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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

Internal party-democracy under pressure

21st June 2022

British novelist, W. Somerset Maugham once opined: “If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its freedom; and the irony of it is that if it is comfort or money that it values more, it will lose that too.”

The truism in these words cannot be underestimated, especially when contextualizing against the political developments in Botswana. We have become a nation that does not value democracy, yet nothing represent freedom more than democracy. In fact, we desire, and value winning power or clinging to power more than anything else, even if it harms the democratic credentials of our political institutions. This is happening across political parties — ruling and opposition.

As far as democracy is concerned, we are regressing. We are becoming worse-off than we were in the past. If not arrested, Botswana will lose its status as among few democratic nations in the Africa. Ironically, Botswana was the first country in Africa to embrace democracy, and has held elections every five years without fail since independence.

We were once viewed as the shining example of Africa. Those accolades are not worth it any more. Young democracies such as South Africa, with strong institutions, deserves to be exalted. Botswana has lost faith in democracy, and we will pay a price for it. It is a slippery slope to dictatorship, which will bring among other excess, assault on civil liberties and human rights violations.

Former President, Festus Mogae once stated that Botswana’s democracy will only become authentic, when a different party, other than the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) wins elections, and when the President of such party is not from Serowe.

Although many may not publicly care to admit, Mogae’s assertion is true. BDP has over the years projected itself as a dyed-in-the-wool proponent of democracy, but the moment its stay in power became threatened and uncertain, it started behaving in a manner that is at variance with democratic values.  This has been happening over the years now, and the situation is getting worse by the day.

Recently, the BDP party leadership has been preaching compromise and consensus candidates for 2024 general elections. Essentially, the leadership has lost faith in the Bulela Ditswe dispensation, which has been used to selected party candidates for council and parliament since 2003. The leadership is discouraging democracy because they believe primary elections threaten party unity. It is a strange assertion indeed.

Bulela Ditswe was an enrichment of internal party democracy in the sense that it replaced the previous method of selection of candidates known as Committee of 18, in which a branch committee made of 18 people endorsed the representatives. While it is true that political contest can divide, the ruling party should be investing in political education and strengthening in its primary elections processes. Democracy does not come cheap or easy, but it is valuable.

Any unity that we desire so much at the expense of democracy is not true unity. Like W. Somerset Maugham said, democracy would be lost in the process, and ultimately, even the unity that was desired would eventually be lost too. Any solution that sacrifice democracy would not bring any results in the long run, except misery.

We have seen that also in opposition ranks. The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) recently indicated that its incumbent Members of Parliament (MPs) should not be challenged for their seats. While BDP is sacrificing democracy to stay in power, UDC is sacrificing democracy to win power. It is a scary reality given the fact that both parties – ruling and opposition — have embraced this position and believe democracy is the hindrance to their political ambitions.

These current reality points to one thing; our political parties have lost faith in democracy. They desire power more than, the purpose of power itself. It is also a crisis of leadership across the political divide, where we have seen dissenting views being met with persecution. We have seen perverting of political process endorsed by those in echelons of power to manipulate political outcomes in their favour.

Democracy should not be optional, it should be mandatory. Any leader proposing curtailing of democracy should be viewed with suspicion, and his adventures should be rejected before it is too late. Members of political parties, as subscribers of democracy, should collectively rise to the occasion to save their democracy from self-interest that is becoming prevalent among Botswana political parties.

The so-called compromise candidates, only benefits the leadership because it creates comforts for them. But for members, and for the nation, it is causing damage by reversing the gains that have been made over the years. We should reject leaders who only preach democracy in word, but are hesitant to practice it.

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Opinions

The Big Deal About Piracy

21st June 2022
piracy

Piracy of all kinds continues to have a massive impact on the global creative industry and the economies of the countries where it thrives.

One of the biggest misconceptions around piracy is that an individual consumer’s piracy activities, especially in a market the size of Botswana’s, is only a drop in the pool of potential losses to the different sectors of the economy piracy affects.

When someone sitting in Gaborone, Botswana logs onto an illegal site to download King Richard online, they don’t imagine that their one download will do anything to the production house’s pocket or make a dent in the actors’ net worth. At best, the sensitivity towards this illegal pirating activity likely only exists when contemplating going about pirating a local musician’s music or a short film produced locally.

