Tuesday, May 21, 2024

2021 Budget Speech Reveals the Callousness of BDP Politics at its lowest!

In penning this article as crtitique of the 2021 budget speech, Real Alternative Party (RAP) laments the brazen nonchalance from BDP government towards the covid-19 mitigation. Against a backdrop of the coronavirus, there is sure need to examine the merits of the budget speech as well as the BDP government, and indeed their conscience. 

Like many human tragedies, the coronavirus pandemic has provided an opportunity to show the best and the worst in society; Compassion, Benevolence, Resilience, Generosity and consideration of those less fortunate than ourselves. Furthermore, the disease has given states and developments agents time to think again, to strengthen and generate post-crises imaginaries, activities and practices. Conversely, the BDP government was able to anticipate and, at least, plan for the inevitable arrival of Coronavirus. They were also able to contemplate widespread and increasingly concerning predictions of its potential for overwhelming their country’s chronically underfunded public healthcare. Hitherto, the pandemic has revealed much about BDP government in its true colors. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed weaknesses of BDP State as an economy and polity, and revealed the latent potential of its inequities.The 2021 budget speech by Dr Thapelo Matsheka has exposed BDP government and its promises of lies, gross incompetence and flagrant neglect of its citizens in the fight against covid-19. Despite the fact that over P2,4 billion pula was committed towards fighting the pandemic, there is still serious lack of provision of adequate supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline health, care and allied workers and expanded coronavirus testing opportunities for these workers and their families. Public access to quarantine and isolation facilities has not been prioritized. Embarrassingly, there are reported incidents of government failure to pay outstanding overtime for healthcare workers. 

Up to date the interventions of the BDP State is tardy, reluctant, inadequate and reactive. As of yet, there is no special compensation scheme to cover all frontline workers (health, police, prison, education, social care workers) and their families who die from coronavirus as hazard pay’, and incentive to persuade health workers to be vigilant in the treatment of Covid-19 patients, often with inadequate PPE, diagnostic and therapeutic equipment and supplies. In a nutshell, the BDP State has not prompted massive emergency economic assistance to paralyzed workplaces, workers and overburdened health sectors to enable frontline medical practitioners and healthcare workers to tackle the Covid-19 crisis safely and professionally. Against this backdrop, it is undoubtedly clear that the BDP State significantly underestimates the true extent of the pandemic in the country. Such is a sign of no foresight and presence of mind by the BDP government as it has clearly reneged on the initial memorandum of understanding on a Covid-19 response plan on the verge of the outbreak of the pandemic. 

The 2021 budget speech also underscores the limits of BDP neo-liberalinterventions which serve to privilege the interests of capital at the expense of savings lives. The speech reinforces existing, and continues to create new patterns of economic – related inequality. Its package is very inconsiderate of the incidence, intensity and inequality levels of poverty of Batswana. The implicit economic value judgement of Matsheka`s speech deliberately chooses not to distinguish between the ‘statutory incidence’ i.e. (the legal liability to pay the tax) and the economic incidence. The speech is insensitive of outcomes of tax raise to values of inequality aversion assumptions.  Considering that there are no direct price controls or restrictions which limit price flexibility in Botswana, producers and retailers are bound to raise prices to recoup their tax liability, so that consumers of the taxed products pay all or part of the tax. This is more so given the fact that illegal practice of tax evasion is reported (by OECD) to be very high in Botswana. In essence VAT and sugar simulation model, though they focus on revenue aspects, their function will support income transfers from poorer members of the society to corporate elites. It will be the low income earners, the unemployed and the elderly who will be seriously overburdened by indirect taxes (VAT, sugar tax). 

Worse still, sugar Tax combined with the increase in Value added Tax (VAT) will force people into purchasing more energy-dense, but less nutrient-dense food items. This will affect especially the poor as sugar is a product consumed disproportionately by them. Given the disparity of income gaps, and the unemployment levels, the raise of VAT and introduction of sugar tax deserve to be seen in the light of ‘sin taxes’ and ‘welfare dominance’. In actual fact taxing sugar is tantamount to removing a core substance from the menu of the poor. Considering that indirect tax changes goods prices, affects purchasing power and utility measure, the message that the 2021 budget speech is sending to workers earning below the threshold, the unemployed, informal sector, the disabled and old age is that they don’t matter. The speech clearly shows how Masisi`s regime is ready to plough its way through the most vulnerable in society.

It is also a known historical fact that BDP as a government has long pushed a narrative where traditionally working class roles and roles in the public sector, are deemed second tier. They willfully demonize these groups, vilifying them in the media and create impression that they are not valued. The BDP`s aim result has always been to erode the very public-sector institutions that we need to overcome crises like the coronavirus pandemic. Yet, these are the same workers on the frontline. It is health workers, delivery drivers and teachers and school support staff who are keeping schools open for vulnerable children and the children of key workers, not the ministers, permanent secretaries, directors and acolytes of BDP. The political reasoning behind cutting on the public service wage bill such is a choice rooted in austerity, as opposed to public service inefficiency. 

The real problem to poor economic performance in Botswana is wasteful spending, corruption and patronage involving high-level political leadership. It is on public record that state revenues are often used by ruling elites to enrich themselves and their families while buying support from the population with costly and inefficient subsidies. Funds are not administered transparently and the rule of law is not followed to the latter in Botswana. Essentially, corruption charges have been used mostly as a tool for political maneuvering among elites or for punishing those who challenge the Government Integrity. Offshore financial markets and concealing plundered funds from Botswana elites also contribute to fiscal irresponsibility and mismanagement by resource revenues. To that extent raising VAT and introducing sugar tax is to effectively transfer corruption burdens to the poor for which they (the poor) are not liable. 

What is clear is that BDP is not our saviour right now and it never has been. The BDP has failed to use the current state of emergency to start building a more inclusive and sustainable economy. It has failed to lay the foundation for a robust and inclusive recovery. Rather than playing a leading role, and acting as the hero in designing and delivering immediate solutions, in such a way as to serve the public interest, it continues to play its traditional naive patsy. This is Botswana under the BDP in all its upper middle income glory where the economy and wealth is more important than expanding the range of increased material well – being of all citizens under the BDP rule. 

RAP markedly prefers economic plan that is clearly superior for the poorest of the population. There is urgent need to use the current state of emergency to start building a more inclusive and sustainable economy by way of delivering immediate solutions to unemployment, especially of youth. Taking positive steps to integrate into global value chains in order to reduce the dominance of minerals in its exports is urgent. We desperately need to invest more in innovation – from artificial intelligence to public health to renewables. There is need to take a series of tactical changes, including strengthening and broadening processing capabilities, bridging the infrastructure gap, developing sustainable textiles and apparel production capabilities, development of agriculture and manufacturing sectors entailing productivity of agricultural production, and developing competitive food processing and food retailing industries that are well integrated into the global market and strengthening the external image of the country as a destination of choice for the leather textiles and apparel industry. Moreover, Covid-19 necessitates for re-appropriating the economy to decide what we produce – for a safer, more secure, healthier and enjoyable way of life.

But lo and behold, this is the face of a capitalist state void of compassion with an ever fertile land for further inequality and suffering amongst the vulnerable even during a severe acute virus. To put it more directly, while the Covid -19 virus does not discriminate, the BDP political economy does. Such is the callousness of a capitalist state at its lowest!

Gaontebale Mokgosi

Brother Chairman

Real Alternative Party

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