ACT NOW, CHANGE NOW: TRANSFORMATION BEGINS WITH YOU DOING JUST THAT
• The Botswana Forum for Action and Reform (B-FAR) is an independent and non-party organization established to advocate for accelerated and radical structural and socio-economic transformation of Botswana. Our focus areas are: citizen engagement and empowerment; inclusive and participatory growth; innovative economic diversification; and rapid and sustainable development. This matches what the ruling BDP-led government has pledged to Batswana and by and large, what we all desire as Batswana.
• B-FAR works by calling for action and demanding reform to truly and successfully transform Botswana into a prosperous, inclusive and high income nation. Our response to the 2020 Budget Speech is a CALL FOR ACTION.
• We congratulate Hon Dr Matsheka for his maiden Budget Speech, and we appreciate the charged delivery of yet another doze of promises to make life better for Batswana, promises made on behalf of the newly elected BDP government that swore to Batswana that it was capable and willing to bring change.
• As we recognize the new tone of ‘it can not be business as usual’ in the Budget Speech, we are reminded that it has been ‘business as usual’ by the same government for 54 years. We often hear that ‘talk is cheap’ and ‘action speaks louder than words’. Honourable Minister, will you just talk and not act? The only way we can believe you and the BDP government is if we see immediate action and immediate change. As an accomplished scholar, the following words will possibly speak more to you of what we wish to impress upon you and your government:
• “Transformation isn’t a future event. It’s a present day activity”, Jillian Michaels.
• “The most useless people are the ones who have never changed for the better over the years”, James Barrie.
• “If you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you’ve always got”, Henry Ford.
• If the above wise words from across the world are not sufficient, let us bring you back to a stark reality that Botswana faces. If we do not change now, chances are that it might be too late to do so even if we start as early as 2024 when your current social contract ends. The National Anthem tells us that this desert land is a gift from God. We remind you and your government, with sternness and a sober and solemn mind, that God gave us resources from the desert so as to find ways and means to survive on the desert land.
• Your government has toyed with economic diversification, citizen empowerment, sustainable development and all the parameters with which we can survive in the aftermath of the desert resources and your government has done so for decades. We remind you, with the same degree of grimness born out of disappointment that by 2036, sixteen years from now, some of those resources are likely to be depleted, and that if the government does not change now, every year that is wasted out of those 16 years will be drawing us closer to a situation from which we can not escape as a nation. A desert land with an undiversified resource-based economy without resources and a poor and disempowered citizenry is not beneficial to anyone, including those who would somehow have made it this far as even their hard-earned wealth will become of insignificant value.
• Honourable Minister and all your compatriots who listened to the 2020 Budget Speech in Parliament as you delivered it, take the following home and remember it: THERE WILL BE NO SECOND CHANCE IN 2036 AS THERE WAS IN 2016. Whilst you do so, and may you do so everywhere you go, let us loudly and emphatically disagree with your observation that “The Vision sets high and ambitious targets for all stakeholders to move the country forward”. That Vision sets befitting and achievable targets that any government playing a proper facilitatory role should confidently guarantee to its people.
• Even without the guarded articulation of the 2020 Budget Speech we all know the problems that we face in Botswana. We will therefore not waste time going over them. Instead, we will go through the interventions, by which we will judge the willingness and preparedness of the government to act and solve those problems. We will also propose measures that are symbolic of committed change, of ‘business unusual’, of leaders prepared to think and act outside the box and make brave but thoughtful changes to drive the country beyond the cushioned life that is supported by finite minerals. As we do so, be reminded that “Transformation literally means going beyond your form”, as one Wayne Dyer observed.
• Let us hope you will begin to realize henceforth that you are not telling us the truth when you say “The same government transformed the economy to an upper middle income status in the 1990s”. The truth that we know as Batswana is that DIAMONDS transformed the economy, starting from the 1970s, admittedly with the good oversight and prudent management of government, BUT government FAILED AND IS FAILING to transform it further from what the diamonds could do or where they could take it. This is the truth.
