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Government and the ruling party under President Mokgweetsi Masisi do not have the luxury to campaign for elections without engaging the public sector Trade Unions on the distractions posed by demands for salary hikes.
The Unions want those demands met before elections due in October. Or else there will be blood!
Sometime after becoming president, Masisi ordered what amounted to a wide review of the conditions of service in the public sector.
He went for Malaysian consultants, Pemandu.
The Trade Unions have seized on the findings and recommendations of the consultants’ Report to basically get a raise for members.
They are well aware that with elections in a few months time, Government is at its weakest.
The mood among Trade Union leaders is currently charged.
There is some no doubt opportunism among them.
But some of them are honourable people, serving their constituency.
But there is also truth in that it has been a long time since salaries for many in the public service were last adjusted.
In a true sense, for many, their real wages have either stagnated or have been eroded by inflation over the years, leading to a reduction in disposable income.
Thus, sensing blood, Trade Unions are now going for broke, well aware that if there is an opportune time to get what they want, it is now, just a short while ahead of negotiations.
Government, it would seem has also created for legitimate expectations.
By allowing for a substantial raise to happen for the security cluster, the same would be expected for the entire public service.
Government cannot just afford to renege on its commitments.
At the same time, Botswana’s economy cannot at the present moment afford to be lumbered with ridiculously high and unsustainable salary adjustments.
Even without such adjustments, Botswana Government’s wage bill us unsustainably too high.
Any large scale increase would smack of reckless populism, creating short-term euphoria but long-term misery.
International Monetary Fund has already warned Governments against this.
More to the point the IMF has called on Government to cut the size of the civil service and with that the wage bill.
Government should re-introduce in its totality the model of economic prudence that had served Botswana so well until crony capitalism took root.
Economic stability is too often painful and unpopular, but it is infinitely much more important than adventurism and populism.
There has to be an element of integrity infused in our statistics in far as they pertain to national economic data. Otherwise public health will keep hemorrhaging.
There are serious concerns, most of them valid and justified, relating to poverty and unemployment.
These concerns have to be cleared.
Related to that, it is important for those in Government to be more transparent in correcting and putting into proper context the myth in many people’s minds that Botswana’s foreign exchange reserves have over the years been growing.
They have substantially depleted, in large part as a result of the 2008/11 economic meltdown, but chiefly because diamond sales have for a prolonged time not been as strong as they previously used to be.
And more importantly, the country’s debt has been steadily growing even as admittedly it remains below the statutory threshold vis-à-vis the GDP.
Not to mention the grey-listing on money laundering by Financial Action Task Force.