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COVID-19 Economic Stimulus Programme (ESP): lessons from the 2016 ESP

There is no doubt that by the end of its reign, COVID-19 will have denigrated the world economy, including that of Botswana, which had hitherto been one of the world’s fastest growing and stable economies.

Before COVID-19, Botswana’s economic outlook was rated as stable by the world’s leading ratings agencies, Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s. On 29th October 2017, Standard & Poor’s rated Botswana at A- with a stable outlook. On 27th March 2020, Standard & Poor’s rated Botswana at BBB+ with a stable outlook.

Come 29th May 2020, about two months since the State of Public Emergency (SoPE) and the national lockdown, Moody’s gave Botswana an A2 rating with a negative outlook. The last time Botswana had a negative outlook was on 29th April 2016 when it was rated at A- with a negative outlook by Standard & Poor’s.

It is needless to say that in order to recover from such a negative economic outlook, Botswana, like all countries of the world, must embark on austerity measures and economic stimulation. As you may be aware, since the national lockdown, government introduced such measures as wage subsidies, food hampers, loan guarantees for the private sector, tax concessions, e.t.c.

Commendable as these measures are, they should not be regarded as economic stimulation; they are mere economic relief measures mearnt to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 on individuals and businesses.

In fairness to government, it knows as much, hence the pronouncement by the Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Honourable Dr. Thapelo Matsheka, that government is working on an Economic Stimulus Programme (ESP) to address the effects of COVID-19.

So, post-COVID-19, we will need a well thought out ESP. Inevitably, we will also need austerity measures. I know that austerity measurers are not popular with the masses, but my view is that it will be difficult to arise from COVID-19 with only economic stimulation. Austerity measures, painful as they may be for our people, will be necessary.

In this article, however, I only look at economic stimulation. Austerity measurers will be the subject of next week’s article. In looking at economic stimulation, I, based on the 2016 ESP experiences, make suggestions on how the COVID-19 ESP could be made better. I think if government can learn from the lessons of the 2016 ESP, it can develop a better COVID-19 ESP.

As you may be aware, in 2016 Government embarked on an ESP. This, Government said, was to address the slower growth and greater uncertainty which Botswana’s economy had experienced since the worldwide economic slowdown of 2008.

As stated earlier, on 29th April 2016 Botswana was rated at A- with a negative outlook by Standard & Poor’s. So, there was economic rationale for the ESP. The goals of the 2016 ESP were to stimulate the economy; diversify the economy through the Economic Diversification Drive (EDD) and Special Economic Zones (SEZs); and to accelerate job creation.

The targeted sectors/areas were Agricultural Production; Tourism Development; Economic Diversification Drive; Manufacturing; Buildings and Road construction and maintenance; Re-skilling of Youth; and Establishment of Special Economic Zones.

Through the 2016 ESP, Government intended to use its expenditure to expand the economy through accelerated economic diversification, while creating employment opportunities in the country, including growth in the private sector.

Government also intended to accelerate job creation, eradicate abject poverty; provide world class education as well as improve the health and wellbeing of all Batswana.

More fundamentally, the 2016 ESP was intended to be a bold blueprint for the urgent delivery of national priorities. Also, the programme was intended to entail increased public spending on short, medium and longer-term initiatives.

There is no doubt that these were noble goals indeed. The question is: were they attained? Of course, many of these were long term goals which could not be achieved through the 2016 ESP alone.

So, the first lesson from the 2016 ESP is that in developing the COVID-19 ESP, government should set realistic and attainable goals.

But before we seek to draw more lessons from the 2016 ESP, we need to assess how the economy performed following the stimulus. We use such simple measures as employment creation; poverty reduction and economic diversification.

We start with employment creation. In 2015, prior to the ESP, Botswana’s general unemployment rate was 17.96%. From 2016 the unemployment rate became 17.96%; 17.63%; 17.94% and 18.20% for the years 2016; 2017; 2018 and 2019 respectively.

So, after the 2016 ESP, there was a reduction of 0.33% in 2017. There was, however, an increase of 0.31% and 0.26% in 2018 and 2019 respectively.

We turn to youth unemployment. In 2015, prior to the ESP, Botswana’s youth unemployment rate was 36.83%. From 2016 the unemployment rate became 36.8%; 36.57%; 36.14% and 37.52% for the years 2016; 2017; 2018 and 2019 respectively.

