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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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The Daring Dozen at Bari

8th December 2020
JEFF---Batswana-smoke-unit

Seventy-seven years ago, on the evening of December 2, 1943, the Germans launched a surprise air raid on allied shipping in the Italian port of Bari, which was then the key supply centre for the British 8th army’s advance in Italy.

The attack was spearheaded by 105 Junkers JU88 bombers under the overall command of the infamous Air Marshal Wolfram von Richthofen (who had initially achieved international notoriety during the Spanish Civil War for his aerial bombardment of Guernica). In a little over an hour the German aircraft succeeded in sinking 28 transport and cargo ships, while further inflicting massive damage to the harbour’s facilities, resulting in the port being effectively put out of action for two months.

Over two thousand ground personnel were killed during the raid, with the release of a secret supply of mustard gas aboard one of the destroyed ships contributing to the death toll, as well as subsequent military and civilian casualties. The extent of the later is a controversy due to the fact that the American and British governments subsequently covered up the presence of the gas for decades.

At least five Batswana were killed and seven critically wounded during the raid, with one of the wounded being miraculously rescued floating unconscious out to sea with a head wound. He had been given up for dead when he returned to his unit fourteen days later. The fatalities and casualties all occurred when the enemy hit an ammunition ship adjacent to where 24 Batswana members of the African Pioneer Corps (APC) 1979 Smoke Company where posted.

Thereafter, the dozen surviving members of the unit distinguished themselves for their efficiency in putting up and maintaining smokescreens in their sector, which was credited with saving additional shipping. For his personal heroism in rallying his men following the initial explosions Company Corporal Chitu Bakombi was awarded the British Empire Medal, while his superior officer, Lieutenant N.F. Moor was later given an M.B.E.

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A Strong Marriage Bond Needs Two

8th December 2020

Remember: bricks and cement are used to build a house, but mutual love, respect and companionship are used to build a HOME. And amongst His signs is this: He creates for you mates out of your own kind, so that you may find contentment (Sukoon) with them, and He engenders love and tenderness between you; in this behold, there are signs (messages) indeed for people who reflect and think (Quran 30:21).

This verse talks about contentment; this implies companionship, of their being together, sharing together, supporting one another and creating a home of peace. This verse also talks about love between them; this love is both physical and emotional. For love to exist it must be built on the foundation of a mutually supportive relationship guided by respect and tenderness. As the Quran says; ‘they are like garments for you, and you are garments for them (Quran 2:187)’. That means spouses should provide each other with comfort, intimacy and protection just as clothing protects, warms and dignifies the body.

In Islam marriage is considered an ‘ibaadah’, (an act of pleasing Allah) because it is about a commitment made to each other, that is built on mutual love, interdependence, integrity, trust, respect, companionship and harmony towards each other. It is about building of a home on an Islamic foundation in which peace and tranquillity reigns wherein your offspring are raised in an atmosphere conducive to a moral and upright upbringing so that when we all stand before Him (Allah) on that Promised Day, He will be pleased with them all.

Most marriages start out with great hopes and rosy dreams; spouses are truly committed to making their marriages work. However, as the pressures of life mount, many marriages change over time and it is quite common for some of them to run into problems and start to flounder as the reality of living with a spouse that does not meet with one’s pre-conceived ‘expectations’. However, with hard work and dedication, couples can keep their marriages strong and enjoyable. How is it done? What does it take to create a long-lasting, satisfying marriage?

Below are some of the points that have been taken from a marriage guidance article I read recently and adapted for this purposes.

POSITIVITY
Spouses should have far more positive than negative interactions. If there is too much negativity — criticizing, demanding, name-calling, holding grudges, etc. — the relationship will suffer. However, if there is never any negativity, it probably means that frustrations and grievances are not getting ‘air time’ and unresolved tension is accumulating inside one or both partners waiting to ‘explode’ one day.

“Let not some men among you laugh at others: it may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): nor let some women laugh at others: it may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): nor defame nor be sarcastic to each other, nor call each other by (offensive) nicknames.” (49:11)

We all have our individual faults though we may not see them nor want to admit to them but we will easily identify them in others. The key is balance between the two extremes and being supportive of one another. To foster positivity in a marriage that help make them stable and happy, being affectionate, truly listening to each other, taking joy in each other’s achievements and being playful are just a few examples of positive interactions.
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “The believers who show the most perfect faith are those who have the best character and the best of you are those who are best to their wives”

UNDERSTANDING

Another characteristic of happy marriages is empathy; understanding your spouses’ perspective by putting oneself in his or her shoes. By showing that understanding and identifying with your spouse is important for relationship satisfaction. Spouses are more likely to feel good about their marriage and if their partner expresses empathy towards them. Husbands and wives are more content in their relationships when they feel that their partners understand their thoughts and feelings.

Successful married couples grow with each other; it simply isn’t wise to put any person in charge of your happiness. You must be happy with yourself before anyone else can be.  You are responsible for your actions, your attitudes and your happiness. Your spouse just enhances those things in your life. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “Treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers.”

COMMITMENT

Successful marriages involve both spouses’ commitment to the relationship. The married couple should learn the art of compromise and this usually takes years. The largest parts of compromise are openness to the other’s point of view and good communication when differences arise.

When two people are truly dedicated to making their marriage work, despite the unavoidable challenges and obstacles that come, they are much more likely to have a relationship that lasts. Husbands and wives who only focus on themselves and their own desires are not as likely to find joy and satisfaction in their relationships.

ACCEPTANCE

Another basic need in a relationship is each partner wants to feel valued and respected. When people feel that their spouses truly accept them for who they are, they are usually more secure and confident in their relationships. Often, there is conflict in marriage because partners cannot accept the individual preferences of their spouses and try to demand change from one another. When one person tries to force change from another, he or she is usually met with resistance.

However, change is much more likely to occur when spouses respect differences and accept each other unconditionally. Basic acceptance is vital to a happy marriage. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “It is the generous (in character) who is good to women, and it is the wicked who insults them.”
“Overlook (any human faults) with gracious forgiveness.” (Quran 15:85)

COMPASSION, MUTUAL LOVE AND RESPECT

Other important components of successful marriages are love, compassion and respect for each other. The fact is, as time passes and life becomes increasingly complicated, the marriage is often stressed and suffers as a result. A happy and successful marriage is based on equality. When one or the other dominates strongly, intimacy is replaced by fear of displeasing.

It is all too easy for spouses to lose touch with each other and neglect the love and romance that once came so easily. It is vital that husbands and wives continue to cultivate love and respect for each other throughout their lives. If they do, it is highly likely that their relationships will remain happy and satisfying. Move beyond the fantasy and unrealistic expectations and realize that marriage is about making a conscious choice to love and care for your spouse-even when you do not feel like it.

Seldom can one love someone for whom we have no respect. This also means that we have to learn to overlook and forgive the mistakes of one’s partner. In other words write the good about your partner in stone and the bad in dust, so that when the wind comes it blows away the bad and only the good remains.

Paramount of all, marriage must be based on the teachings of the Noble Qur’an and the teachings and guidance of our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). To grow spiritually in your marriage requires that you learn to be less selfish and more loving, even during times of conflict. A marriage needs love, support, tolerance, honesty, respect, humility, realistic expectations and a sense of humour to be successful.

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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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