesale auctioning of Botswana will begin in earnest. As I write we know thousands of BDP chaps who are already millionaires, and nobody knows where, and how they got this wealth. But the paper trail is becoming clearer to interested investigators, and serious journalists. The patterns of political corruption are unfolding, and becoming obvious to all. Only fear prevents people from speaking out. But, is fear going to pay your bills? Is fear going to help you educate your children?
Quick privatization is a dangerous thing. It creates a huge number of people interested in capitalism, and if they have a corrupt machine to climb to the top, like the BDP, nobody can stop them from looting like greedy children. This is what is happening in Botswana. There is a difference between creating new industries, and exploiting bad government policies to get rich overnight. No man should become rich without working for his wealth. But at BDP you just join the choir, acquire an addiction for bowel irritating foods, and wallah; you are on the way to affluence. Not even the most heretical economists can approve of this behaviour. Batswana, it is our moral duty to restrain, investigate, and punish, these people; not vote them into political office again.
They are children. No adult, mature, serious, people, can do this to their own country. In Africa only Nigerians and Zimbabweans are professionals in working the hardest they can to destroy their own country, and further impoverish their fellow citizens for generations. Now we have joined them. Where is this wickedness, this satanic demonism, coming from? If other people want to live like savages is it necessary to follow their example, without knowing what motivates them? I finish this article before going to watch what remains of the Sir Ketumile Masire Memorial Service on TV, a man whose politics I strongly disapproved, but could find little to fault in his patriotic affection for his country, and its people. It would help if BDP members took a leaf from the history of this man, and start reflecting just a little, and maybe, just maybe, you mind find it in your dark hearts that there is still something about this beautiful country that is worth cherishing, upholding, nurturing, and preserving for future generations.
Teedzani Thapelo*, is author of the Botswana novel series Seasons of Thunder, Vol. 1(2014), Vol. 2 (2015) and Vol. 3 (2016) and forthcoming books; Battle Against the Botswana Democratic Party: the beginning of the point of departure, Politics of Unfulfilled Expectations in Botswana: a dangerous mess, Philosophy of Death and the Ruin of Selibe-Phikwe: abandonment and revolt, The Argument Against the Botswana Democratic Party: an intellectual inquiry and Khama Presidency and Vanity Fair in Parliament: an African political tragedy, and Sir Ketumile Masire: willow in the limelight and the gathering storm.
“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.” Carl Sagan
Corruption is a heavy price to pay. The clean ones pay and suffer at the mercy of people who cannot have enough. They always want to eat and eat so selfishly like a bunch of ugly masked shrews. I hope God forgives me for ridiculing his creatures, but that mammal is so greedy. But corruption is not the new kid on the block, because it has always been everywhere.
This of course begs the question, why that is so? The common answer was and still is – abuse and misuse of power by those in power and weak institutions, disempowered to control the leaders. In 1996, the then President of The World Bank, James D. Wolfensohn named the ‘C-Word’ for the first time during an annual meeting of the Bretton Woods Institutions. A global fight against corruption started. Transparency International began its work. Internal and external audits mushroomed; commissions of inquiry followed and ever convoluted public tender procedures have become a bureaucratic nightmare to the private sector, trying to fight red tape.
The result is sobering corruption today is worse than it was 25 years ago. There is no denying that strong institutions help, but how does it come that in the annual Transparency International Ranking the same group of countries tend to be on the top while another group of countries, many African among them, tend to be on the bottom? Before one jumps to simple and seductive conclusions let us step back a moment.
Wolfensohn called corruption a cancer that destroys economies like a cancer destroys a body. A cancer is, simplified, good cells in a body gone bad, taking control of more and more good cells until the entire body is contaminated and eventually dies. So, let us look at the good cells of society first: they are family ties, clan and tribe affiliation, group cohesion, loyalty, empathy, reciprocity.
Most ordinary people like the reader of these lines or myself would claim to share such values. Once we ordinary people must make decisions, these good cells kick in: why should I hire a Mrs. Unknown, if I can hire my niece whose strengths and weaknesses I know? If I hire the niece, she will owe me and support my objectives.