So, after the 2016 ESP, there was a reduction of 0.3% and 0.23% in 2016 and 2017 respectively. There was, however, an increase of 0.57% and 0.38% in 2018 and 2019 respectively.

We turn to economic diversification. According to the World Bank, the diamond industry is still an important driver of growth in Botswana, being the single largest contributor to government revenues and accounting 80% of export earning.

On the contrary, Agriculture’s contribution to the GDP has deteriorated from 2015, it having been 2.20%; 2.05%; 1.99% and 2.00% for the year 2015; 2016; 2017 and 2018 respectively.

Travel and tourism have done better than Agriculture, they having been 13.5%; 12.7%; 13.3%; 13.4% and 13.4% for the year 2015; 2016; 2017; 2018 and 2019 respectively.

Therefore, despite introducing the Economic Diversification Drive (EDD) and Special Economic Zones (SEZs), government has failed to diversify the economy, something which has evaded government since independence in 1966.

So, despite the 2016 ESP, most economic fundamentals have declined since 2016. Of course, the decline cannot be wholly attributable to the 2016 ESP, but one thing we can be sure about is that the 2016 ESP did very little to help the situation, especially that there has been no major world economic downturn since 2016.

Why then did the 2016 ESP not help the situation? Firstly, in my view, Batswana were not meaningfully consulted, resulting in little buy in and low uptake of the programme.

There was a view, at the time, that the ruling Botswana Democratic Party(BDP) hurried the programme in order to ‘buy’ votes for the 2019 general elections after its dismal performance in 2014 which nearly saw the Umbrella for Democratic Change(UDC) force a hung Parliament.

This view was fortified by the fact that instead of the programme being led by civil servants, it was led by politicians. This followed statements by some in the BDP that some civil servants, who were aligned to the opposition, had the propensity to sabotage government programmes to portray the BDP as incapable of governing.

Secondly, perhaps because of the hurried manner in which government implemented the programme, most programmes which were funded were not sustainable. In fact, many did not even address the areas which government had identified as key for economic growth.

For instance, despite government identifying manufacturing as one of the target arears, no single manufacturing industry was started or upscaled as part of the 2016 ESP.

Also, despite government identifying re-skilling of youth as one of the target arears, very little has been done in that regard. No wonder youth unemployment remains as high as 37.52% four years since the 2016 ESP.

The main beneficiaries of the 2016 ESP were buildings and road construction and maintenance, perhaps because they were easy to do. Some say this is because such projects would be visible enough to be used for election campaigns.

Others say, corruption could easily be done through such projects since most participants in that regard are tenderpreneurs who rely on political patronage for tenders.

However, despite the backlog in classrooms and laboratories in our schools, for instance, which contribute to the high student-teacher ratio, very little was done in that regard. Very little was also done in building toilets and ablution blocks.

Consequently, government is now battling with building additional classrooms, laboratories, toilets and ablution blocks in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Also, despite government identifying the improvement of health and wellbeing of all Batswana as a priority area very little has been done in that regard. Many clinics and hospitals still some from shortage of manpower, equipment and medication.

In my view, if the COVID-19 ESP is to be successful, government needs to meaningfully involve Batswana in the programme development. Also, government must set realistic and attainable goals.

Perhaps most importantly, government has to focus on sustainable projects which will meaningfully diversify the economy and reduce unemployment and poverty among our people.

For this to be possible, policy makers must give strategic direction and leave the project implementation to civil servants.

*Ndulamo Anthony Morima, LLM(NWU); LLB(UNISA); DSE(UB); CoP (BAC); CoP (IISA) is the proprietor of Morima Attorneys. He can be contacted at 71410352 or anmorima@gmail.com

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Appendicitis: Recognising the Signs

29th March 2022

Many a times I get clients casually walking into my room and requesting to be checked for “appendix”.  Few questions down the line, it is clear they are unaware of where the appendix is or what to expect when one does have it (appendicitis). Jokingly (or maybe not) I would tell them they would possibly not be having appendicitis and laughing as hard as they are doing. On the other hand, I would be impressed that at least they know and acknowledge that appendicitis is a serious thing that they should be worried about.

So, what is Appendicitis?