• COMMITMENT TO TRANSFORM THE ECONOMY. Honourable Minister, you expressed the commitment of government to transform the economy through a number of interventions and refocusing existing policies, strategies and programmes such as: service delivery through ICT; creating sustainable jobs; fighting corruption; improving education and training; providing quality healthcare; and attracting local and international investors. We have heard this before. We await specifics, not of things being done as before but things being done differently. Remember the quotation at point 4c above: you can not continue to do things the same way and expect different results. They say, “Nothing changes if nothing changes”. And we await ACTION. Diamonds can not take us to High Income status, but government should.
B-FAR has cautioned the assertion at SONA 2019 that the National Transformation Strategy was the blue print of Government Development Agenda and likened it to holding on to a straw. You should have realized by now that your strategies are failing because often you do not act and when you do, your actions are mundane and passive. We call for the following actions to be carried out during the 2020/21 financial year:
• Service delivery through ICT: We expressly demand that government articulates and begins to implement practical measures in e-governance, blended education, remote healthcare, drone assisted wildlife management (including anti-poaching), intelligent climate resistant agriculture, trade portals and e-commerce, etc. The list goes on and on and the technology has been around for long to allow practical interventions.
• Creating sustainable jobs: We request government to issue unemployment reduction targets, with specific figures and accurate statistical projections over time, to provide clear and unambiguous information on job-creating opportunities and projects and to commit to such projects. We can no longer believe blanket statements on job creation and believe it is irresponsible for government to refuse to commit to clear targets.
• Fighting corruption: there is absolutely no mention of specific ways by which this will be done. Corruption is likened to cancer for two reasons: 1) just as cancer kills so does corruption destroy economies and livelihoods; 2) just as cancer that is not treated properly can relapse and spread, so does corruption that is handled in a haphazard and shoddy way. This government created the environment for corruption and it is the same government that should take precise, consistent, and determined measures, without fear and favour, to stamp out corruption in all areas once and for all. The BDP-led government will not be forgiven for any less.
• Improving education and training and providing quality healthcare: The strategies may be there, but it is the output that tells a different story. This has been the case for a number of years now. We demand less talk but more action.
• Attracting local and international investors: Every time the government mentions this intervention, it very quickly becomes clear that government is hypnotically attached to a Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) strategy that works against citizen empowerment – a strategy that unashamedly professed in SONA 2019 to ‘rolling out the red carpet’ to foreign entities at the exclusion or marginalization of citizen and domestic enterprises. For once, we demand that there be clear and unadulterated focus of domestic investment and citizen engagement as would be illustrated in the choice of projects and the nature of the facilitatory role of government.
• PERFORMANCE OF STATE-OWNED ENTERPRISES. Our response to SONA 2019 carried the following statement:
“B-FAR notes the intention of government to embark on a rationalization exercise of ministerial portfolio responsibilities and functions. This is a welcome development. We urge the government to extend this exercise to the State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) and quasi-government (“parastatal”) entities. We believe they too have duplications, overlaps, loss of relevance, shift from mandates and inefficiencies that have become burdensome to the nation”.
Honourable Minister, we note with regret that is no visible effort on the rationalization of ministerial portfolio responsibilities and functions. Was it just talk as well. How will we believe and trust the current talk on the SOEs will also remain just that, talk and no action. Nonetheless, we make these specific recommendations, which we demand that they be carried out to move Botswana forward:
• Public Enterprises Evaluation & Privatisation Agency (PEEPA): This is where you should start. The reason why government intends to review SOEs is simply that PEEPA failed to do the same for many years. We recommend that the mandate for institutional review be removed from PEEPA and be placed within a Parliamentary Committee. The government plans for Public Private Partnerships can also be removed from PEEPA, where they seem deadlocked, and moved to the Public Procurement & Asset Disposal Board (PPADB). These changes will render PEEPA irrelevant.
