This opinion piece discusses the obsolescence of 2022/ 23 budget speech in a host of ways including deregulation, privatization, outsourcing and competition in public services. In her presentation of the 2022/ 23 budget speech, Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Ms Peggy Serame entertains cost–benefit analyses of privatizing SOEs strategies based on retrenchments versus the job security of nationals. The tone of the speech yearns for a romanticized capitalist agenda of public-private partnerships. While Minister Serame endorses the call to replace government-owned corporations with private ones with the opinion that it may increase productivity, the real showdown of the speech represents the ascendancy of a more hard-nosed brand of neo-liberalism agenda. The Minister strongly supports a resurgence of capitalism that threatens to erode workers’ wages and job security. The BDP Government uses the Covid-19 crises as both excuse and opportunity to increase taxes, privatize remaining public services, rip holes in the social safety net, deregulate corporations and re-regulate citizens through commands of Financial Action Task Force (FATF) opinions. Yet privatization as a neoliberal agenda is anti – democratic, it leads to exploitation and social injustice, and inevitably criminalizes poverty. Moreover, to deregulate state owned enterprises is to deprive Botswana as a sovereign nation of the right to self-determination.
In recommending for the privatization of State Owned Enterprises, Minister Serame forgets that vital national services cannot be allowed to collapse, which means that they cannot be trusted with private entities. Political history records show that whenever privatisation is put in motion, business takes the profits, while the state keeps the risk. It is no wonder why Business Botswana is so praiseful of Minister Serame`s budget speech because they know they will accrue unearned income without any effort from the rendered public assets. It is of RAP adamant position, that a transfer of public assets to private companies by the BDP is overwhelmingly, a transfer of public money from the majority citizens to the few rich at significant cost of public welfare. While the budget speech speaks of Economic Recovery and Transformation Plan, the neoliberal economic policy directed by Minister Serame will inevitably put all of us at risk. In essence, the economic restructuring espoused in the 2022/ 23 budget speech will make the poor to become poorer and the rich to become richer as it is consistent with self – interested prescriptive. Yet the prescriptive profit-seeking behavior incumbent to privatization is lauded in tension with the rising levels of unemployment in Botswana.
And though Serame recognizes corruption as troubling, she reframes corruption in terms of the behavior of a few ‘bad apples’, and shames individuals in the public service while concealing the economic structure incentivizing exactly that behavior. Yet so long as there are low levels of law enforcement, lack of clarity of rules, of transparency and accountability in public actions, too many controls, too much centralization and monopoly that give too much discretion to the highest office of the land, corruption will keep rising in Botswana. Economic performance can therefore be increased by dealing with corruption, not by privatizing State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) and sacrificing the public service. It is systemic corruption that blocks the chances for economic development and retards economic growth. It is useless to privatize State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) when there is high level corruption, especially when corruption takes the form of state capture by high level politicians and the bureaucracy.
The conclusive diagnosis of RAP is that the lives of the majority of Batswana will remain little changed by the 2022/ 23 budget speech set of priorities. The BDP has once more failed to use the Covid -19 pandemic as a historic opportunity for a State to create inclusive economic growth and stability. The speech has exposed the most cynical aspects of BDP political culture – neoliberalism – a political and economic system that prioritizes private profit over human lives and social wellbeing. The speech by Minister Serame is characterized most of all by “the Thatcherite ideology of fiscal austerity, deregulation, free trade, privatization, and a reduction in government spending. In Thatcher’s term of office privatization became her most important and enduring economic legacy. She came to power determined to revive the stagnant British economy with market-based reforms. Her government deregulated, cut marginal tax rates, repealed exchange controls, and tamed militant labor unions. Conversely, Thatcher`s economics had adverse effects on the British`s lives: Pensioners were the worst hit. The proportion living below the poverty line rose from 13% to 43%. Child poverty more than doubled. The former Tory minister, Sir Ian Gilmour succinctly summed up the Thatcher/Major years: “The sacrifice imposed on the poor produced nothing miraculous except for the rich.” The rich saw their tax rates fall from 83% to 40%.
Just like Margaret Thatcher, Minister Peggy Serame is also on a high way drive of growing capitalists, from children to adults of the ruling class. This feat of simply fabricating anecdotes about economic structural reforms to stimulate the economy elucidated by Serame in the budget speech is not only a calculated conspiracy for the relentless pursuit of private profit but also a lean toward a kleptocratic self-enrichment, to wring the profits out of public assets for as long as possible. Yet the costs of the espoused adjustment and stabilisation programmes in the speech will have adverse effects on women – especially the female-headed households, the poor and the middle class. The position of Real Alternative Party is that public service/ good is too important to be left to the market mechanism. What Botswana needs is an updated, rejuvenated and revitalized machinery of the state refocused to serve traditionally redistributive ends. The State needs to improve its performance to fulfill a socio-economic contract with communities and families. There is need to rebuild the public service around a new vision of a larger, more responsive and effective state to deliver strong improvement of public service in a way that would be visible on the ground.
Government should also make salaries for civil servants competitive with the private sector. Given the rising antisocial behaviour, high-level crime and disorder in the range of petty drug dealing, violence and abuse which have turned Botswana into a nasty country, increased spending is needed on core domestic welfare services alongside an even more rapid shift upwards in expenditure designed to improve the situation of families on lower incomes. The emphasis of a budget speech should be on the delivery of noticeable improvement in citizens’ life chances. We need a social market economy, striving for a sustainable and inclusive growth model that delivers the best for people. Job retention measures must be maintained to curb unemployment in the COVID-19 pandemic emergency. Given the high rate of unemployment and the projected increase in the labor force, Botswana must prioritize more labor-intensive sectors like manufacturing and agriculture. The employment issue is of critical importance and urgent priority for young people and women in its own right. Botswana needs economic growth and development based on the principle of maximizing its “Gross Happiness Index” for its citizens.
A truly caring government must launch the most successful war on poverty. As historian Lord Peter Hennessy put it, the litmus test of a government is to: “make its country a kinder, gentler and a far, far better place in which to be born, to grow up, to live, love, work and even to die”. We need a Botswana that can become better equipped to stand up to the inevitable rigours of globalization. We need a country that is more tolerant, more relaxed, more confident about social change, healthier, better educated, and safer. We need investments driven by economic returns rather than political favoritism!
The problem is BDP as a State has never prioritized interests of its Nation, thus why it finds it perfectly good to sink its teeth into every organ of the public sector and to engage in wasteful spending and corruption.
Real Alternative Party