Appendicitis is an inflammation of the appendix; a thin, finger-like pouch attached to the large intestine on the lower right side of the abdomen. Often the inflammation can be as a result of blockage either by the faecal matter, a foreign body, infection, trauma or a tumour. Appendicitis is generally acute, with symptoms coming on over the course of a day and becoming severe rapidly. Chronic appendicitis can also occur, though rarely. In chronic cases, symptoms are less severe and can last for days, weeks, or even months. 

Acute appendicitis is a medical emergency that almost always ends up in the operating theatre. Though the appendix is locally referred to as “lela la sukiri”, no one knows its exact role and it definitely does not have anything to do with sugar metabolism. Appendicitis can strike at any age, but it is mostly common from the teen years to the 30s.

Signs to look out for

If you have any of the following symptoms, go and see a Doctor immediately! Timely diagnosis and treatment are vital in acute appendicitis;

Sudden pain that starts around the navel and shifts to the lower right abdomen within hours

The pain becomes constant and increases in severity (or comes back despite painkillers)

The pain worsens on coughing, sneezing, laughing, walking or deep breaths

Loss of appetite

Nausea and vomiting

Fever

Constipation or diarrhoea

Abdominal bloating/fullness

Diagnosis

The doctor often asks questions regarding the symptoms and the patient’s medical history. This will be followed up by a physical examination in which the Doctor presses on the abdomen to check for any tenderness, and the location of the pain. With acute appendicitis, pressing on and letting go of the right lower abdomen usually elicits an excruciatingly unbearable pain. Several tests may be ordered to determine especially the severity of the illness and to rule out other causes of abdominal pain. The tests may conditions include: blood tests, a pregnancy test, urinalysis, abdominal  “How do ultrasound scans work?” ultrasound (scan), CT scan or MRI Scan.

Treatment

The gold standard treatment of acute appendicitis is surgical removal of the appendix known as appendectomy. Luckily, a person can live just fine without an appendix! Surgical options include laparoscopy or open surgery and the type will be decided on by the Surgeon after assessing the patient’s condition. Painkillers and antibiotics are also given intravenously usually before, during and after the surgery.

Complications

Appendicitis can cause serious complications such as;

Appendicular mass/abscessIf the appendix is inflamed or bursts, one may develop a pocket of pus around it known as an abscess. In most cases, the abscess will be treated with antibiotics and drained first by placing a tube through one’s abdominal wall into the abscess. The tube may be left in place for a few hours or days while the infection is clearing up but ultimately one would still have surgery to remove the appendix.

Peritonitis – without treatment, the appendix can rupture/burst. The risk of this rises 48–72 hours after symptoms start. A ruptured appendix spreads the infection throughout the abdomen (peritonitis). This is life threatening and requires immediate surgery to remove the appendix and clean the abdominal cavity.

Death – The complications of appendicitis (and appendectomy) can be life threatening, only if the diagnosis has been missed and no proper treatment has been given on time. This is rare though with the evolved medical care.

If you need further advice or treatment please call 4924730, email  HYPERLINK “mailto:info@themedicscentre.co.bw” info@themedicscentre.co.bw or visit www.themedisccentre.co.bw

Antoinette Boima, MBBS, BMedSci, PgDip HIV/AIDS, Cert Aesth Med is the Managing Director of The Medics Centre in Palapye.

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A degree of common sense

7th February 2022

Here’s a news item from last month you may have missed. In December 2021 the University of Staffordshire announced it would be offered a degree course in pantomime! Yes, that’s right, a degree in popular festive entertainment, the Christmas panto.

We used to have one here, put on by the Capitol Players, though it seems to have fallen away in recent times, but the spectacle is still alive and well in the UK, both in local ad-dram (amateur dramatic ) societies and on the London stage and most of the major cities, these latter productions usually featuring at least one big-draw name from the world of show business with ticket prices commensurate with the star’s salary.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the pantomime format, it consists of a raucous mixture of songs and comedy all based around a well-known fairy or folk tale. Aladdin and His Magic Lamp, Cinderella, Jack & The Beanstalk & Dick Whittington are perennial favourites but any well-known tall tale goes. There is no set script, unlike a play, and storyline is just a peg to hang a coat of contemporary, often bawdy, gags on, in what should be a rollicking production of cross dressing – there has to be at least one pantomime dame, played by a man and always a figure of fun, and a Principal Boy, ostensibly the male lead, yet played by an attractive young woman.