The ripple effects of piracy at whatever scale reach far beyond what the average consumer could ever imagine. Figures released by software security and media technology company, Irdeto, show that users in five major African territories made approximately 17,4 million total visits to the top 10 identified piracy sites on the internet.

The economic impact of this on the creative industry alone soars to between 40 and 97.1 billion dollars, according a 2022 Dataprot study. In addition, they estimate that “illegally streamed copyrighted content consumes 24% of global bandwidth”.

As Botswana’s creative industry remains relatively slight on the scale of comparison to industries such as Nollywood and Nilewood where the creative industry contributes a huge proportion to West and East Africa’s respective GDPs, that does not imply that piracy activities in Botswana do not have a similar impact on our economy and the ability of our creative industry to grow.

When individuals make decisions to illegally consume content via internet streaming sites they believe they are saving money for themselves in the name of enjoying content they desire to consume. Although this is a personal choice that remains the prerogative of the consumer, looking beyond the fact that streaming on illegal content sites is piracy, the ripple effect of this decision also has an endless trail of impact where funds which could be used to grow the local creative industry through increased consumption, and revenue which would otherwise be fed back into Botswana’s economy are being diverted.

“Why can’t our local creative industry grow?” “Why don’t we see more home-grown films and shows in Botswana?” are questions constantly posed by those who consume television content in Botswana. The answer to this lies largely in the fact that Botswana’s local content needs an audience in order for it to grow. It needs support from government and entities which are in a position to fund and help the industry scale greater heights.

Any organisational body willing to support and grow the local creative industry needs to exist and operate in an economy which can support its mandates. Content piracy is a cycle that can only be alleviated when consumers make wiser decisions around what they consume and how.

This goes beyond eradicating piracy activities in so far as television content is concerned. This extends to the importation and trade in counterfeit goods, resale of goods and services not intended for resale across the border, outside its jurisdiction, and more. All of these activities stunt the growth of an economy and make it nearly impossible for industries and sectors to propel themselves to places where they can positively impact society and reinvest into the country’s economy.

So what can be done to turn the tide here in Botswana in order to see our local production houses gain the momentum required to produce more, license more and expand their horizons? While those who enforce the law continue to work towards minimizing piracy activities, it’s imperative that as consumers we work to make their efforts easier by being mindful of how our individual actions play a role in preventing the success of our local creative networks and our economy’s growth.

Whether you are pirating a Hollywood Blockbuster, illegally streaming a popular Motswana artist’s music, or smuggling in an illegal decoder to view content restricted to South Africa only, your actions have an impact on how we as a nation will make our mark on the global landscape with local creative productions. Thembi Legwaila is Corporate Affairs Manager, MultiChoice Botswana

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Opinions

Our Strength is our Unity

18th March 2022
Craig-Cloud

Putin Chose War.  We Remain United with Ukraine.

U.S. Ambassador Craig L. Cloud

This is a dangerous moment for Europe and for freedom-loving people around the world.  By launching his brutal assault on the people of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has also committed an assault on the principles that uphold global peace and democracy.  But the people of Ukraine are resilient.

They’ve had a democracy for decades, and their bravery is inspiring the world.  The United States, together with our Allies and partners across the globe, will continue to support the Ukrainian people as they defend their country.  By choosing to pay for a war instead of investing in the needs of Russians, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine will be a strategic failure for the Kremlin and ravage the future of the Russian people.

When the history of this era is written, it will show that Putin’s choice to launch an unprovoked, unjust, and premeditated attack left the West more unified and Russia exponentially weaker.

United in Our Response

This will not end well for Vladimir Putin.  Together, the United States and our Allies and partners are taking action to hold Russia accountable.  As a result of unprecedented global sanctions coordination, the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Japan, and Canada have removed selected Russian banks from the SWIFT messaging system and imposed restrictive measures on the Russian Central Bank.

President Biden announced sweeping financial sanctions and stringent export controls that will damage Russia’s economy, financial system, and access to cutting-edge technology.  After Putin began his invasion, the ruble hit its weakest point in history, and the Russian stock market plunged.

Along with the United Kingdom and European Union, the United States imposed sanctions on the architects of this war, including Putin himself.

