Science and Engineering human resource remains scarce in Botswana. Various researches continue to point to this field and skilled personnel of the science and engineering as a critical instrument for any developing economy.
Any developing middle income state undergoes infrastructural development, research and innovation to put in place economic structures and institutions that will realize economic growth, Botswana is not an exception. In her quest to attain sustainable economic growth, Botswana has since attaining the status of a middle income economy which came about with aids, technical and financial assistance from opulent economies being ceased, encountered a challenge of low supply of qualified scientists and engineers from local academic and tertiary institutions.
As a result high value construction projects, mega infrastructural erections, complex electrical mechanism assembling and civil engineering undertakings have been enjoyed by foreign nationals, and this has had huge cost implications, overstretching the government purse. Some projects have cost exorbitant figures for the national treasury as a result of failed delivery and budget overruns by these foreign nationals. In 2005 the government of Botswana through an Act of Parliament established the country‘s second university intended to house world-class research based science, engineering and technology academia – the Botswana International University of Science & Technology (BUIST).
The aim was to produce highly skilled scientists and engineers well capacitated from internationally accredited programmes. Although the University experienced a number of challenges from inception when setting up, BUIST held its first ever l graduation ceremony in February this year.
Speaking at a Science, Mathematics and Engineering Fair organized by BUIST this past week in Francistown, the man at the helm of the institution mandated to bake this professionals, Professor Otlogetswe Totolo revealed that Botswana still needs to do more as far as producing qualified engineers and certified scientists is concerned. The BUIST Vice Chancellor is of the view that the current number of accredited professional scientists and engineers is not enough to transform Botswana’s economy to a knowledge based one.
“We have to create critical mass of scientists and engineers to achieve this transformation, we need a lot more that 2000 to make sure that we transform to be the likes of Singapore and Indonesia,” said Totolo. When opening the Fair, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Tertiary Education Research, Infrastructure & Technology, Dr Theophilus Mooko told attendants’ that the new Vision 2036 pillars are anchored around innovation and research
“We have committed ourselves as a nation that the transformation and progress that we seek to achieve will be driven by investment and innovation, research and development including indigenous knowledge across all pillars thus domesticating and accelerating the pace of technical and scientific advancement,” he said .
Mooko was of the view that engineers and scientists also play a critical role in Foreign Direct Investment. “We need investors to setup business here, businesses that can create employment and grow the broader economy, but if the investors are to come here to setup complex and relatively large enterprises that can hire graduates and also pay lump sum of tax, they will need highly qualified experts and professionals readily available to provide labour,” he said.
The Permanent Secretary in the newly set up ministry also added that parents and the education system should encourage learners to branch into science and engineering courses to further government efforts of transforming Botswana’s economy. A representative from Business Botswana, Kebaabetswe Bogatsu, emphasised that one of the ways to lure learners into science and engineering studies was conducting such events as the engineering, maths and science fair.
Bogatsu noted that prospective learners can only be convinced by seeing practicals. “The only way our children can learn how to produce and manufacture goods was by encouraging them to be innovative and think outside the box,” he said. The Business Botswana official observed that the learners should be lured by the practical means of studying. “From a private business sector point of view we need as many engineers and scientists as possible to provide skilled labour to innovative business ideas and also to come up with cutting edge and solution seeking well thought enterprises that boost economic growth,” he said.
Francistown Mayor, Silviah Muzila added that young learners needed more capacitation to unleash their potential. Muzila noted that young people have great ideas that can transform Botswana‘s economy and put an end to youth unemployment. “We need more of this fairs and information dissemination platforms for our young learners. This help make them realize and appreciate that they have talent that they can use to invert new instruments and models that can be used to create employment for themselves and also for the broader economy,” she said.
To address shortage of science and engineering expertise, the Government of Botswana has in addition to BUIST established a number of organizations and parastatals to advice the government on science and technology policy formation and also providing research to come up with innovative solutions to economic growth challenges.
Botswana Institute for Technology, Research and Innovation (BITRI) was established as a science and technology institute mandated to undertake research, identify and develop appropriate technologies in line with national priorities and needs of Botswana. Botswana Innovation Hub was also established and incorporated as company to develop and operate Botswana’ s first Science and Technology Park aimed at creating an environment that supports start-ups and existing local companies as well as attract international companies and institutions to develop and grow competitive technology driven and knowledge based businesses.
Complementing BUIST and BITRI and other efforts by the government, Botswana Innovation Hub offers a unique platform for scientific, technological and indigenous knowledge based innovation. Dr Mooko indicated that these institutions are very important to government efforts of turning Botswana into a knowledge based economy. He also noted that the parastatals needed to avail themselves to young learners and catch them while they were still young and vibrant to capture them into innovative and cutting edge solution seekers.
The technology park under The Botswana Innovation Hub, which is almost complete, is an ideal location to build and provide state-of-the-art building and facilities to attract domestic, regional and global companies to locate businesses as well as research and development activities, observed Dr Mooko.
Botswana Innovation Hub supports the growth of techno-rich business enterprises over the long term to increase the wealth of the local knowledge intensive community, promote a culture of innovation, and stimulate the competitiveness of member companies and knowledge based institutions.
When fully developed, the Science and Technology Park will consist of world class facilities including state-of the- art telecommunications infrastructure with high capacity international connectivity and secured power, professional business services, and business development services. The business services will allow companies to concentrate on their core business. The development programs, together with the support for R&D and the promotion of innovation and entrepreneurship, will make Botswana Innovation Hub an ideal place for business development. Botswana Innovation Hub key focus sectors are Information Communication Technology, Biotechnology, Mining Technology and Clean Technology.
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.
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.
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.”