As an art form it can trace its roots back to 16th century Italy and the Commedia Del’Arte which used a mélange of music, dance, acrobatics along with a cast of comic stock characters so it has a long and proud theatrical tradition but you have to wonder, does that really qualify it as a suitable subject for a university? Further, what use might any degree be that can be acquired in a single year? And last but not least, how much standing does any degree have which comes from a jumped-up polytechnic, granted university status along with many of its ilk back in 1992, for reasons best known to the government of the time? Even more worrying are the stated aims of the course.

Staffordshire University claims it is a world first and the masters course is aimed at people working inside as well as outside the industry. Students on the course, due to start in September 2022, will get practical training in the art form as well as research the discipline.

“We want to see how far we can take this,” Associate Professor of Acting and Directing Robert Marsden said. The role of pantomime in the 21st Century was also going to be examined, he said, “particularly post Me Too and Black Lives Matter”. Questions including “how do we address the gender issues, how do we tell the story of Aladdin in 2021, how do we get that balance of male/female roles?” will be asked, Prof Marsden added.

Eek! Sounds like Prof. Marsden wants to rob it of both its history and its comedic aspects – well, good luck with that! Of course that isn’t the only bizarre, obscure and frankly time and money-wasting degree course available. Staying with the performing arts there’s Contemporary Circus and Physical Performance at Bath Spa University. Sounds like fun but why on earth would a circus performer need a university degree?

Or how about a Surf Science and Technology degree at Cornwall College (part of the University of Plymouth). Where the one thing you don’t learn is….how to surf!

Then there is a  degree in Floral Design at University Centre Myerscough. No, I hadn’t heard of it either – turns out it’s a college of further education in Preston, a town that in my experience fits the old joke of ‘I went there once…..It was closed’ to a ‘T’!

Another handy (pun intended) art is that of Hand Embroidery BA (Hons), offered at the University for the Creative Arts. Or you could waste away sorry, while away, your time on a course in Animal Behaviour and Psychology. This degree at the University of Chester teaches you about the way animals think and feel. Cockroaches have personalities according to the subject specs– you couldn’t make it up.

Happily all these educational institutes may have to look to their laurels and try to justify their very existence in the near future. In plans announced this week, universities could face fines of up to £500,000 (P750m), be stripped of their right to take student loans or effectively shut down if they cannot get 60 per cent of students into a professional job under a crackdown on ‘Mickey Mouse’ courses. Further, at least 80 per cent of students should not drop out after the first year, and 75 per cent should graduate.

The rules, published by the Office for Students (OfS), aim to eliminate ‘low-quality’ courses by setting new standards & requiring courses to improve their rating in the TEF, the official universities ratings system. Universities not meeting the new standards will not be able to charge full annual fees of £9,250. Unconventional courses that could fall victim to the new rules could include the University of Sunderland’s BA in Fashion Journalism, where students learn essential’ skills such as catwalk reporting and the history of Chanel.  They have only a 40 per cent chance of entering highly skilled work 15 months after leaving.

At University College Birmingham, BSC Bakery and Patisserie Technology students – who learn how to ‘make artisan bread’ – have a 15 per cent chance of a professional job within 15 months. Universities minister Michelle Donelan welcomed the move, saying ‘When students go to university, they do so in the pursuit of a life-changing education, one which helps pave their path towards a highly skilled career. Any university that fails to match this ambition must be held to account.’

OfS found that at 25 universities, fewer than half of students find professional work within 15 months.  Business and management courses at the University of Bedfordshire (14.8 per cent) were among the least likely to lead to graduate-level jobs.  Asked to comment, the University of Sunderland said it always looked ‘to find ways to improve outcomes’; University College Birmingham said data on graduates and definition of ‘professional work’ was limited. I’ll bet it is! As the saying goes, ’what the eye doesn’t see, the heart doesn’t grieve over’. What a pantomime!

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Why regular health checks are important!

7th February 2022

With the world still reeling from the negative impact of the Coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19), and the latest Omicron variant (which is responsible for the ongoing global forth wave) on everyone’s lips, we should not forget and neglect other aspects of our health.

While anyone can get infected with corona virus and become seriously ill or die at any age, studies continue to show that people aged 60 years and above, and those with underlying medical conditions like hypertension, heart and lung problems, diabetes, obesity, cancers, or mental illness are at a higher risk of developing serious illness or dying from covid-19.

