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Budget debate begins with P 50 billion at stake

Dr Jeff Ramsay

The big media event this week was the reopening of Parliament with the Minister of Finance and Development Planning presenting Government's budget proposals for the coming, 2015-16, financial year. It is a familiar ritual. If it is the first Monday in February it is time for the Finance Minister, in the best of Commonwealth Parliamentary tradition, to share the national spotlight with his briefcase.

But, while its timing is a matter of routine, there is nothing ordinary or unremarkable about the exercise itself. Contrary to the headline in one of our local newspaper, this year's budget speech was much ado about a lot of things as well as a lot of money. That at least a few in the media would find an hour plus presentation on the allocation of some P 50 billion of our money to be a big yawn arguably says something about their ability to act as public interest watchdogs.

On the other hand, for those in the media and elsewhere who do appreciate the fact that the management of public funds through the budgeting process continues to lie at the core of this nation's progress, the drama has just begun.

In the coming weeks the financial priorities outlined by Minister Matambo will be revealed in greater detail by his Cabinet colleagues as they each take their turn in presenting their slice of the proposed spending in greater detail before Parliament in what are known as "Committee of Supply" speeches.

The proposals contained in the line Ministry presentations will thus provide a further basis for Parliamentarians to exercise their constitutional mandate to debate and ultimately pass a final budget.

Taken together the currently proposed recurrent and development budgets for 2015-16 provide a financial snapshot of the challenges and opportunities facing the nation.

As in the past, the Ministry of Education and Skills Development is set to receive the lion's share of recurrent expenditure at P10.3 billion or 28%, which was a notable half billion plus pula more that the current financial year's revised budget. Besides staff salaries and emoluments the largest provision is earmarked student bursaries for tertiary level studies at P2.25 billion.

Government's commitment to higher education is further reflected in the additional P1.2 billion earmarked for subventions to Government supported institutions such as the University of Botswana, Botswana International University of Science and Technology.

Another P99.41 million out of the Ministry of Agriculture's allocation will be for Botswana College of Agriculture, which is in the process of transforming itself into the Botswana University of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Again as in the past, Matambo proposed that the second largest share of the budget go to the Ministry of Health at P5.67 billion or 15.6%, which was an also notable increase of just over P450 million over the current financial year's revised budget. Major items of health expenditure include P 1.1 billion linked to the HIV/AIDS scourge, P261.75 million to meet the medical aid requirements for Government employees and P255 for medical specialist, as well as P141.59 million grants and subventions to mission hospitals and other non-Government health facilities.

It is proposed that third largest share of the recurrent budget, at P5.2 billion or 14.2%, be allocated to the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, which includes revenue support grants to District/Urban Councils at P3.1 billion, followed P 1.2 billion for various social protection and welfare programmes. The later consists of P394 million for old age pensions, P379 for feeding at primary schools and clinics, P359 for orphan care, P48 million for destitute allowances, P 20 million for people with acute disabilities and P11 million for World War veterans.

The Ministry of Defence, Justice and Security should account for the fourth largest share of the recurrent budget P5 billion or 13.7%, which is a 10% an increase over this year. The proposed allocation among other things includes P375 to cover the costs of maintenance of the aircraft, vehicles, infrastructure and equipment for the security agencies, P204 for vehicle replacement and P772 for staff allowances. As with the other Ministries a more detailed breakdown of the anticipated expenditure by each of the security agencies will be contained in the Ministry's committee of supply speech.

The fifth largest recurrent share at P2 billion or 5.7% would allocated to the Ministry of Transport and Communications with P345 million to cover bulk purchase of fuel and lubricants, P334 million for road maintenance, P225 million for ICT related maintenance and P223 to cater for subventions to various parastatals including the Civil Aviation Authority of Botswana (CAAB) Botswana Fibre Network (BOFINET).

Another P1 billion or 2.9% of the recurrent budget would be allocated to the Ministry of Agriculture, while it is expected that the balance amounting to P7.3 billion or about 20% would be shared among the remaining Ministries and Departments mainly to cover their day to day operational costs.

If nothing else the above figures underscore the people centred approach that continues to focus human development and social security and wellbeing. This contrasts somewhat with the transformative aspirations contained in what are perhaps the more contentious priorities to be found in the development budget (next week).

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Is COVID-19 Flogging an Already Dead Economic Horse?

9th September 2020

The Central Bank has by way of its Monetary Policy Statement informed us that the Botswana economy is likely to contract by 8.9 percent over the course of the year 2020.

The IMF paints an even gloomier picture – a shrinkage of the order of 9.6 percent.  That translates to just under $2 billion hived off from the overall economic yield given our average GDP of roughly $18 billion a year. In Pula terms, this is about P23 billion less goods and services produced in the country and you and I have a good guess as to what such a sum can do in terms of job creation and sustainability, boosting tax revenue, succouring both recurrent and development expenditure, and on the whole keeping our teeny-weeny economy in relatively good nick.

