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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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Botswana to Become a Vaccinated Nation: Pandemic Anxiety Over?

30th March 2021

OSCAR MOTSUMI

This is a question that should seriously exercise the mind of every Botswana citizen and every science researcher, every health worker and every political leader political.

The Covid-19 currently defines our lives and poses a direct threat to every aspect and every part of national safety, security and general well-being. This disease has become a normative part of human life throughout the world.

The first part of the struggle against the murderous depredation of this disease was to protect personal life through restrictive health injunctions and protocols; the worst possibly being human isolation and masks that hid our sorrows and lamentations through thin veils. We suffered that humiliation with grace and I believe as a nation we did a great job.

Now the vaccines are here, ushering us into the second phase of this war against the plague; and we are asking ourselves, is this science-driven fight against Covid-19 spell the end of pandemic anxiety? Is the health nightmare coming to an end? What happy lives lie ahead? Is this the time for celebration or caution? As the Non State Actors, we have being struggling with these questions for months.

We have published our thoughts and feelings, and our research reviews and thorough reading of both the local and international impacts of this rampaging viral invasion in local newspapers and social media platforms.

More significantly, we have successfully organised workshops about the impact of the pandemic on society and the economy and the last workshop invited a panel of health experts, professionals, and public administers to advance this social dialogue as part of our commitment to the tripartite engagement we enjoy working with Government of Botswana, Civil Society and Development partners. These workshops are virtual and open to all Batswana, foreign diplomatic missions based in Gaborone, UN agencies located in Gaborone and international academic researchers and professional health experts and specialists.

The mark of Covid-19 on our nation is a painful one, a tragedy shared by the entire human race, but still a contextually painful experience. Our response is fraught with grave difficulties; limited resources, limited time, and the urgency to not only save lives but also avert economic ruin and a bleak future for all who survive. Several vaccines are already in the  market.

Parts of the world are already doing the best they can to trunk the pestilential march of this disease by rolling out mass-vaccinations campaigns that promise to evict this health menace and nightmare from their public lives. Botswana, like much of Africa, is still up in the disreputable, and, unenviable, preventative social melee of masked interactions, metered distances, contactless commerce.

We remain very much at the mercy of a marauding virus that daily runs amuck with earth shattering implications for the economy and human lives. And the battle against both infections and transmissions is proving to be difficult, in terms of finance, institutional capacities and resource mobilization. How are we prepared as government, and as citizens, to embrace the impending mass-vaccinations? What are the chances of us  succeeding at this last-ditch effort to defeat the virus? What are the most pressing obstacles?

Does the work of vaccines spell an end to the pandemic anxieties?

Our panellists addressed the current state of mass-vaccination preparedness at the Botswana national level. What resources are available? What are the financial, institutional and administrative operational challenges (costs and supply chains, delivery, distribution, administering the vaccine on time, surveillance and security of vaccines?) What is being done to overcome them, or what can be done to overcome them? What do public assessments of preparedness tell us at the local community levels? How strong is the political will and direction? How long can we expect the whole exercise to last? At what point should we start seeing tangible results of the mass-vaccination campaign?

They also addressed the challenges of the anticipated emerging Vaccinated Society. How to fight the myths of vaccines and the superstitions about histories of human immunizations? What exactly is being done to grow robust local confidence in the science of vaccinations and the vaccines themselves? More significantly, how to square these campaigns vis-vis personal rights, moral/religious obligations?

What messages are being sent out in these regards and how are Batswana responding? What about issues of justice and equality? Will we get the necessary vaccines to everyone who wants them? What is being done to ensure no deserving person is left behind?

They also addressed issues of health data. To accomplish this mass-vaccination campaign and do everything right we need accurate and complete data. Poor data already makes it very hard to just cope with the disease. What is being done to improve data for the mass-vaccination campaign? How is this data being collected, aggregated and prepared for real life situation/applications throughout Botswana in the coming campaign?

We know in America, for example, general reporting and treatment of health data at the beginning of vaccinations was so poor, so chaotic and so scattered mainstream newspapers like The Atlantic, Washington Post and the New York Times had to step in, working very closely with civil society organizations, to rescue the situation. What data-related issues are still problematic in Botswana?

To be specific, what kind of Covid-19 data is being taken now to ready the whole country for an effective and efficient mass-vaccination program?

