The Minister of Finance and Economic Development Mr. Kenneth Matambo has performed the usual annual ritual of delivering an uninspiring budget speech. Most of the things presented were a recitation of what has been said in previous speeches.
The only significant difference is that this time around the speech was shorter. It was the last but one before President Seretse Khama Ian Khama relocates from the State House to Mosu. As usual the Ministry of Education, Health and Wellness, and Justice Defence and Security got the largest share of the recurrent budget.
The perennial problem in Botswana is not so much the budgetary constraint but misplaced priorities and poor implementation. The other problem that has bled the economy is rampant official corruption. The shortcomings of the budget will become clearer when the Ministerial budgets are presented to parliament in weeks to come.
The Minister confirmed what we long suspected that financial controls of public funds have collapsed under his leadership. Apparently tenders are awarded without “proof of availability of funds”, lease agreements signed outside budget, and funds diverted without following established virement processes that entails approval by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development. Unfortunately the biggest culprit is the Office of the President (OP). It is doubtful whether Matambo has the back bone to bring the OP to order.
In respect of the development budget the Ministry of Mineral Resources, Green Technology and Energy Security, Ministry of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services and Ministry of Defence, Justice and Security got the largest budget allocations. Suddenly the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Health and Wellness are downgraded despite serious backlogs; when you expect District Hospitals to be Referral Hospitals, Primary Hospitals to be District Hospitals, Clinics with Maternity to be Hospitals, and Health Posts to become Clinics with Maternity. In Education there is also a backlog of classrooms and houses for teachers.
When it becomes to the Defence budget, the Minister tried and I doubt if he will succeed to convince the Legislators that government has finally listened to the plight of army personnel concerning deplorable housing conditions. It is an open secret that government intends to spend P22 billion on defence during NDB 11 mainly to purchase jet fighters and other sophisticated weapons. This is meant to deal with external threats that are yet to be explained to Batswana. Members of the security forces currently require highly motivated personnel not jet fighters. Housing and improved working conditions will go a long way to address their immediate needs.
In anticipation of resistance against the defence budget from the Legislators, government occasionally resorts to bogeyman’s threats, dirty tactics and acts of intimidation. In the past we witnessed an unusual increased presence of top army personnel attending parliament when the defence budget was being debated. Defence and security analysts suspect that the recent reports that some military weapons of war were uncovered in Kgatleng is not by coincidence.
It is possibly a fluke meant to drive the point that security threats are real to justify the unrealistic defence budget. We are also reminded of a similar incident when a hand grenade was planted around the government enclave. Legislators must not be deceived by the amateurish DISS tactics and see the defence budget for what it is – a move to trigger an arms race in the sub-region. A self-created threat must be rejected with the contempt it deserves.
According to the budget speech, government has abandoned the policy of economic diversification and have adopted the policy of diversification of revenue sources. While progressive governments aim at putting money in the pockets of citizens to spend on basic commodities Botswana government has resorted to pick pocketing. This will negatively impact on household disposable income that is already under severe stress.
One of biggest challenges that the budget was expected to address is unemployment, underemployment and poverty. On this one government has failed dismally. In fact during the Khama era the economy shed off more jobs than it created. Based on the budget speech there is no reason to expect that the situation will change.
Government continues to preach economic growth without equitable distribution of resources. Economic growth is a necessary but not sufficient determinant of job creation. Traditionally Botswana has had a jobless growth. It is a structural problem that continues today. Even when the economy grew by seven (7) to eight (8) per cent very few jobs were produced.
Although government claims to be pursuing a social democratic program the Minister categorically stated that it is not the responsibility of government to create jobs except to ensure a conducive environment “to facilitate the development of the private sector.” We wish to state that this is where we fundamentally differ with the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP). In our view Botswana is a developmental state that requires direct state intervention in the economy. The private sector remains undeveloped to fully play any meaningful role. What we have are mainly parasitic tenderpreneurs.
The construction industry is dominated by state owned Chinese companies. Surprisingly government finds it unacceptable to establish state owned construction companies to compete with foreign entities. If we can do it for diamonds, water, and energy sectors it should be possible to do the same in construction, manufacturing and other strategic sectors. Capitalist pretenders would rather be crowded out by foreign state owned companies than state owned local companies. It is worth noting that Mascom and Orange Mobile Networks were never crowded out by BeMobile.
The problem with an economy that is dominated by foreign investors and a liberal system of repatriating profits will remain stunted with a few stinking rich people and the poor majority. There is an urgent need for a law on indigenous economic empowerment. With respect to foreign direct investment Botswana is doing badly. Part of the reason is that the country has immigration laws that are clearly anti-foreign direct investment. Foreigners in this country are not safe since they are frequently deported without any valid reasons.
In fact the Khama administration has deported more foreigners than all the three previous presidents combined. Deportations have become a norm instead of being an exception. With a well-established and relatively independent judiciary crime suspects must be taken through the justice system and be given a fair trial rather than being deported willy-nilly for reasons that are never disclosed.
Foreigners must not be discriminated against. Efforts to create a conducive environment for the private sector to flourish, is negated by hostile immigration laws. For many years government talked about a one-stop shop to process residence and work permits but nothing has happened up to today.
For some strange reasons foreign investors are taken through a vetting process by the DISS. Such a system means that in Botswana foreign investors are treated as crime suspects while other countries treat them with utmost respect and offer them incentives. It is a well-known fact that DISS exists mainly to protect business interest of the Khama brothers.
Hence it is widely suspected that business people who threaten their business interest are barred from investing in Botswana unless they partner with the powers that be. It is a rotten system that the government of Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) must decisively deal with during the first 100 days.
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.
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.
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.