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THE RACE TO 2019 HAS BEGUN: CAN GOVERNMENT COMPETENTLY EXECUTE PROJECTS AND CREATE JOBS?

The national budget presented beginning of this week (1st February, 2016) by Minister Kenneth Matambo did not have many surprises, if any at all. The much talked about stimulus package (ESP) turned out to be nothing but a financial package meant to accelerate the completion of NDP 10 projects. These are projects that were suspended as a result of the 2008 global recession.  So in essence there should be nothing exciting about ESP except that yes it is nice to have those long planned projects completed. This is what we expect any government to do. This is what the people expect. So was ESP a misnomer deliberately crafted to mislead unsuspecting Batswana?

The hype generated was therefore uncalled for.  This hype will slowly fizzle away as the reality of the said projects become clearer in the coming months to the majority of Batswana; when those who registered new companies in anticipation for some windfall from the so called ESP become despondent because they are no jobs for their new companies; when those unemployed who were promised employment go back to their routine of seeking ever evasive employment opportunities or going back home to loiter in the streets or ‘drinking holes’.  

In fact, any projects from this ESP are only going to be short term and will create few short term jobs as can be expected. To create permanent jobs we need a transformative long-term programme that will create permanent jobs in various sectors of the economy. Again Batswana have been sold a dummy.  The government cannot forever take Batswana for granted in this manner. It is simply dishonest, insincere and unacceptable.

I can hear someone saying what negativity!! To me this is naked reality that is as clear as broad daylight.  How many jobs will be created by the acceleration of NDP10 projects?  The Minister should have given us numbers. He did not because there are no numbers to give. No one in government has a clue as to how many new jobs will be created.  No one knows how many new contractors will be given tenders for these projects which the government wants accelerated?  Who in their right mind would give a company that was formed yesterday, without any history of project execution, a tender to build a road, a tender to maintain a road, a tender to build classrooms or a tender to build staff housing? Tell me who?  The government is obviously on a mission to mislead our people to believe that we have a caring government when in fact we have a government that is driven by desperation to stay in power by hook or by crook?  Such schemes will only help Batswana to wisen up and begin to question everything the government does or proposes.

Given the stated intent to fast track these projects, as the minister proudly stated repeatedly in his budget presentation, one would have expected more details on these ESP projects to have been provided. If there was any truth in the ESP story, government would have come up with specific details, detailing not only the actual projects to be executed, but the number of companies and different disciplines (e.g. civil, electrical, mechanical etc) that will execute these projects and how many people will be employed in each of these projects and for how long?  Without such details we are headed for much disappointment when the much hyped expectations dwindle into pipe dreams.

Any way, like I said earlier, addressing backlog projects from NDP10 is a welcome development. The tragedy though is that it is now abundantly clear that government is seriously incompetent in project execution.  It must also be now very clear that government is very incompetent when it comes to creating sustainable jobs in industry.  Government can only create jobs in the public sector, teaching, policing, security forces, bureaucrats, public officers etc. 

These are jobs that will not grow the economy.  Government job is to make laws, enforce laws and create an environment in which the private sector can participate fully and flourish. Yes, government can partner with the private sector especially in a developing country like ours, but allowing  the private sector to lead and run the show while they monitor and evaluate performance in all sectors of the economy to ensure that the country get the best value in each area.

We do not need to prove that government is incompetent in project execution. How many projects do you know that were executed by government that have been completed on time, on budget and meeting international quality standards? I am not aware of any. The country is littered with many projects that have either completely failed or were completed years behind schedule with overruns running into multimillion pula and in some cases billions of pula, with compromised quality and with no noteworthy consequences to anyone. Examples are countless. By now government should have given up on project execution and gracefully given the projects to the private sector perhaps through Business Botswana to manage the execution.

The Minister of transport,  Mr.  Tshenolo Mabeo was on TV recently saying that the multimillion pula Francistown spaghetti junction project is only 22 % complete against 45 % planned.   This means the project is about 23 % behind schedule. This will obviously result in massive cost overruns which the minister has already accepted given what he reported. He said that the reason for the delay was valid because of the contractor had to relocate some quasi government infrastructure (BTC, BPC, WUC etc). This means that the relocation of such infrastructure was not included in the scope of the project and therefore the contractor will have to charge more. It means the scope of the project on which the contractors tendered was incomplete.

The contractor also said that they will increase manpower and efforts to finish the project on time. This means they will be more money required out side the project budget for this acceleration. This cannot be described by any other word, other than gross incompetency on the part of government.  How was the project scoped? Who did the planning and scoping of this project?  Why are we only identifying the infrastructure to be reallocated now when the project has started?  For me this is either heightened incompetency or corruption of some sort.   If BTC, WUC, BPC & BOFINET had infrastructure in the vicinity of the project and they did not know where these were, that will be shocking to say the least. This will mean we are on autopilot in a number of vital and sensitive areas of our economy.  The spaghetti junction company China Railway is smiling all the way to the bank. Where do we get all the money to pay for such incompetency or corruption?

The private sector has completed many mega projects in this country, many complicated projects which were always completed on time, on budget, safely and within required quality standards. Government should benchmark with companies like Debswana and others. Debswana for instance has completed many major projects since its inception with distinction. Many of these projects were done by our very own Batswana engineers with minimum no input from Chinese companies and engineers. All I am saying is that the government is trying to do what it does not have capacity or skill to do. Government is playing the wrong game. Government is playing in the wrong field. Government must therefore stop and reconsider its position on project execution.

My proposal

Now that it is as clear as day light that government cannot execute any project successfully. It follows that all the so called ESP projects will not be competed on time; they will be cost overruns running into millions of Pula in a deficit budget; the quality of the projects will be suspect.  Government must now swallow its pride and hand these projects to Business Botswana to manage on its behalf.  It is simply, they negotiate a management fee and terms with Business Botswana who will then take over the projects, do due diligence, re-plan, re-scope, tender, award tenders, and manage execution and then handover to government. In addition Business Botswana should be given the opportunity to manage on going maintenance of the completed projects. The government role will then be to provide a regulatory framework, which will include monitoring and evaluation at each stage to ensure compliance to standards and regulations. The government will also ensure that fees, taxes and duties are diligently collected.

As part of the contract, they will obviously be consequences on Business Botswana if projects are not delivered as expected. Government will then be justified in blaming the private sector of failing. Currently any such blame on the private sector is lame and irresponsible. By adopting this strategy, government will be deliberately empowering Business Botswana and the private sector to build local project skills which will consequently attract more foreign direct investment to grow the economy and create sustainable jobs.

In conclusion, Einstein said long time ago that doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is insanity. Let us change our paradigm and adopt new ways of doing things.  God bless our beloved country.

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Opinions

Can we cure ourselves from the cancer of corruption?

28th October 2020
DCEC DIRECTOR: Tymon Katholo

Bokani Lisa Motsu

“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

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Opinions

Accounting Officers are out of touch with reality

19th October 2020

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.

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Is it possible to make people part of your business resilience planning after the State of Public Emergency?

12th October 2020

THABO MAJOLA

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.

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