Batswana must be made aware that the  end part of vaccination will just mark the beginning of a long journey to health recovery and national redemption; that in many ways Covid-19 vaccination is just another step toward the many efforts in abeyance to fight this health pandemic, the road ahead is still long and painful.

For this purpose, and to highlight the significance of this observation we tasked our panellists with  the arduous imperative of  analysing the impact of mass-vaccination on society and the economy alongside the pressing issues of post-Covid-19 national health surveillance and rehabilitation programs.

Research suggests the aftermath of Covid-19 vaccination is going to be just as difficult and uncertain world as the present reality in many ways, and that caution should prevail over celebration, at least for a long time. The disease itself is projected to linger around for some time after all these mass-vaccination campaigns unless an effort is made to vaccinate everyone to the last reported case, every nation succeeds beyond herd immunity, and cure is found for Covid-19 disease. Many people are going to continue in need of medications, psychological and psychiatric services and therapy.

Is Botswana ready for this long holdout? If not, what path should we take going into the future? The Second concern is , are we going to have a single, trusted national agency charged with the  mandate to set standards for our national health data system, now that we know how real bad pandemics can be, and the value of data in quickly responding to them and mitigating impact? Finally, what is being done to curate a short history of this pandemic? A national museum of health and medicine or a Public Health Institute  in Botswana is overdue.

If we are to create strong sets of data policies and data quality standards for fighting future health pandemics it is critical that they find ideological and moral foundations in the artistic imagery and photography of the present human experience…context is essential to fighting such diseases, and to be prepared we must learn from every tragic health incident.

Our panellists answered most of these questions with distinguished intellectual clarity. We wish Batswana to join us in our second Mass-vaccination workshop.

*Oscar Motsumi: Email:oscar.motsumi@gmail.com

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The women you see in the news matter. Here’s why

9th March 2021
Jane Godia

Jane Godia

Today is International Women’s Day – it’s a moment to think about how much better our news diet could be if inequities were eliminated. In 1995, when the curtains fell in one of the largest meetings that have ever brought women together to discuss women in development, it was noted that women and media remain key to development.

Twenty-six years later, the relevant “Article J” of the Beijing Platform for Action, remains unfulfilled. Its two strategic objectives with regard to Women and Media have not been met. They are
Increase the participation and access of women to expression and decision-making in and through the media and new technologies of communication

Promote a balanced and non-stereotyped portrayal of women in the media.

Today, as we mark International Women’s Day, it’s an indictment on both media owners and civil society that women remain on the periphery of news-making. They cannot claim equal space in either the structures of newsrooms or in the content produced, be that as sources of news or as the subjects of reports. Indeed, the latest figures from WAN-IFRA’s Women in News Programme show just one in five voices in news belong to women*, be they as sources, as the author or as the main character of the news report.

Some progress was evident several years back, with stand-out women being named as chief executive officers, editors in chief, managing editors and executive editors. But these gains appear short lived in most media organisations. Excitement has turned to frustration as one-step forward has been replaced with three steps backwards. In Africa, the problem is acute. The decision-making tables of media organisations remain deprived of women and where there are women, they are surrounded by men.

Few women have followed in the footsteps of Esther Kamweru, the first woman managing editor in Kenya, and indeed sub-Saharan Africa. Today’s standout women editors include Pamela Makotsi-Sittoni (Nation Media Group, Kenya), Barbara Kaija (New Vision, Uganda), Mary Mbewe (Daily Nation, Zambia), Margaret Vuchiri (The Monitor, Uganda), Joyce Shebe (Clouds, Tanzania), Tryphinah Dongwana (Weekend Post, Botswana), Joyce Mhaville (Independent Television -ITV, Tanzania) and Tuma Abdallah (Standard Newspapers,Tanzania). But they remain an exception.

The lack of balance between women and men at the table of decision making has a rollback effect on the content that is produced. A table dominated by men typically makes decisions that benefit men.

So today, International Women’s Day is a grim reminder that things are not rosy in the news business. Achieving gender balance in news and in the structure of media organisations remains a challenge. Unmet, it sees more than half of the population in our countries suffer the consequences of bias, discrimination and sexism.

The business of ignoring the other half of the population can no longer be treated as normal. It’s time that media leaders grasp the challenge, not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it also makes a whole lot of business sense: start covering women, give them space and a voice in news-making and propel them to all levels of decision making within your organisation.

