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In a battle of ideas, just like in war, it is to be expected that the first casualty will be truth – objective truth. Individuals are creating their own truths. In the last few weeks and months I have assessed President Masisi’s record since assuming the office of President of Botswana and I have found his record in transforming Botswana to be a fair, just and prosperous country to be most impressive. Masisi has taken to the Presidency like a duck takes to water. The challenges facing him are a legion and his delivery is most outstanding. This assessment is not mine alone. It is shared by many across various professions including many in the business domain. In this column, I present a reasoned account of President Masisi’s excellent record since April 2018.
One of the first things that President Masisi did early in his Presidency was to get rid of The Director General of the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS), Mr Isaac Kgosi. Kgosi, together with the DISS, was widely feared even by Members of Parliament. He will be remembered for his utterances before The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in 2018 where he said: “I do not consult anyone, I am the accounting officer and I am responsible for the DISS. I did not consult the President on this matter, I did not consult any other committee.” It was under the leadership of Kgosi that Batswana lived in perpetual fear of the DISS. They feared that their phones were tapped, their conversations listened to and that their freedoms were threatened and violated by the spy agency. This is precisely what the DISS PRO Mr. Edward Robert meant when he says: “The DIS has suffered serious image problems since its establishment with many public members, legislators and civic leaders consistently expressing concern that the organization was unaccountable and conducting its affairs outside the mandate for which it was established.” The firing of Isaac Kgosi by President Masisi and his subsequent replacement by General Brigadier (Rtd) Peter Magosi has restored confidence and trust in the DISS. Batswana are no longer scared of the DISS – they actually love and are proud of its work which is done in the best interest of the country. The only ones who are scared of the DISS are those who should – those whose hands are dirty – the thieving ones amongst us!
President Masisi has also returned consultation to the forefront of government. A democratic government must consult citizens widely and not rule by presidential directives. That dark season is behind us. A few examples are in order. We saw a countrywide consultation on the Alcohol Policy. This was in response to a need to regulate the liquor trade and address health concerns as well as balance such matters with needs of the industry so as to create employment and retain the jobs already existing in the sector. A Joint Ministerial Team led by the Ministry of Health and Wellness was therefore tasked to conduct consultations and revert with concrete proposals. Government also consulted on the review of the alcohol trading hours to bring flexibility where necessary after consultations with stakeholders. The new trade hours which followed extensive national consultation were introduced in Dec 2018. Government has also consulted widely with affected communities to develop a National Elephant Action Plan (NEAP). The NEAP provides strategies for reducing human-elephant conflict while strengthening Botswana’s elephant conservation and management efforts. Additionally, as part of the efforts to reduce human-wildlife conflict and reduce the impact of elephants on the environment, 18 boreholes were drilled and equipped in the Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve, the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and the Chobe National Park. President Masisi has also consulted broadly with farmers to resolve the challenges facing the Botswana Meat Commission. There is no doubt that President Masisi understands and values therisanyo (consultation) in dealing with national challenges. Consultation is essential for running an inclusive and responsive government that centralizes the needs of local communities.
President has also introduced meaningful media engagement. For the past ten years the government of Botswana has failed to engage the media meaningfully (No press conferences; reduction of government advertising in the private press, and the introduction of The Botswana Media Practitioners’ Act of 2008.). Things have now changed. President Masisi has emphasised his belief in the centrality of a free and robust Press. His engagement with the Botswana media and their representatives such as the Botswana Media and Allied Workers Union (BOMAWU) and The Editors Forum is most commendable. It demonstrates how progressive President Masisi in ensuring that Botswana becomes a modern and thriving democracy.
President Masisi has also closed a yawning chasm between the unions and government and responded meaningfully to the unions’ cry. He has quietened the acrimony. His government has negotiated with six cooperating unions in good faith. Such negotiations have resulted with a collective labour agreement between the government and unions (BOSETU, BTU, BOPEU, BLLAHWU, BONU, & NALCGPWU) comprising a 10% and 6% salary increase in 2019 and another 10% and 6% salary increase in 2020. Certainly, President Masisi has brought back openness and respect between unions and government.
On the economic front President Masisi has shown impressive focus and commitment. Government has reviewed the Doing Business Reforms Roadmap to take into account emerging issues at home, in the region, and beyond. Implementation of the revised Roadmap should complement the reinvigorated efforts of attracting and retaining meaningful, sustainable and impactful investment. This will enable and ease investments which will lead to more jobs being created. Government also passed a number of laws which will enhance the ease of doing business environment in Botswana. Worth noting in terms of completed reforms, is the introduction of the new Customs Management System (CMS) which has improved trade across borders where business can pre-declare their goods and make payments online. The same online system forms the basis upon which a Single Electronic Window tool would be built to further enhance cross border trade. Parliament has passed four bills on Companies Amendment; Companies Registration; Registration of Business Names; and Registration of Business Names Re-Registration which have enabled the development of an Online Business Registration System under the Companies and Intellectual Property Authority (CIPA). At the initial stage, this System will allow for integration with online systems from BURS and PPADB, thereby facilitating information exchange between these tripartite institutions. This is anticipated to limit unnecessary physical interactions with these institutions.
One of Masisi’s initiatives is the Supplier Development Programme (SDP), whose objective is to strengthen citizen-owned enterprise competitiveness. The aim of the Programme is to connect small-scale producers/suppliers to local markets as well as those abroad. The Programme is anticipated to start in 2019 and will target five priority Sectors of Mining, Agro processing, Leather, Infrastructure projects and Textile, as well to develop their associated value chains.
Masisi’s government also wants to increase citizen participation in the tourism industry which is dominated by white expatriates. To demonstrate his commitment he has wholly reserved several categories of tourism enterprise licenses for citizens namely: guest houses, bed and breakfast, mobile safaris, motorboats, tourist transfers, camp and caravan sites, and mekoro. Masisi is committed to sustainable tourism that places citizens at the centre. He has announced that citizens will be facilitated to enjoy a greater share of the Tourism Industry, and will have their access to the best opportunities and the best sites improved, through allocation of such sites.
Government has also shown an interest in turning Botswana into a knowledge-based economy – a recent MOU with Rutgers University is testament to this commitment. President Masisi has also expressed commitment to deal once and for all with corruption. High profile cases involving the thieving of millions of Pula are now before the courts of Botswana and the thieves are feeling the heat. He scrapped the use of the electronic voting machine for the 2019 elections having listened to the cry of many in the opposition. Boy! We are back in the international community. President Masisi has also signed the African Peer Review Mechanism and the Continental Free Trade which will open Africa to Botswana business products. Now, this is sufficient evidence that we have in President Masisi a visionary leader who is taking Botswana forward.