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Botswana children are vulnerable to ultra-poverty

According to Economist and Managing Consultant – SPECK Dynamics, Sennye Obuseng, Botswana’s national budget for the 2020/21 financial year presented by Minister of Finance and Economic Development Dr Thapelo Matsheka, is only about the economy and has no specific reference to children.

This week, the Civil Society Organizations in Botswana engaged a handful of opposition Members of Parliament (MPs), to discuss the national budget which they feel continues to ignore critical issues which are key to infusing children’s rights perspectives in budget debates. The Civil Society is concerned that children in Botswana continue to face a myriad of challenges due to inadequate resource allocations to the health, education, and social service sectors. Increases in allocations have in most cases remained nominal and hardly beneficial to children in real terms.

In his presentation Obuseng put into context the extent to which children, as a stakeholder group, are prioritised or not, in Budget 2020/ 21. He contended that the Children’s Act of 2009, makes clear the obligations of all duty bearers to children as follows: “…the promotion and protection of the rights of the child; …promotion of the physical, emotional, intellectual and social development and general well-being of children; the protection and care of children; the establishment of structures to provide for the care, support, protection and rehabilitation of children; and matters concerned therewith.”


Consistent with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC or UNCRC), the Act says a child is anyone under the age of 18. The fulfilment of the aforesaid obligations requires the State as a key duty bearer to develop, resource and implement, appropriate interventions. Taking into account the obligations to children as spelt in the Act, the study focused on three fundamental premises, namely; every nation has a duty to ensure safe passage to productive adulthood for all its children; it is a moral, human rights and self-interest imperative.

Apart from having inalienable rights, including to health, education and development, children are a resource, Obuseng noted. He says however, their utility as a resource depends on adequate and appropriate investments being made in their favour at each stage of their development, failing which they could become liabilities as teenagers and as adults. Strategic government spending on children, and indeed all appropriate spending on children, is the most critical investment in a nation’s future, he contended.

“It is determinative of the quality of a nation’s human capital and its future competitiveness, and by extension, the key social and economic outcomes that drive or define progress and national prosperity, e.g. economic growth, employment, household incomes, poverty and general human welfare,” the study argued. “As Botswana sets its sights on becoming a High-Income Country (HIC), a knowledge economy and a knowledge society in 16 years’ time, one of the critical question to answer is: how is the country investing in its children?

“Finally, it is not only the quantum of per capita resources invested in children that matters, but also the timing. Investment in a child’s development has the most impact when it is made at the right time at every stage in a child’s development. “This includes adequate nutrition and prenatal care for expectant mothers; adequate nutrition, safe water, safe food, immunisation, and access to quality health services including appropriate care by trained health professionals when needed, and appropriate sexual and reproductive health services and information for adolescents and teenagers; and access to quality education for all ages. Question is, are our leaders and planners thinking this way?”

According to Obuseng, there is a dearth of complete and up-to-date information across the priority areas of child welfare in Botswana. Consequently, the analysis on children is often based on information that is several years old. “Even so, it is sufficient to generate a lucid picture of the state of children’s wellbeing in Botswana across the priority areas of poverty, nutrition and health, education and child protection,” he said. The former University of Botswana lecturer said data on child poverty in Botswana is insufficient (not enough coverage) and out of date.

He said available sources present highly inconsistent and incomparable estimates of child poverty, mostly due to conceptual and measurement issues. “The data are consistent in one regard though: Botswana’s children are more vulnerable to poverty than any other population group. That is so because they lack both agency and assets, and therefore depend on others to meet their needs. These needs often go unmet,” he said.

Obuseng says nutrition and health are critical areas of intervention for the promotion of the wellbeing of children and ensuring their safe passage to productive adulthood. Whilst all age groups face nutrition challenges, children are among the most vulnerable. Poor nutrition for children can have dire long-term consequences for “…the survival, growth and development of children, young people, economies and nations” as noted by State of the World’s Children 2019 report. 