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Union of Blue Bloods

9th September 2020

Joseph’s and Judah’s family lines conjoin to produce lineal seed

Just to recap, General Atiku, the Israelites were not headed for uncharted territory. The Promised Land teemed with Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. These nations were not simply going to cut and run when they saw columns of battle-ready Israelites approach: they were going to fight to the death.

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Security Sector Private Bills: What are they about?

9th September 2020

Parliament has begun debates on three related Private Members Bills on the conditions of service of members of the Security Sector.

The Bills are Prisons (Amendment) Bill, 2019, Police (Amendment) Bill, 2019 and Botswana Defence Force (Amendment) Bill, 2019. The Bills seek to amend the three statutes so that officers are placed on full salaries when on interdictions or suspensions whilst facing disciplinary boards or courts of law.

In terms of the Public Service Act, 2008 which took effect in 2010, civil servants who are indicted are paid full salary and not a portion of their emolument. Section 35(3) of the Act specifically provides that “An employee’s salary shall not be withheld during the period of his or her suspension”.

However, when parliament reformed the public service law to allow civil servants to unionize, among other things, and extended the said protection of their salaries, the process was not completed. When the House conferred the benefit on civil servants, members of the disciplined forces were left out by not accordingly amending the laws regulating their employment.

The Bills stated above seeks to ask Parliament to also include members of the forces on the said benefit. It is unfair not to include soldiers or military officers, police officers and prison waders in the benefit. Paying an officer who is facing either external or internal charges full pay is in line with the notion of ei incumbit probation qui dicit, non qui negat or the presumption of innocence; that the burden of proof is on the one who declares, not on one who denies.

The officers facing charges, either internal disciplinary or criminal charges before the courts, must be presumed innocent until proven otherwise. Paying them a portion of their salary is penalty and therefore arbitrary. Punishment by way of loss of income or anything should come as a result of a finding on the guilt by a competent court of law, tribunal or disciplinary board.

What was the rationale behind this reform in 2008 when the Public Service Act was adopted? First it was the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise.

The presumption of innocence is the legal principle that one is considered “innocent until proven guilty”. In terms of the constitution and other laws of Botswana, the presumption of innocence is a legal right of the accused in a criminal trial, and it is an international human right under the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 11.

Withholding a civil servant’s salary because they are accused of an internal disciplinary offense or a criminal offense in the courts of law, was seen as punishment before a decision by a tribunal, disciplinary board or a court of law actually finds someone culpable. Parliament in its wisdom decided that no one deserves this premature punishment.

Secondly, it was considered that people’s lives got destroyed by withholding of financial benefits during internal or judicial trials. Protection of wages is very important for any worker. Workers commit their salaries, they pay mortgages, car loans, insurances, schools fees for children and other things. When public servants were experiencing salary cuts because of interdictions, they lost their homes, cars and their children’s future.

They plummeted into instant destitution. People lost their livelihoods. Families crumbled. What was disheartening was that in many cases, these workers are ultimately exonerated by the courts or disciplinary tribunals. When they are cleared, the harm suffered is usually irreparable. Even if one is reimbursed all their dues, it is difficult to almost impossible to get one’s life back to normal.

There is a reasoning that members of the security sector should be held to very high standards of discipline and moral compass. This is true. However, other more senior public servants such as judges, permanent secretary to the President and ministers have faced suspensions, interdictions and or criminal charges in the courts but were placed on full salaries.

The yardstick against which security sector officers are held cannot be higher than the aforementioned public officials. It just wouldn’t make sense. They are in charge of the security and operate in a very sensitive area, but cannot in anyway be held to higher standards that prosecutors, magistrates, judges, ministers and even senior officials such as permanent secretaries.

Moreover, jail guards, police officers and soldiers, have unique harsh punishments which deter many of them from committing misdemeanors and serious crimes. So, the argument that if the suspension or interdiction with full pay is introduced it would open floodgates of lawlessness is illogical.

Security Sector members work in very difficult conditions. Sometimes this drives them into depression and other emotional conditions. The truth is that many seldom receive proper and adequate counseling or such related therapies. They see horrifying scenes whilst on duty. Jail guards double as hangmen/women.

Detectives attend to autopsies on cases they are dealing with. Traffic police officers are usually the first at accident scenes. Soldiers fight and kill poachers. In all these cases, their minds are troubled. They are human. These conditions also play a part in their behaviors. They are actually more deserving to be paid full salaries when they’re facing allegations of misconduct.

To withhold up to 50 percent of the police, prison workers and the military officers’ salaries during their interdiction or suspensions from work is punitive, insensitive and prejudicial as we do not do the same for other employees employed by the government.

The rest enjoy their full salaries when they are at home and it is for a good reason as no one should be made to suffer before being found blameworthy. The ruling party seems to have taken a position to negate the Bills and the collective opposition argue in the affirmative. The debate have just began and will continue next week Thursday, a day designated for Private Bills.

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