• Botswana National Productivity Centre (BNPC): There is no evidence of productivity being a problem in Botswana. This may have been the case when BNPC was established by today, government is misreading the attitude that Batswana have against their kindred as lack of productivity. There is no English word to describe that attitude and it appears peculiar to Botswana. There is need to work on that attitude at institutional level and within government structures so that government begins to look at citizens in a more positive light. This should be the new mandate for BNPC.
• Combination of PEEPA and BNPC into a new Citizen Empowerment SOE: There is also a running theme in the 2020 Budget Speech for citizen empowerment. Specifically, government wishes to migrate the Citizen Empowerment Policy to Citizen Empowerment Act. The biggest problem in Botswana is implementation, whether it is of policies, strategies or even Acts of Parliament. B-FAR agrees with the move from policy to an Act but believes an institutional body will still be required to enforce the Act and implement its provisions. We recommend the combination of BNPC and PEEPA into a new SOE for Citizen Empowerment. Honourable Minister, government should think outside the box and make impactful changes rather than mere sugar coating reviews. This change is what Botswana needs to realize any meaningful and lasting citizen empowerment and should be done as a matter of extreme urgency.
• Air Botswana (AB): AB does not appear in your list of examples of SOEs to be reviewed. We mention it to open the eyes of government that fashionable catchphrases do not work in all cases. Lack of profitability of AB can not be solved through staff retrenchments as its management believes, nor through privatization as government has always believed. In the case of AB, profitability will be a consequence of critical mass. This can be achieved through regional collaboration. As an example, collaboration of Air Botswana with its Namibian counterpart, if not complete merger into a form of sub-regional Air Kalahari. It is wrong for our government to be asking us to celebrate Air Qatar coming to Botswana when we should be celebrating a regional airline with our interests going to Qatar. We ask government to review this possibility during the current financial year and map a more beneficial way forward.
• Botswana Power Corporation (BPC) and Water Utilities Corporation: The mandates for these SOEs are given and can not really be changed, the question is a closed-minded approach to solving problems. For BPC, government should insist on a wholesome solar energy strategy and targets beginning now into the future. Solar is no longer an alternative energy source but the preferred source. For WUC, government should probe WUC to look beyond the costly North-South Water Carrier project. A system exists in Kenya for desalination of sea water, and our relations with Namibia provide access to a long-term water solution.
• Botswana Meat Commission (BMC): We are deeply concerned that government refuses, year after year, to privatise BMC when it should have do so at the time the two depots in the north were created. We recommend the division of BMC into three companies according to the depots, and privatization of each to the farmers association in those locations without any further delay. We also recommend closure of all BMC off-shore structures and migration of interests to the embassies. The new private owners will by themselves create Direct Investment Abroad (DIA) systems as they are capable of doing so outside of government control. At the same, amf for the same reasons, privatise the Botswana Agricultural Marketing Board (BAMB) and the National Agroprocessing (NAPRO). In place of these entities, establish a regulatory body for all agricultural products and services.
• Local Enterprise Authority (LEA): LEA has failing its mandate, specifically the two objectives of improving technology access and enhancing market access for SMME enterprises. In Kenya, hawkers accept electronic payments through mPESA whilst in Botswana they do not even know what e-wallet is. LEA failed to improve access to technology. Botswana remains the only country without a proper market system and is burdened by the ‘chain store and mall syndrome’ which has suffocated and eliminated local productive enterprises, taking massive amounts of employment potential with it, yet LEA has offices in all major settlement areas in Botswana.
• Botswana Development Corporation (BDC): The component of the original mandate of BDC of investment facilitation has been taken over by the Botswana Investment and Trade Centre (BITC). There are two other components: high value project funding and investment holding for the government. Government should review BDC with the specific intention of facilitating it to fund major projects for Batswana, especially in consonance with new developments such as SPEDU and SEZA, and also with the specific intention to derive value for money as an investment holder. There should be an expectation of payment of dividends to government, not the other way round.
