Thursday, June 4, 2020

Covid-19 gives government a once in a lifetime opportunity to shine

The eventual ramifications of coronavirus will be colossal.

The government of Botswana, like others across the world will ultimately be judged by how it is able or unable to respond in the face of the virus onslaught.

The scale of the pandemic gives new urgency for governments, especially African to get it right.

On a daily basis leaders of the world’s two leading democracies; America and Britain are at the podium, briefing their countries on the latest developments. It often feels like bluster, but then there it is – always.

The pandemic has become more politics as much as it is a disease.

If there is any positive to be derived from this virus it will be its potency to restore public faith in governments.

Strong public approval awaits a government that confronts coronavirus with utmost strength, passion, empathy and honesty.

But that is not a given.

It is a function of how a government responds to it.

The choice is stark; shambles or fortitude.

The temptation, even in an open democracy is always to conceal the magnitude of the problem, until, such time that everything collapses.

Honesty will no doubt carry governments a long way.

Of course, again, that is not inevitable.

Politicians need to stay even with the electorate and above all remember not the rich and their wealthy companies but the poor and the most vulnerable.

If the performance resembles shambles, faith in government might be disappear for good.

If in fighting coronavirus, the government is deemed to have done so with valour then the government and the president in particular would overnight become messiah-like being with a near ability to walk on water.

If things go peer-shaped, they will have no chance but bear the brunt of a disappointed population.

The reckoning is not too far away.

Not a single case of coronavirus has been confirmed in Botswana, yet already the country is under siege.

it is a result of multiple factors.

People watch television and they see people elsewhere in more developed countries with stronger public health systems dying like flies.

They put themselves in that position, and it’s a terrifying experience.

It often feels like hoping against hope.

Already people are saying that by the time it is done, coronavirus would have an impact far bigger than the financial meltdown that started in 2008.

That meltdown brought a significant rise in discontent among ordinary people.

Across the globe both the left and right ramped up their unique brands of populism.

Consensus became a scarce commodity as politics became a winner-takes-all undertaking.

Botswana was not an exception as see through the prism that was last year’s General Elections.

Today across the world countries are closing borders and skies to fight coronavirus. Outsiders are looked at with suspicion of importing the virus.

Nationalism in its purest form is getting a boost. And might in the long-term gain currency against globalism. Clearly coronavirus did not start nationalism, but it will give it a new meaning and also a new impetus.

In the meantime, nationalists are having the loudest laugh saying the closing of borders is evidence that they were always correct in holding that their purist strategy works.

People everywhere are looking up to government not only for direction, but also salvation.

Batswana should give away all their liberties and freedoms to government on condition that government will used those to fight the disease.

No failure should be tolerated. Any failure should be punished severely. And most important citizens should demand back their freedoms and liberties as soon as the disease is gone.

Giving away these freedoms is an admission that that political absolutism is necessary if coronavirus is to be defeated.

There are also obligations on the part of government.

Political nous is going to be critical, as is empathy and honesty.

Government has to mobilise resources to protect the elderly.

Given that close to a third of the population lives on HIV/AIDS anti-retrovirals, Botswana might be a bomb waiting to explode. This alone should be motivation for authorities to want to stay ahead of the curve.

Coronavirus is most lethal on people with suppressed immunity and also with underlying health issues.

The country cannot rely on prayer alone.

Resources need to be mobilised and invested as early as now.

We look at other countries and all we see is a people burning the candle at both ends.

When the time comes, Botswana should do better. There is no excuse not to, because we have had a longer time to prepare but also learn from others.

Botswana government’s apparent helplessness in the face of ongoing profiteering by the private sector is unpardonable.

It is true that capitalism did not cause the pandemic.

But the pandemic is exposing the heartlessness of untrammeled capitalism.

Apparently for capitalism, another man’s plight is always an opportunity to make money.

Elsewhere in other countries the private sector is leading the efforts to shoulder the costs.

Some commercial banks have opted to conditionally freeze payments of loans and mortgages.

Not so in Botswana.

While other countries are throwing away caution through the window, literally doling out cash and forgetting fundamentals of balanced budgeting and deficits, Botswana government is yet to raise its hand.

Reference has been made of a P2 billion fund.

The fact that Botswana does not as yet have an officially confirmed case is superficially misleading at various levels.

Testing and screening in Botswana, to be bluntly honest remains at primitively low levels.

Yet the advice the world has been getting from WHO, almost on a daily basis has been “test, test and test.”

Is Botswana listening? If it is listening then it does not show it. Maybe we are wrong. In fact we hope we are wrong.

RELATED STORIES

Read this week's paper

Cabinet caught up in a web of P240 million Covid-19 Tender

The fast-tracked procurement processes adopted by Covid-19 Presidential Task Force will come under renewed scrutiny when Botswana Government this week receives a...