Friday, April 3, 2020

Budget 2020: What’s in store for a Motswana child?

Part of the Children Act reads, “An Act to make provision for the promotion and protection of the rights of the child; for the promotion of the physical, emotional, intellectual and social development and general well-being of children; for the protection and care of children; for the establishment of structures to provide for the care, support, protection and rehabilitation of children; and for matters connected therewith.” This already sets a premise for the regard and attitude children should be given and is an even greater responsibility of the government’s side.

But the question is, has the government through its recent budget or any other past budget demonstrated the willingness to play this rather critical role? Botswana’s civil society organisations – CSOs do not think so. This past week, local CSOs gathered in the capital Gaborone to make a detailed analysis of the national budget from a children’s rights perspective. The CSOs did not meet on their own, they brought amongst other key stakeholder – Members of Parliament who play a critical role not just in formulating laws but also in approving or disapproving the budget itself.

At the end of the gathering one thing was clear – the 2020/21 national budget is not inclusive of children, atleast from the perspective of the CSOs in attendance. Different stakeholders in attendance could not hide their disappointment in resource allocation – a scapegoat through which they say children’s rights are being ignored in Botswana.

A consulting economist from SPECK Dynamics – Sennye Obuseng broke down the budget and highlighted its lack of inclusivity for a Motswana child. Significant projects undertaken by Obuseng’s SPECK Dynamics include the Preparation of Botswana’s Human Resource Development Plan 2019-2028.

With one of Botswana’s focus points being transitioning from a resource-based country to a knowledge-based, it seems that its only most lucrative investment, the people, are not even reflected in the country’s budget.

In his presentation, Obuseng noted that “Budget 2020/21 is decidedly not a children’s budget. It is not even a people’s budget. It is about the economy.” He went on to observe that, “People’s budgets target changes in people’s lives, i.e. human development outcomes and goals as end goals. They begin with essential development outcomes for the most vulnerable members of society – children, women, workers, disadvantaged minorities.” He further exhorted that, “strategic government spending on children, and indeed all appropriate spending on children, is the most critical investment in a nation’s future.”

The highlights were inferred from the budget allocations to different ministries. By looking for ministries which by mandate, are inclined to ultimately provide for children, he noted the Ministry of Basic Education as one with childcare responsibilities.

While the ministry was given P744.0 million last year, this year it got P724.4. With the MOBE’s priorities as Special Education and Secondary Education which are generally representative of children, last year received P42 million and P635 million respectively. What Obuseng found alarming was the delivery of the budgets. In other words, how much money was used?

For Special Education last year only 1.1% of P42 million was used, and a disheartening 31.4% of Secondary Education’s P635 million was used. This inability to fully spend the money allocated to ministries, Obuseng said, defeats the classic excuse of government not having enough money, yet it can’t spend it.

Such trends in the national budget are signals of the government’s lethargic consideration of children in the country’s national budget. Obuseng also noted that “Budget 2020/21 carries several themes that at face value should suggest a prioritisation of the development of children. One is Transformation. The second, and most relevant for children is human capital development. Yet, the budget breaks no new ground in allocating resources to the protection, wellbeing and development of children.”

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