His Excellency the President Dr M.E.K. Masisi delivered his second State of the Nation Address (SONA) early this week in which he set the path for his administration to deliver to Batswana. Without sounding unfair to him, the speech was more or less the same with those delivered by his predecessors. In past speeches, the most striking similarity is that there is rarely any reference if any to the previous one in terms of updating the nation on the achievements or failures of issues raised thereat. In the 2018 SONA, the President said at para 28 that “preparatory work on the Leather Industry Park in Lobatse is at an advanced stage….the construction of the Leather Industry Park is expected to take off in 2019”. There is no reference to this project in this year’s SONA. Wouldn’t it have been appropriate for the President to have updated the nation on the progress or lack thereof such that the nation fully appreciated such progress or lack thereof? It goes without saying I should say. This conversation looks at a few key issues the President failed to deal with in his SONA by which one could measure the State of the Nation.
The subject matter is a broad question that demands some broad answering. But because it is so broad that I can’t do it on this platform, I beg the indulgence of the dear reader. For purposes of this conversation, I will narrow my answer to be that the State of the Nation is measured on the State’s ability and political commitment to deliver on job creation. With job creation in full swing, it will take care of unemployment which itself will take care of poverty. Once these challenges are overcome can one safely say that Botswana is fairly healthy with regards to these socio-economic challenges. It goes without saying therefore that other imperatives have to be in place or taken care of to ensure that job creation, unemployment and poverty challenges are realised.
The greatest imperative that should ensure that job creation is realised is decisively dealing with the cancer that is corruption. In his close to three hours on the podium delivering the SONA, the President fails to directly address the corruption issue as I had expected and more importantly, as the prevailing circumstances would demand. For the national priorities listed in his SONA to succeed, dealing with corruption in the practical sense than through public statements must be the biggest priority. Corruption in the context of this conversation, is diverting financial resources from the national interest for personal gain. The President has made his position very clear that he is committed to fighting corruption. This is most welcome. But the most puzzling thing for me is his failure to directly address fighting corruption in the recent SONA as already said in terms of coming up with different and new strategies given that current strategies appear to be not delivering expected results. The country is under siege on corruption-related matters where billions of Pula are said to have been siphoned from the public purse for one reason or the other. And these billions I dare say, are primarily meant to cushion Batswana from their daily socio-economic hardships.
I has become obvious to me that the current legal and administrative frameworks on corruption are somewhat inadequate to nip corruption in the bud as it continues to spiral out of control. The current corruption cases before courts could be argued as a demonstration that corruption is indeed pursued. But it is one thing to take people to court and the other to have watertight evidence capable of delivering convictions. It is also one thing to have a dedicated judge to deal with corruption cases and the other to have watertight evidence for such judge to convict. The SONA cannot be complete without the President directly addressing corruption as a matter of priority.
Batswana employed in State Owned Enterprises and in private companies continue to face serious prospects of retrenchments on a daily basis. As I have previously stated, government spends billions if not trillions of Pula in these enterprises with very little, if any, tangible returns. The billions are meant to keep the enterprises running to provide various services to Batswana and, to keep Batswana employed thereat gainfully employed and creating other jobs through tender projects. As I write, the Botswana Guardian newspaper dated November 22, 2019 reports that “An estimated 210 Air Botswana staff members will lose their jobs between now and March 2020.” While it is accepted on one hand that matters beyond the control of these enterprises could lead to retrenchments for example, it should on the other be accepted that bad management is deeply entrenched in these enterprises in terms of failing to foresee potential risk factors their organisations could face and more importantly, serious failure on good governance and other related issues. The SONA cannot be complete without the President directly addressing the precarious state these State Owned Enterprises find themselves in given their importance to the economic development of citizens and the huge amounts of funds injected in them.
One other startling issue the President failed to directly address in this SONA is that of the 2008 Media Practitioners Act. The Member of Parliament for Selibe Phikwe West Hon D. Keorapetse brought a motion during the 11th parliament seeking the said parliament to repeal the Act. The motion was rejected by the ruling party MPs. Private journalists feel and justifiably so, that this Act is not conducive to promoting press freedom they desperately require to access information from government for onward transmission to the public. The President is on record that he is prepared to free the private media from any undue muzzling if you like. He has also opened himself to press conferences particularly when he returns from overseas trips. While this is welcome, it cannot by any stretch of the imagination be regarded as addressing the concerns of private journalists with respect to the Media Practitioners Act. The State of the Nation is not complete without private journalist having the freedom to access government information for that will be an affront to Botswana’s ‘celebrated’ democracy.
From where I stand, the above are some of the measurements I would use to measure the State of the Nation for the State has an obligation to the socio-economic circumstances of its citizens. The fact that the President failed to directly address them in his SONA is a disservice to the nation for it does not bring a complete or fair diagnosis to the nation’s state of health. He may have addressed them elsewhere but the SONA is the perfect and appropriate platform for him to have reiterated the message for obvious reasons. Corruption is by far the biggest threat to the nation’s well-being in many respects and it cannot be tackled on the more-of-the-same approach which sadly and in my view, has not delivered the desired results. Statements of intent on fighting corruption have been made but serious political commitment in terms of urgently amending the legal and administrative frameworks to up the ante seem half-hearted. Consequently, job creation meant to address unemployment and poverty become somewhat unattainable in the process. I am prepared to be persuaded otherwise as always. Judge for Yourself!