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Like the annual state of the nation address by the president, the annual national budget presentation by the minister of finance and development planning is something that, not only the nation looks forward to with anticipation, but the world at large has great interest in it.

The nation wants to know what developments have been completed and what new developments will be taking place in the country, when and at what cost and how they will benefit from such developments.  They want their fair share of the national cake. 

The business community wants to see what is planned so that they can prepare themselves to participate in a meaningful way.

Some years back the government workers had particular interest in the budget presentation as their annual salaries and benefits increments were announced during this presentation. These days with the bargaining council in place it is not clear how the salaries and benefits of government employees are catered for in the budget as these are now ‘negotiables’. The global business leaders and multinationals want to see if there are opportunities for potential investment to grow their business interests in the country.

While the ordinary people in the streets and villages do not really care much because they do not really understand the implications on their lives except perhaps the pensioners on tandabala who will be hoping for some increase on their paltry monthly allowance.

The budget normally contains what they call recurrent budget and development budget.  In the language that I understand, the budget contains working costs and capital costs. 

The working costs or recurrent budget is for the day to day running of government operations.  It must include salaries and benefits for all government employees, including old age tandabala pensioners; running of all government facilities, offices including maintenance of such facilities and offices.  This budget should be predictable and easy to come up with annually. 

The capital or development budget normally should contain working capital, which is capital for on going projects. This should also be predictable and should only change due to approved changes of scope and or unpredictable changes in prices. The second part of the capital or development budget should be on new developments from the national development plan or new compelling opportunities.

So why should budget preparation be so onerous? Why should it be so secretive? Why can’t the nation be involved through Kgotla type meetings?  Obviously government will be duty bound to priritise and then explain the priorities to the nation during the budget speech.  From time to time they will be need for chopping and changing items from the budget due perhaps to financial limitations to support the required budget, but this should be transparent and presented clearly by the minister.

It is my belief, my deep conviction that any nation that wants to be amongst the top performers in the world must have a long term vision for the country as well as a transparent long term national development plan to anchor that vision.

The annual budget then becomes just a formality to explain where the country is against its development plans and what adjustments are necessary to stay on course towards their vision.

It is therefore not clear why government has to go to parliament during the year; each year seeking supplementary budgetary allocations, which runs into billions of Pula. Is someone sleeping on the job and allowed to do so relentlessly, year on year?  Should we not keep on probing our budgetary systems and questioning their usefulness with a view to improve? I think we must as a matter of urgency reconsider our budgetary approaches and systems.

The other side of the budget coin is the sources of funds that will support the work to be done. Where will the money come from? We should have a good idea where the money will be coming from.  This is where the ministry should be spending most of its time, determining and scrutinising all the sources and ensuring that every ‘thebe’ is accounted for from each source; tax collection for instance, are we collecting all the taxes? Are we getting all the royalties from our minerals? Are we getting all we should be getting from our diamonds? Are we getting what is really due to us from all our mineral reserves and other sources? Are they any financial leakages in our systems? Corruption and inefficiencies must be major sources of such leakages.

Let us check and improve our revenue collection systems. Let us make these systems transparent so that the nation at large can also help. Involving the nation meaningfully is the only way we can genuinely “move Botswana forward’.

Moving on, I would like to acknowledge that, it is going to be a very difficult budget presentation for the minister of finance and development planning this year. I would also like to offer some suggestions to help the minister to come up with an extraordinary budget proposal to mitigate the dire situation ahead of us because of two main dangers facing us head on; drying water sources as well as drying revenues from our mining sources. These are real dangers that have potential to bring our economy to its knees fast.

There can never be any development and no meaningful budget in this country when all our water sources and mining revenues are drying up. The water situation in the country is dire and poses a real threat to the future of our nation. Without water needless to say there is no life. Water is life in the literal sense (no water you die) but also in the business sense (no water, no business, no development and no future).

If ever there was ever a need for an economic stimulus package (ESP), it is now for the provision of adequate water supply for all our national needs.  With the current challenging weather situation, those northern dams will dry up just like the Gaborone dam has dried up.

Unless the good Lord opens up the flood gates of heaven to fill our ‘dying’ rivers and dams, we will have to come up with emergency plans fast for sustainable water supply.  

Bringing water from Chobe has been talked about for decades and the ‘pipeline’ seems to be very very long, the water from the Lesotho high lands also has even a longer ‘pipeline’ that will take ages to arrive in Botswana. But we must also be mindful of the lessons from the past; that we must have enough of our own to satisfy our own national needs and even more for export. This is a basic prudent planning lesson I leant at secondary school and unfortunately as a nation we fail to learn.  Even in Setswana we have an expression for this ‘motho o kgonwa ke sa gagwe’, meaning you should rely on your own resources.

