Thursday, September 24, 2020

Covid-19 came to confirm that People cannot ‘eat’ GDP

Let us not kid ourselves, praising the problems that are before us now will not bring any bread to many of our tables. What we need is to stop talking about these problems and do something about it. Now is the time to turn all season talk into action. 

This action should start with using the public funds prudently. It starts with putting not a comma but rather a big full stop to corruption and any leakages that could be existing in public coffers. 

The truth of the matter is that persistent economic inequality in our country over the past decades left many Batswana deeply frustrated and powerless. The arrival of Covid-19 in our shores was only to confirm that the double digit Gross Domestic Growth (GDP) growth (lately single) that we used to pride ourselves about is of no use to the people of the land. As one renowned economist once said, “the people indeed cannot eat GDP”. This is even more applicable in our case where our government was for the longest time credited for prudent management of mining revenues, stable democracy and good governance record but dismally failed to equitably share the wealth among its citizens. 

Covid-19 is here to just expose our failure to close the gap between the rich and the poor. It is becoming clear each passing day that due to the Covid-19 pandemic the local economy now faces serious challenges worse than those experienced during the 2008/09 financial crisis. The impacts have long been felt, more especially by the informal and hospitality sectors. 

One must state that we deeply appreciate the scale and speed of response that our government, the private sector, and international development partners have been attending this crisis with precisely through many financial relief programs and donations. We also understand the speed at which government procurement need to be done in a crisis like the one we are in now. 

Nevertheless, our concern is that if we unleash huge public funds without including basic transparency and anti-corruption measures, we risk misusing the money on what is urgently needed. In times of crisis such as Covid-19, transparent, and accountable spending becomes more important—not less so. It becomes even more worrisome when the minister of finance can give contradictory statement regarding the use of public funds as we saw it happening this past week. Still this past week we learnt about PPADB’s decision to increase the quotations proposals of the Presidential Task Force from P300, 000.00 to P10, 000, 000.00. While the goods and services that are to be procured by the Task Team might be of great service to the nation, we need to safeguard against the misuse of the same money. We are at a point where we need to spend every single Thebe and Pula prudently. The economy has come to a stand still and we surely need to direct every single Thebe or Pula we have towards productive projects to restart our economic engine. We need to balance between saving lives and saving the economy and we can only do that if no single Thebe or Pula is directed into private pockets through corrupt procurements. We are not in a way trying to slow down the efforts made by the government through the Presidential Task team towards fighting Covid-19 but we wish to express worries that some of the public funds could be misdirected and misused. Part of the information shared by the government officials including by the Finance Minister Dr Thapelo Matsheka create an impression that we might not be doing things according to the prescribed text. Chances are high that public funds are being directed towards private pockets instead of safeguarding public health and delivering the desperately needed assistance to those hardest hits like informal sector and rural folks. It is unfortunate that we are almost six months into this crisis but already media reports are awash with allegations of misuse of public funds. This caution we make at a time when the minister responsible for finance and economic development Dr Matsheka has already made an indication that we might look outside our borders for further funding of the second phase of the National Development Plan 11. This is an indication that the public expenditure requirements for the remainder of NDP 11 are large. Therefore, we need to ensure that we use the available funds only on productive projects –the kind that can create income for the citizens and revenue for the government through taxes. As it stands. we need to direct the money into the pockets of Batswana whom in turn must spend it ‘productively’ if we are to jerk our ailing economy. This should be done in a direct not corrupt way. 

Where all is said and done, and given where citizens of this country are, economically, one can safely say the GDP concept, heavily loaded with ideology, does not reflect the past and present realities on the ground. Our GDP remarkably grew in the past, but here we are, the people cannot eat it. So, the #Bottomline is that if we ever grow our GDP again, we should do it in a way that a majority of the people of the land do not live a ‘cheque to cheque’ kind of life where the disposable income gets finished just on the first week of pay. That way, only a few people would need services of ‘Mmaboi’ if ever we find ourselves in a crisis like the one, we are in now. 

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