Thursday, October 22, 2020

Botswana’s crumbling public infrastructure is need of renewal

The direct correlation between economic performance and infrastructural development is irrefutable.

The indirect correlation between that public infrastructure has on the livelihood of ordinary citizens is also incontrovertible.

Efforts should not be spared to introduce a new generation of public infrastructure into Botswana’s overall economic ecosystem.

The economy works best and is at its most efficient when the public infrastructure is at its best.

This infrastructure includes transport, telecommunications, energy, water etc.

There is demonstrable evidence to prove that a small farmer stands a better chance of surviving harsh climate if their produce can be transported to the market in a user-friendly road ÔÇô no matter the distance between the farm and the market.

Thus the surest way to create strong economic fundamentals is to invest in infrastructure.

Botswana was in the beginning to get it right.

But owing to years of underfunding, capital-misallocation and neglect, Botswana’s public infrastructure is no longer what it used to be.

As a result, the infrastructure is no longer able to support the economy.

The world economic meltdown that started in 2008 has played a huge role in all this.

But poor planning and years of malaise, coupled with poor maintenance are equally to blame.

Roads, bridges, schools, hospitals are in a state of disrepair.

The only houses that look well kept are those that are used by cabinet ministers.

There is for example no discernible incentive for new private investments in public transport.

This should not be allowed to go any further.

There are still parts of the capital city that are not connected to a sewerage system.

That is shameful.

There are still parts of the capital city that do not have running water ÔÇô that is despicably, especially for an upper middle income country.

Many households are still not connected to the national power grid.

That alone kills the country’s competitive and productivity potential.

A way has to be found to translate past economic dividends into better living conditions for these people that have been left out of the economic mainstream.

The same need for a fast-tracked construction of big public infrastructure projects that the country used to have continues unabated. But now added to it is the new reality of maintaining and refurbishing the existing infrastructure that is in near disarray.

The trouble though is that this time around, owing to sluggish diamond sales, Botswana is no longer able to cope with the needs, much less the past momentum.

Botswana has to seek new partnership with international lenders that can come on board in building new infrastructure that will be needed to take the economy to new levels, but also to renew already existing infrastructure to provide them with a fresh lease of life.

Abandoning infrastructure can be costly in that with time it leads to a vicious cycle economic stagnation.

Postponing maintenance that is due has the same consequence as procrastinating on building new ones.

As time goes on costs build to such an extent that they become prohibitive.

Schools, especially teacher training institutions have reached that level.

These are pieces of infrastructure that a little less than twenty years ago were among the country’s A-listers.

Today visiting them is a real eyesore.

A concerning flashpoint is that almost twelve months since key and strategic infrastructure linking Botswana to South for example were destroyed by a mammoth storm last year, they have still not been put back to acceptable standard. The bridge next to Lobatse on one’s way to Ramatlabama international border post ÔÇô one of the country’s busiest is still to be rebuilt.

To achieve this Botswana needs to seriously reconsider its foreign policy.

That means mending bridges with China. China is the defacto custodian of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, a new kid on the block that is poised to rival if not overtake the World Bank.

There is no reason why Botswana cannot apply to become a member of AIIB.

This will give Botswana access to some of the best term loans that are needed to build the country’s flagging infrastructure.

Joining the bank is particularly important because under the AIIB rules, only projects in member countries can be supported.

Rebuilding the country’s infrastructure will not only enhance trade, increase productivity and stimulate the economy, it will most importantly also reduce poverty, improve productivity and enhance the country’s business competitiveness.

We need to work at upgrading the country’s sanitation infrastructure, its transport, communication and telecommunication as well as health infrastructure.

Good public infrastructure propels economic growth.

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