The sad reality is that the world is governed by politicians who are sensitive to the electorate when seeking political power but immediately turn grossly insensitive to the same after assuming it. The world witnessed in utter disbelieve when the disgraced 45th former President of the United States of America Donald Trump directed his supporters to invade and trash the seat of US political establishment, The Capitol. This because he conveniently believed without evidence that the very same electoral process that propelled him to the White House in 2016 was flawed when it determined to remove him from the same White House. There are many more politicians I want to believe, who are in the construct of Trump elsewhere but may have not explicitly yet, behaved like him. It is fair to say only time will tell. This conversation is meant to respond to the recently delivered budget speech on the backdrop of my last week’s conversation in which I raised a few issues and my expectations thereto. Just like Trump who in my view was the least US problem solver but the vicious enabler of the same, I have come to the conclusion that our very political leaders who hold political power are exacerbating our own socio-economic problems instead of solving them.
The Minister of Finance and Economic Development Dr Thapelo Matsheka delivered his second budget speech proposals on Monday which for all intents and purposes, was expected to some extent solve our socio-economic problems. From what I deduce from the budget speech proposals, more questions than answers are palpably apparent. It is my honest believe that because we are in the middle of Covid-19 pandemic, common sense and logic would dictate that the Ministry of Health and Wellness would be allocated the highest budget because the pandemic is, as of now, our immediate and threat. Much as we wish the pandemic could permanently disappear now rather than later, reality demands and dictates that we deal with it with all that we possibly have.
By the Minister pitifully not regarding the pandemic as a priority in the pegging order of his budget allocations, he is essentially not solving but exacerbating it unfortunately, to the detriment of the greater society. Not to be regarded as being insensitive to other compatriots who have and continue to perish from the pandemic, it is emerging that top persons with requisite ‘scare skills’ for the economic development of this Republic in one front or the other are perishing in their numbers. There are reports on the ‘Suspension of Testing For Covid-19 Testing’ as demonstrated by a communication from the Palapye Laboratory Superintendent dated 2 February 2021 wherein s/he writes that ‘Palapye Extension II Covid Laboratory has suspended its Covid-19 routine testing due to unavailability of reagents and consumables.’ For the Minister not to come up and appraise the nation on these and other related issues is a serious indictment on his government in pursuit of dealing with the pandemic. The budget spent on dealing with Covid-19 remains a speculative matter given that the Minister is dismally failing to provide a concise explanation. The explanation on this budget, just like others, is mandatory as an accountability tool and in the public interest. Politicians are the least problem solvers but enablers of the same problems!
Another interesting issue in the Budget is with respect to State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs). While the Minister gave an update on the same in terms of merging, dissolving and reviewing founding statues of some of them and to his credit, I still feel time is of essence. The main problems which bedevil these organisations are good corporate governance and accountability amongst others. Further to these are overreaching tendencies and attitudes of the boards over executive management and in some cases poor persons in terms of skills and capacities deployed to them where political affiliation runs roughshod over merit. I always give the example of the former Minister of Finance Rre Kenneth Matambo who dissolved the BDC board during the Palapye Glass Factory conundrum when it was trying to hold the executive management to account. While the Minister is empowered to constitute boards, it is reasonable in this instance to suggest he was trying to ‘sweep the matter under the carpet’ and by extension protecting the said executive management.
It is not far-fetched to suggest most board and executive members do not know their roles in these SOEs but that in some if not all cases, there is undue political interference and influence which inevitably render these structures to underperform due to the ‘unholy alliance’ between the politicians and the SOE leadership. This alliance it could be generally argued, goes further beyond the boardrooms where abuse of office-cum-corruption obtains. In rare cases will you see upright and smart individuals grounded on ethical and moral virtues quitting the SOEs because their consciences demand and dictate that they cannot work in toxic environment as it obtains in these organisations. The Minister would know as a scholar that it doesn’t require rocket science to make accountability and good corporate governance workable in SOEs. What is lacking is political will from himself and his political party to ensure that these virtues are enforced.
A question should be posed as to why SOEs were allowed in the first place to find themselves gripped by serious lack of accountability and bad corporate governance. I have already answered by stating that political affiliation over merit is largely the cause. SOEs have a chequered past of service delivery as demonstrated by the Palapye Glass Factory, the multibillion but largely dysfunctional Morupule B power station. These projects were overseen by board and executive members of their respective SOEs yet none of these members have been taken to task for their incompetence in delivering them because they were ‘solidly protected by their political principals.’ Politicians are the least problem solvers but enablers of the same problems!
The Minister made mention of corruption in his maiden speech albeit grudgingly I would say. In this budget speech, there is no mention of it yet it is that thing which is our immediate threat just like Covid-19 pandemic is. Government through its institutions has admitted that apart from the type of corruption we have become accustomed to, Covid-19 related corruption has taken the centre stage since the pandemic with more than 40 cases under investigation. The Covid-19 corruption means that all efforts meant to reduce our very own infections and fatalities are seriously scuppered to our very detriment. It is fair to suggest government has all but given up in dealing with corruption because the capacity and I dare say willingness to do so keeps on evaporating by the day. We are simply on our own if I were to be blunt or better still, brutally honest.
The not business as usual and transformation agendas continue to fall flat as exposed by the budget speech as it takes the format of past budget speeches. This should however not come as a surprise because it is a BDP document. The only difference is who delivers it at a particular period. Very little to no information is provided on the overall vaccine issue given the nation’s fears and anxieties; the status of the Covid-19 Relief Fund with respect to what has so far been procured and spent on Covi-19 goods and services; what is projected to be spent in the short to long terms since it is evident the world is still too far from bidding the pandemic goodbye while it ravages the world in the interim.
The Emperor’s New Clothes are probably more than ever before, brutally exposed. This is to say, the transformation agenda highly talked about after the elections, during Dr Matsheka’s maiden speech and by BDP MPs in parliament is just but a simple, inconsequential slogan. The slogan is by any wildest dream, far from solving this country’s monumental problems. Even without Covid-19 pandemic, these monumental problems were always in our midst with very little to nought, done to solve them. I remain acutely convinced that politicians in power are the least problem solvers but enablers as demonstrated by Hon Dr Matsheka’s budget speech. I am prepared to be persuaded otherwise as always. Judge for Yourself!
Covid-19 virus remains our immediate threat. It is in our power to reduce infections by adhering to Covid-19 health protocols.