In few weeks or maybe even months from now, the nation expects to get more details on the anticipated Economic Stimulus Package (II) that we have been told the government is putting up as part of its response measures to Covid -19. We name it ESP II because this would be the second of its kind to be put up by the government atleast in the past 10 years. The last one, rolled out during the Ian Khama era, we know what happened. There is no need to remind the nation of how the money was thrown down the drain in the name of stimulating the economy. Infact, if we had directed the ESP monies into the hands of Batswana, who turned would have spent it productively, Covid 19 could have found us in a better economic shape.
But as prepare for ESP II one cannot help but think of how ESP did not only surpass its initial budget but continued to gobble more funds long after its planned execution period had passed.
One is tempted to agree with some socio-economic observers who at the time marking its end berated it as a failed programme. It appeared, even to us that ESP was a cesspool of corruption. Figures provided by the government shows that the bulk of ESP funds were spent on construction with reports of cost overruns and outright corruption. In fact, a year later after the programme was rolled out, the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crimes (DCEC) revealed that it was probing shenanigans surrounding the ESP. These are amongst other things that we should be on the lookout for as the government prepares notes for ESP II. As admitted by both President Mokgweetsi Masisi and economic minister Thapelo Matsheka a few weeks ago, Covid-19 has given us an opportunity to gauge the level of commitment of foreign owned companies which operate in our country. We have had an opportunity to experience how life will be like when we are on our own. That is, when we cannot easily import food or any other essential goods for households. This is the direction that we should be looking at directing the ESP II monies towards.
Covid-19 came and has reminded us that our country continues to face a peculiar situation where we experience economic growth inconsistency but at the same time with relatively high poverty and inequality.
Even before Covid-19 we have always known that we are listed amongst the most unequal societies in the world. That is why in early 2018 the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)’s Principal Advisor on Social Policy for Eastern and Southern Africa, Jean Dupraz, said that in order to address the high inequality conditions prevailing in the country we must urgently develop policies to bridge the inequality.
Dupraz’s utterance came against the backdrop of surveys conducted by the World Bank and other non-partisan research networks which also showed that Botswana was the second highest unequal country on the African continent after South Africa.
All these should speak directly to the policy and law makers in our country. They need to make decision that will reverse the damage that has been caused by our current situation where foreigners control the direction of our economy. It is unfortunate that as I write this piece more than 90 percent of businesses enterprises that are already partially or fully operational after the national lockdown are not citizen owned. This is a bitter pill to swallow but this is not ideal. A sizeable number of Batswana – mainly those who operate informal businesses are still locked up while their foreign counterparts in the formal sector have already started picking up pieces of where they left off when we went for the national lockdown. This needs to be corrected and we can use ESP II to do just that while we wait for the much-anticipated Citizen Economic Empowerment law that President Masisi has promised.
Given the current socio-economic status quo in Botswana, the reversal of high inequality cannot be left to the free market. The role of government is important in addressing the issue of inequality through LAWS on wealth creation for citizens. To answer the question of “What’s next for Batswana post Covid-19?” the government should be able to duly quantify or qualify the effectiveness of its current policies, precisely those relating to wealth creation for Batswana. For now, and given the increasing dominance of foreign companies, more especially in the financial sector and the need to promote the growth of citizen owned business, there is need to use all available pieces of legislation, including the Competition law to empower our people.
As we all know, generally on paper – Botswana has always appeared to be doing very well when it comes to citizen economic empower. In the past we have been told about the beneficiation and aggregation of diamonds in Botswana, the establishment of support institution such as LEA, CEDA, to mention a few. But practically the story on the ground says otherwise. Even the renewed focus on citizen economic empowerment through the revised PPAD Act that has been preached over the past few years has little impact on creating wealth for Batswana. The continuous call on Government agencies to procure 100 percent of goods and services from Batswana companies was welcome from day one. However, the benefits can only be derived from effective implementation and monitoring as well as support from the private sector. This seems not to be the case at the moment. As it stands, multi-national companies in Botswana continues to source most of their raw materials outside the country and do not generally support local SMMEs. The same could be said even about finished products. The #Bottomline therefore is that our social injustice, particularly involving unfair distribution of opportunities, is a huge factor behind the fractured society that Covid 19 found us under. We can only do better if we leverage on the existing laws and most importantly improving them for the sake of impoverished Batswana who now faces depression.