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An economic or a corruption stimulus package?

As economists would say economic stimulus package is an economic package that governments adopt to financially stimulate an ailing economy by use of monetary or fiscal policy changes to kick start a struggling economy.

Some tactics that are often used include but not limited to lowering interest rates, increasing tax, increasing government spending or quantitative easing i.e. increasing money supply by the central bank to increase liquidity thus enabling financial institutions to increase lending to stimulate spending and investments in the economy.

During the 2008 recession, USA for example had a stimulus package amounting to about $790 billion that was duly approved by congress early in 2009 after long deliberations by the law makers.  The package was an anti recessionary measure designed to jump start the economy to save up to 2.3 million jobs.

The package included $290 billion in tax cuts, $220 billion in employment benefits, education and health care and $280 billion for job creation.  This is a good example of an economic stimulus package. How well it worked is up to the Americans to judge. Many other countries had their own economic stimulus packages as a result of that 2008 recession.

The recently announced Botswana economic stimulus package is very surprising coming as it does when the economy is said have largely recovered from the 2008 recession. If we needed a stimulus package it should have happened in 2008.

The manner in which this was announced is also very surprising in a country that is not only known for its strong democratic traditions but also for its strong adherence to the rule of law and its supposedly prudent economic management. How can such a package be announced at a party conference not in parliament where budgetary provisions are presented, debated, sanctioned and legislated. 

Could this be a knee jerk reaction to counter the growing strength of the opposition block in the country? Is this not an ill conceived idea to hoodwink the electorate who are now clearly fed up with the BDP government?  Is this seemingly reckless economic stimulus package not meant to drain our foreign reserves so that the next government after Khama will struggle to implement its transformative development programmes?

Reading through the comments in the private papers and social media it is clear that a lot of our people including most economists have been taken by surprise by this announcement. Most commentators if you read between the lines think this is a corruption stimulus package. 

We need to appeal to our law makers to reject this package outright especially the use of our foreign reserves as this will only serve to finance inefficiency, maladministration and corruption. Our economists must wear their professional hats and unequivocal advice against the dangers of ‘diving’ into our reserves without a clear transformative plan.

The president personally sent a card to all of us during the 2014 elections with five promises to the nation. I hope Batswana have not forgotten these promises;
Job creation
Poverty eradication
HIV & aids

Now the president is coming up with a new list of five economic stimulus promises which includes building houses, road construction, tourism promotion etc. Remember also that in 2008, he came up with yet another list of five promises which he termed the 5 Ds, Democracy, Development, Dignity, Delivery, I cannot remember the other D. It does not matter anymore. 

If the president was serious about these Ds everyone would by now not only be familiar with these Ds but also knowing precisely what progress has been made against each one of them.

This was the president’s roadmap to prosperity and dignity by 2016. I was very excited when I heard the president so eloquently describing these Ds in his inaugural address in 2008. I believed then that we were headed somewhere. I must say I am now thoroughly disappointed.

The president missed a golden opportunity when instead of briefing his party and the nation on progress on the 5 Ds and the election promises came up with a new list of promises to be sponsored by our foreign reserves.

I believe the election promises should have been at the fore front of his party loyalists and the country at large as they mostly talk to the needs and cries of most Batswana. His 5 Ds would also have shown that the president is a man of his word. What lasting legacy will the president leave at the end of his term? 

I am sure the stimulus package and use of foreign reserves was a surprise even to the party members, but the voice of their master is so strong; it is like the voice of God to them and cannot be questioned. This is wrong and will bury their party deeper into the ‘pit’ and sadly innocent Batswana may also end up in the same pit.

My advice to the president and his party is to go back to the election promises and detail them before going to parliament to seek funding and the source of this funding. It must be noted that the national funds belong to the nation not the Botswana Democratic Party. Our reserves should not be spent recklessly and hopefully parliament will stand up to protect our hard earned reserves.

