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Economic Stimulus Package welcome, but…

Ndulamo Anthony Morima
EAGLE WATCH

According to the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, due to the slow-down in economic growth, the Botswana government has reduced the 2015 forecast economic growth from 4.9% to 2.6%. No doubt, the P 4.03 billion budget deficit from an earlier projected surplus of P1.2 billon was also a factor in reducing the forecast economic growth.

It is in this regard that the Botswana government’s decision to usher in an Economic Stimulus Package (ESP) is a welcome development. However, government needs to be cautious in its implementation of the ESP lest it leaves our economy in an even worse situation and deprives our future generations of proper inheritance.   

Before preparing the supplementary budget bill for consideration by Parliament, the Executive needs to consult extensively in order to solicit Batswana’s ideas on the projects to be embarked upon through the ESP. Members of Parliament(MPs) too have to be accorded time to consult their constituencies before voting on the bill.

Media reports that the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) has resolved that the ESP projects be monitored by cabinet ministers and BDP MPs to keep away opposition operatives in the civil service who may sabotage the projects are a cause for concern. As politicians, cabinet ministers and MPs are likely to politicize the projects with the result that only BDP members and financial sponsors will be awarded the tenders.

Also, since cabinet ministers and MPs do not necessarily have the functional expertise required for project management, using them to monitor the projects may have dire consequences in as far as quality and safety are concerned. The politicians may sacrifice quality and safety for political expediency especially that it is an open secret that the BDP wants the projects to be competed as quickly as possible in order to gain voter support during the 2019 general elections.

It is in this regard that we cannot gamble with Batswana’s lives with respect to monitoring of the ESP. Public Finance expert at the University of Botswana, Professor Emmanuel Botlhale, cannot have been more right when he said “public project implementation has a chequered history in Botswana, hence, one can only hope that there will be stricter monitoring and control of project implementation”. Certainly, stricter monitoring and control of project implementation cannot be achieved if partisan politicians are involved in project monitoring.

The Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) and the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament need to sharpen their teeth prior to the ESP projects’ commencement since corruption is likely to rise to its peak in relation to the projects. Though it may not say it publicly, the BDP will likely ensure that the project tenders are awarded to their members and sponsors.

Besides this being motivated by corruption, the BDP could do this for the same reason that it gives for having cabinet ministers and BDP MPs monitor the projects, namely that if the companies awarded the tenders are owned by BDP members and sponsors their timely implementation will not be sabotaged by the Opposition.

In deciding on the ESP projects regard has to be had for sustainable economic development and economic diversification. Government needs to consider such reports as the Legatum Prosperity Index (LPI) and the Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG) for guidance on its choice of projects.

For instance, considering that the 2015 IIAG scored Botswana at 55% for infrastructural development, it may be advisable for most of the projects to focus on infrastructural development. Also, the fact that the 2015 IIAG scored Botswana at 66.7% for Rural Sector development may require that a significant portion of such infrastructural development be targeted at rural areas. Good roads and improved water and electricity supply would, for instance, assist in growing the Agricultural and Tourism sectors which are mainly rural based economies.

In the implementation of the ESP government also needs to consider involving more women in the projects. This is because according to the 2015 IIAG Botswana scored a meagre 62.3% in Gender Issues. Perhaps what Botswana needs in order to change the economy and other aspects of our development is more women involvement and leadership.   

The need for diversifying our economy away from the diamond sector and away from urban areas cannot be over emphasized since the reason for Botswana’s sluggish economic growth which has necessitated this ESP is a decline in diamond revenue. Not only that. Water and electricity shortages have also adversely affected the manufacturing industry.

It is in this regard that one area of focus for the ESP should be projects that will ensure improved water and electricity security for Batswana. Construction and maintenance of power plants; construction of dams and water reticulation pipelines; and bulk power and water purchases should, therefore, be priority projects.

It is needless to say that projects targeted at improving Botswana’s Sustainable Economic Opportunity should also be a priority. This is especially true considering that according to the 2015 IIAG we scored 66.1% in Sustainable Economic Opportunity. This, despite the multiple economic empowerment projects that the BDP government has introduced.