Why should I purchase office furniture from that unknown company if I know that my friend’s business has good quality stuff? If I buy from him, he will make an extra effort to deliver his best and provide quality after sales service? So, why go through a convoluted tender process with uncertain outcome? In the unlikely case my friend does not perform as expected, I have many informal means to make him deliver, rather than going through a lengthy legal proceeding?
This sounds like common sense and natural and our private lives do work mostly that way and mostly quite well.
The problem is scale. Scale of power, scale of potential gains, scale of temptations, scale of risk. And who among us could throw the first stone were we in positions of power and claim not to succumb to the temptations of scale? Like in a body, cancer cells start growing out of proportion.
So, before we call out for new leaders – experience shows they are rarely better than the old ones – we need to look at ourselves first. But how easy is that? If I were the niece who gets the job through nepotism, why should I be overly critical? If I got a big furniture contract from a friend, why should I spill the beans? What right do I have to assume that, if I were a president or a minister or a corporate chief procurement officer I would not be tempted?
This is where we need to learn. What is useful, quick, efficient, and effective within a family or within a clan or a small community can become counterproductive and costly and destructive at larger corporate or national scale. Our empathy with small scale reciprocity easily permeates into complacency and complicity with large scale corruption and into an acquiescence with weak institutions to control it.
Our institutions can only be as strong as we wish them to be.
I was probably around ten years old and have always been that keen enthusiastic child that also liked to sing the favourite line of, ‘the world will become a better place.’ I would literally stand in front of a mirror and use my mom’s torch as a mic and sing along Michael Jackson’s hit song, ‘We are the world.’
Despite my horrible voice, I still believed in the message. Few years later, my annoyance towards the world’s corrupt system wonders whether I was just too naïve. Few years later and I am still in doubt so as to whether I should go on blabbing that same old boring line. ‘The world is going to be a better place.’ The question is, when?
The answer is – as always: now.
This is pessimistic if not fatalistic – I challenge Sagan’s outlook with a paraphrased adage of unknown origin: Some people can be bamboozled all of the time, all people can be bamboozled some of the time, but never will all people be bamboozled all of the time.
We, the people are the only ones who can heal society from the cancer of corruption. We need to understand the temptation of scale and address it. We need to stop seeing ourselves just a victim of a disease that sleeps in all of us. We need to give power to the institutions that we have put in place to control corruption: parliaments, separation of power, the press, the ballot box. And sometimes we need to say as a niece – no, I do not want that job as a favour, I want it because I have proven to be better than other contenders.
It is going to be a struggle, because it will mean sacrifices, but sacrifices that we have chosen, not those imposed on us.
Let us start today.
*Bokani Lisa Motsu is a student at University of Botswana
Parliament, the second arm of State through its parliamentary committees are one of Botswana’s most powerful mechanisms to ensure that government is held accountable at all times. The Accounting Officers are mostly Permanent Secretaries across government Ministries and Chief Executive Officers, Director Generals, Managing Directors of parastatals, state owned enterprises and Civil Society.
So parliament plays its oversight authority via the legislators sitting on a parliamentary committee and Accounting Officers sitting in the hot chair. When left with no proper checks and balances, the Executive is prone to abuse the arrangement and so systematic oversight of the executive is usually carried out by parliamentary committees. They track the work of various government departments and ministries, and conduct scrutiny into important aspects of their policy, direction and administration.
It is not rocket science that effective oversight requires that committees be totally independent and able to set their own agendas and have the power to summon ministers and top civil servants to appear and answer questions. Naturally, Accounting Officers are the highest ranking officials in the government hierarchy apart from cabinet Ministers and as such wield much power and influence in the performance of government. To illustrate further, government performance is largely owed to the strategic and policy direction of top technocrats in various Ministries.
It is disheartening to point out that the recent parliament committees — as has been the case all over the years — has laid bare the incompetency, inadequacy and ineptitude of people bestowed with great responsibilities in public offices. To say that they are ineffective and inefficient sounds as an understatement. Some appear useless and hopeless when it comes to running the government despite the huge responsibility they possess.
