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UN Assemblies: Khama vindicated?

NEW YORK – World leaders have adopted the much-talked about ambitious, bold and universal Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which is a migration from the much publicized Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and as expected, President Lt Gen Ian Khama chose not to attend.

In an interview with South African financial publication, Business Day, in 2013 Khama dismissed the Union General Assembly (UNGA) meetings as nothing but wasteful and worthless ‘talk shops’.

The resolutions of the UN are not legally binding and implementation is left to individual countries. Although it has been hailed as the great hope for the future of mankind – the UN has also been dismissed as a shameful den of dictatorships owing to the undemocratic politics of the Security Council. This view is held particularly by the developing world.

Nonetheless, many had expected President Khama to attend this year’s historic and epic United Nations 70th anniversary General Assembly, which even attracted the Russian President, Vladimir Putin who has a decade of absenteeism with the UNGA. This year’s GA was special because of its uniqueness and extraordinarily rich agenda, but Khama remained unmoved.

The General Assembly is the main deliberative body of the UN. As opposed to the controversial Security Council, which is exclusive and grants unique veto rights to five nations, all 193 UN member nations have membership and equal voting rights in the General Assembly.

The General Assembly approves the admission of new UN members and elects members to other UN organs. Over the years, it has become the primary platform for the dialogue between developed and developing states. This week, Zimbabwean President, Robert Mugabe endeared himself to as he launched a scathing attack on the West in relation to several issues that many agree with him but shy away from discussing for fear of offending their economic masters.

Opposition parties in Botswana and other stakeholders continue to urge Khama to revisit his position and view on the UNGA but the President won’t relent. Khama, his detractors say, unlike Mugabe, prefers to snipe at a distance, an attitude associated with cowardly man – they say. His detractors further argue that the President needs to give the organization support by way of presence and contribution in debates if indeed he shares its objectives and believes in its significance.

The new UN agenda entitled ‘Transforming our world: 2030 agenda for sustainable development’, will serve as the launch  pad for action by the international community and by national governments to promote shared prosperity and well-being for all over the next 15 years.

The agenda  which has 17 SGDs and 169 targets is unique in that it calls for action by all countries- poor, rich and middle –income, unlike the now defunct MGDs which the developing world heard of towards the end of the 15-year period during which they were to be achieved. SDGs have seen much more effective consultation. The co-chair of the Open Working Group, Macharia Kamau said, “no one can say they were not consulted. There was wide consultation and therefore there is accountability.”

To show their support, countries have sent their representatives. The programme shows that out of 53 African states, 60 percent of the heads of states are in attendance, 25 percent sent Ministers while the remaining 15 percent sent Vice Presidents. Botswana is represented by both the Vice President and a Minister.

This publication sought opinions from various UN senior officials on the attendance and non-attendance of heads of states and if at all that has any significance.

Many were of the view that ‘agendas are not for Presidents but countries at the end of the day’. They further said while a head of state’s attendance is always encouraging, the monitoring and assessment of the goals looks largely on the country leadership’s commitment to the goals. Botswana’s anti-poverty strategy and commitment to UN agreed objectives is said to be one of the most robust and successful when compared to her regional counterparts.

The UN Resident Coordinator, Mr Anders Pederson is of the view that Botswana has done very well by dramatically reducing poverty levels and achieving universal access to HIV/AIDS treatment, and to social services such as education and health. Botswana has also shown true leadership in the sub-region during the MDGs era.

“Although inequality is still a challenge, Government’s commitment towards addressing this gives us hope and assurance that by 2030, this will be a thing of the past,” he points out.

Does Khama’s presence really matter that much?

UN senior officials say yes and no. “Yes because it is a head of states assembly but also an issue to do with the highest political representation. As for a Vice-President or a minister, many might argue that it is still a high political representation, and the president may as well tell them what to say, where and how,” they advised.

The presidents however, the officials said, need to show up regularly or occasionally “because a UN Assembly is the highest political event in the UN calendar and the opportunity provides presidents with a rare opportunity to talk to the world”.

They further observed that through the addresses, presidents are also provided with a rare opportunity to raise problems within their respective countries for the world to offer advice or assistance. These, they said, may be through formal dialogue or informal ‘chats’ with counterparts during adjournments.

According to the UN officials, presidents hardly find themselves in one place at the same time and the UN assembly provides that rare opportunity for them to connect, interact and iron out issues that may have been pending because of insufficient time or resources.

“Attendance at the highest level also shows respect to the organization you say you support and the organization that you sustain annually through your budget,” they further advised.

When addressing the ongoing GA the Botswana’s Vice President, Mokgweetsi Masisi who made it clear at the onset of his statement that he is standing in for President Khama said Botswana’s progress has been very encouraging.