By moving in close coordination with a powerful coalition of Allies and partners representing more than half of the global economy, we have magnified the impact of our actions to impose maximum costs on Putin and his regime.  In response to Putin’s war of choice, we will limit Russia’s ability to do business in U.S. dollars.

We will stunt Russia’s ability to finance and grow its military.  We will impair Russia’s ability to compete in the global economy.  And we are prepared to do more.

In addition to economic penalties, this week President Biden authorized an additional $1 billion over the $350 million of security assistance he recently approved, and a $650 million in 2021, to immediately help Ukraine defend itself, bringing America’s total security assistance to Ukraine over the past year to $2 billion.

We also stand ready to defend our NATO Allies.  President Biden has coordinated with Allied governments to position thousands of additional forces in Germany and Poland as part of our commitment to NATO’s collective defense.

He authorized the deployment of ground and air forces already stationed in Europe to NATO’s eastern and southeastern flanks:  Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania.  Our Allies have also added their own forces and capabilities to ensure our collective defense.  There should be no doubt about the readiness of the greatest military Alliance in the history of the world:  NATO is more united than ever.

The United States has also coordinated with major oil-producing and consuming countries to underscore our common interest in securing global energy supplies.  We are working with energy companies to surge their capacity to supply energy to the market, particularly as prices increase.

Putin’s Unprovoked and Premeditated War

This was an attack that Vladimir Putin has planned for a long time.  He methodically moved more than 150,000 troops and military equipment to Ukraine’s border.  He moved blood supplies into position and built field hospitals, demonstrating his intentions all along.

He rejected every good-faith effort by the United States and our Allies and partners to address his fabricated security concerns and to avoid needless conflict and human suffering by engaging in diplomacy and dialogue.

Putin executed his playbook exactly as we had warned he would do.  We saw Russia’s proxies increase their shelling in the Donbas.  We saw the Russian government launch cyber-operations against Ukraine.  We saw staged political theater in Moscow and heard outlandish and baseless claims made about Ukraine in an attempt to justify Russia’s aggression.

Russia continues to justify its military aggression by falsely claiming the need to stop “genocide” in Ukraine – despite there being no evidence that genocide was occurring there.  We saw Russia use these tactics before when they invaded Ukraine in 2014 and Georgia in 2008.

And then, at almost the very same moment the United Nations Security Council was meeting to stand up for Ukraine’s sovereignty and forestall disaster, Putin launched his invasion in violation of international law.  Missiles began to rain down, striking historic cities across Ukraine.  Then came air raids, columns of tanks, and battalions of troops, all riding a renewed wave of disinformation and outright lies.

We have been transparent with the world.  We declassified our intelligence about Russia’s plans so there could be no confusion and no cover up.  Putin is the aggressor.  Putin chose this war.  And now his people will bear the consequences of his decision to invest in war rather than in them.

Transatlantic Unity and Resolve Stronger Than Ever

Putin’s goal of dividing the West has failed.  In the face of one of the most significant challenges to European security and democratic ideals since World War II, the United States and our Allies and partners have joined together in solidarity.  We have united, coordinating intensively to engage as one with Russia and Ukraine, provided assistance to Ukraine, developed a broad response, and reaffirmed our commitment to NATO.

Putin has failed to divide us.  Putin has failed to undermine our shared belief in the fundamental right of sovereign nations to choose their destiny and their allies.  And Putin will fail to erase the proud nation of Ukraine.

The next few days, weeks, and months will be incredibly difficult for the people of Ukraine.  Putin has unleashed great suffering on them.  But the Ukrainian people have known 30 years of independence, and they have repeatedly shown they will not tolerate anyone who tries to take their country backwards.

The world is watching this conflict closely, and if Russian forces commit atrocities, we will explore all international mechanisms that could be used to bring those responsible – whether members of the military or their civilian leadership – to account.

Putin’s aggression against Ukraine will cost Russia profoundly, both economically and strategically.  The Russian people deserve better from their government than the immense cost to their future that this invasion has precipitated.

Liberty, democracy, and human dignity are forces far more powerful than fear and oppression.  In the contest between democracy and autocracy, between sovereignty and subjugation, make no mistake:  Freedom will prevail.

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