If we were uncertain about the degree at which the Accounting Officers are incompetent, the ongoing parliament committees provide a glaring answer. It is not an exaggeration to say that ordinary people on the streets have been held ransom by these technocrats who enjoy their air conditioned offices and relish being chauffeured around in luxurious BX SUV’s while the rest of the citizenry continue to suffer. Because of such high life the Accounting Officers seem to have, with time, they have gotten out of touch with the people they are supposed to serve.
An example; when appearing before the recent Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Office of the President Permanent Secretary, Thuso Ramodimoosi, looked reluctant to admit misuse of public funds. Although it is clear funds were misused, he looked unbothered when committee members grilled him over the P80 million Orapa House building that has since morphed into a white elephant for close to 10 successive years. To him, it seems it did not matter much and PAC members were worried for nothing.
On a separate day, another Accounting officer, Director of Public Service Management (DPSM), Naledi Mosalakatane, was not shy to reveal to PAC upon cross-examination that there exist more than 6 000 vacancies in government. Whatever reasons she gave as an excuse, they were not convincing and the committee looked sceptical too. She was faltering and seemed not to have a sense of urgency over the matter no matter how critical it is to the populace.
Botswana’s unemployment rate hoovers around 18 percent in a country where majority of the population is the youth, and the most affected by unemployment. It is still unclear why DPSM could underplay such a critical matter that may threaten the peace and stability of the country. Accounting Officers clearly appear out of touch with the reality out there – if the PAC examinations are anything to go by.
Ideally the DPSM Director could be dropping the vacancy post digits while sourcing funds and setting timelines for the spaces to be filled as a matter of urgency so that the citizens get employed to feed their families and get out of unemployment and poverty ravaging the country. The country should thank parliamentary committees such as PAC to expose these abnormalities and the behaviour of our leaders when in public office. How can a full Accounting Officer downplay the magnitude of the landless problem in Botswana and fail to come with direct solutions tailor made to provide Batswana with the land they desperately need?
Land is a life and death matter for some citizens, as we would know.
When Bonolo Khumotaka, the Accounting Officer in the Ministry of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services, whom as a top official probably with a lucrative pay too appears to be lacking sense of urgency as she is failing on her key mandate of working around the clock to award the citizens with land especially those who need it most like the marginalised. If government purports they need P94 billion to service land to address the land crisis what is plan B for government? Are we going to accept it the way it is?
Government should wake up from its slumber and intervene to avoid the 30 years unnecessary waiting period in State land and 13 years in Tribal land. Accounting Officers are custodians of government policy, they should ensure it is effective and serve its purpose. What we have been doing over the years, has proved that it is not effective, and clearly there is a need for change of direction.
His Excellency Dr Mokgweetsi EK Masisi, the President of the Republic of Botswana found it appropriate to invoke Section 17 (1) of the Constitution of the Republic of Botswana, using the powers vested in him to declare a State of Public Emergency starting from the 2nd April 2020 at midnight.
The constitutional provision under Section 17 (2b) only provided that such a declaration could be up to a maximum of 21 days. His Excellency further invoked Section 93 (1) to convene an extra- ordinary meeting of Parliament to have the opportunity to consult members of parliament on measures that have been put in place to address the spread and transmission of the virus. At this meeting Members of Parliament passed a resolution on the legal instruments and regulations governing the period of the state of emergency, and extended its duration by six (6) months.
The passing of the State of Emergency is considered as a very crucial step in fighting the near apocalyptic potential of the Novel COVID-19 virus. One of the interesting initiatives that was developed and extended to the business community was a 3-month wage subsidy that came with a condition that no businesses would retrench for the duration of the State of Public Emergency. This has potentially saved many people’s jobs as most companies would have been extremely quick to reduce expenses by downsizing. Self-preservation as some would call it.
Most organisations would have tried to reduce costs by letting go of people, retreated and tried their best to live long enough to fight another day. In my view there is silver lining that we need to look at and consider. The fact that organisations are not allowed to retrench has forced certain companies to look at the people with a long-term view.
Most leaders have probably had to wonder how they are going to ensure that their people are resilient. Do they have team members who innovate and add value to the organisation during these testing times? Do they even have resilient people or are they just waiting for the inevitable end? Can they really train people and make them resilient? How can your team members be part of your recovery plan? What can they do to avoid losing the capabilities they need to operate meaningfully for the duration of the State of Public Emergency and beyond?
