Dear Reader, “Asante Sana.....”

18 Dec 2017

This commentary is the last one for the year 2017 and as such it is in order for us to say – “Asante Sana”, translated “Thank you very much”. The phrase Asante Sana was made popular by the former Zimbabwean President, cde. Robert Mugabe who, when he was expected to resign in November 2017 used it to send Zimbabweans to ploughing fields. He was later sent packing by the army which later aided Emmerson Mnangagwa to take over.

This week, as we say good bye to 2017, it is of great importance that we also say Asante Sana to you, dear reader. We thank you for making time to read the stories we have been publishing throughout the year. We say our Asante Sana at a time when people of this country are still facing tough economic times. At the same time, a culture of impunity continues to erode the economic-political gains that our country has made over the years.

The recent financial saga relating to the National Petroleum Fund (NFP) does assert our all times concern that political manipulation does not ensure effective checks on Government official’s professional behaviour and spending.

We need to once again, as we hereby do, remind the powers that be, that accountability is not optional in a democracy but is the price paid in exchange for power and delegation of authority. As we have said in this space before, democracy as well as wealth creation for our people will remain a pipe dream if those in power cannot be held accountable for their acts, omissions, decisions, policies or expenditures.

On a continuous basis, this new culture of impunity in our country is not only weakening our institutions but also destabilising economic growth. Imagine how many start ups could be funded with P250 million or how many clinics could be built for rural areas.

This culture of impunity and lack of accountability has not always been with us. It started the moment people in power and those close to it felt they could get away with anything. Now most of our funds, notably the National Petroleum Fund is said to be running dry yet no one is accounting to the nation on what happened to the money. It is our hope that as it sits in early January 2018, the Parliamentary Accounts Committee (PAC) will be able to ask relevant questions to the accounting officers summoned and in the process source vital information needed to prosecute, if need be, the looters.

Dear reader, as we say our Asante Sana to you, and good bye to the year 2017, we wish to also remind you of the toughest issues that the people of this country faced throughout the year – unemployment, lack of housing and low wages.

Actually, unemployment, or lack of job creation have become perhaps the most high profile and contentious issue of our time – Mainly so due to retrenchments, restructuring of parastatals and companies as well as failure to create new jobs.  Official data do show that job creation in the formal sector has been quite low in the last decade, below both economic growth and labour force growth.  Annual formal sector employment growth has averaged 2.3 percent over the last decade, lower than the annual growth rate of total employment, which is approximately 3.6 percent.

The lack of decent housing continued to be one of the key problems that the people of this country faced throughout the year. We have said it so many times in this space, and we shall continue saying it that the high property prices in this country especially housing are part of the reason why a large number of our people remain impoverished. If there is anything we should be more concerned about, and swiftly act on, it is the housing of our people, most of whom are struggling to get a small piece of land in their own country. As such we call for an urgent intervention by government and any interested party.

Dear reader, as we say Asante Sana and good bye to the year 2017, the last issue we wish to draw your attention to relate to low wages that our people earn at both government enclave and private companies. An analysis of household earning power by the government statistics agency, Statistics Botswana (SB) shows that immigrants in Botswana continue to make more money than the locals. 

The wage data shows that monthly average earnings for citizens stood at P5, 663, whilst that of non citizens was at P17, 438 as at the end of March 2017. The analysis also pegs the monthly average earnings for all employees during the same period at P6, 007. 

It is quite clear that even with economic growth, however, the country continue to fail to create enough jobs. The problem is getting worse daily. It does not end there, even those who think they are working, their wages are low. The wage gap is exorbitant and young people are justifiably frustrated with their prospects. 
We have no explanation of how we reached this point, but one thing for sure if we want to raise the standard of living of Batswana at the very bottom of the nation’s wage structure then the solution lies revising their wages. This should be food for thought for the powers that be in 2018, more especially the new President Mokgweetsi Masisi. 

In the end, one ought to state that until there is a clear acceptance by key decision makers that our national budget should be used to empower citizen entrepreneurs, the eradication of abject poverty shall remain a wild goose chase. Of course we do admit that unlike citizens who dwell in a majority of other African countries, Botswana has had a lot to celebrate over the years.  However, the situation is not so glittering when one pays closer attention to the plight of the ordinary citizens. On close scrutiny, even as we mark the year end, it appears a number of citizens have little to celebrate as they have not been able to actively participate in Botswana’s economic growth.

As we say Asante Sana to you reader, and hello to 2018, here is what we need. We need to find ways of transferring economic wealth to the owners of this country – Batswana. We need to have the government on one side provide credible economic leadership and the business on the other end make formal pledge to create sustainable jobs that will enrich our people.

Dear reader, a government with credible economic leadership working together with responsible capitalists will surely deliver a strong and inclusive economy. Still on that, the business community need to make, as part of the pledge, a promise to gradually reduce the wage gap by increasing the wages of the lowest paid and dealing with excessive executive pay. On the government side, a regulatory reform must move beyond limiting the damage that the business community can do and ensure that the private sector genuinely serves the society.  

We certainly admit and recognise the fact that the problems posed by the economically excluded Batswana such as those in Boteti, Ghanzi and Ngamiland districts – resulting from decades of neglect – will not be solved quickly or by conventional tools.

But here is what we need in the New Year, and it is the #Bottomline. We need our policy makers to take a “wise-up pill” to avoid any further economic damage to the people of this country. That “wise up pill” will help them to first become accountable and secondly deliver on their promises.