Saturday, May 15, 2021

Botswana’s Immigration Policy is creating a vast corruption empire

Faced with many obstacles of importing talent into the country to come and help run their businesses, many companies have evidently resorted to illegality to go around the hurdles created for them by the system. This was almost inevitable. A few years ago when Botswana Government started to make it difficult for businesses to import skills from outside the country we warned that as part of natural evolution and adaptation, businesses were going to devise ways to go around the system.

We warned that by blocking so many valuable skills from entering the country, Government was inadvertently creating demand. Any economist will tell you that when there is a shortage of anything, that commodity becomes exceedingly precious, thereby outstripping its inherent value. That is exactly the scenario that Botswana has created with work and residents permits. By denying so many companies an opportunity to import skills into the country, Botswana Government’s attitude has enhanced the value of such permits way beyond their real and inherent value. At another level, because they are aware of the demand, officials who are responsible for issuing these permits have also become abnormally conscious of the excessive value that companies will be willing to pay to get the skills they need imported into the country.

Additionally, companies are also responding in kind as a way of survival by attaching high prices to the permits that would allow them to import skills. As a result such companies are setting aside huge sums of money specifically as budgets to bribe officials involved in the processing of both work and residence permits. We have created a vast empire of corruption. These officials range from the intelligence services where security clearance is done to the Department of Immigration right down all the way to the Headquarters of the Ministry of Labour where signatures are appended for either approval or rejection. There is a clear economic downside to all this. The end result of it is that it increases the price of doing business in Botswana.

This in turn undermines the country’s competitiveness and attractiveness to foreign investors. Because companies will naturally pass these costs to the consumer, it also pushers up production costs and indeed the prices of our produce. This is not rocket science. Rather it is elementary economics. In every instance where artificial obstacles are created mankind always resorts to illegality to circumvent those road blocks. This is exactly what is happening with the current situation of Botswana’s Immigration Policy. Government officials have resorted to selling work and residence permits in the black market, at very high prices. Because companies want to import skills badly and all avenues to do it legally have been closed, we see an increasing number of companies paying huge sums to these officials.

It would be wrong to say Government officials are by nature corrupt. In this instance corruption has been induced by a defective Government posturing whose objective is yet to be fully explained as it is opaque, evil and counterproductive. Not for the first time we find ourselves pleading with our government to relax its immigration policy requirements. As a small country with no internal market and very few technical skills to run a modern economy we cannot afford to close out so many people who are on demand all over the world because of their skills. While there is unprecedented need of skills, which are not available locally, the Government, in all its multiple facets has opted not just to block people coming into the country to help run commerce but to actually deport and not renew contracts for those already in the country.

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