The government’s poverty eradication efforts, while noble, are often crippled by institutional frameworks, lack of mainstreaming and communication breakdown between relevant committees, ministries and stakeholders.
This emerged at a recent NGO gathering in Francistown at which Dr Tebogo Seleka of the Botswana Institute of Development Policy Analysis presented a report evaluating how Botswana has fared in poverty reduction with particular reference to the National Strategy on Poverty Reduction (NSPR).
The report painted a grim picture of an incapacitated NSPR which has been rendered redundant by lack of clear operational procedure, failure by government to incorporate the strategy into mainstream policy, lack of measuring indicators and over dependence on obsolete statistics.
The NSPR was established in 2003 and it has since made efforts to approach poverty as a multidimensional concept involving income, capability and participation. “While in the past poverty measurements were based on poverty, we have now redefined poverty as a multidimensional concept relating to human deprivation, and it is important that other factors (other than income) like issues of access to social services like health and education, and access to avenues of participation in decision making processes are also incorporated into the poverty spectrum,” said Seleka.
According to the NSPR, the government has adopted a three pronged strategy to reduce poverty, involving implementation of broad based initiatives for economic growth and employment creation, investment in social services and infrastructure development and finally provision of social service nets like old age pension schemes and destitute programs. Social service nets are primarily meant to cater for those who might not have benefited from the first two strategies and they include initiatives to cater for the elderly and the less fortunate through old age pension schemes, HIV Aids programs, orphan care programs, under five feeding programs and destitute programs.
The NSPR was established with these noble objectives and an institutional framework was put in place to drive implementation. Top government executives, like permanent secretaries and other high profile stakeholders, sit on the NSPR committees. At the top is the Rural Development Council (RDC) which oversees the NSPR implementation. Then follows the two tier monitoring and evaluation committee, which involves the RDC and its sub committees on one hand and line ministries and the national statistics institute on the other hand.
According to the BIDPA report a crippling trend has emerged in which the institutional framework of the NSPR has and continues to fail because of a serious lapse in communication between the RDC and the line ministries who are in fact the key players in the poverty eradication exercise.
While strong ties exist between the RDC and its subcommittees and between the CSO and line ministries it has emerged that communication between the RDC and the line ministries is almost non existent. This results in a situation whereby the ministries which are supposed to drive the NSPR program are operating in a vacuum without any communication or synergy with set poverty reduction strategies.
The Ministry of Agriculture, for example, is a key player in poverty reduction and a lot of RDC targets and strategies are heavily dependent on the successes and achievements of the ministry. But due to lack of synergy between the RDC and the MoA it obtains that the ministry, unaware of any poverty eradication strategies or RDC targets, only implements its own strategies which, while aiming for improvement of agriculture, might not necessarily be on par with poverty eradication strategies and targets as set by the NSPR. Therefore, a case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing emerges, and organizations that are supposed to be working together and keeping in constant synergy and communication are actually operating separately without any standardization of operations to reach their common target.
At the same time the monitoring and evaluation units that have been set up to give the RDC feedback on the performance of the ministries are very weak such that the RDC is deprived of information that would enable it to gauge whether the NSPR strategies are bearing fruit.
The failure of the NSPR was also attributed to government’s failure to assimilate the strategy into national policy and mainstream it with other development strategies like vision 2016, millennium development goals and national development plans which also aim to eradicate poverty. The report states that because the NSPR reinforces vision 2016, MDG’s and NDP’s it should be mainstreamed into the NDP process. The failure of government to assimilate the NSPR, since its inception in 2003, has resulted in a situation where the NSPR has no data on which to reflect. Four years down the line, there is no basis on which the NSPR can be evaluated.
The RDC is specifically mandated to deal with poverty at rural level and, in the face of rampant poverty in the urban areas primarily due to industrialization and rural to urban migration, the country does not have in its poverty eradication strategy a single unit that is meant to address poverty in urban areas.
The report also condemned the present situation where poverty indicators in Botswana are aggregated, ignoring the fact that conditions are not the same throughout the country.
”It is important to disaggregate existing indicators because poverty problems are regionally specific such that the level of poverty that exists in the central district would be different from that in the Kgalagadi,” said Dr Seleka’s report. He added that because of this aggregation the 30 percent poverty indicator that is quoted for Botswana might not necessarily be a true reflection because the reality is that there is some place in the country where incidence of poverty is higher.
Though the definition of poverty has been modified to accommodate factors like participation and participation in decision making, Botswana’s poverty indicators continue to concentrate on income and access to social services.” While NGO’s continue to assist in encouraging participation by the poor, it is important to establish a clear strategy that will ensure that the poor also participate in the decision making process in Botswana,” Seleka said.
At the same, time poverty indicators are dependent on data from independent sources like the poverty surveys. The report stated that most of the time data from such surveys is obsolete and irrelevant by the time it is released. Poverty surveys, for example, are carried out at 10 year intervals and then released after 3 to 5 years, such that policy established based on this data is redundant by the time of implementation because dynamics change within the long time frame.
Because of these factors, there is no data in Botswana to determine if the NSPR has in fact made progress in poverty reduction and Botswana is currently tackling poverty issues basing on past data released before the adoption of NSPR specifically the last poverty incidence survey of 2002-2003 which put the poverty head count index at 30 percent.