SOWC 2019 profiles what it calls the triple burden of malnutrition, namely undernutrition, hidden hunger and overweight. It is noted that under nutrition can lead to physical and mental stunting, and heightened risk of poverty as well as leading to wasting and death. “Hidden hunger, or deficiencies in micronutrients such as essential vitamins may lead to poor growth and development, weak immune systems, poor health and heightened risk of premature death,” SOWC 2019 indicated.

“Overweight can result in cardiovascular problems, infections and low self- esteem, obesity, diabetes and other metabolic disorders. According to the State of the World’s Children Report 2019, malnutrition is a global crisis.According to SOWC 2019, the world is experiencing a malnutrition crisis. At least 1 in 3 children under five years of age is under-nourished or overweight, and 1 in 2 children suffer from hidden hunger, undermining the capacity of children to grow and develop to their full potential. 1 in 2 children under five suffer from hidden hunger due to deficiencies in vitamins and other essential micronutrients.

“Almost 200 million children under five suffered from stunting or wasting, whilst at least 340 million suffered from hidden hunger. From 2000 to 2016, the proportion of overweight children (5-19) years rose from 1 in 10 to almost 1 in 5. The number of stunted children has declined on all continents except in Africa,” the report indicated. The global crisis of malnutrition is Botswana’s crisis as well. According to SOWC 2019, Botswana is among 41 nations that suffer the triple burden of all three forms of malnutrition, namely; underweight, hidden hunger and overweight.

According to the report, 39.9% of Botswana’s children were not growing well in 2018. That means that at least a third of Botswana’s future human capital is at risk of severe destruction. The World Health Organisation’s Botswana Country Nutrition Profile of 2019, indicate that Botswana’s national prevalence rate of under 5 stunting (underweight) was 31.4% in 2007, 6.4 percentage points higher than the developing country average.

The prevalence of under 5 wasting was 7.2%. Low birth weight was 15.6% in 2015, a small improvement from 16.3% in 2000. Significantly, the report suggests that Botswana is not making progress in key areas of nutrition. Worrisomely, there was no up-to-date data on child malnutrition. Education is one of the most important and transformative investments a nation can make in its future. 
Whilst Botswana spends about 27% of its recurrent budget on education, which is by far the highest share of the recurrent expenditure, its development budget allocation does not even make the top six.

“The biggest problem for education in Botswana is performance. The public education system, which accounts for the overwhelming majority of learners, produces poor results,” argued Obuseng. “For instance, in 2019, 37.50% of Junior Certificate candidates obtained Grades C or better (credit grades). In 2018, the comparable figure was 38.00% in 2018. At the BGSE level, credit grade pass rates for 2018 and 2019 exit examinations were, respectively, 19.29% and 20.95%.

“It is safe to say that Botswana has a crisis of investment in children. Botswana is not investing effectively the promotion and protection of the rights of the child, the promotion of the physical, emotional, intellectual and social development of children, and the protection and care of children. “The consequences for children, and the economy are dire. Overall, Botswana’s children have very poor prospects of realising their potential because of physical and cognitive development.

“This is manifest in poor performance at school. Ultimately, the ineffective investment in children translates into poor economic and human development outcomes.” Obuseng said under present circumstances, Botswana’s dreams of a knowledge economy, and high-performance 4IR compliant economy are unrealisable given trends in its investment in children.


Obuseng is an experienced development professional. Trained as an economist, with specialisation in Public Finance and Monetary Economics, he taught economics at the University of Botswana for eight years before joining UNDP Botswana as an Economist in 2000 to begin a fifteen year-long career as a development professional, providing policy and strategy advisory services, designing and managing programmes/ projects, undertaking the monitoring and evaluation of development programmes/ projects, doing policy and strategy advocacy work, and providing informed commentary on development.

Members of Parliament also utilised the opportunity to express their concerns. MP for Tonota, Pono Moatlhodi said classrooms in schools across the country are dilapidated thus not conducive for learning. Ngami MP Carter Hikuama said government has the tendency of trying to address the symptoms or outcomes. He said the current recurrent budget cannot impact meaningful change. “This is only to allow them to pay service delivery and keep the system running and functions of the Ministry. The development budget of the same Ministry [Basic Education] is the lowest”, he 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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