“We have reached universal access to education and almost closed the disparity between girls and boys in schools; health services are practically free and have been brought within an 8km radius of each community across the country; HIV anti-retroviral drugs are provided freely for all Batswana and transmission of the virus from mother to child is almost at zero; focused interventions for youth employment and income-generating opportunities have resulted in the improved quality of life of our citizens,” he said.


He further said one notable area of success worthy of singular mention has been the national flagship programme for the complete eradication of poverty.

“Through the deliberate actions of this strategy, evidence is beginning to show that steady progress is being made. Interestingly, the evidence also shows that women are greater beneficiaries of the programme and achieve significantly better results that actually transform their livelihood and that of their families. This has been a patent reminder of the role women can play in national development, when given the opportunity,” he said to a half-empty assembly.


The style and culture at the Assembly is that when one is done with his address they leave and those that are not presenting on that day do not care to show up, and worse still, the world major media outlets are only interested in the United States of America President’s speeches as well as a few of the world’s major economies like China and Russia to feed on tensions between these governments, which often see the UN as bloated and inefficient.


Khama is a fierce and fearless critic of some regional and international leaders and is revered and disliked by many in the region for his unpopular views on emerging issues. His government’s foreign policy has however come under heavy criticism for lack of consistency.


In Botswana because of his non-attendance critics argue that his assistant, Masisi cannot express himself with the same confidence and authority because being a messenger usually comes with boundaries but Khama is of the view that it is not about who attends but the country position.
 

Achievability of SDGs and Botswana
With the world moving from the 8 MDGs to 17 SDGs questions have now shifted to achievability of the SDGs given their number. Botswana’s latest report of the MDGs depicted a country on the right path despite a few areas of concern like the quality of education, high and widening inequalities, the high HIV/AIDs prevalence rates and a few minor cases.


Globally there are concerns that the new SDGs lack clarity on evaluation, accountability and transparency. Leaders however say these will be looked into. Others worry that 17 being the number of SDGs seems too many, and 169 target indicators might be difficult to monitor even for countries with good data collection mechanisms, the biggest worry however remains resources.


“In Botswana, we’re looking forward to align our work on poverty eradication; environment and climate change; governance, human rights and gender equality and their outcomes even closer to the Botswana Vision Post 2016 and the National Development Plan 11. These new Global Goals will guide and help us achieve that. The Goals spell out how we work together to promote dignity, equality, justice, shared prosperity and well-being for all, while protecting the environment. We are the first generation that can end poverty and the last one that can avoid the worst effects of climate change,” Pederson said.

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Botswana’s development agenda in jeopardy

21st September 2020
Botswana’s-development-agenda-in-jeopardy--water-construction

Stanbic Bank Botswana Quarterly Economic Review indicates that Botswana will fail to meet some of its Vision 2036 targets, particularly unemployment reduction and reaching high-income status.

The report says this is mainly due to the slow economic growth that the country is currently experiencing. This Quarterly Economic Review focuses on the 2020 Budget Speech.

The first paper reviews the entire budget with its key observations being that this budget is prepared as prescribed by the Public Finance Management Act; the priorities it seeks to address are drawn from Vision 2036 and the eleventh

The 2020 budget Speech, which was the maiden speech by the Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Dr. Thapelo Matsheka, and the first after the 2019 general elections, was delivered to Parliament on the 4th of February 2020.

It has been well received by the labour unions, business community, and the public at large as well as international organisations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

It mainly derived its support from key facets including, emphasis on changing the business-as-usual approach to development; outlining the transformation agenda; fiscal reform that minimizes the negative impact on economic development and human welfare, competiveness and the decision to implement the 2019 negotiated and agreed public sector.

The budget’s progress review shows that economic growth was consistent with the NDP 11 projections, with growth of around 4 percent. At this growth rate, the country would neither ascend to a high-income status nor reduce unemployment towards the Vision 2036 target of a single digit.

Simple calculations of this review confirm that the economy will need to grow the Vision 2036’s target of 6 percent over the next 16 years for per capita income to increase from around USD 8,000.00 to above USD 12,000.00 in current prices.

Further, the population is anticipated to grow by only 2 percent per annum.

For this reason, the focal areas for the forthcoming FY’s budget include measures to increase economic growth towards an average of 6 percent per annum.

Economic diversification is reportedly progressing fairly well. The report says, the share of the non-mining private sector in value added has risen to 66 percent in 2018 from to 63 percent in 2015.

The sectoral pattern of growth showed that the performance of services sector (particularly transport & communications, trade, hotels & restaurants, and finance & business services) has been the silver lining and that of mining sector was subdued whilst the utility sector disappointed.

