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ESP: economic stimulus or political posturing?

Ndulamo Anthony Morima
EAGLE WATCH

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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DIS Parley Committee selection disingenuous 

25th November 2020

Intelligence and Security Service Act, which is a law that establishes the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Service (DIS), provides for establishment of a Parliamentary Committee. Recently, the President announced nine names of Members of Parliament he had appointed to the Committee.

This announcement was preceded by a meeting the President held with the Speaker and the Leader of Opposition. Following the announcement of Committee MPs by the President, the opposition, through its leader, made it clear that it will not participate in the Committee unless certain conditions that would ensure effective oversight are met. The opposition acted on the non-participation threat through resignation of its three MPs from the Committee.

The Act at Section 38 provides for the establishment of the Committee to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the Directorate. The law provides that the Parliamentary Committee shall have the same powers and privileges set out under the National Assembly (Powers and Privileges) Act.

On composition, the Committee shall consist of nine members who shall not be members of Cabinet and its quorum shall be five members.  The MPs in the Committee elect a chairperson from among their number at their first meeting.

The Members of the Committee are appointed by the President after consultation with the Speaker of the National Assembly and Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly. It is the provision of the law that the Committee, relative to its size, reflect the numerical strengths of the political parties represented in the National Assembly.

The Act provides that that a member of the Committee holds office for the duration of the Parliament in which he or she is appointed.  The Committee is mandated to make an annual report on the discharge of their functions to the President and may at any time report to him or her on any matter relating to the discharge of those functions.

The Minister responsible for intelligence and security is obliged to lay before the National Assembly a copy of each annual report made by the Committee together with a statement as to whether any matter has been excluded from that copy in pursuance of the provision of the Act.

If it appears to the Minister, after consultation with the Parliamentary Committee, that the publication of any matter in a report would be prejudicial to the continued discharge of the functions of the Directorate, the Minister may exclude that matter from the copy of the report as laid before the National Assembly.

So, what are the specific demands of the Opposition and why are they not participating in the Committee? What should happen as a way forward? The Opposition demanded that there be a forensic audit of the Directorate. The DIS has never been audited since it was set up in 2008, more than a decade ago.

The institution has been a law unto itself for a longtime, feared by all oversight bodies. The Auditor General, who had no security of tenure, could not audit the DIS. The Directorate’s personnel, especially at a high level, have been implicated in corruption.  Some of its operatives are in courts of law defending corruption charges preferred against them. Some of the corruption cases which appeared in the media have not made it to the courts.

The DIS has been accused of non-accountability and unethical practices as well as of being a burden on the fiscus.  So, the Opposition demanded, from the President, a forensic audit for the purpose of cleaning up the DIS.  They demand a start from a clean slate.

The second demand by the Opposition is that the law be reviewed to ensure greater accountability of the DIS to Parliament. What are some of the issues that the opposition think should be reviewed? The contention is that the executive cannot appoint a Committee of Parliament to scrutinize an executive institution.

Already, it is argued, Parliament is less independent and it is dominated by the executive. It is contended that the Committee should be established by the Standing Orders and be appointed by a Select Committee of Parliament. There is also an argument that the Committee should report to Parliament and not to the President and that the Minister should not have any role in the Committee.

Democratic and Parliamentary oversight of the intelligence is relatively a new phenomenon across the World. Even developed democracies are still grappling with some of these issues. However, there are acceptable standards or what might be called international best practices which have evolved over the past two or so decades.

In the UK for instance, MPs of the Intelligence and Security Committee are appointed by the Houses of Parliament, having been nominated by the Prime Minister in consultation with the Leader of the Opposition. This is a good balancing exercise of involvement of both the executive and the legislature. Consultation is taken for granted in Botswana context in the sense that it has been reduced to just informing the Leader of Opposition without much regard to his or her ideas; they are never taken seriously.

Furthermore, the current Committee in the UK has four Members of the ruling party and five MPs from the opposition. It is a fairly balanced Committee in terms of Parliamentary representation. However, as said above, the President of Botswana appointed six ruling party MPs and three from the opposition.

The imbalance is preposterous and more pronounced with clear intentions of getting the executive way through the ruling party representatives in the Committee. The intention to avoid scrutiny is clear from the numbers of the ruling party MPs in the Committee.

There is also an international standard of removing sensitive parts which may harm national security from the report before it is tabled in the legislature. The previous and current reluctance of the executive arms to open up on Defence and Security matters emanate from this very reason of preserving and protecting national security.

But national security should be balanced with public interest and other democratic principles. The decision to expunge certain information which may be prejudicial to national security should not be an arbitrary and exclusive decision of the executive but a collective decision of a well fairly balanced Committee in consultation with the Speaker and the minister responsible.

There is no doubt that the DIS has been a rogue institution. The reluctance by the President to commit to democratic-parliamentary oversight reforms presupposes a lack of commitment to democratization. The President has no interest in seeing a reformed DIS with effective oversight of the agency.

