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Is a Private Sector led Economy Possible in Botswana?

Today I am leaving party politics to focus on business development and empowerment of the private sector to meaningfully lead the economic development of our country.

With a leadership that is open, accountable, innovative and willing to listen to genuine professional advice, we could do much better in all spheres of our developmental agenda. Those people who are ever so eager to pamper and please those in power to gain favour will never help move this country forward in any meaningful measure.

Those leaders who think they know it all will never move this country forward, in the contrary they will sadly regress the national development. True leaders are servants of the people and not masters who cannot be questioned. Those who claim to be leaders will take heed of this submission.

Today I want to talk about the lost business opportunities because of our misguided developmental priorities, simply put, because of the ineffective leadership that we have chosen to have. Privatisation has failed to take root meaningfully in our country despite many years of spending cumulatively millions if not billions of taxpayer’s money on trying to attract this illusive foreign direct investment for diversifying and growing the economy through the private sector. We have kept on doing the same things over the years and expecting different results which Einstein described a long time ago as insanity of the highest order.

I would like our government to find out what countries like Singapore, Dubai, Malaysia, Mauritius, Chile, Brazil and many other emerging economies have done to modernise and grow their economy when these countries have far less resources than we have been blessed with.

These countries have developed their economies within a relatively short period of time and can now compete with the very best internationally. What have they done that we are failing to see and do? Instead of us randomly going around the world for aimless benchmarking, we must focus on specific countries and specific interventions that will inform our own winning strategies for development.

For many years, government has repeatedly called upon the private sector to drive the economic development. They have passionately talked of the need for a private sector led economy. This has not happened, why? I will attempt to provide some workable suggestions below.

In the first place, for the private led economy to happen, government must be a true enabling partner that does not only provide sound legal framework that encourages and empowers the private sector to perform, but also provides requisite infrastructure and empowers its own people to meaningfully participate.

Infrastructure for the purposes of this submission, I mean; adequate road networks that connect the country and neigbouring countries; railway lines that facilitate movement of people and goods from our neigbouring countries and within our own country; air transport and airports of international standard that eases national and international interconnections; broadband that is fast and reliable and will connect us to the world instantly and always, systems that work always, not what we have now, ‘system down, we do not know what is wrong, we do not know when it will be fixed’, as a result having people waiting for days for service; infrastructure for provision of reliable and cost effective electricity and water including serviced land is mandatory. Without these we cannot expect the private sector to perform and let alone lead economic development.

Secondly and more importantly we need to create wealth for our people so that they can meaningfully participate in the economic development of their country. We cannot expect to have an economy that is dominated by foreigners with no significant citizen participation. This will simply not work. It will create resentment and what many people call poor work ethics and laziness by our people. I believe our people are not any different from any other people; they are motivated by the same things that motivate other people regardless of where they come from.

When people are disgruntled because they feel disadvantaged, marginalised and made to feel insignificant in their own country, they will display the negative characteristics we often observe in our people. Our people are not lazy and can be as productive as any other provided the environment is right and they have ownership and are not treated as nonentities or bo eseng mang.

An obvious question is how do we create wealth for our people and have them meaningfully participate in the economic development of their country?  Let me offer some possible solutions.

I believe that we have missed many opportunities and unless we shift our paradigm and help our people to create wealth that they can use to participate meaningfully in business, we will continue to miss opportunities for a private sector led economy. Our leaders seem to have this mistaken belief that the private sector must be foreign dominated for it to be successful.  Yes, we need some foreign input, but we must realise that we need more local input, meaningful local input; input in terms of finance and skills.

Two weeks ago, I submitted in this column that I was very excited that Botswana Oil Company was considering building a Coal Liquefaction Plant. I indicated that this was an opportunity to get Batswana to participate by floating shares and allowing Batswana to buy and be shareholders in the proposed business. I stated that most Batswana have cattle that can be turned into cash for them to buy shares.