The drive towards the service sector of the economy, especially to low-productivity activities (tourism, public administration, wholesaling and retailing) does not bode well for the country’s development aspirations.

In the previous versions of this Quarterly Review, it was noted that there is need for the rethinking of economic diversification. Since the country’s domestic market is small, it is inevitable that economic diversification not only focus on broadening the product mix, but also the composition of exports and markets.

This understanding of economic diversification has not been embraced by this year’s budget. Consequently, Botswana’s exports are still overwhelmingly diamonds, which means that the rest of economic sectors are still highly dependent on foreign-exchange earnings from diamonds. Thus, “the transformation programme requires a review of the country’s entire ecosystem”.

The budget review of the economic context also depicts that an economy with positive medium-term prospects, with growth expected to recover to 4.4 percent in 2020 from the expected growth of 36 percent in 2019 largely due to faster growth of services sectors and, thereafter, to slow-down to 4 percent in 2021.

These projected growth rates are comparable to those of the IMF staff’s baseline scenario of 4.2 percent in 2020 and 4 percent in 2021. Thus, the business-as-usual scenario produces growth rates that are still too low to achieve Botswana’s development objectives and create enough jobs to absorb the new entrants into the labour market.

Trade tensions between the two major markets for diamond exports, viz., the United States of America and China, is one of the factors that are cited as contributing to, indeed, undermining not only the domestic growth, but also the fiscal position.

Another notable downside risk to both global and domestic growth is outbreak of the coronavirus in China around January 2020. This has been declared as a global health emergency. In an attempt to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus pneumonia, the Chinese authorities have ordered city lockdowns and extended holidays, of course, at the expense of near- term economic growth, according to the new Stanbic Bank Botswana report.

According to Nomura Holdings Inc., fewer migrant workers returned for work than in previous years and business activities have been slow to pick up. The havoc wreaked by the virus on the world’s second largest economy is likely to spill over to the global economy. In fact, it has resulted in a glut in crude oil and, thereby placed oil markets into a contango, i.e., a market structure where near-term prices trade at a discount to future contracts.

It also presents significant risks one of Botswana’s main drivers of economic growth, diversification and foreign exchange earnings. According to the Financial Times (February 13, 2020), Chinese tourists spent $130 billion overseas in 2018. Regardless of whether the growth materializes, the projected domestic growth rate would not transform the economy to a high-income one.

Progress towards reduction of unemployment, to a target of single digit, and poverty and achieving inclusive growth has also been relatively slow, the Stanbic Bank Botswana Review says.

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OP leases Orapa House

21st September 2020
Orapa House

Ministry of Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration (MOPAGPA) has through the Office of the President (OP) proposed to avail Orapa House for use by private training institutions as well as research institutions involved in the area of technology development.

For a very long time the monumental building located in the heart of the city has been a white elephant, despite government purchasing it for nearly P80 million from De Beers in 2012.

However, government has now identified a productive use for the iconic building. “The overall vision is for the building to be transformed into a hub for digital technology research and development to be carried-out by institutions, such as; Limkokwing University, BIUST, BITRI and other relevant stakeholders.”

The decision was taken as government traverse a new path of transforming the economy from a mineral led economy to a knowledge based economy through the promotion of research and innovation. However, the facility will need major maintenance to be carried-out in order to meet the requirements of the proposed change in use.

“The work will include provision of laboratories, work stations, production areas and seminar rooms; audio visual centre, high speed internet connectivity, exhibition areas and offices,” reads the proposal note for the development.

These developments will be done through the refurbishment and maintenance of the main building, workshop, and ablution block, gate house, parking area, grounds, and access control and security service.

“There will be minimal modifications to the structure as it stands. The project is estimated to cost approximately P50, 000, 000,” says the report. In this regard, it is said, the initial scope of the OP facility will be modified to accommodate the envisaged digital technology research and development hub.

With funds needed to improve the building, OP has requested that; “the 2020/21 annual budget provision for Orapa House will need to be increased by P37,500,000 from P2,500,000 to P40,000,000 to kick start the maintenance works.” Funds will be sourced from the projects that have been delayed due to Covid-19 protocols during the 2020/21 financial year.

The building has been a thorny issue for government for years. Initially, OP was expected to move there but the move never materialised. At one point it was a question of whether the Office of the President and the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development were planning to override a decision by Parliament which rejected the proposal to buy Orapa House under the belief that government may be buying its own property. The building was to be bought at a negotiated cost of P79 million.

Again in 2012, Government had wanted to buy Orapa House for a negotiated P79m but the Finance and Estimates Committee of Parliament had rejected the request because of the inconsistencies realised in the supporting documents of the proposed procurement. The valuation of the building was put at P74 million.

