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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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Chronic Joblessness: How to Help Curtail it

30th November 2020
Motswana woman

The past week or two has been a mixed grill of briefs in so far as the national employment picture is concerned. BDC just injected a further P64 million in Kromberg & Schubert, the automotive cable manufacturer and exporter, to help keep it afloat in the face of the COVID-19-engendered global economic apocalypse. The financial lifeline, which follows an earlier P36 million way back in 2017, hopefully guarantees the jobs of 2500, maybe for another year or two.

It was also reported that a bulb manufacturing company, which is two years old and is youth-led, is making waves in Selibe Phikwe. Called Bulb Word, it is the only bulb manufacturing operation in Botswana and employs 60 people. The figure is not insignificant in a town that had 5000 jobs offloaded in one fell swoop when BCL closed shop in 2016 under seemingly contrived circumstances, so that as I write, two or three buyers have submitted bids to acquire and exhume it from its stage-managed grave.

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The Era of “The Diplomat”

30th November 2020

Youngest Maccabees scion Jonathan takes over after Judas and leads for 18 years

Going hand-in-glove with the politics at play in Judea in the countdown to the AD era, General Atiku, was the contention for the priesthood. You will be aware, General, that politics and religion among the Jews interlocked. If there wasn’t a formal and sovereign Jewish King, there of necessity had to be a High Priest at any given point in time.

Initially, every High Priest was from the tribe of Levi as per the stipulation of the Torah. At some stage, however, colonisers of Judah imposed their own hand-picked High Priests who were not ethnic Levites. One such High Priest was Menelaus of the tribe of Benjamin.

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Land Board appointments of party activists is political corruption

30th November 2020

Parliament has rejected a motion by Leader of Opposition (LOO) calling for the reversing of the recent appointments of ruling party activists to various Land Boards across the country. The motion also called for the appointment of young and qualified Batswana with tertiary education qualifications.

The ruling party could not allow that motion to be adopted for many reasons discussed below. Why did the LOO table this motion? Why was it negated? Why are Land Boards so important that a ruling party felt compelled to deploy its functionaries to the leadership and membership positions?

Prior to the motion, there was a LOO parliamentary question on these appointments. The Speaker threw a spanner in the works by ruling that availing a list of applicants to determine who qualified and who didn’t would violate the rights of those citizens. This has completely obliterated oversight attempts by Parliament on the matter.

How can parliament ascertain the veracity of the claim without the names of applicants? The opposition seeks to challenge this decision in court.  It would also be difficult in the future for Ministers and government officials to obey instructions by investigative Parliamentary Committees to summon evidence which include list of persons. It would be a bad precedent if the decision is not reviewed and set aside by the Business Advisory Committee or a Court of law.

Prior to independence, Dikgosi allocated land for residential and agricultural purposes. At independence, land tenures in Botswana became freehold, state land and tribal land. Before 1968, tribal land, which is land belonging to different tribes, dating back to pre-independence, was allocated and administered by Dikgosi under Customary Law. Dikgosi are currently merely ‘land overseers’, a responsibility that can be delegated. Land overseers assist the Land Boards by confirming the vacancy or availability for occupation of land applied for.

Post-independence, the country was managed through modern law and customary law, a system developed during colonialism. Land was allocated for agricultural purposes such as ploughing and grazing and most importantly for residential use. Over time some land was allocated for commercial purpose. In terms of the law, sinking of boreholes and development of wells was permitted and farmers had some rights over such developed water resources.

Land Boards were established under Section 3 of the Tribal Land Act of 1968 with the intention to improve tribal land administration. Whilst the law was enacted in 1968, Land Boards started operating around 1970 under the Ministry of Local Government and Lands which was renamed Ministry of Lands and Housing (MLH) in 1999. These statutory bodies were a mechanism to also prune the powers of Dikgosi over tribal land. Currently, land issues fall under the Ministry of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services.

There are 12 Main Land Boards, namely Ngwato, Kgatleng, Tlokweng, Tati, Chobe, Tawana, Malete, Rolong, Ghanzi, Kgalagadi, Kweneng and Ngwaketse Land Boards.  The Tribal Land Act of 1968 as amended in 1994 provides that the Land Boards have the powers to rescind the grant of any rights to use any land, impose restrictions on land usage and facilitate any transfer or change of use of land.

Some land administration powers have been decentralized to sub land boards. The devolved powers include inter alia common law and customary law water rights and land applications, mining, evictions and dispute resolution. However, decisions can be appealed to the land board or to the Minister who is at the apex.

So, land boards are very powerful entities in the country’s local government system. Membership to these institutions is important not only because of monetary benefits of allowances but also the power of these bodies. in terms of the law, candidates for appointment to Land Boards or Subs should be residents of the tribal areas where appointments are sought, be holders of at least Junior Certificate and not actively involved in politics.  The LOO contended that ruling party activists have been appointed in the recent appointments.

He argued that worse, some had no minimum qualifications required by the law and that some are not inhabitants of the tribal or sub tribal areas where they have been appointed. It was also pointed that some people appointed are septuagenarians and that younger qualified Batswana with degrees have been rejected.

Other arguments raised by the opposition in general were that the development was not unusual. That the ruling party is used to politically motivated appointments in parastatals, civil service, diplomatic missions, specially elected councilors and Members of Parliament (MPs), Bogosi and Land Boards. Usually these positions are distributed as patronage to activists in return for their support and loyalty to the political leadership and the party.

The ruling party contended that when the Minister or the Ministry intervened and ultimately appointed the Land Boards Chairpersons, Deputies and members , he didn’t have information, as this was not information required in the application, on who was politically active and for that reason he could not have known who to not appoint on that basis. They also argued that opposition activists have been appointed to positions in the government.

The counter argument was that there was a reason for the legal requirement of exclusion of political activists and that the government ought to have mechanisms to detect those. The whole argument of “‘we didn’t know who was politically active” was frivolous. The fact is that ruling party activists have been appointed. The opposition also argued that erstwhile activists from their ranks have been recruited through positions and that a few who are serving in public offices have either been bought or hold insignificant positions which they qualified for anyway.

Whilst people should not be excluded from public positions because of their political activism, the ruling party cannot hide the fact that they have used public positions to reward activists. Exclusion of political activists may be a violation of fundamental human or constitutional rights. But, the packing of Land Boards with the ruling party activists is clear political corruption. It seeks to sow divisions in communities and administer land in a politically biased manner.

It should be expected that the ruling party officials applying for land or change of land usage etcetera will be greatly assisted. Since land is wealth, the ruling party seeks to secure resources for its members and leaders. The appointments served to reward 2019 election primary and general elections losers and other activists who have shown loyalty to the leadership and the party.

Running a country like this has divided it in a way that may be difficult to undo. The next government may decide to reset the whole system by replacing many of government agencies leadership and management in a way that is political. In fact, it would be compelled to do so to cleanse the system.

The opposition is also pondering on approaching the courts for review of the decision to appoint party functionaries and the general violation of clearly stated terms of reference. If this can be established with evidence, the courts can set aside the decision on the basis that unqualified people have been appointed.

The political activism aspect may also not be difficult to prove as some of these people are known activists who are in party structures, at least at the time of appointment, and some were recently candidates. There is a needed for civil society organizations such as trade unions and political parties to fight some of these decisions through peaceful protests and courts.

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