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ESP: economic stimulus or political posturing?

Ndulamo Anthony Morima

This week His Excellency the President Lieutenant General Seretse Khama Ian Khama delivered the State of the Nation Address (SONA). Ordinarily, my commentary should be based on the SONA, but I am compelled to focus on the Economic Stimulus Programme (ESP) which, as you are aware, dominated the SONA.  

When the government announced the introduction of the ESP I opined that while it is a welcome development, caution needs to be exercised to avoid it being yet another lost opportunity to truly improve our people’s lives. When such programmes as LIMID, ISPAAD, Young Farmers Fund, Poverty Eradication Programme and Youth Development Fund were introduced our people’s hopes were heightened only to be let down because of poor planning and implementation.  

Politics aside, no one can argue against the ESP per se since our economy needs stimulation. That due to the slow-down in economic growth, the Botswana government has reduced the 2015 forecast economic growth from 4.9% to 2.6% shows that our economy needs stimulation and the Botswana Democratic Party(BDP) deserves commendation for introducing the ESP.

What is of concern, however, is the way the government intends to go about implementing the ESP. The fear that government may commence the ESP without thorough consultation has come to pass since the Executive has not announced plans to consult Batswana in order to solicit ideas on the projects to be embarked upon through the ESP.

On the contrary, President Khama mentioned during the SONA that a pamphlet will be produced and distributed to the public. This was confirmed by the Minister of Presidential Affairs & Public Administration, Eric Molale, in a special broadcast on Botswana Television (Btv) this week. This can only mean that a decision on the ESP’s priorities and projects has already been taken by the Executive without even consulting Parliament.

In other democracies, a project of this magnitude, especially because it will be financed through drawings from the nation’s foreign reserves, cannot be embarked upon without enactment of an Act of Parliament. During the 2008 world economic recession, the United States of America (USA)’s Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, 2009 and Economic Stimulus Act, 2008 to enable the Executive to implement an economic stimulus programme.

The only reason the BDP is moving so swiftly on the ESP without even adequately consulting Parliament is that it wants to singularly claim the accolades for the ESP. It fears that if the matter is discussed in Parliament and Opposition Members of Parliament (MPs) comment and even influence its priorities they may share in the accolades, stealing the limelight from the BDP.

But, should this be about limelight or national development? Should this be about the BDP or national interest? If the BDP is truly acting in Batswana’s best interests it would put aside selfish party interests and do the right thing by adequately consulting Batswana so that thy own the ESP. It would do the right thing by consulting Parliament and presenting a bill before Parliament to give the ESP statutory legitimacy.

It is even doubtful whether President Khama consulted the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, Honourable Duma Boko, on the ESP prior to announcing it to the nation. Though such consultation is not required by law, if our economy is at such a state that it requires stimulation by drawing from our foreign reserves such consultation should have been necessary, at least from a moral point of view and as required by our national principle of therisano, i.e. consultation.   

Regrettably, instead of concentrating its efforts in consulting Batswana, the BDP is using the state owned media to gain the limelight for the ESP. After the SONA, Btv interviewed cabinet ministers not on the SONA, but on the ESP in a media spin which was obviously calculated to show the public that the ESP is BDP’s brain child and that the Opposition has nothing to do with it.

Not only that. The following day Btv’s regular programming was interrupted by a special programme, not on the SONA, but on the ESP where Eric Molale used language intended to placate Batswana into believing that the ESP was solely the BDP’s brainchild. The spin doctoring reminded one of the methods used by such regimes as North Korea.

While ordinarily there would be nothing wrong with the arrangement that a project of this magnitude be overseen by cabinet ministers, it is disconcerting that the reason the ESP will be overseen by cabinet ministers is because of the BDP’s resolution that it be monitored by cabinet ministers to keep away Opposition operatives in the civil service who may sabotage the project. If a government no longer trusts the civil service and its Permanent Secretaries it is a crisis.

As I have argued earlier, as politicians, cabinet ministers 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 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.

As politicians, cabinet ministers may sacrifice quality and safety for political expediency especially that it is an open secret that the BDP wants the ESP projects to be competed as quickly as possible in order to gain voter support during the 2019 general elections. No wonder before Parliament was even formally informed of the ESP His Honour the Vice President, Mokgweetsi Masisi publicly stated that some of the projects under the ESP will start in November this year.

What is even more worrisome is the fact that the ESP coordinator is Eric Molale, somebody who, because of his weak political position, will do everything I his power to please President Khama even if such is at the expense of the nation because, having lost elections, he relies on President Khama’s goodwill for his political survival.

The ESP, being an economic and development project aimed at attaining economic growth, should be coordinated by the Ministry of Finance & Development Planning. It, therefore, defies logic why it will be coordinated by Eric Molale. Molale’s coordination of the project may actually cost Batswana considering his poor relations with the civil service and Botswana Federation of Public Service Unions (BOFEPUSU) because though cabinet ministers will supervise the project civil servants’ involvement and/or influence is inevitable.

In view of the aforegoing, one cannot help but wonder whether the ESP is truly intended to be an economic stimulus programme or its ulterior motive is political posturing. Granted, the BDP, like any political party, would seek to gain political mileage through the programmes it initiates or implements. But, it becomes a problem if political mileage takes precedence over national interest.

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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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