Monday, August 10, 2020

Apart from washing hands, bold leadership can save our economy from COVID – 19 aftermath

An international author by the name Reed Markham says successful leaders see the opportunities in every difficulty rather than the difficulty in every opportunity. He is right. As I write this, our country and the world at large are faced with what seems like a difficulty called COVID 19 or Coronavirus. It is deadly. Just like the 2008/09 global recession, it is threatening to turn the global economy, including that of our tiny Botswana upside down. Despite all these threats, we should look at COVID 19 as an opportunity not difficulty. We must turn whatever difficulties it intends to bring into opportunities. To do that we need decisive leadership.

We need the kind of leadership that would quickly remember that although we are from a hot season of elections, the time of grandstanding and political bickering is over. The socio-economic problems that Batswana have been facing even the outbreak of COVID 19 needs immediate solutions. Our leaders should constantly remind themselves that the difficulty that COVID 19 want to bring to us needs workable solutions not unsavoury rivalry between politicians. Given our economic status now, only bold leadership can save us from COVID 19 and its aftermath. We need to take bold decisions right away. One of those that comes to head is the need to stop all leakages on government expenditure. We have so many leakages, some of which were deliberately created in the past to serve political interests. Amongst the developments that surely created so much leakages on public purse is the setting-up of State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs). Whilst the were good intentions to set them up most of them have now reached their sell-by date. They are doing more harm than good to our little pocket as a nation. Our leaders, if bold enough, should decide immediately on which of the many SOEs we need, and which ones are creating the identified leakages in public purse.

This task, in my view, should not be classified as a difficulty but rather an opportunity. We just need, first to identify the SOEs which are driving and fast tracking our development agenda and modernize them. Any bold leadership will be honest when carrying out this kind of task. This is to say, the bold leadership should, on its own – or to a certain extent with assistance from the citizenry, be able to assess the performance of all the SOEs ever since inception. For example, our leadership should be able to truthfully assess whether the Citizen Entrepreneurial Development Agency has been able to fully execute its legal mandate of developing citizen entrepreneurs ever since it was established. How many of the citizen entrepreneurs that CEDA developed over the years can raise their hands at this time of COVID 19 and say to the nation, “we got your back, do not worry much”? These questions, the bold leadership should be able to ask without fear or feel of guilty of exposing anyone or being having second thoughts as a result of toes they might step on. Bold leadership should be able to weigh the investment made over the years and return on such investments. This is applicable to all the SOEs not just CEDA which I just gave an example with. 

At a COVID 19 era when the rich people both in the global village and within our shores are now considering self-quarantining and social distancing, we should be able to pause and ask ourselves if the Botswana Housing Corporation which has been mandated to provide affordable housing to Batswana has been successful in doing that. If the answer is no, our bold leaders should decide, immediately after finding out the hindrance on the future of BHC. Can we continue to have BHC as it is with its failure to house a majority of the citizens more especially the poor? The poor people of this country too, need a shelter to self-quarantine.

The poor people of this country are also law-abiding citizens who would want to adhere to the travel ban imposed by the government due to the outbreak of COVID 19. But as we all might be aware, many of the poor families in this country are the main players in the informal sector. Their economic status, for example dictate that every morning they get on that “Matshelonyana” mini truck to buy vegetables across the border and sell to fellow citizens as their means of survival. If they don’t, their small business will collapse, and they will have nowhere to look but to government social programs such as Ipelegeng. To stop this possible heavy downfall of the small businesses our leaders need to make bold decisions to cushion them in times like the COVID 19 one. If leaders cannot make quick, bold decisions, even if they are unpopular – they risk dissent amongst citizens. A good example in this case has been the Molepolole natives who, this past week, crossed the borders to South Africa to buy potatoes for their small businesses despite the caution from the state president and other authorities on the outbreak of COVID 19 at the neighbouring country. Surely the trio had no other option. The president had addressed the nation on COVID 19 a day or so before they crossed to SA but has said absolutely nothing on how the government, he leads would help businesses such as theirs which rely on daily cashflow. This case in point shows how indecisive leadership can cost the entire nation. Of course, I blame the government for not taking a bold decision on helping the SMEs. By helping, one does not necessarily mean handing out cash (which is also ideal, anyway) but rather considering things such as group-buying for the SMEs.

FACT: Batswana needs to start working hard for economic survival of their families and country. We all need to roll up our sleeves and get to work. But for this to happen, we need leaders who are bold and can take difficult decisions for the sake and on behalf of the country. Not the kind of decisions that only pleases political careers financiers. The #Bottomline is that even way before the arrival of COVID 19, the time to demonstrate decisive leadership had long arrived. We just need those bold decisions to be made so that we survive the aftermath of COVID 19. In the meantime, lets wash those hands while we wait for bold decisions from our leaders! 

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