He is insincere. This is because the President loathes the idea losing an iota of power and sharing it with any other democratic institution. He sees the agency as his power lever to sustain his stay in the high office. He thought he could sanitize himself with an ineffective DIS Committee that would dance to his tune.

The non-participation of the opposition MPs renders the Committee dysfunctional; it cannot function as this would be unlawful. Participation of the opposition is a legal requirement. Even if it can meet, it would lack legitimacy; it cannot be taken seriously. The President should therefore act on the oversight demands and reform the DIS if he is to be taken seriously.

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The Maccabean Uprising

25th November 2020
Jewish freedom fighters

 Jews drive away occupying power under the command of guerrilla leader Judas Maccabees but only just

Although it was the Desolation Sacrilege act, General Atiku, that officially sparked the Maccabean revolt, it in truth simply stoked the fires of an already simmering revolution. How so General?

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Atomic (CON)Fusion

25th November 2020

For years I have trained people about paradigm shifts – those light-bulb-switch-on moments – where there is a seismic change from the usual way of thinking about something to a newer, better way. 

I like to refer to them as ‘aha’ moments because of the sudden understanding of something which was previously incomprehensible. However,  the topic of today’s article is the complete antithesis of ‘aha’.  Though I’d love to tell you I’d had a ‘eureka ‘, ‘problem solved’ moment, I am faced with the complete opposite – an ‘oh-no’ moment or Lost Leader Syndrome.

No matter how well prepared or capable a leader is. they often find themselves facing perplexing events, confounding information, or puzzling situations. Confused by developments of which they can’t make sense and by challenges that they don’t know how to solve they become confused, sometimes lost and completely clueless about what to do.

I am told by Jentz and Murphy (JM) in ‘What leaders do when they don’t know what to do’ that this is normal, and that rapid change is making confusion a defining feature of management in the 21st century.  Now doesn’t that sound like the story of 2020 summed up in a single sentence?

The basic premise of their writing is that “confusion is not a weakness to be ashamed of but a regular and inevitable condition of leadership. By learning to embrace their confusion, managers are able to set in motion a constructive process for addressing baffling issues.

In fact, confusion turns out to be a fruitful environment in which the best managers thrive by using the instability around them to open up better lines of communication, test their old assumptions and values against changing realities, and develop more creative approaches to problem solving.”

The problem with this ideology however is that it doesn’t help my overwhelming feelings of fear and panic which is exacerbated by a tape playing on a loop in my head saying  ‘you’re supposed to know what to do, do something’. My angst is compounded by annoying motivational phrases also unhelpfully playing in my head like.

  • Nothing happens until something moves
  • The secret of getting ahead is getting started

and

  • Act or be acted upon

All these platitudes are urging me to pull something out of the bag, but I know that this is a trap. This need to forge ahead is nothing but a coping mechanism and disguise. Instead of owning the fact that I haven’t got a foggy about what to do, part of me worries that I’ll lose authority if I acknowledge that I can’t provide direction – I’m supposed to know the answers, I’m the MD!  This feeling of not being in control is common for managers in ‘oh no’ situations and as a result they often start reflexively and unilaterally attempting to impose quick fixes to restore equilibrium because, lets be honest, sometimes we find it hard to resist hiding our confusion.

To admit that I am lost in an “Oh, No!” moment opens the door not only to the fear of losing authority but also to a plethora of other troubling emotions and thoughts:  *Shame and loss of face: “You’ll look like a fool!” * Panic and loss of control: “You’ve let this get out of hand!” * Incompetence and incapacitation: “You don’t know what you’re doing!”

As if by saying “I’m at a loss here” is tantamount to declaring “I am not fit to lead.” Of course the real problem for me and any other leader is if they don’t admit when they are disoriented, it sends a signal to others in the organisation stating it’s not cool to be lost and that, by its very nature encourages them to hide.  What’s the saying about ‘a real man never asks for direction. ..so they end up driving around in circles’.

As managers we need to embrace the confusion, show vulnerability (remember that’s not a bad word) and accept that leadership is not about pretending to have all the answers but about having the courage to search with others to discover a solution.

JM point out that “being confused, however, does not mean being incapacitated.  Indeed, one of the most liberating truths of leadership is that confusion is not quicksand from which to escape but rather the potter’s clay of leadership – the very stuff with which managers can work.”

2020 has certainly been a year to remember and all indications are that the confusion which has characterised this year will still follow us into the New Year, thereby making confusion a defining characteristic of the new normal and how managers need to manage. Our competence as leaders will then surely be measured not only by ‘what I know’ but increasingly by ‘how I behave when I accept, I don’t know, lose my sense of direction and become confused.

.I guess the message for all organizational cultures going forward is that sticking with the belief that we need all-knowing, omni-competent executives will cost them dearly and send a message to managers that it is better to hide their confusion than to address it openly and constructively.

Take comfort in these wise words ‘Confusion is a word we have invented for an order not yet understood’!

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