• Botswana Institute of Technology Research and Innovation (BITRI): BITRI is clearly an institution that deliberately moved away from the intended industrial research and innovation. It exists and functions as an academic institution and is of no relevance to the economy. Despite common belief, it is not a necessary entity for a country to have, and in fact, if mismanaged as it is currently, it stands in the way of private sector led research, technology application and it obstructs private enterprise. It should either be closed or changed to a research interface form more suitable to Botswana, and many such forms exist.
• Botswana Innovation Hub (BIH): BIH is largely a construction company that pretends to be a Science & Technology Park. First, the model for innovation hubs has gone through a complete revolution in the past twenty years and is no longer a matter of brick and mortar. Second, S&T Parks typically exist under a higher level entity such as a university or the municipality or even privately controlled enterprise groupings. BIH, has been a costly experiment for the government, and existing on its own, is a misplaced concept that should be changed as a matter of urgency.
• Special Economic Zones Authority (SEZA): This new entity appears to be on a wrong footing and has all the bad hallmarks of BIH. It operates on a SEZ Act that was based on a SEZ Policy that was drafted by non-experts, but failed to recognize the need to refine those founding instruments. As an example, it is legally constrained to a specific number of zones in specific technology-based economic areas, yet technology and market environments change all the time. As further example, the SEZ in Tuli Block is for horticulture and water management. Our belief is that horticulture belongs to LEA and of the over 7000 SEZs in the world, ours will be the only one dealing with water management. This SOE needs to be guided before it joins the list of failed SOEs.
• Botswana Energy Regulatory Authority (BERA): Our response is that it is not necessary for Botswana to have individual regulatory bodies for every field of activity and some should be combined as much as possible. Energy, water, sanitation and environment should be placed as departments under one authority. In this way, resources will be best utilized and there will be inter-connection between services.
• Botswana Fibre Networks (BOFINET): The name of this entity is a license not to innovate as technology evolves. The mandate of BOFINET is of extreme significance in relation to the prospects of Botswana to become a knowledge-based economy. There has also been substantial expenditure todate on projects under BOFINET. Rather than a review on project delivery, it should be a review of impact. Technologically, it should be a review of the speed of communication, economically, a review of the cost. There is another element as there should in all SOEs: the indirect benefits to Batswana. With this high level of expenditure, government should be able to show how much direct employment was created, how many contracted companies had grown as a result of the work from BOFINET and how many new ones were created and how many have graduated to higher levels as a result of work contracted from BOFINET.
• National Development Bank (NDB): We take note of the assessment made on NDB by the African Development Bank that is mentioned in the Budget Speech. We do not know why it was called or what the outcome would be. What we know is that there is a need in this country that we are all fully aware of; the need for venture capital, seed capital, angel investment capital or a basket of on-risk funding especially for the youth and for innovative project ideas that have not been tried and tested elsewhere. NDB is currently an unnecessary duplication of CEDA, but as a bank, it already has the capacity to handle this category of funding. We strongly recommend that NDB is restructured for this purpose.
• Citizen Entrepreneurial Development Agency (CEDA): The only review we call for is with regard to: 1) ensuring that CEDA is adequately capitalized to help Batswana; 2) removing apparent bottlenecks to funding, specifically loan contribution and security. If the intention is to help Batswana, then it is self-defeating to impose limiting conditions on the people that we know will struggle but are the same people we want to assist. Despite the recent post-Budget announcement by the CEDA CEO on security as being limited to curbing proposed salaries of applicants, government should issue a statement in this regard and let it be consistently applied.
• SOE Problem is Monumental: The above SOEs are exemplary and we could have interrogated many more. We hope that this analysis and recommendations therefrom demonstrate to the government that Botswana is in a mess with regard to SOEs. The P4.9 billion annual expenditure on SOEs mentioned in the 2020 Budget Speech is a very unnecessary and easily avoidable waste. The loss is much more than just financial, as some of the SOEs operate counter to the aspirations of the nation and continually reverse the gains made in such areas as employment and private sector growth. We earnestly call upon government to take immediate measures to curb the loss even before an extensive review is done, and to execute and finalize the first extensive review during this financial year, and undertake regular reviews annually henceforth
• Priority of Evaluation of SOEs: It is difficult to expect that government will evaluate all of the over 60 SOEs this year. It is logical to expect that some of them are not priority cases. It will be a waste of effort to prioritize the evaluation of SOEs like BOCRA, BITC, NAFTRC, BTC and SPEDU at this point in time. B-FAR strongly recommends a Pareto-styled selection of SOEs to evaluate, and puts forward the above SOEs as priority areas for this year. Enough mileage will be achieved from the above listed SOEs alone.
