ANOTHER LITERARY OFFERING: Former Cabinet Minister and Phakalane Estates proprietor David Magang has dispelled accolades heaped on Botswana as a prosperous nation, declaring it a failed nation which could have been far more successful.
Former Cabinet Minister and Phakalane Estates proprietor, David Magang has blown away accolades heaped on Botswana as a prosperous nation, declaring it a failed nation which could have been far more successful given its potential.
His unapologetic remarks were minted out in his latest book titled “Delusions of Grandeur” which was launched on Wednesday this week in a star studded attendance at luxurious Phakalane Golf Estate Hotel. Magang, who previously published a controversial autobiography, titled “The Magic of Perseverance” in 2008, contends that Botswana is not and has never been a prosperous country and its economic management acumen is overrated.
In his latest offering, Magang contends that, although Botswana steered clear of the Resource Curse, it did not escape the clutches of the Diamantine Curse and has not realized its full economic potential because the people entrusted with charting its economic destiny seem to suffer from delusion of grandeur.
Magang believes that the accolades that Botswana gets from various organizations are a little more than sheer statistical hype as they cannot be reflected in the standard of living of the people of Botswana. Magang said it is ironic that, Botswana has at times been ranked ahead of South Africa in terms of prosperity when the latter has significantly better remunerated workforce, better infrastructure and has consistently contributed more than six US dollar billionaires to the Forbes Rich List billionaires.
“We should be wary of numbers that imbue in us a mere psychological thrill when there is precious little of substance in the facts on the ground to lend credence to them,” he wrote.
The former Minister of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources said in the book that nearly 50 years after independence Botswana’s economy remains predominantly monocultural as it still depends on diamonds and has suffered a complete economy diversification failure.
Magang noted that had another country, like Singapore or Taiwan had similar privileges as Botswana, they would have been a heaven-on-earth, “a paradise”.
“We have no manufacturing industry worthy the word, and we import upwards of 80 percent of our foodstuffs from South Africa,” he observed, “In fact so beholden are we to the South African economy we are effectively its neo-colony.”
Magang said Botswana has failed to an extent that Agriculture, which at independence was the mainstay of economy now only accounts for less than 3 percent of GDP. “The result is that we continue to import tomatoes and vegetables from Big Brother next door after 48 years of independence, ao, batho ba modimo!,” lamented Magang.
Magang said if indeed Botswana’s economic management was prudent, Batswana should not be without work as economic managers would have long beneficiated to churn out a whole galaxy of downstream industries that would have guaranteed full employment.
“Staggering poverty exists in what is supposed to be the El Dorado of Africa and public sector salaries remain frugally meager,” he wrote, “Worse still the salaries are so constricted they can stay unchanged for five whole years,” he added.
Magang holds that income disparities are obscene and one of the wildest in the world, something which the former Kweneng East Member of Parliament contended condemns other sections of society to poverty.
“The highest paid civil servant takes home P49 000 every month while the lowest paid get P1 400. Because the latter are virtually illiterate and are at maximum potential when they mop floors, vacuum clean carpets, scrub toilets, and brew tea, they are deserving only a throwaway of 35 times removed from that of the degree-wielding Permanent Secretary to the President,” he observed.
Magang said lack of empowerment for citizens and failure to have well remunerating jobs have seen Batswana resorting to cheap Chinese clothes and Fong Kong cars dumped into Botswana’s desperate economy by now fabulous and rich Chinese, Japanese and Singaporeans.
The Phakalane Estates Chairman said because government has failed to put in place a citizen empowered mechanism, government by the virtue of it being infinitely richer than its people remains by far the guarantor of everybody’s survival. “Players in the private sector largely, and overwhelmingly, thrive on government expenditure, without it they are doomed, period,” he asserted.
“Our infrastructure is certainly rickety, insubstantial, and unimposing particularly to the investor,” Magang asserted.
Magang also revealed that a sense of culture built over years has resulted in a sense of entitlement where citizens are given handouts instead of being empowered to take care of themselves. He observed that this has been coupled with politics of populism which do not in any way resolve the problems but only postpone them.
Magang concluded that Botswana has only managed to move from being one of the poorest countries in the world to the level of an upper-middle income country but did not prosper to a scale it potentially should have. He said Botswana became complacent and was not seriously galvanized to bring meaningful economic diversification. ‘Because diamonds are so plentiful and they generated such enormous rents, government kind of relaxed, it practically went to sleep,” he observed.
Magang is of the view that diamonds failed to create significant jobs and said Debswana which employs about 4500 people, a mere drop in an ocean for a company with over P7 billion of revenues. He further compared Botswana’s diamond industry to Zambia’s copper industry, which he said created employment for up to 35 000 people and has annual revenue of US$2billion.
The proprietor conceded with the IMF 1999 report that Botswana’s growth manifested largely in capital accumulation and not employment creation. “Certainly Botswana has not benefited from De Beers’ manipulative and monopolistic stranglehold on the world diamond market, but this profit fundamentally went to government not to an ordinary Motswana as such in direct sense, he argued.
