Saturday, September 26, 2020

A people centred budget will certainly “TOPPLE” income inequality

BY VICTOR BAATWENG

There is a “new” word making a buzz in town ÔÇô “toppling”. It was made popular by the ex-chief spy Isaac Kgosi during his arrest at the Sir Seretse Khama International Airport a few weeks ago.

While Kgosi gets credit for popularising the word “topple” there is a man at the government enclave who still needs to work hard to be given credit. This is none other than Finance and Economic Development Minister Kenneth Matambo. Matambo has been the national finance minister for a long time now that it even feels like it’s his birth right.

With over ten years in that office, the nation, precisely rural people and those in the low income bracket can however attest to the fact that Matambo did not so much for them. For rural dwellers and the poor, Matambo’s legacy as minister of finance can be summarised in two words – incompetent and impotent. This can be extended to the nation at large. Most villages across the country and dwellers there remain disconnected from the urban areas of Botswana, let alone the global village.

In his ten years tenure at Finance Ministry ÔÇô Matambo was not able to rise above the local to communicate a grand vision, inspire Batswana, while at the same time energising common action. He even let his political master run the show on his behalf. For instance in 2015 a controversial economic stimulus programme was initiated ÔÇô not by his office. We hear that, just like us, he got to hear about it for the first time at a BDP event ÔÇô outside the government enclave where expect planning to be done.

In short, and in our view Matambo has not been imaginative enough to allow the nation to see that there are benefits to success and adversity, to boom and bust alike. More especially after the 2008 financial crisis.

If that is not the case, what else can explain the 19 percent unemployment rate, cash stripped State Owned Enterprises (SOEs), frustrated public service and lack of laws that speaks to economic empowerment of the natives? Why are big infrastructures such as Marina Hospital and even new ones like Letsholathebe in Maun as warned-out as they are? From where we stand, all these are a result of the failure to direct the national economic ship by Minister Matambo ÔÇô a man whose responsibility is to carry the national purse. It was and still is the responsibility of Matambo as Finance minister to ensure that cabinet act in a collective and co-ordinated manner in the face of a global political, economic and financial crisis.

For so many years now, during the first week of February the poor have been forced to switch-on their television sets and watch Matambo carrying a brief-case into the parliament building. He would then read figures after figures before his fellow MPs chipped in with the usual rhetoric comments in the weeks to follow. After this it’s back to the “abnormal” life. The poor retrace their steps to eating crumb of bread whilst the rich grow their bellies bigger. This is not a bitter talk as some usually accuse us. It a great cause of concern. In fact, the basic cause for concern is not Matambo’s inability to become imaginative. The real cause of concern is the growing gap between the poor and the rich in this country. Inequality ÔÇô the number one enemy not just for Botswana but the world at large is stark. The monster is multi-faceted and reinforcing because of our lack of tact towards fighting it. We seem to have left it to the nature to take its cause. As data from Stats Botswana would show, even in the past year real earnings for citizens of this country remained below their pre-financial crisis peak.

As we noted in this space before, the bitter pill that we all need to swallow is that to truly unleash our country’s potential, we need to tackle the concentration of ownership, control and market dominance by foreigners in the domestic economy. Until recently, there were so many foreign owned shops that have closed their doors to good quality products just because they were produced locally.

A people centred budget would certainly “topple” this problem. It is probably late to make such a call but we still do, call on Matambo, for once to surprise the nation and present a budget that is inclusive. The nation needs a budget that aspires to meet the needs of all of the citizens, not just those who are at the high earning notch but also for those who do not have regular income and those in the Small and Medium Entrepreneurship sector (SMEs).

As things stands, it would be an understatement to say a majority of Batswana long lost interest in the national budget speech. In the pst few years, our observation is that they neither follow the speech nor bother to later read it to determine what is in it for them. This should be a source of concern to the ruling class that the citizens now see the national budget speech as a meaningless ritual. From where we stand, one cannot blame Batswana for having lost interest in the budget. Many citizens of this country – rural and urban dwellers alike, feel that their voices do not matter anymore. It is therefore up to those in power, precisely Matambo to prove that all voices ultimately matter – and one way doing that is drawing up an ALL inclusive national budget. The kind that can speak to the jobless, landless and those who need finance to set up businesses. At the end, the #Bottomline is that we have “topple” income inequality and the only way to go about it is through an inclusive national budget.

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Sunday Standard September 27 – 3 October

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 27 - 3 October, 2020.