• Terminate Long-Serving CEOs: It will not be enough to look inside the SOEs and leave out the leadership. B-FAR’s response to SONA 2019 carried the following statement:
“We further call upon government to appraise senior positions in all of these SOEs as a large part of their inefficiencies has to do with their leadership. To this end, we call upon the removal of underperforming and long-serving officials.
B-FAR reiterates the above call for the removal of all CEOs who have served more than two terms or a total of ten years. This should be easy as government shuffles employees all the time, and is obligatory for a government that preaches inclusive and participatory growth. Keeping CEOs for this long excludes those who deserve to ascend to those positions and denies the country from fresh ideas to move forward. As this is an easy intervention, action is expected even in the first quarter of 2020/21.
• AREAS OF CONTENTION – COAL BENEFICIATION. There are areas in the 2020 Budget Speech in which government contradicts its intentions. Government seeks to empower citizens, encourage citizen participation in the economy, grow the private sector – all very good intentions, but out of the blues it wishes to undertake a large coal beneficiation project. We are saddened by this massive betrayal. We call upon government to cease involving itself in commercial activities that the private sector is well capable of doing. By this act alone, government will have gone against all that it has promised. To make it clear, as a general rule, we call upon government to stay away from commercial activities in which there is processing, manufacturing, packaging, and distribution. The coal beneficiation is bound to fail under the government, the BMC way. We wish to be loudly clear that we do not want to see government jumping from beef to coal, denying citizens and local companies the opportunity as it has done with beef and messing up the economy of Botswana for years to come. This move is even more shocking as the Palapye SEZ is specifically for mineral and energy beneficiation and Batswana, who have long sought to enter this field, are waiting to participate in coal beneficiation when the SEZ is ready. For government to have such significant contradictions is a sign of lack of sincerity on its behalf. We demand that government immediately halts and reverses its intentions to undertake coal beneficiation and issues a statement in that regard.
• GENERAL ADVICES: B-FAR advises as follows:
• Be prepared to depart from NDP 11: We notice throughout the Budget Speech that anything government intends to do will be within the limits of NDP11. This is prudent, but only to the extent that it does not deter new thinking and innovative solutions that were not captured by NDP11. We hope that the NDP11 will itself be revised with this mindset of thinking outside the box and driving transformative action.
• Take advantage of bi-lateral relations: We also notice a glaring omission of Botswana’s activities in relation to regionalization and developments across Africa. It appears Botswana is pushed by an external stimulus to participate in multi-lateralism because the country completely ignores bi-lateral opportunities in which it could show initiative. Whilst we participate in the COMESA-EAC-SADC Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA) and the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) which is highly commendable, we have nothing to show emanating from our relations with countries like Rwanda, Tanzania and Kenya. We urge government to review its position in this regard. A case in point is the collaboration between Air Botswana and its counterpart in Namibia that we have proposed above. Similar collaborations can be made in the areas of mining, tourism, water, energy, transport, education, agriculture and trade. There is no doubt that bi-lateral collaborations can drive future growth, so we should be seeing examples of this happening in future Budget Speeches.
• IN CONCLUSION, we expected nothing less than a unified declaration of a DECADE OF COMMITTED CHANGE from the 2020 Budget Speech. There is a lot that needs to be done. We have not started the transformation journey yet if it is talk and no action and if we do what we have always done.
• For the sake of transparency, B-FAR reports that it records all the promises made by government and all the requests for action made by B-FAR. It follows them up and will in time issue a status review of Botswana’s transformation journey, failures and successes.
FATSHE LENO, LA RONA. PULA!