According to Magang, De Beers is responsible for Botswana’s lack of economic prosperity as it has deliberately kept the government in the dark about diamonds and what it can do for its economy in terms of job creation through beneficiation. He went on to accuse De Beers of trying to convince the government of Botswana over the years that diamond beneficiation would not work in Botswana.
Government is currently sitting on 4 400 vacant posts that remain unfilled in the civil service. This is notwithstanding the high unemployment rate in Botswana which has been exacerbated by the recent outbreak of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
Just before the burst of COVID-19, official data released by Statistics Botswana in January 2020, indicate that unemployment in Botswana has increased from 17.6 percent three years ago to 20.7 percent. “Unemployment rate went up by 3.1 percentage between the two periods, from 17.6 to 20.7 percent,” statistics point out.
Leading commercial bank, First National Bank Botswana (FNBB), expects the central bank to sharpen its monetary policy knife and cut the Bank Rate twice in the last quarter of 2020.
The bank expects a 25 basis point (bps) in the beginning of the last quarter, which is next month, and another shed by the same bps in December, making a total of 50 bps cut in the last quarter. According to the bank’s researchers, the central bank is now holding on to 4.25 percent for the time being pending for more informed data on the economic climate.
An audit of the accounts and records for the supply of food rations to the institutions in the Northern Region for the financial year-ended 31 March 2019 was carried out. According to Auditor General’s report and observations, there are weaknesses and shortcomings that were somehow addressed to the Accounting Officer for comments.
Auditor General, Pulane Letebele indicated on the report that, across all depots in the region that there had been instances where food items were short for periods ranging from 1 to 7 months in the institutions for a variety of reasons, including absence of regular contracts and supplier failures. The success of this programme is dependent on regular and reliable availability of the supplies to achieve its objective, the report said.
There would be instances where food items were returned from the feeding centers to the depots for reasons of spoilage or any other cause. In these cases, instances had been noted where these returns were not supported by any documentation, which could lead to these items being lost without trace.
The report further stressed that large quantities of various food items valued at over P772 thousand from different depots were damaged by rodents, and written off.Included in the write off were 13 538 (340ml) cartons of milk valued at P75 745. In this connection, the Auditor General says it is important that the warehouses be maintained to a standard where they would not be infested by rodents and other pests.
Still in the Northern region, the report noted that there is an outstanding matter relating to the supply of stewed steak (283×3.1kg cans) to the Maun depot which was allegedly defective. The steak had been supplied by Botswana Meat Commission to the depot in November 2016.
In March 2017 part of the consignment was reported to the supplier as defective, and was to be replaced. Even as there was no agreement reached between the parties regarding replacement, in 51 October 2018 the items in question were disposed of by destruction. This disposal represented a loss as the whole consignment had been paid for, according to the report.
“In my view, the loss resulted directly from failure by the depot managers to deal with the matter immediately upon receipt of the consignment and detection of the defects. Audit inspections during visits to Selibe Phikwe, Maun, Shakawe, Ghanzi and Francistown depots had raised a number of observations on points of detail related to the maintenance of records, reconciliations of stocks and related matters, which I drew to the attention of the Accounting Officer for comments,” Letebele said in her report.
In the Southern region, a scrutiny of the records for the control of stocks of food items in the Southern Region had indicated intermittent shortages of the various items, principally Tsabana, Malutu, Sunflower Oil and Milk which was mainly due to absence of subsisting contracts for the supply of these items.
“The contract for the supply of Tsabana to all depots expired in September 2018 and was not replaced by a substantive contract. The supplier contracts for these stocks should be so managed that the expiry of one contract is immediately followed by the commencement of the next.”
Suppliers who had been contracted to supply foodstuffs had failed to do so and no timely action had been taken to redress the situation to ensure continuity of supply of the food items, the report noted.
In one case, the report highlighted that the supplier was to manufacture and supply 1 136 metric tonnes of Malutu for a 4-months period from March 2019 to June 2019, but had been unable to honour the obligation. The situation was relieved by inter-depot transfers, at additional cost in transportation and subsistence expenses.
In another case, the contract was for the supply of Sunflower Oil to Mabutsane, where the supplier had also failed to deliver. Examination of the Molepolole depot Food Issues Register had indicated a number of instances where food items consigned to the various feeding centres had been returned for a variety of reasons, including food item available; no storage space; and in other cases the whole consignments were returned, and reasons not stated.
This is an indication of lack of proper management and monitoring of the affairs of the depot, which could result in losses from frequent movements of the food items concerned.The maintenance of accounting records in the region, typically in Letlhakeng, Tsabong, and Mabutsane was less than satisfactory, according to Auditor General’s report.
In these depots a number of instances had been noted where receipts and issues had not been recorded over long periods, resulting in incorrect balances reflected in the accounting records. This is a serious weakness which could lead to or result in losses without trace or detection, and is a contravention of Supplies Regulations and Procedures, Letebele said.
Similarly, consignments of a total of 892 bags of Malutu and 3 bags of beans from Tsabong depot to different feeding centres had not been received in those centres, and are considered lost. These are also not reflected in the Statement of Losses in the Annual Statements of Accounts for the same periods.