Therefore, under the ESP, government should not make the mistake of pouring millions of Pula on such projects as the Youth Development Fund, Young Farmers Fund, Public Works Programme (Ipelegeng), ISPAAD, LIMID, National Youth Service (Tirelo Sechaba) and the National Internship Programme in the manner they currently are. Because we cannot expect government to abandon the projects, the least government should do is to get Batswana’s views on how they can be improved.

Dr. Keith Jefferis is right in asserting that additional spending, in the form of the ESP, will only help to transform the economy if such long-term structural issues as improving the efficiency and effectiveness of government spending programmes and enhancing the business environment are at the core of the economic interventions.

It is worth noting that because the funding for the ESP will be drawings from Botswana’s Foreign Exchange Reserves (FERs), which, as at July 2015 stood at USD 8.5 billion, government has to be even more careful in its implementation of the ESP. It will be suicidal for government to reduce the country’s foreign reserves for ill-conceived or partisan projects that will only bring the country short-term relief and long term losses.

Granted, any economic stimulus programme will have such temporary relief measures as Ipelegeng, but a significant percentage of the programme should entail such long term interventions as saving and creating long term jobs, investment in infrastructure, investment in renewable energy and tax incentives and/or rebates for individuals and companies.

It is also important that temporary relief measures not only result in temporary employment, but also contribute to skills development for the beneficiaries so that they can later use the skills for productive living. For instance, instead of confining Ipelegeng beneficiaries to grass cutting and bush clearing projects, they could be engaged in agricultural, tourism and manufacturing projects.    

Ordinarily, FERs are primarily used as a country’s import cover. According to some Economists, Botswana’s current reserves can only provide an eighteen month import cover. This has a shortfall of six months because according to some Economists a country should ideally have a twenty four month import cover. Also, a reduction in FERs will leave Botswana exposed to the turbulences of the international global markets such as the economic recession the world suffered in 2008.

Therefore, if government is to take such a risk of reducing Botswana’s FERs it has to be for a well thought and planned intervention which is owned by Batswana and not just the BDP. After all, FERs are not simply for budget and balance of payments stabilization purposes, but are also intended to accumulate financial assets to be bequeathed to future generations.

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Export Processing Zones: How to Get SEZA to Sizzle

23rd September 2020
Export Processing Zone (EPZ) factory in Kenya

In 2005, the Business & Economic Advisory Council (BEAC) pitched the idea of the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) to the Mogae Administration.

It took five years before the SEZ policy was formulated, another five years before the relevant law was enacted, and a full three years before the Special Economic Zones Authority (SEZA) became operational.

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Egypt Bagged Again

23rd September 2020
Samson

… courtesy of infiltration stratagem by Jehovah-Enlil’s clan

With the passing of Joshua’s generation, General Atiku, the promised peace and prosperity of a land flowing with milk and honey disappeared, giving way to chaos and confusion.

Maybe Joshua himself was to blame for this shambolic state of affairs. He had failed to mentor a successor in the manner Moses had mentored him. He had left the nation without a central government or a human head of state but as a confederacy of twelve independent tribes without any unifying force except their Anunnaki gods.

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‘RO, ‘RO ‘RO YOUR ‘BOT

23rd September 2020

If I say the word ‘robot’ to you,  I can guess what would immediately spring to mind –  a cute little Android or animal-like creature with human or pet animal characteristics and a ‘heart’, that is to say to say a battery, of gold, the sort we’ve all seen in various movies and  tv shows.  Think R2D2 or 3CPO in Star Wars, Wall-E in the movie of the same name,  Sonny in I Robot, loveable rogue Bender in Futurama,  Johnny 5 in Short Circuit…

Of course there are the evil ones too, the sort that want to rise up and eliminate us  inferior humans – Roy Batty in Blade Runner, Schwarzenegger’s T-800 in The Terminator,  Box in Logan’s Run,  Police robots in Elysium and  Otomo in Robocop.

And that’s to name but a few.  As a general rule of thumb, the closer the robot is to human form, the more dangerous it is and of course the ultimate threat in any Sci-Fi movie is that the robots will turn the tables and become the masters, not the mechanical slaves.  And whilst we are in reality a long way from robotic domination, there are an increasing number of examples of  robotics in the workplace.

ROBOT BLOODHOUNDS Sometimes by the time that one of us smells something the damage has already begun – the smell of burning rubber or even worse, the smell of deadly gas. Thank goodness for a robot capable of quickly detecting and analyzing a smell from our very own footprint.

