David Magang’s latest literary offering reprises his earlier Magic
Delusions of Grandeur is David Magang’s second plunge into the literary collosseum. The first, his biographical sketch – titled The Magic of Perseverance – came off the presses in 2008.
The two works are uncannily similar, which in itself is not odd anyway coming as they do from the pen of the same, punctilious chronicler. Both are meticulous and encyclopaedic in their vista. Both are eloquent and riveting. Both are frank and forthright. Both are rousing and provocative in a positive way.
Both are classics no doubt. They are sui generis. Delusions of Grandeur is venturesome. Through it, Magang, a lawyer by training, treads on not-so-familiar ground notwithstanding his relatively brief stint as the 2iC at the Exchequer. Indeed, he makes a point of underlining from the very outset that he is not a Keith Jefferis, Roman Grynberg, or Brothers Malema. He is simply a commentator.
Well, if he is a mere discussant, then he is of a special breed. Ordinarily lay people do not engage a specialised subject and argue with such a flourish. If any faculty of economics anywhere endorsed the book as standard text for a development economics course on Botswana, they would not be going beyond the pale.
Magang is good at a whole host of things but more so at laying insuperable markers. In The Magic of Perseverance, he set a benchmark that is yet to be bettered, let alone equalled, on the domestic literary scene. In Delusions of Grandeur, he has scaled another height which is every bit non pareil. Economists must be scratching their heads and wracking their brains as to just how the great Son of Kgabo can be one-upped.
The Universe of Discourse Essentially, Magang’s bone of contention is that for an economy of its tantalising promise once upon a time, Botswana has grossly under-performed. In bolstering his argument, Magang points to the Asian Tigers, basically, as the archetype.
Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea – none had a headstart off the blocks: they began on practically the same economic footing as Botswana. All were anonymous, backwater economies with absolutely nothing to write about. In terms of that popular but questionable economic performance indicator known as GDP, Botswana did in fact pip the four to the post.
It outperformed them by two to three points for 30 straight years or thereabouts. But look at where the Tigers are today. They have long broken into the First World mould whilst Botswana remains stuck in that vast dust bowl dismissively referred to as the Third World. In Delusions of Grandeur, Magang ventures an explanation why, reasoning more from a a posteriori standpoint than a nonchalant a priori posture.
Magang’s thesis is that Botswana would have made greater economic strides but for a malady its economic planners suffer from and which seems to have metastasised throughout the entire bureaucracy. This morbidity, which informs the title of his two-volume tome, he calls delusions of grandeur and fingers it as the cause, fundamentally, of the economic stasis which presently ails the country.
Magang charges that deeply ingrained in the psyche of folk in government structures is an incorrigible and incurable superiority complex that makes them deaf to all common-sense entreaties. It seems to them that Botswana need not emulate best practice from elsewhere on the globe: it is self-contained and as an economy is impregnably fortified. This insularity, this hubris, has the effect that its economic policies are way out of kilter and militate against the symbiosis characteristic of the global economic village that is the world today.
Magang wonders why the policies of various departments of government are scarcely synchronised or concerted, why they seem to work at cross-purposes with each other. For example, he says, one gets the impression that the mandate of the department of labour and migration is to ensure as many spanners as are conceivable are strewn in the way of the Ministry of Trade and Industry.
What seems lost to the people in charge of these ministries, Magang regrets, is that when two such elephants collide, the grass, that is, the investors, suffer untold adversity and to the extent where those who are prospecting are made to think twice about setting up here. Ultimately, the collateral casualty are the citizenry, who are deprived of those potential, vital jobs FDI helps engender, and the Internal Revenue Service we call BURS.
Trading Punches with Fundis Although Magang explicitly voices the disclaimer that he is no economist, that he does, apparently, with tongue in cheek. In his book, the entrepreneurial colossus does not shrink from lacing up the gloves to slug it out with aficionados in the discipline of economics.
Certainly, cases bound in the book where Magang goes off at a tangent from orthodox economic thought and yet argues so cogently and masterfully that one really has to strain to marshal a viable countervailing argument. Opining on GDP per capita, for example, Magang contends that as an indicator of the overall economic wellbeing of a nation, it falls far short of a veritable litmus test.
“The implicit assumption of GPD per capita is that the wealth generated by the economy is shared equally within the population when in real life income disparities are of Grand Canyon proportions,” Magang submits, citing a whole phalanx of countries that band about stratospheric GDP per capita numbers but whose people in the main continue to reel from abject and endemic poverty.
On the tread-of-the-mill question of economic diversification, Magang shares the truistical view that Botswana indeed has dismally failed to make a quantum leap on that score. He cautions, however, that the accent on diversification should not be such that it dismisses mining as a spent, inconsequential force. That would be tantamount to throwing the baby together with the water, for given our vast mineral resource endowment, mining will continue to be a significant plank in our economic platform for the foreseable future.
His take is that, “Diversifying away from minerals does not mean relegating mining to the fringes. It simply means an engendering of a multifaceted economic base. We are what we are today thanks to mining anyway. What is fraught with peril is relying on only one industry that is sustained by a non-renewable resource or a set of such in perpetuity and not the industry itself per se.”
Magang does have a point there. Take Australia. It is mining that has underpinned the country’s economic dynamism and resilience for 150 years and it is mining that helped the country weather the ravages of the 2008/09 global economic meltdown literally unscathed. Australia is a reasonably diversified economy but it is not turning its back on mining yet. All this we learn from Magang’s painstakingly researched book and whose copious source notes attest to this rigour.
Curse Did Strike Granted, Botswana did escape the Resource Curse that has been the bane of many a Third World Country. In other words, its surfeit of resource riches did not boomerang back at the country to turn it into the proverbial basket case. Magang, however, is adamant that Botswana by no means steered clear of the resource curse. It too did incur the resource curse only in its case, the curse took a subtler form – that of the Diamantine Curse.
Magang argues that because the rents emanating from diamond revenues were so prodigious, government became complacent. It became so besotted with its skyscraping cash chest that efforts at economic diversification were not pursued with proportionate vigour.
It explains why when Magang relentlessly belted solo ballads on diamond beneficiation, his colleagues in Cabinet just stopped short of dubbing him a psychopath. Government was so flush with cash mineral resource beneficiation was not deemed imperative.
Years back on the sidelines of some function, Magang recalls, Central Bank Governor Linah Mohohlo angrily lashed out at him “headmaster-style” for passing what she regarded as snide comments on the competence of the monetary authorities. To the consternation of onlookers, the “Empress” wondered aloud where Magang got the temerity to venture into territory of which he was a rank ignoramus.
Reading Delusions of Grandeur, one is apt to wonder whether the venerable custodian of the national fiscus will not be forced into a revised estimate of the man who she so apoplectically laid into. For Delusions of Grandeur is so resoundingly percipient there is no way its author would fit the stereotype of a no-nothing in the field of even monetary economics.
Magang picks off so many illusions about our economy that by the time one finishes reading the book, he or she cannot help marvel at how dis-illusioned they now are. The book is superfragilisticexpialidocious and that is an understatement!
DELUSIONS OF GRANDEUR, 560 pages, is published by Print Media Consult and is available at Exclusive Books, Bala Books, and Books Botswana at P250 per copy.
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.