It is a good habit to visit a doctor regularly, even if you feel healthy. Regular health checks can help identify any early signs of health issues or assess your risk of future illness hence prompting one to take charge and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Heart disease, diabetes, some cancers and other non-communicable diseases (even communicable) can often be picked up in their early stages, when chances for effective treatment are high.

During a health check, your doctor will take a thorough history from you regarding your medical history, your family’s history of disease, your social life and habits, including your diet, physical activity, alcohol use, smoking and drug intake. S/he will examine you including measuring your weight, blood pressure, feeling your body organs and listening to your heart and lungs amongst the rest. Depending on the assessment, your doctor will notify you how often you need to have a health check. If you have a high risk of a particular health condition, your doctor may recommend more frequent health checks from an early age.

Diet – a healthy diet improves one’s general health and wellbeing. It is recommended that we have at least two serves of fruit and five serves of vegetables daily. Physical activity – regular physical activity has significant health benefits on one’s body, mind & soul. It contributes to preventing and managing non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, cancers and diabetes, reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, enhances thinking, learning, and judgment skills and improves overall well-being. According to the world health organisation (WHO), people who are insufficiently active have a 20% to 30% increased risk of death compared to people who are sufficiently active. Aim for 30 minutes to an hour of moderate physical activity at least four days in a week. Examples of moderate physical activity include brisk walking, gentle swimming and social tennis.

Weight – maintaining a healthy weight range helps in preventing long-term complications like cardiovascular disease, diabetes and arthritis. It is also vital for one’s mental wellbeing and keeping up with normal activities of daily living. Ask your doctor to check your body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference annually. If you are at a higher risk, you should have your weight checked more frequently and a stern management plan in place.

Alcohol – as per WHO reports, alcohol consumption contributes to 3 million deaths each year globally as well as to the disabilities and poor health of millions of people. Healthy drinking entails taking no more than two standard drinks per drinking day with at least two alcohol-free days in a week.

Smoking –Nicotine contained in tobacco is highly addictive and tobacco use is a major risk factor for cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, many different types of cancer, and many other debilitating health conditions. Every year, at least a whopping 8 million people succumb from tobacco use worldwide. Tobacco can also be deadly for non-smokers through second-hand smoke exposure. It is not ‘fashionable’ if it is going to cost you and your loved ones lives! If you are currently smoking, talk to your doctor and get help in quitting as soon as possible to reduce the harm.

Blood pressure: Hypertension is a serious medical condition and can increase the risk of heart, brain, kidney and other diseases. It is a major cause of premature death worldwide, with upwards of 1 in 4 men and 1 in 5 women – over a billion people – having the condition. Have your blood pressure checked annually if it is normal, you are aged under 40 and there is no family history of hypertension. You might need to have it checked more frequently if you are over 40, your blood pressure is on the high side, or you have a personal or family history of high blood pressure, stroke or heart attack. Your doctor will be there to guide you.

Dental care – eating a low-sugar diet and cleaning and flossing the teeth regularly can reduce one’s risk of tooth decay, gum disease and tooth loss. Visit a dentist every six months for a dental examination and professional cleaning, or more frequently as per your dentist’s advice.
Blood tests – annual to five-yearly blood tests may be done to further assess or confirm risk of disease. These may include blood sugar levels, cholesterol levels, kidney function, liver function, tumour markers, among other things. They may be done frequently if there is already an existing medical condition.

Cancer screening – various screening techniques can be done to detect different cancers in their early or pre-cancer stages. These include; skin inspections for any suspicious moles/spots, two-yearly mammograms for those at risk of developing breast cancer, Pap smear or the new Cervical Screening Test (CST) every five years, stool tests and colonoscopy (every five years) for those at most risk of bowel cancer, prostate cancer screening for those at risk (over 45 years of age, family history of cancers etc.). Discuss appropriate tests with your doctor.

Vaccinations – You should discuss with your doctor about the necessary routine immunisation, in particular; the Covid-19 vaccines, an annual flu shot, a five-yearly pneumococcal vaccine if you have never had one or you are immunocompromised and any other boosters that you might need.

If you need further advice or treatment please call 4924730, email HYPERLINK “mailto:info@themedicscentre.co.bw” info@themedicscentre.co.bw or visit www.themedisccentre.co.bw

Antoinette Boima, MBBS, BMedSci, PgDip HIV/AIDS, Cert Aesth Med is the Managing Director of The Medics Centre in Palapye.

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