The above questions have forced companies to reimagine the future of work. The truth is that no organisation can operate to its full potential without resilient people. In the normal business cycle, new teams come on board; new business streams open, operations or production sites launch or close; new markets develop, and technology is introduced. All of this provides fresh opportunities – and risks.
The best analogy I have seen of people-focused resilience planning reframes employees as your organisation’s immune system, ready and prepared to anticipate risks and ensure they can tackle challenges, fend off illness and bounce back more quickly. So, how do you supercharge your organizational immune system to become resilient?
COVID-19 has helped many organisations realize they were not as prepared as they believed themselves to be. Now is the time to take stock and reset for the future. All the strategies and plans prior to COVID-19 arriving in Botswana need to be thrown out of the window and you need to develop a new plan today. There is no room for tweaking or reframing. Botswana has been disrupted and we need to accept and embrace the change. What we initially anticipated as a disease that would take a short term is turning out to be something we are going to have to live with for a much longer time. It is going to be a marathon and therefore businesses need to have a plan to complete this marathon.
Start planning. Planning for change can help reduce employee stress, anxiety, and overall fear, boosting the confidence of staff and stakeholders. Think about conducting and then regularly refreshing a strategic business impact analysis, look at your employee engagement scores, dig into your customer metrics and explore the way people work alongside your behaviours and culture. This research will help to identify what you really want to protect, the risks that you need to plan for and what you need to survive during disruption. Don’t forget to ask your team members for their input. In many cases they are closest to critical business areas and already have ideas to make processes and systems more robust.
Revisit your organisational purpose. Purpose, values and principles are powerful tools. By putting your organisation’s purpose and values front and center, you provide clear decision-making guidelines for yourself and your organisation. There are very tough and interesting decisions to make which have to be made fast; so having guiding principles on which the business believes in will help and assist all decision makers with sanity checking the choices that are in front of them. One noticeable characteristic of companies that adapt well during change is that they have a strong sense of identity. Leaders and employees have a shared sense of purpose and a common performance culture; they know what the company stands for beyond shareholder value and how to get things done right.
Revisit your purpose and values. Understand if they have been internalised and are proving useful. If so, find ways to increase their use. If not, adapt them as necessities, to help inspire and guide people while immunizing yourself against future disruption. Design your employee experience. The most resilient, adaptive and high performing companies are made up of people who know each other, like each other, and support each other.
Adaptability requires us to teach other, speak up and discuss problems, and have a collective sense of belonging. Listening to your team members is a powerful and disruptive thing to do. It has the potential to transform the way you manage your organisation. Enlisting employees to help shape employee experience, motivates better performance, increases employee retention and helps you spot issues and risks sooner. More importantly, it gives employees a voice so you can get active and constructive suggestions to make your business more robust by adopting an inclusive approach.
Leaders need to show they care. If you want to build resilience, you must build on a basis of trust. And this means leaders should listen, care, and respond. It’s time to build the entire business model around trust and empathy. Many of the employees will be working under extreme pressure due to the looming question around what will happen when companies have to retrench. As a leader of a company transparency and open communication are the most critical aspects that need to be illustrated.
Take your team member into confidence because if you do have to go through the dreaded excise of retrenchment you have to remember that those people the company retains will judge you based on the process you follow. If you illustrate that the business or organization has no regard for loyalty and commitment, they will never commit to the long-term plans of the organisation which will leave you worse off in the end. Its an absolutely delicate balance but it must all be done in good faith. Hopefully, your organization will avoid this!
This is the best time to revisit your identify and train your people to encourage qualities that build strong, empathetic leadership; self-awareness and control, communication, kindness and psychological safety. Resilience is the glue that binds functional silos and integrates partners, improves communications, helps you prepare, listen and understand. Most importantly, people-focused resilience helps individuals and teams to think collectively and with empathy – helping you respond and recover faster.
Article written by Thabo Majola, a brand communications expert with a wealth of experience in the field and is Managing Director of Incepta Communications.