Friday, July 19, 2024

For the Masisi cabinet, it has been a full year of drama and chaos

It is natural for people to rally behind their government in a time of a crisis.

And since early this year, Botswana, like the rest of the world has been seized with the pandemic crisis.

Yet there is something different taking hold in Botswana.

People are now quietly disengaging from their government, because they feel shortchanged.

In the beginning people were willing to give Government the benefit of doubt.

Almost a year later, the instinctive push to encourage government and hold back the guns of criticisms is slowly wilting away, giving in to anger and resistance – a result of lost public trust.

The country is in the middle of a pandemic, and there is no clear leader to look up to – not in government and certainly not among the scientific community that make up the Covid-19 Task Force.

For some time, the duo of Professor Mosepele and Dr Malaki Tshipayagae filled that description. Not any longer!

All evidence points to dreary shortcomings in the fight against coronavirus.

All those are made all the worse by unmistakable economic incompetence inside government.

When it comes to the economy, government has failed to stay on message. They have been all over the place, so to speak.

The confusion raises the critical question of who is really in charge. And more crucially exactly whose advice do those in power most listen to when it comes to the economy.

There has been a general lack of conviction and purpose on the part of government.

A lack of sincerity has meant there is dishonesty on many fronts.

Generally, people do not know, much less understand just what this government is up to.

And that cannot be good.

In the beginning people were congratulatory of their government.

They were happy to give them a chance, and were more forgiving of mistakes, including those that in ordinary times could be deemed unpardonable, like the P100 billion fiasco.

That attitude has since given in to a combative and angry popular restlessness.

When it comes to fighting the pandemic there is no methodology on the part of government.

Instead of adopting pragmatism, the Masisi-led government has opted for populism.

The nation has been asking questions, but there are no answers coming from the side of government.

At cabinet level, it has been a full first year of obscurity for ministers and their permanent secretaries.

To say ministers and permanent secretaries have become glorified toys is to put it mildly.

As a thumb rule, this effectively means that the entire public service has become comatose.

Those at the lower rungs might not feel it, but it is much colder in the upper echelons.

All state power is shared between the State President and a team of unelected of Covid-19 Task Force officials who report directly to him.

More worrying however is the fact that a year after winning elections, the nation still does not know exactly where Mokgweetsi Masisi intends to take the country.

Firing a few senior officials and moving around a few ministers hardly amounts to a strategy.

The president still gives an impression that he remains not a national leader, but a leader of a faction.

The nation hungers to know not just what he stands for, but also what he is against.

That is not clear.

He has made numerous promises, but that too has been the easier part.

For some time an impression was created that he was for the rule of law.

With time, events have revealed that is really not a priority, but a soundbite at best.

And that fact too is dangerous by and of itself.

It points solidifies the growing public opinion that there is deeply ingrained incompetence, made all the worse by inexperience to operate and coordinate at high levels.

Given the excitement and high expectation with which the current government was voted into office, the last twelve months have been nothing short of an anticlimax.

A year later, there is still a lot that this government is yet to prove. And here we are talking about mainly the most of the elementary stuff.

We should be worried given what we have seen so far, just how capable this government will be in putting back together a fractured nation and a fractured economy.

Not so long ago a deputy coordinator of the Covid-19 Task Force resigned, and only withdrew his resignation after the president groveled and begged him to stay. It is unimaginable that any such deference could ever be extended to a permanent secretary.

The imagery of that resignation, followed by an announcement that the president had not accepted it and its withdrawal a few days later pretty much summed up the chaotic behind the scenes drama that have become a major feature of the Masisi cabinet.

The president has not done much to ensure a seamless relationship between public service and the Task Force.

Backed by State of emergency, the Task Force are behaving like demigods.

And quite instinctively, the public service is doing everything to frustrate them.

The result is that the public are the ones suffering as covid-19 runs amok. Number of infections are climbing, so are hospitalizations and deaths.

There is nothing to suggest we used the first lockdown to enhance our capacity as a nation.

The billions made available only in April have since run out.

Ministers can only watch and grin.

It is a script many of them have had no part to play.

In fact, ministers, just like permanent secretaries are living under constant fear, worried that any day they could receive marching orders; losing their job with no explanation proffered.

State of Emergency was meant to make the country more prepared in its fight against coronavirus.

It has been reduced to a circus of a rule by decree.

President Masisi should learn to share power with other elected officials. The State of Emergency is making him more detached, more aloof and that might be fine tuning him for possible dictatorship down the line.

He comes across as irascible and more vindictive than Ian Khama, the man who we used to think was the epitome of everything that was bad about public governance.

That is not what Botswana needs in a president today.

Immediately after the State of Emergency was declared a first lockdown got underway, the nation watched in disbelief as there started a comedy of errors underlined by inexperience and incompetence.

From wage relief to food parcels it was daylight robbery playing out right before our eyes.

With no infrastructure in place and no ground preparedness, billions of pula were thrown down the ditch backed only by blind faith among our leaders.

Perhaps to drive home our level of unpreparedness as a country, we plugged out of retirement, one Gabriel Seeletso to come and head food distribution.

It was anarchy.

What we do not want to accept as a nation is there has been national harm and national cost involved in that lockdown.

The economy is still bleeding as a result of that lockdown. Gender Based Violence went off the roof as a result of that lockdown. Human costs have reached palpable levels.

But the biggest elephant in the room remains the economy. Lockdown brought the economy on its knees.

Too many businesses never re-opened after the lockdown.

The economy is on the brink of a precipice.

Minister of Finance, Thapelo Matsheka has effectively been handed a poisoned chalice. It will be interesting to see if he drinks or chooses to break the pot.

Exactly how he plans to restore the lost GDP ground will be interesting to see.

At least more than his predecessors, Covid-19 has offered him an unsolicited opportunity to fix all the structural defects that have bedeviled this economy, like taking it back from Asian jackboot and delivering it to indigenous Batswana. That is easier said than done for he will need the President’s support to do that.

Covid-19 has badly exposed the vulnerabilities of our mono-commodity economy.

The true scale of job losses remain hidden by the State of Emergency and the resultant regulations.

Revenues are falling, tax base continues to shrink, diamond sales outlook remains depressed, debt is growing, development projects have been cancelled, corruption is on the rise and generally there is no sense of urgency on the side of those in power.

These are indeed grave times for Botswana and Batswana.

Planning has been in permanent short supply, except for hastily cobbled speeches rushed through parliament for rubberstamping by ruling party backbenchers who often look like bemused school kids, clearly scared of possible evisceration should anyone of them get out of line.

And this country will for many years to come be dealing with the fallout from those school boy mistakes.

Covid-19 has now become a popular refrain used to justify and cover for almost all official failures in government, including just plain incompetence that is not related to coronavirus.

Key electoral pledges remain untouched.

To be fair to cabinet ministers and their permanent secretaries, all their powers under the State of Emergency have been usurped by Covid-19 Task Force that is too concerned by war turfs than fighting the disease.

Shorn of pretense and verbosity, there is not much to take home from this government after a first full year.

To Masisi and his government Happy First Anniversary of your first full year in power since winning an election.

To Batswana, “aluta continua!”

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