Our budget should make provision for public infrastructure maintenance

11 Feb 2019

On Monday Finance and Economic Development Minister Kenneth Matambo presented what is possibly his last budget speech to the nation. Our interest was drawn towards the infrastructure development by the government – being part of a strategy to make a conducive operating environment for the private sector.

While Matambo outlined quite a number of new projects as part of the “transformation” phase, there is little he said on the aging infrastructure. There is no specific budget directed towards maintaining our public infrastructure.

The fact of the matter is that Botswana’s public infrastructure is deteriorating. Despite our country’s relatively high public investment spending, the quality of infrastructure has fallen down sharply in recent years. A good example of neglected infrastructure is the A3 High WAY – otherwise known as Nata – Maun road. This road has been in bad shape for over four years now.

The ministry of finance’s refusal to face facts and inspire the nation through a dedicated budget to take care of buildings, roads, bridges and pipelines will have real consequences, both for public safety and for our economy.

For a very long time we have been talking about this issue of lack of public infrastructure maintaince in such abstract terms, if one may say. We talk about public infrastructure as one thing, when really it's transportation and water infrastructure, broadband energy - the list is endless.

All these things matter, because all of them are designed, governed, financed and delivered differently. Yet they all complement one other when it comes to growing our economy.

A short drive within the capital Gaborone to Marina Hospital gives a clear sordid picture of the state of the country’s public health care system and how close it is to a breakdown with the infrastructure failing to keep up with the growing population.

The truth of the matter is that well maintained infrastructure does not only facilitate economic efficiency and competiveness, it also enhances job creation and above all stimulates the economy. This infrastructure includes but is not limited to office buildings, road and rail transport.

The bottomline is that to fully realise economic growth from public investment spending, a number of areas require further attention.

One of these areas is public infrastructure. Infrastructure is clearly a building block which naturally tells us that it is impossible to build a modern economy without taking care of it.

As is stands, we are without doubt destined to crumble both the infrastructure and our economy. How then do we expect to attract investors with our poor state of infrastructure which will inevitably increase the costs of doing business.

We therefore call on the government to consider setting up a special Fund intended at looking after our public infrastructure. A start off point will certainly be an audit that will take stock of what we have, how much money such infrastructure is bleeding out or bringing to the public coffers.

Once we have made an audit, the ball should start rolling to establish a Fund that will ensure that our infrastructure brings better returns on investment.