Friday, January 22, 2021

Botswana’s national budget is inherently undemocratic

We are at that time of the year again where, as has become an annual ritual, parliament is debating the national budget as proposed to them by the Minister of Finance and Development Planning.

Impressive figures aside, it is now well known that most of the money allocated will, in the next year, be returned to the treasury ÔÇô unspent.

The excuse, which has become a well refined song by government, is that there is not enough capacity in government to spend the money.
In the meantime, people who are so endlessly waiting and desperately clamouring for the services go without such services because projects are simply not coming forward.

It is hard to exaggerate the lack of progress caused by this vicious cycle, but the important thing to note about Botswana’s national budget is that, however positively one tries to look at it, the whole thing is crafted in the most undemocratic fashion possible.
A popular line that the Ministry of Finance likes to drum up is that every budget follows up on the footsteps of National Development Plan.

Everyone at the Ministry of Finance knows so well that this is a lie, yet everyone from that Ministry continues peddling it because they want to sugarcoat their unilateral acts with semblances of consultative and democratic processes that constitute the stitching of NDPs.

While we hold that there is wisdom in the old ways of doing things, it is also our strong belief that the way the National Budget is prepared should be changed.

This is especially so since it has come to our attention that even the NDPs are not a result of consultative process as we used to believe, but are products of some faceless overseas economic consultants.

The Botswana government has tended to be successful when it deliberately takes the side of the people against rigid officialdom.

That is not what we are seeing with the preparation of the national budget.
We urge the minister of Finance to always invite ordinary people to write him personal letters with suggestions of what they think should be included in the budget.

People take pride and pleasure if they think they have taken active participation in their crafting.
It’s high time the government stopped thinking about just themselves and their entitlement to making public decisions.
People want to be genuinely involved.
It is in the BDP interest to do that.
Just by virtue of being in government, the BDP cabinet has every right to decide how best to spend the public money.

But then the issue that arises is how efficiently that money is being spent by those who are empowered to spend.
That is the source of public differences with the Ministry of Finance.

Public participation, therefore, should not be a public gimmick; rather it should be a genuine process sincerely carried out by equals, meant to gather as much information as is possible so that this information could then be incorporated into the final budget speech that the Minister reads out to parliament every February.

Over and above gathering more information that is relevant to people’s lives, such a process will also promote popular ownership of the budget which is lacking at the moment.

The reason why the Ministry of Finance has lately been resorting to jargon and difficult economic concepts when asked simple questions about the budget is that the ministry senses a lack of public ownership of the budget.
Afraid to accept their mistakes, the Ministry is now resorting to excessive use of technicalities and terminologies to save their faces.

Real reform of producing the national budget will certainly go a long way in restoring both the reputation and credibility of not just the entire government but more particularly the Ministry of Finance, a Ministry whose carefree attitude towards public opinion has made itself synonymous with deceit.
There is no better example of the prejudice the BDP government has against ordinary people to decide on what is good for themselves than in the way the national budget is prepared.
The preparation of the budget is elitist, secretive, and insanely exclusionist.

We hope going forward, real people, who the BDP likes to pretend is doing everything in their interest, will be included and involved in the weaving together of the budget.
We hope we are not asking too much.

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