We can no longer afford to imagine that it’s only men who make and sell the news and bring in the shillings to fund the media business. Women too are worthy newsmakers. In all of our societies, there are women holding decision making positions and who are now experts in once male-only domains such as engineers, doctors, scientists and researchers.

They can be deliberately picked out to share their perspectives and expertise and bring balance to the profile of experts quoted on our news pages. Media is the prism through which society sees itself and women are an untapped audience. So, as we celebrate International Women’s Day, let us embrace diversity, which yields better news content and business products, and in so doing eliminate sexism. We know that actions and attitudes that discriminate against people based on their gender is bad for business.

As media, the challenge is ours. We need to consciously embrace and reach the commitments made 26 years ago when the Beijing Platform for Action was signed globally. As the news consuming public, you have a role to play too. Hold your news organization to account and make sure they deliver balanced news that reflects the voices of all of society.

Jane Godia is a gender development and media expert who serves as the Africa Director of Women in News programme.  
WOMEN IN NEWS is WAN-IFRA’s ground-breaking programme to increase women’s leadership and voices in the news. It does so by equipping women journalists and editors with the skills, strategies, and support networks to take on greater leadership positions within their media. www.womeninnews.org

Jane Godia, Director, Africa, Women in News

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Why is the media so afraid to talk about sexual harassment?

9th March 2021

MELANIE WALKER

The eve of International Women’s Day presents an opportunity for us to think about gender equality and the long and often frustrating march toward societies that are truly equal.

As media, we are uniquely placed to drive forward this reflection and discussion. But while focusing on the challenges of gender in society, we owe it to our staff and the communities we serve to also take a hard look at the obstacles within our own organisations.

I’m talking specifically about the scourge of sexual harassment. It’s likely to have happened in your newsroom. It has likely happened to a member of your team. It happens to all genders but is disproportionately directed at women. It happens in every industry, regardless of country, culture or context. This is because sexual harassment is driven by power, not sex. Wherever you have imbalances in power, you have individuals who are at risk of sexual harassment, and those who abuse this power.

I’ve been sexually harassed. The many journalists and editors, friends and family members who I have spoken to over the years on this subject have also been harassed. Yet it is still hard for leaders to recognize that this could be happening within their newsrooms and boardrooms. Why does it continue to be such a taboo?

Counting the cost of sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is, simply put, bad for business. It can harm your corporate reputation. It is a drain on the productivity of staff and managers. Maintaining and building trust in your brand is an absolute imperative for media organisations globally. If and when a case gets out of control or is badly handled – this can directly impact your bottom line.

It is for this reason that WAN-IFRA Women in News has put eliminating sexual harassment as a top priority in our work around gender equality in the media sector. This might seem at odds with the current climate where social interactions are fewer and remote work scenarios are in place in many newsrooms and businesses. But one only needs to tune into the news to know that the abuse of power, manifested as verbal, physical or online harassment, is alive and well.

Preliminary results from an ongoing Women in News research study into the issue of sexual harassment polling hundreds of journalists in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia indicate that more than 1 in 3 women media professionals have been physically harassed, and just under 50% have been verbally harassed. Just over 15% of men in African newsrooms reported being physically harassed, and slightly less than 1 in 4 reports being verbally harassed. The numbers for male media professionals in Southeast Asia are slightly higher than a quarter on both forms of harassment.

The first step in confronting sexual harassment is to talk about it. We need to strip away the stigma and discomfort around having open conversations about what sexual harassment is and isn’t. Media managers, it is entirely in your power to create dynamics in your own teams that are free from sexual harassment.

Publishers and CEOs, you set the organisational culture in your media company.

By being vocal in recognising that it happens everywhere, and communicating to your employees that you will not tolerate sexual harassment of any kind, you send a powerful message to your teams, and publicly. With these actions, you will help us overcome the legacy of silence around this topic, and in doing so take an important first step to create media environments that truly embrace equality.

Melanie Walker is Executive Director of Media Development of the World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA). She is a creator of Women in News, WAN-IFRA’s ground-breaking programme to increase women’s leadership and voices in the news. It does so by equipping women journalists and editors with the skills, strategies, and support networks to take on greater leadership positions within their media. www.womeninnews.org

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