Mr.  Mokaila must dig into the pages of the national water master plan of 2005 and come up with an emergency plan to get some of the projects detailed therein expedited.  We must as a mater of urgency determine where adequate ground water is situated, whether potable or non potable; any water can be treated and cleaned up for potable use?

Where is all the water that flows annually from the Okavango Swamps? Where is the water that flows annually from the Nata River? Where does the Makakaraga potable ground water come from? We need answers before the country dries up?  I am convinced that we have adequate underground water sources. God did not create our country without a plan for our survival in it. Even in a desert we can survive; ask Dubai, Chile, Israel and others!

The use of waste water which was also part of the national water master plan of 2005 must be expedited. There has been a lot of talk about this but no visible action.  By now they should be no such a thing as waste water in Botswana. All the water that is used must be recycled back into the water supply systems without any hesitation or questions. It is an international norm, practiced over many decades if not centuries. We need some action on this from Mr. Mokaila and his team. We cannot continue to talk without taking any action.

Let us hope that the minister of finance will announce some far reaching measures that will address the water situation countrywide before we all perish from thirst.  I would like to end by saying that a nation without a vision is a lost nation. 

We had a brilliant vision inappropriately coined ‘vision 2016’. This was a beautiful vision for the country. It has not been achieved and we are now spending millions to come up with yet another vision that will not be realised (talk of wasteful expenditure).  Vision 2016 should be our national vision until it is achieved then we can come up with another vision if necessary.

What is required is a national development plan with milestone for achieving our vision. It will be a step by step approach towards that vision, the vision cannot be achieved over night and in many cases it will never be fully achieved.  It should not be time bound like an objective or plan.

For instance ‘an educated and informed nation’ is a vision that will always be there as long as the nation is in existence.  A vision should not die if it is a good one. What changes should only be development plans to help get the nation closure and closure to that vision. A vision is a long term aspiration, a mental picture of what we want to be as a nation.

This country needs a visionary leadership that will see beyond its lifespan; visionary leadership that will consider the nation first and personal gains as secondary; selfless visionaries, who will be able to listen to all the voices from their people, act decisively and lead their people to prosperity and self actualisation. It is time for the people like ‘madam speaker sir’ to be listened to, it is time for people like the ‘first people of the Kalahari’ to be listen to and not to be panel beaten into submission. 

We need leaders who will judge their people not by who they know but what they can do to advance the fortunes of their nation. We need leaders with pure hearts who will do only what is right regardless of partisan dogma.

Without visionary leaders, our country will be driven into the abyss and perish as prophesied by King David who said a ‘nation without a vision will perish’. Our leaders should engage the nation on this budget and the national vision in a meaningful and untraditional way. We need to address the water situation like yesterday. We need to re-assess how Debswana is managed so that we can begin to get more from our diamonds to support our economy. We must expand our maginations!

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The Taiwan Question: China ramps up military exercises to rebuff US provocations

18th August 2022

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosis visit to Taiwan has violated the One-China policy, and caused the escalation of tensions across the Taiwan Strait. Experts and political observers across the spectra agree that Pelosis actions and subsequent pronouncements by US President Joe Biden gave impetus to an already simmering tension in the Taiwan Strait, provoking China to strengthen its legitimate hold on the Taiwan Strait waters, which the US and Taiwan deem as international waters.

Pelosis visit to Chinas Taiwan region has been heavily criticised across the globe, with China arguing that this is a serious violation of the one-China principle and the provisions of the three China-US Joint Communiqus. In response to this reckless move which seriously undermined China’s sovereignty, and interfered in China’s internal affairs, the expectation is for China to give a firm response. Pelosi visit violated the commitments made by the U.S. side, and seriously jeopardized peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.

To give context to Chinas position over Taiwan region, the history behind gives us perspective. It is also important to note that the history between China and Taiwan is well documented and the US has always recognized it.

The Peoples Republic of China recognises Taiwan as its territory. It has always been the case even before the Nationalist Republic of China government fled to the previously Japanese-ruled Island after losing the civil war on the mainland in 1949. According to literature that threat was contained for decades first with a military alliance between the US and the ROC on Taiwan, and after Washington switched diplomatic recognition to the PRC in 1979 by the US One China policy, which acknowledges Beijings position that Taiwan is part of One China. Effectively, Taiwans administration was transferred to the Republic of China from Japan after the Second World War in 1945, along with the split between the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (ROC) as a consequence of the Chinese Civil War. Disregarding this history, as the US is attempting to do, will surely initiate some defence reaction on the side of China to affirm its sovereignty.