A*Library Bot The A*Star (Singapore) developed library bot which when books are equipped with RFID location chips, can scan shelves quickly seeking out-of-place titles.  It manoeuvres with ease around corners, enhances the sorting and searching of books, and can self-navigate the library facility during non-open hours.

DRUG-COMPOUNDING ROBOT Automated medicine distribution system, connected to the hospital prescription system. It’s goal? To manipulate a large variety of objects (i.e.: drug vials, syringes, and IV bags) normally used in the manual process of drugs compounding to facilitate stronger standardisation, create higher levels of patient safety, and lower the risk of hospital staff exposed to toxic substances.

AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY ROBOTS Applications include screw-driving, assembling, painting, trimming/cutting, pouring hazardous substances, labelling, welding, handling, quality control applications as well as tasks that require extreme precision,

AGRICULTURAL ROBOTS Ecrobotix, a Swiss technology firm has a solar-controlled ‘bot that not only can identify weeds but thereafter can treat them. Naio Technologies based in southwestern France has developed a robot with the ability to weed, hoe, and assist during harvesting. Energid Technologies has developed a citrus picking system that retrieves one piece of fruit every 2-3 seconds and Spain-based Agrobot has taken the treachery out of strawberry picking. Meanwhile, Blue River Technology has developed the LettuceBot2 that attaches itself to a tractor to thin out lettuce fields as well as prevent herbicide-resistant weeds. And that’s only scratching the finely-tilled soil.

INDUSTRIAL FLOOR SCRUBBERS The Global Automatic Floor Scrubber Machine boasts a 1.6HP motor that offers 113″ water lift, 180 RPM and a coverage rate of 17,000 sq. ft. per hour

These examples all come from the aptly-named site www.willrobotstakemyjob.com    because while these functions are labour-saving and ripe for automation, the increasing use of artificial intelligence in the workplace will undoubtedly lead to increasing reliance on machines and a resulting swathe of human redundancies in a broad spectrum of industries and services.

This process has been greatly boosted by the global pandemic due to a combination of a workforce on furlough, whether by decree or by choice, and the obvious advantages of using virus-free machines – I don’t think computer viruses count!  For example, it was suggested recently that their use might have a beneficial effect in care homes for the elderly, solving short staffing issues and cheering up the old folks with the novelty of having their tea, coffee and medicines delivered by glorified model cars.  It’s a theory, at any rate.

Already, customers at the South-Korean  fast-food chain No Brand Burger can avoid any interaction with a human server during the pandemic.  The chain is using robots to take orders, prepare food and bring meals out to diners.  Customers order and pay via touchscreen, then their request is sent to the kitchen where a cooking machine heats up the buns and patties. When it’s ready, a robot ‘waiter’ brings out their takeout bag.   

‘This is the first time I’ve actually seen such robots, so they are really amazing and fun,’ Shin Hyun Soo, an office worker at No Brand in Seoul for the first time, told the AP. 

Human workers add toppings to the burgers and wrap them up in takeout bags before passing them over to yellow-and-black serving robots, which have been compared to Minions. 

Also in Korea, the Italian restaurant chain Mad for Garlic is using serving robots even for sit-down customers. Using 3D space mapping and other technology, the electronic ‘waiter,’ known as Aglio Kim, navigates between tables with up to five orders.  Mad for Garlic manager Lee Young-ho said kids especially like the robots, which can carry up to 66lbs in their trays.

These catering robots look nothing like their human counterparts – in fact they are nothing more than glorified food trolleys so using our thumb rule from the movies, mankind is safe from imminent takeover but clearly  Korean hospitality sector workers’ jobs are not.

And right there is the dichotomy – replacement by stealth.  Remote-controlled robotic waiters and waitresses don’t need to be paid, they don’t go on strike and they don’t spread disease so it’s a sure bet their army is already on the march.

But there may be more redundancies on the way as well.  Have you noticed how AI designers have an inability to use words of more than one syllable?  So ‘robot’ has become ‘bot’ and ‘android’ simply ‘droid?  Well, guys, if you continue to build machines ultimately smarter than yourselves you ‘rons  may find yourself surplus to requirements too – that’s ‘moron’ to us polysyllabic humans”!

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