Wednesday, October 28, 2020

An ideal State Of the Nation Address

In November 2008, President Dr. Ian Khama made his maiden State of the Nation address (SONA). As expected, last week Monday, Dr. Khama gave his last but one national address; the key question that needs to be asked is whether Dr. Khama’s maiden speech or any other that followed it has met the threshold of an ideal state of the nation address?

Before one could even attempt to answear that question, for the sake of those who might be familiar with SONA, but not familiar with its meaning and objectives, we might as well revisit the general and global definition of it. 

The simplest definition that one could find would be: Political model /activity in which the President reports on the status of the nation. Elsewhere some presidents or leaders use SONA not only to report on the condition of the nation but also use it to outline their national agenda and priorities.

Given the fact that Dr. Khama does not easily give media interviews, atleast to the local private media, SONA thus turns out to be a rare opportunity for the President to communicate with the nation. This includes dwellers of places such as Gaborone Central and Phakalane where he does not do his popular walk-about or evening ‘fire place time’. It also include residents of places like Mmadinare, Bobonong and Sefophe village who recently had to be told that their all time town ÔÇô Selebi Phikwe could turn into a ghost town. 

Ideally, the President must use SONA to update the nation on key economic and social indicators comparing them with what he had previously set. This entail update on the progress of projects promised in the previous year’s address. 

For instance, in his 2014 SONA Dr. Khama mentioned of ‘job creation for sustainable livelihoods and income generation’. It is therefore fair enough to have expected him to give the nation feedback on how much he has done to absorb those seeking sustainable employment in this country. Put differently, Dr. Khama should have stated how many jobs his administration created, not just from 2014 but also between the time he first made the promise (November 2008) and November 2016. 

Still on unemployment, government is running other economic empowerment schemes such as the National Internship Programme, Tirelo Sechaba and YES…All these programmes we have been made to believe that they are meant to reduce the number of our young but capable youth on the streets. As such, SONA is always the ideal occasion for Dr. Khama to share the success and failures (if any) of these programmes. We are almost certain that tax payers in this country, atleast some of them do want to know whether there is return on investment made from such programmes. Remember it is their money that sponsors these numerous trial programmes that President Khama and his administration has been running.

Dr Khama mentioned in his 2014 SONA that a whooping 11,200 youth were enrolled under the Tirelo Sechaba, fast forward to November 2015, where are those youth? How much have they gained, economically, from their participation in Tirelo Sechaba…? In 2015 and 2016, how many new recruits for Tirelo Sechaba do we have, and how sustainable is the programme going forward? 

From where we stand, apart from high unemployment rate, the nation’s other key challenges that needed an update on was the utilities sectors. 

Given the “burst and fix” that the Water Utilities Corporation carried on the North South Carrier (NSC) pipeline for most part of 2015, Khama did a great job to tell the nation that progress is being made to ensure that the consistent supply of water to the southern part of the country is maintained.  

On the other hand, the nation wanted to know the current state of the country’s biggest power plant – Morupule B? Did the sending of Foreign Affairs minister Pelonomi Venson Moitoi to China last year (to complain on shoddy job done at the power station) bear any fruits? Are Chinese going to bear the costs or as usual we are passing the burden to tax payers? Or maybe what the nation reads on the local media about the power station being up for “SALE” is true? In that regard Khama failed to assert to the nation whether this rather vital asset of the nation will indeed be sold to a power house ÔÇô China. 

Secondly, our expectation was that the President would give an update on some of the recent initiatives which entails any other projects that were announced or introduced within the past year without having been mentioned in the previous year SONA.

A quick example would be the controversial Economic Stimulus Programme (ESP) which is still under progress. Having first announced it at the BDP special congress last year, with less detail, and later started its implementation early this year, the expectation was that Dr. Khama would give flesh to the bone of ESP. This would have helped us, and any other interested parties to gauge whether this big animal is big enough to save our ailing economy or it is just yet another Goliath. On Monday Khama told the nation on the 18 000 jobs that he said were created through ESP of which 46 percent he said were youth. What missed though was whether such jobs are sustainable or not. 

Lastly, as he performed this constitutional duty, Dr. Khama must have been able to articulate a vision of the future of this nation. This is where he should have talked and instilled positivity to young Batswana graduates who have been on the street for close to a decade now. With the projected return to deficit budget for atleast three years, Dr Khama should lead the nation with his thoughts on how the domestic economy will return to the desired level. The normal diversification chorus featured in Dr Khama’s speech but going forward we could use the “how part” and measurement strategies for various sectors of the domestic economy.

While we wait for Dr Khama’s last SONA next year, the #Bottomline remains that an ideal presidential address to the nation should speak to the ordinary men in the street. Given the economic state that our country is in, we all need to be motivated to work very hard and push back our economy to the desired level of positive growth. 

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