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ESP was bound to fail!

Ndulamo Anthony Morima

When, in October 2015, government introduced the Economic Stimulus Programme (ESP) many criticized the programme as unsustainable, but they were dismissed and labelled as unpatriotic Opposition sympathizers.

Yet, last week the Minister of Infrastructure & Housing, Honourable Vincent Seretse, confirmed that His Excellency the President, Mokgweetsi Masisi, has stopped the ESP after it emerged that the multi-million Pula programme was a waste of tax payers’ money. Reportedly, Hon. Seretse stated that there were a number of botched deals across the country with huge cost implications as a result of the ESP. He stated that consequently there will be no new ESP projects.

Hon. Seretse admitted that government, against advice from Business Botswana, spent money in the programme before developing capacity among government departments, the result being that the departments lacked the capacity to monitor the programme. This, according to Hon. Seretse, resulted in scores of project consultants, developers and constructors being paid despite leaving behind a trail of botched deals, incomplete and failed projects in every corner of the country.  

As I argued in October 2015 following the launch of the programme, this was bound to happen because there was no proper consultation and planning before the programme was launched. It would be recalled that the ESP was introduced via a supplementary budget bill. The mistake government made is that before preparing the supplementary budget bill for consideration by Parliament, the Executive failed to consult extensively in order to solicit Batswana’s ideas.

Members of Parliament (MPs) too were not accorded time to consult their constituencies before voting on the bill.

The ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP)’s resolution 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 did not help the situation either.

As politicians, cabinet ministers and MPs were always going to politicize the projects with the result that only BDP members and financial sponsors would 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 was always going to have dire consequences in as far as quality and safety assurance are concerned.

It was inevitable that the politicians would sacrifice quality and safety for political expediency especially that the BDP wanted the projects to be competed as quickly as possible in order to gain voter support during the 2019 general elections.

Public Finance expert at the University of Botswana, Professor Emmanuel Botlhale, was 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 as has been the case with the ESP.

At the time, I wrote that the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) and the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament needed to sharpen their teeth prior to the ESP projects’ commencement since corruption was likely to rise to its peak.

This is because though it would not say it publicly, the BDP would likely ensure that the project tenders are awarded to its members and sponsors.

I opined that 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 would not be sabotaged by the Opposition.

I argued that in deciding on the ESP projects regard had to be had for sustainable economic development and economic diversification. Government needed 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.

It was my view that considering that the 2015 IIAG scored Botswana at 55% for infrastructural development, it was advisable for most of the projects to focus on infrastructural development, but that was not the case.

Also, the fact that the 2015 IIAG scored Botswana at 66.7% for Rural Sector development required that a significant portion of such infrastructural development be targeted at rural areas, but that was not the case. 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.

It was also my view that in the implementation of the ESP government needed 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, yet the ESP had no deliberate target for women empowerment. 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 necessitated the 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 I argued that one area of focus for the ESP should be projects that would 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, have been priority projects for the ESP, but that was not the case.

I argued that projects targeted at improving Botswana’s Sustainable Economic Opportunity should also be a priority because according to the 2015 IIAG Botswana scored 66.1% in Sustainable Economic Opportunity.

This, despite the multiple economic empowerment projects that the BDP government has introduced.

I opined that 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, but government did exactly that.

Dr. Keith Jefferis was 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, but that has not been the case.

I warned that because the ESP would be funded from drawings from Botswana’s Foreign Exchange Reserves (FERs), government has to be careful in its implementation of the ESP, but considering Hon. Seretse’s admissions government was far from careful.

In my view, government committed suicide by reducing the country’s foreign reserves for an ill-conceived and partisan project that only brought the country short-term relief and long term losses.

While I admitted that any economic stimulus programme would have such temporary relief measures as Ipelegeng, I argued that 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, but the ESP had no such.

I opined that it is 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, but the ESP has failed to do that.

For instance, instead of engaging Ipelegeng beneficiaries in productive agricultural, tourism and manufacturing projects they were confined to the less productive grass cutting and bush clearing 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.

It is in this regard that I argued that if government is to take such a risk of reducing Botswana’s FERs through the ESP expenditure it had to be for a well thought and planned intervention which is owned by Batswana and not just the BDP. This is because 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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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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