The Ministry of Lands and Housing had initially offered De Beers P73, 000,000 as the purchase price. However, De Beers countered with P85, 000,000. On negotiation and converging of the minds, the selling price was finally agreed at P79, 000,000.

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Sad state of Brigades: dumped and ignored!

21st September 2020
Brigades

Auditor General, Pulane Letebele, has expressed discontentment at the worrying and deteriorating state of brigades in the country.

In an audit inspection which was carried out at Tshwaragano Brigade in Gabane, a number of observations showed weaknesses and shortcomings in the conduct of the financial affairs of the institution.

According to Letebele’s report, former students of the brigade had been engaged to carry out maintenance works on the school premises, comprising of painting, tiling, plumbing and electrical works, which covered the period from July 2017 to June 2018.

Although the agreed maintenance period had elapsed, the works had not been completed because of unavailability of funds and this situation had persisted up till the time of inspection in November 2019.

Auditor General says arrangements should have been made in time for funds to be available to complete these relatively minor works even before the works commenced.

Various contractors had been engaged for clearing the bush and for the supply of concrete stones, pit and river sand and hiring equipment for digging the trench towards the construction of an auto mechanics workshop, the report said.

It stated that the cost of services and supplies provided totalled P117 949.80. However, despite the services and the supplies having been paid for, the construction works had not commenced for a long period afterwards, resulting in the trench filling back in.

The audit inquiries had not elicited satisfactory responses as both the institution and the Ministry had not accepted the responsibility for the project, although orders for the provision for the supplies had been made. For their part, the Ministry had stated that they had sub warranted funds for the purchase of porta cabins.

Letebele indicated that it is therefore confusing that a project which is critical to the functioning of an institution such as this one would commence without a well-defined plan.

Furthermore, the accounting and maintenance of records for the supplies items were not of the standard prescribed by the Supplies Regulations and Procedures in that the supplies ledger cards, the main accounting records for Government assets, were not properly maintained for the recording of receipts and issues.

This had resulted in significant discrepancies between physical and ledger balances, while in other instances the supplies items had not been recorded at all.

The report says 24 of the 91 new computers found in the computer laboratory at Kumakwane ABC campus were not recorded anywhere, as were the other computers in the storeroom which could not be counted due to the disorderly storage conditions.

The institution had entered into a contract agreement with a security company for the provision of security services at Tshwaragano Brigade, ABC and Horticulture campuses at Kumakwane for a 2-year period which ended in June 2018, WeekendPost learnt.

After the contract expired in June 2018, an extension was granted till the 30th September 2018. Since then, there has been no security service coverage for the institution to-date. According to Auditor General, in the face of prevailing crimes, it is of paramount importance that government properties be protected by provision of security services at all times.

At Tlokweng Brigade, it was noted that the kitchen staff were working under difficult conditions as the kitchen facilities and equipment, such as the cold room, tilting pot, food warmers and solar power for hot water were dysfunctional. The kitchen roof was leaking and men’s restrooms was not working. All these need to be brought to a reasonable and functional state of repair.

The kitchen staff should use a purpose-designed Rations Ledger for the recording of receipts and issues of foodstuffs to reflect the usage of those items. As far back as 2014 the Department of Buildings and Engineering Services had found that the house occupied by the bursar was uninhabitable on account of structural defects, the report said.

A site visit during the audit had established that the house was indeed unfit for occupation as there were cracks on the walls, power switches were not working and the roof was leaking. On a sadder note, there were a number of finished items of clothing, such as dresses, shirts, and jackets from students’ practical exercises from the Fashion Design Textiles Workshop.

Auditor General shared her take on this, saying: “I have not been able to ascertain the policy on the disposal of products from these practicals. A trace of 103 green acid-proof overalls which had been purchased in August 2018 had indicated that there was no record of these items having been recorded or issued, nor were they available in stock. I was not able to obtain any explanation for this situation.”

Kgatleng brigade was also audited and inspected by Auditor General who observed that the brigade has 26 institutional houses at Bokaa, both old campus and new campus. Some of these houses are very old and dilapidated, with two declared uninhabitable. The condition of the houses is a clear indication of lack of care and maintenance of these properties.

At the time of the audit, there was no contractor engaged for the provision of security guard services at the new campus, after expiry of the previous one in July 2019.  It is hoped that steps would be taken to safeguard the security of the premises and government properties against any acts of hooliganism.

In August 2019, there was a break-in at the electrical and at the plumbing maintenance workshops and a number of high value items, such as drilling machines, bolt cutters, spanners and cables, were stolen. The break-in and theft were reported to the police.

“However, at the time of writing this report I was not aware of the outcome of the police investigation, nor of any loss report submitted in terms of the Supplies Regulations and Procedures,” Letebele said.

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