Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Botswana should learn from Kenya’s crumbling public infrastructure

BY VICTOR BAATWENG

This past week we were privileged to travel to the capital city of Nairobi, Kenya courtesy of the Botswana Investment and Trade Centre (BITC) which led a group of business people from Botswana for a trade forum with their counterparts in that eastern nation.

The mission was to lure investors to Botswana and give an opportunity to the Botswana delegation to scout for business opportunities there. The target areas, the BITC said was mainly on Agro-processing, ICT as well as manufacturing.

Whilst in Nairobi, one could not help but compare the two nations ÔÇô Kenya and Botswana particularly on issues of trade and investment. This include public infrastructure which we believe is key to investment and trade for any country.

One has to state admit from the onset that at times we tend to talk about this issue of public infrastructure investment in abstract terms. Every now and then we tend to talk about infrastructure as one thing, when it’s actually an ecosystem of transportation including that of water, energy and even broadband internet. All these things matters, because whilst all of them are designed, governed and even financed differently they complement each other when it comes to growing any given economy.

Back to Nairobi, given that city’s state of public infrastructure, more especially roads, one could not help but panic a little because it gave light of what could come our way. Nairobi public infrastructure is in bad state. At night the city looks very beautiful from the glamorous lights but come sun shine, its mess. The roads are a bad state and the sewage system is not up to a city standard. Whilst some of the buildings and roads looks like they were very beautiful and up to standard in the late 90s and early 2000, they have since deteriorated. This can only speak to one thing ÔÇô lack of maintenance.

We hope that President ÔÇô Mokgweetsi Masisi and the crew of cabinet ministers and senior government officials that travelled to Kenya for state visit around the same time with the BITC delegation have “bench-marked” on what could happen in this country should we fail to immediately set aside budget for public infrastructure maintenance.

Infact, the crew did not even need to travel to Kenya for that. A study undertaken by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Botswana’s public infrastructure some two years back had already sent early warnings.

Another source of information on the state of our public infrastructure is the 2018 annual Auditor General’s report. The report shed light and gives an account of what is happening at major infrastructures such as the Nyangabwe Referral Hospital in Francistown.

Infact, a short drive within the capital Gaborone to Marina Hospital also gives a clear picture of our country’s public health care system and how close it is to a breakdown with the infrastructure failing to keep up with the growing population. 

Because of these early signs, we cannot help but further caution that our refusal to face facts and take care of our buildings, roads, bridges and pipelines will have real consequences, both for public safety and for our economy. We therefore make a call for a deliberate budget towards the maintenance and refurbishment of these major public infrastructures.

We submit this plea given them fact that in February 2019, just like in previous years, when he presented the national budget – Finance and Economic Development Minister Kenneth Matambo said very little on the aging infrastructure.

During Matambo’s budget speech our interest was drawn towards the infrastructure development by the government ÔÇô being part of a strategy to make a conducive operating environment for the private sector.

While he outlined quite a number of new projects as part of the “transformation” phase, there is little he said on the aging infrastructure. There is no specific budget directed towards maintaining our public infrastructure.

That does not; take away the fact that Botswana’s public infrastructure is deteriorating. Numbers do show that despite our country’s relatively high public investment spending, the quality of infrastructure has fallen down sharply in recent years. A good example of neglected infrastructure is the A3 High WAY ÔÇô otherwise known as Nata ÔÇô Maun road. This road has been in bad shape for over four years now. There are actually more examples that one could give, but the #Bottomline remains that in order to fully realise economic growth from public investment spending, a number of areas require further attention. In general, Botswana has strong planning institutions, investment funding is predictable, debt levels are sustainable, but there is a need to put up a deliberate budget to maintain our public infrastructure.

RELATED STORIES

Read this week's paper

Cabinet caught up in a web of P240 million Covid-19 Tender

The fast-tracked procurement processes adopted by Covid-19 Presidential Task Force will come under renewed scrutiny when Botswana Government this week receives a...