However, this history was undermined since Taiwan claimed to democratise in the 1990s and China has grown ever more belligerent. Furthermore, it is well documented that the Biden administration, following the Trump presidency, has made subtle changes in the way it deals with Taipei, such as loosening restrictions on US officials meeting Taiwanese officials this should make China uneasy. And while the White House continues to say it does not support Taiwanese independence, Bidens words and actions are parallel to this pledge because he has warned China that the US would intervene militarily if China attacked Taiwan another statement that has provoked China.

Pelosi, in her private space, would know that her actions amount to provocation of China. This act of aggression by the USA seriously undermines the virtues of sovereignty and territorial integrity which has a huge potential to destabilize not only the Taiwan Strait but the whole of the Asia- Pacific region. The Americans know very well that their provocative behavior is deliberately invoking the spirit of separatism masqueraded as Taiwan independence. The US is misled to think that by supporting separatism of Taiwan from China that would give them an edge over China in a geopolitics. This is what one Chinese diplomat said this week: The critical point is if every country put their One-China policy into practice with sincerity, with no compromise, is going to guarantee the peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. Therefore, it was in the wake of US House speaker Nancy Pelosis visit to Taiwan, that China, in a natural response revealed plans for unprecedented military exercises near the island, prompting fears of a crisis in the Taiwan Strait and the entire Asia-Pacific region. The world community must promote and foster peace, this may be achieved when international laws are respected. It may also happen when nations respect the sovereignty of another. China may be in a better space because it is well capacitated to stake its territorial integrity, what about a small nation, if this happens to it?

As to why military exercises by Beijing; it is an expected response because China was provoked by the actions of Pelosi. To fortify this position, Chinese President, Xi signed a legal basis for Chinas Peoples Liberation Army to safeguard Chinas national sovereignty, security and development interests. The legal basis will also allow military missions around disaster relief, humanitarian aid and peacekeeping. In addition the legal changes would allow troops to prevent spillover effects of regional instabilities from affecting China, secure vital transport routes for strategic materials like oil, or safeguard Chinas overseas investments, projects and personnel. It then follows that President Xis administration cannot afford to look weak under a US provocation. President Xi must protector Chinas sovereignty and territorial integrity, of which Taiwan is a central part. Beijing is very clear on One-China Policy, and expects all world players to recognize and respect it.

The Peoples Liberation Army has made it clear that it has firepower that covers all of Taiwan, and it can strike wherever it wants. This sentiments have been attributed to Zhang Junshe, a researcher at the PLA Navy Research Institute. Zheng further said, We got really close to Taiwan. We encircled Taiwan. And we demonstrated that we can effectively stop intervention by foreign forces. This is a strong reaction from China to warn the US against provocation and violation of the One-China Policy.

Beijings military exercises will certainly shake Taiwans confidence in the sources of its economic and political survival. The potential for an effective blockade threatens the air and shipping routes that support Taiwans central role in global technology supply chains. Should a humanitarian situation arise in Taiwan, the blame would squarely be on the US.

As Chinas military exercises along the Taiwan Strait progress and grow, it remains that the decision by Nancy Pelosi to visit Chinas Taiwan region gravely undermined peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and sent a wrong signal to Taiwan independence separatist forces. This then speaks to international conventions, as the UN Secretary-General Antnio Guterres explicitly stressed that the UN remains committed to the UN General Assembly Resolution 2758. The centerpiece is the one-China principle, namely, there is but one China in the world, the government of the Peoples Republic of China is the sole legal government representing the whole of China, and Taiwan is a part of China. It must be noted that the US and the US-led NATO countries have selectively applied international law, this has been going on unabated. There is a plethora of actions that have collapsed several states after they were attacked under the pretext of the so-called possession of weapons of mass destruction illuminating them as threats – and sometimes even without any valid reason. to blatantly launch military strikes and even unleash wars on sovereign countrie

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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 Botswanas 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, Mogaes 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 theBulela Ditswedispensation, 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 Ditswewas 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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The Big Deal About Piracy

21st June 2022

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 consumers piracy activities, especially in a market the size of Botswanas, 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 dont imagine that their one download will do anything to the production houses 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 musicians 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 Botswanas 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 Africas 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 Botswanas economy are being diverted.

Why cant our local creative industry grow? Why dont 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 Botswanas 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 countrys 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, its 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 economys growth.

Whether you are pirating a Hollywood Blockbuster, illegally streaming a popular Motswana artists 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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