The main issue which the president called priority number one during the election was employment creation it remains priority number one to the nation. Poverty eradication cannot be achieved without first addressing the employment creation challenge, so the two are twins and are together priority number one.  The question the president and BDP should be asking themselves is how do you create meaningful and sustainable employment?  I would like again to offer some suggestions:

First of all you must identify manufacturing industries that will create jobs for the citizens and name them one by one and then employ a competent non partisan team to find ways to create these manufacturing industries. 

Secondly in Botswana we rely on food from South Africa and should there be shortage there we will starve. One of the immediate areas to consider is development of our agriculture to produce and process enough food for the nation and for export. It is possible and this will create many jobs.

Thirdly we need to interrogate mineral beneficiation not only for sustainable job creation but to grow our economic base. You do not need immediate funding, as you already have CEDA, BDC, NDB, LEA and many others which you can redirect their efforts to these high priority areas.

However, for these to happen we will need to first invest adequately in infrastructure development which include water and electricity supply to meet and exceed all our needs for sustainability. We will need well designed and maintained road, rail and air and ICT infrastructure.

This will need foreign investment which will not happen under the current corrupt, inefficient public procurement systems. Corruption and inefficient public procurement practices is the number one enemy against requisite foreign investment.  So priority number two should be to fight corruption in all its manifestations, not just to talk about it but to put visible measures to clean the public service and make it accountable and productive.

The third priority which is also other enemy to job creation and economic growth is availability of requisite skills.  In Botswana the government has invested inordinate amount of money on education. It is high time we started harvesting this investment.

The way to do it is to make sure that all the school leavers and graduates are given industry specific training in collaboration with industry.  We should not struggle to have requisite skills in Botswana since we have multitudes of educated people. What is required is now to train these people for specific industrial needs.

When the government talks of building houses, building roads, tourism operators, do we have people trained to build these houses and the roads or are we going to rely on Chinese prisoners to do this for us? Where are we going to get the tourism operators, where have we trained them, in what specific skills and what quantities?

When we talk mineral beneficiation, what are we talking about? Which minerals and what specific beneficiation are we referring to? What technology is required for this to happen? What training is required and at what level for mineral beneficiation to be realised?  How do we get the products to the market? Without answering these questions, whatever money you have will go to waste. It will only fund corruption and no long term development and job creation will take place.

To fund the five promises announced by the president at their congress, the money currently sitting in the economy can be redirected and used to fund these programmes. How many million are returned to the treasury every year? One paper few weeks ago reported that close to P300 billion has not been accounted for since 2008. 

Debswana alone has capacity and diamond reserves to produce up to 35 million carats per year.  They have reduced their production to about 23 million currents per year, resulting in a close to 12 million carats deficit.

Why? Russia has overtaken Debswana and now produces close to 38 million carats per year. Why should we be the ones reducing production because of low market demand, which demand has been stifled by unsustainable prices imposed on these diamonds by the industry itself?  Why should we be reducing our production when everyone else is increasing their production?  Now what is the potential revenue loss as a result of this reduction?

Industry sources estimate that in 2015 Jwaneng will produce 11 million carats valued at $2.4 billion and Orapa mines will produce 12 million carats valued at $1.2 billion.  Therefore it follows that the 12 million carat deficit will result in a possible revenue loss of between $1.2 and 2.4 billion; a whooping P12-24 billion loss per year. This begs a question; instead of our foreign reserves should we not produce more diamonds and increase efficiencies in our economy in general?

The other astonishing thing that came out from the BDP congress is that the BDP president does not believe in citizen empowerment proposed by the secretary general which suggested that foreign companies should partner with Batswana for not only skills transfer but for sustainable development.

The president would rather empower the Chinese government sponsored companies in Botswana.  If the Chinese government can empower their citizens to come and do business in Botswana why can we not see the need to do the same for our own people?

I would like to conclude by saying that unless there is a paradigm shift in the way our government deals with our national development plans, any effort will be disjointed and futile. The job summit currently taking place in Gaborone will become just another talk shop and nothing meaningful will come out of it.

Call me whatever name but the recent five promises by the president and his party will soon gather dust just like all the other promises and our hard earned reserves will have sadly gone to waste. I would be happy to be proven wrong.

Bernard Busani
E-mail:   cell: 71751440

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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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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


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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