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Minister Mokaila needs Assistant Ministers

Ndulamo Anthony Morima

Though the problems of power outages and water cuts currently bedeviling the country are partly because of circumstances beyond Botswana’s control, some of the problems are caused by lack of institutional capacity within the Ministry of Minerals, Energy & Water Affairs, especially at political level.

Currently, the Ministry of Minerals, Energy & Water Affairs has no assistant minister, something I consider odd, especially considering that the ministry has three large portfolios which are the basis for all economic activity. The fact that this ministry is so important that it was once assigned to the Vice President, His Honour Ponatshego Kedikilwe, is enough to justify its need for assistant ministers, or at least one assistant minister.

Considering its centrality to the economy and the need to drive the mineral beneficiation programme, the minerals portfolio deserves a ministry of its own. It is common cause that our economy is reliant on mineral revenue, especially diamonds. In fact, the revenue generated by diamonds alone is more than that generated by some ministries combined. There is also a need to give attention to the beneficiation of such other minerals as copper, nickel and coal.

Purportedly, the coal reserves we have are enough for us to meet the nation’s energy needs as well as exporting to other countries in the region. Not only that. The coal, through a liquification process, can be used to produce many chemicals for local use and export. It can also be used, says the Deputy Head of Mission, Political Counsellor for the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China, Li Nan, for brick making by using the ash which comes as a bye product.  

How can one political leader in a ministry deal with all these issues? Where will he or she find the time to address such other challenges as electricity and water shortages? If such a minister is also an elected Member of Parliament (MP) where will he or she find the time to attend to constituency issues? Even a genius may fail. One of the best ministers of Minerals, Energy & Water Affairs we have ever had, former Vice President, His Honour, Ponatshego Kedikilwe, failed.

The revenue generated by Agriculture, for both arable and pastoral farming, including the Botswana Meat Commission (BMC) is far less than that generated by mineral production, yet the Ministry of Agriculture has always had an Assistant Minister, but the Ministry of Minerals, Energy & Water Affairs has not.

The Energy and Water portfolios are also significant enough to our economy that they deserve to be a full ministry. It is needless to say that without electricity and water, for example, our economy would be paralyzed as has been the case due to the current power outages and water cuts.

The current energy and water crisis requires somebody at political level to be devoted to addressing them. They require constant negotiation with other governments for supply agreements. They also require constant monitoring of the projects intended to reduce foreign dependency for energy and water supply.

As is the case in other ministries with assistant ministers, assistant ministers in the Ministry of Minerals, Energy & Water Affairs can be assigned the task of project monitoring so that the minister focuses on driving the ministry’s strategy  and maintenance of relations with countries which supply us with energy and water as well as forging new partnerships.    

There is, therefore, need for the Ministry of Minerals, Energy & Water Affairs to have two assistant ministers, one for Minerals and the other for Energy and Water Affairs. If resources do not permit there should be at least one assistant minister.

In the same manner that education is so significant that the Ministry of Education & Skills Development requires two assistant ministers, one for higher education and the other for basic education, the Ministry of Minerals, Energy & Water Affairs requires two assistant ministers.

The Ministry of Local Government & Rural Development is one big ministry and it too has rightly had two assistant ministers. The same should apply for the Ministry of Minerals, Energy & Water Affairs. The Ministry of Health has also had an assistant minister. Surely, though the health portfolio is inarguably demanding it cannot be more demanding than the Ministry of Minerals, Energy & Water Affairs.

All ministries, including those with one or two assistant ministers need revenue to operate and most of that revenue is generated by the Ministry of Minerals, Energy & Water Affairs. Clearly, since the ministry is our major revenue earner it should be capacitated so that it generates more revenue to sustain the ministries. Certainly, a salary bill of two assistant ministers and two Deputy Permanent Secretaries for such a critical ministry cannot be too much to ask.

If the budget is too tight to accommodate such an increased salary bill, His Excellency the President can redeploy one assistant minister from each of the ministries with two assistant ministers to the Ministry of Minerals, Energy & Water Affairs. Alternatively, the President can task the ministry to increase its revenue or to cut expenditure in non-priority areas in order to cater for the budget increase.

The argument that the Ministry of Minerals, Energy & Water Affairs does not need assistant ministers since it has such well-established parastatals as Botswana Power Corporation (BPC) and Water Utilities Corporation (WUC) is neither here nor there. The Ministry of Agriculture too has such well-established parastatals as BMC and Botswana Agricultural Marketing Board (BAMB) yet it has assistant ministers.

In any case, parastatals do not operate in a vacuum. They, just like government departments, also require political supervision. While such supervision should be less for parastatals it is unfortunately not the case in Botswana because most of our parastatals lack prudent leadership and operate with the same culture as government departments. No wonder despite the establishment of many government parastatals ministerial performance has hardly improved.  

From a human resource capacity point of view, the Ministry of Local Government & Rural Development has, at local government level, such high level officers as Council Secretaries and District Commissioners. The Ministries of Education & Skills Development and Health too have regional and district level officers at director level.  

On the contrary, the Ministry of Minerals, Energy & Water Affairs has no such high level officers at local government level. The ministry is lean at both national and local level, yet a lot is expected from it. This issue is not about an individual’s capacity, but the institution’s capacity.

If this lack of institutional capacity is not addressed, the ministry will not be able to address the challenges facing the sector. It will be unfair to ascribe such failure to the current minister, Honourable Kitso Mokaila. In fact, it is my view that given the resource constraints facing him he has done very well as an individual. But, we do not want our ministries’ performance to be based on personal capacity alone. The performance should be mainly based on institutional capacity.

As we speak, the economy is declining because of energy and water shortages. Several companies, especially in the manufacturing sector are losing millions of Pula as a result. If the energy and water problems are not addressed urgently retrenchments will soon become inevitable, further worsening our already high unemployment level.

Surely, the energy and water problems we are facing cannot simply be blamed on Honourable Mokaila’s alleged poor performance. Like I said before, Honourable Mokaila is doing the best he can.  There is more to the problem. Part of the problem is of course government’s poor planning and poor project implementation. The other is the Ministry of Minerals, Energy & Water Affairs’ lack of institutional capacity, especially at political level.

If the Ministry of Minerals, Energy & Water Affairs remains this weak even the Economic Stimulus Programme (ESP) will be in vain because the projects planned to stimulate the economy will fail because of lack of electricity and water. One of the areas targeted by the ESP is Agriculture, but Agriculture cannot thrive without water. Nor can construction thrive because to build the targeted number of class rooms, for example, reliable water and electricity supply are needed.  

Ndulamo Anthony Morima

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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

… 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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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    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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