Thursday, May 23, 2024

#Budget things ÔÇô 2016 and beyond

‘We need to know how to build effective coalitions so that each stakeholder can play their part maximally to develop this country.’ Sennye Obuseng at the Gabzfm’s Budget Breakfast Seminar


At the beginning of the just ended week, finance minister Rre Kenneth Matambo presented his last budget speech before the end of vision 2016. As usual, expectations were (quite) high; right from the hope for salary increases, through to the one for concrete details on the infamous Economic Stimulus Programme (ESP). I will not dwell at all on either of these expectations, nor will I comment on the contents of the budget itself. What I rather prefer to do is comment on the growing calls for an overhaul of our economy by leading economists, like the one quoted above. Over the past eight years, economists have increasingly signaled the danger that lays before us, if we do not take bold steps to overhaul our systems. While in the past they (the economists) may have been dismissed as alarmists, the economic outlook in recent times is forcing the nation to ponder their assertions with growing realism. And it is from this interest, that I believe suggestions on how to go about overhauling the economy should begin to flow. After-all, it is Rahm Emmanuel who said to never let a serious crisis go to waste, as it gives you an opportunity to do things you thought impossible, before. Therefore, we must make hay and capitalise on our situation as articulated by Rre Matambo last Monday.


I believe five areas are critical in creating a strong foundation for a new, better and functional economy. The first is public policy. Public policy must function to the benefit of the public. This means that the importance of public policy is not in its interpretation but rather, in its implementation. This is because, just like faith, public policy is useless without works. Over the years we have suffered in this respect. We have spent more time on debates and less on implementation. This has resulted in an oversized bureaucracy and a muddled agenda. I am not suggesting that we do away with debates. What I am saying is that, while debating policy is a critical undertaking, it is in the grander scheme of things, a means to an end. The question is, why is it critical to make the distinction? Well, policy is intrinsically the logos of a functioning system. Which then means that if the logos is unambiguous, the system will interpret and project itself very well. What then follows is governance. Governance as I understand it is a bit complex and to expound on it will require more space than I have here. However, the basis of governance is a marriage between policy and management. Central to this union is the understanding of the roles that both play. We have already articulated the role that policy plays. What management does on the other hand is to create parameters within which functions are discharged. This requires a strong relationship base that will knit these functions to their parameters. And once this matrix is set, the system will be ready to compete. As things stand, Botswana is failing to achieve her development agenda, allegedly not from a lack of will or ideas, but of productivity. While that may be the case, I tend to see productivity in this case as symptomatic of a fragmented system. It is a system that has no incentive to do better than it has already. Its parameters have been weakened by a lack of accountability, which function, is a critical aspect of management. And no system in the world can ever – not matter how hard it tried – be competitive, if it cannot be accountable for its own actions. Accountability therefore, drives competitiveness.


The fourth area is sovereignty. Once the logos proceeds and management functions, there is an instant knowledge of self. Without the knowledge of self, then the system will not be able to respond to its responsibilities. It is for this reason that Batswana should value their sovereignty. It is when they do this that they will be able to be responsible for their own actions within their system. They will not be a part of it but rather, they will be it. This means if there was to be a threat to their system; they would be able to not only recognize it, but they would also respond appropriately. The last critical area is immigration. I do not have to struggle to articulate this one because, we have a functioning case study, and that is America. America has one of the most functioning immigration systems in the world. As a result, they have managed to attract some of the best minds the world has ever seen. This, without a doubt, is what is at the heart of their robust economy. Actually, if I were to summarise I would say, the success of the American economy is anchored upon the five fundamentals I have articulated herein. Good or bad, Americans always go back to this drawing board.


Notwithstanding, I believe we have a stronger chance to create an even more equitable system. If we are to achieve this, we must press the big-red-reset ‘class’ button in front of us. And the media can be of great help in this regard by morphing from a class centric, elitist driven industry ÔÇô where the elite talk down to everyone else ÔÇô into a people centric one, where allegiance is to the people and not the system. Let me be the first to say, everything I am suggesting in here will not be easy. The undeniable truth is that, while restructuring the economy presents us with numerous opportunities, it also presents huge challenges. And the challenges are both micro and macro – how to spark it without causing irreversible social upheaval; how to finance it and, ultimately how to sustain it. That is why we need to be bold. The welfare of our coming generations, hinges on such bravery!


#This article is dedicated, in memoriam, to Rre Katso Tshipinare, a leading economist who spoke extensively on the need to overhaul Botswana’s economy. I had the honour to interview him and it came as a great shock to hear of his passing. To his family and acquaintances, re lela le lona ka le rona re latlhegetswe. A mowa wa gagwe o robale ka kagiso.


*K. Gabriel Rasengwatshe is a business strategist, author and presenter of Gabzfm Business Hour, on Wednesdays, 6pm-7pm.


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