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Political meddling kills parastatals – Gaolathe

Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) Deputy President, Ndaba Gaolathe has warned that undue political interference in the governing affairs of public institution which has gained unprecedented momentum in recent years will ultimately lead to their collapse.

Speaking to this publication in an exclusive interview this week following his response to President Ian Khama’s State of Nation Address (SONA), Gaolathe said there is a worrying trend in which excessive interference in the running affairs of quasi-government institutions is compromising their quality of governance.

Gaolathe said it is not by mistake that public institutions like Botswana Development Corporation (BDC), Botswana Meat Commission (BMC), and lately Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST) have experienced some sort of scandals relating to corruption and maladministration.

Gaolathe pointed out that the root cause of poor governance and performance in public institutions is the government itself through appointment of CEOs and boards based on personal relationship and political affiliation, and with high disregard for competence and excellence.

“It is not a mistake that these public institutions are collapsing , government is floating high governance standards and fails to give a clear leadership,” he said.

“We appoint not just loyalists but friends who are not considered the best within their professional fraternities. This is a fact, and is all in the open, we are a small country were citizens know who among them are more hardworking, more accountable or more qualified.”

Where the government hires the right executives, with all the credentials, it tends to interfere in the operation of the institutions, leading to disarray in running the instructions and sometimes resignations, Gaolathe further observed.  

He said recently, BIUST has been hit by mass resignations as a result of political interference. Among those who resigned is the university vice chancellor, Professor Hilary Inyang, “After investing billions into the promising science and technology institution of our time, BIUST, the most able Vice Chancellors are resigning from their work, due to poor governance standards being imposed on them from the Executive arm of Government.”

Gaolathe, the son of former Finance Minister, the late Baledzi Gaolathe said in some instances some public institutions can go for a period of time with no substantive CEO without any reason for that.

He observed that most often the reason is that government is looking for someone who has personal relationship with those in the echelons of power. “As a country we have no regard for good governance, or planning for the long term or for the creative structuring of these entities or satellite entities that regulate their work. It is common to find that the boards of these companies are in limbo, and their Chief Executive Officers are in acting roles for years.”

The UDC think tank is of the view that the appointment of board of directors in public institutions also leaves much to be desired. Gaolathe contends that the board needs sufficient relevant skills and understanding to review and challenge management performance. He argued that it also needs adequate size and appropriate levels of independence and commitment.

Gaolathe said what government needs to do is to appoint competent people and leave the governance to the board and managers and these, in his view will yield dividends.

“Strong public institutions can solve all the problems that this country is facing including unemployment if they are given space to succeed. We can give them a broad mandate to become multinational companies and do business in other countries to boost our revenue.”

While the current government believes that in order to make public institutions effective and productive, privatisation is the way to go, Gaolathe has reservations about the move. “I do not believe in privatisation for the sake of it, some institutions can be made effective and efficient without privatising, “ he argues, “All we need to do is to thrive for excellence, appoint the right people and give them a clear mandate without interfering in their job.”

“We can also de-monopolize some public institutions and allow other players to enter the industry,” he said referring to BMC as one of the prime examples of monopoly that needs to end.

“However we should not totally open it up because that way we will run a risk of a situation where everyone wants to make profit perhaps without the interest of the customers,” he noted. In essence Gaolathe wants the industry to be an oligopoly, where it is open to few, but enough to foster competition and efficiency in the beef industry.

Gaolathe also took a swipe at the country’s procurement system, saying it is disintegrated and lack a clear direction. He said part of the failure relating to the country’s procurement system can be attested by the fact that over the last five years or so, there is no a single project which was delivered either on schedule or on budget.

“We do not align our procurement system with our strategy, “ he said, “It should be stated in the procurement how are we going to empower youth owned business, local entrepreneurs and how sectors of the economy like tourism are going to be empowered but without jeopardizing the quality.”

Gaolathe said without qualified and competent staff in the country’s procurement system, the country will continue losing billions of Pula in projects awarded to companies whose credentials are questionable.

The Gaborone Bonnington South legislator gave the example of the Morupule B as a case in point. “We know that when it comes to power generation we should have looked for Japanese or Koreans because Chinese do not have that type of technology,” he said.

 Despite the Ministry of Education and Skills Development getting a lion’s share of the budget, Gaolathe believes Botswana does not value Research and Development.

He observed that the country could use to churn the skills for the economy. “There are regional foods that can be processed like moretlwa and be exported to other countries, and we can create many sub-industries in conjunction with the best universities in the world like Massachusetts Institute of Technology,” he observed. 

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