Those with disposable income can buy shares from their income. The businesses we have in the country can plough back their profits by buying shares. The Pension Funds and Insurance Companies have billions of Batswana money invested offshore. Technical partner(S) could be roped in to not only provide technical expertise but also shareholding finance.  Government should support and invest on behalf of the nation.

Debswana is a working example where government has partnered with the private sector and allowed the private sector (De Beers) to run the business. Every one knows the impact Debswana has had and continues to have in the economy of this country.

The only thing missing is that government failed to allow Batswana as individuals and other local businesses to buy shares in Debswana at the onset. Had we done this how much wealth would we have created in Botswana for Batswana.  I am sure this wealth would have been used to grow the small and medium business enterprises that would have assisted in building the economy and creating much needed employment. We recently missed another opportunity for Batswana to buy shares when the country was offered 45 % of De Beers by the Oppenheimer family.

What would have happened to the so called failed Fengyue Glass Factory in Palapye, if government had after finalising the bankable feasibility study gone to the people of Botswana, the businesses in Botswana for funding and found a viable commercial and technical partner(s) to help with the funding as well as management of the technical aspects of the business? Had we done this I do not believe the project would have failed.

There is still a chance to find a viable formula as suggested. Government neither has the expertise nor the time to manage such projects. Such projects must be left to the private sector. This is where Business Botswana must be allowed to come in and help to facilitate such processes.

The government through LEA has recently reportedly completed a bankable feasibility study for the Lobatse Leather Park. It is said that this factory will cost about P450 million and employ over 10 000 people. This is where the government must jump out; find sound commercial and technical partner(s) as shareholder(s) and like I suggested earlier get Batswana involved in funding the project.

The technical partner(s) will do due diligence study and then carryout the project on behalf of all the shareholders. The leather park project if done professionally by employing the right expertise will never fail and will continue to grow as we will continue to ‘eat meat’ and demand for leather products will continue to increase locally and internationally.

BMC is another entity that should have been left to the private sector to manage, with government, employees and Batswana in general as shareholders. Government is for ever bailing out BMC. The sum of P300 million has recently been approved to bail out BMC from its own mismanagement.

This is not the first bail out and will not be the last one. I am sure if BMC was run by the private sector; it would be providing much more revenue and wealth for Batswana and government and not ‘eating’ from the taxpayer’s coffers as it currently does. We have the raw material in abundance in the form of cattle and other animals and the market cannot be better. With government helping with disease control as it currently does and leaving the private sector running BMC as a business, more wealth would be created for Botswana and Batswana shareholders.

SPEDU is another example where government should have provided infrastructure and allowed the private sector to take over as suggested above. With government involvement, we are likely to see what is happening at BMC happening at SPEDU.

In passing, it is funny that the CEO of BMC is the chairman of BCL and the CEO of BCL is the chairman of SPEDU!  Well, how do we expect people to spread themselves so widely and still perform adequately in all these demanding jobs? Is this not part of the problem we have?

These are some few examples that I believe can create wealth for Batswana and empower them to meaningfully participate in the economy.  If you have employees as shareholders of the companies they work for, they will be motivated to do more to increase their own personal returns and everyone will gain more. These employees when they retire will continue to earn income from their shares and with sufficient wealth they could if they so desire invest in other small businesses.

What a winning formula!
In conclusion, this is my contribution to a blue print for a private sector led economy. Any government who wants the private sector to excel must not just talk about it, but must find ways to make it excel and talk about the results.
Having graduates starting small businesses because they have no jobs is not privatisation; is creating false hope and deeping many of our young people into poverty and hopelessness.

The number of young people registering businesses daily at the registrar of companies is shocking. Currently only privileged individuals corruptly get tenders from government and the rest are desperately wallowing in poverty. Some people are saying we are slowly building a time bomb that will explode and destroy the very fabric that this country is known for. We need to change course and find viable ways of financially empowering our people not only to avoid the impending explosion but more importantly to empower them to lead the economic development of their country.

 Bernard Busani
 Email: bernard.busani@ 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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