Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Gov’t should not use the strike as excuse to reduce the public service

After a long season of darkness, punctuated by bad faith, misinformation, disinformation and outright lies that were so much a character of relations between Government and trade unions during the public servants strike, there is some ray of hope that Botswana may at long last emerge from the cloud.

Let us make no mistakes, even if the strike was to come to an end today it will be a long time before the economy recovers to pre-strike levels, if at all. It will be a long time before the backlog of services and production accumulated as a result of the strike are fully dispensed with.

Most crucially it will take even longer before the wounds created by a collapse in relations and trust as a result of the strike are re-established. Although the strike is not yet over, at least not officially, there are hints, especially from the Government side that the strike has provided an opportunity to cut down the size of the public service.

While our opinion has always been that the size of the public service was too big, and the wage bill unsustainable, we take serious exception where now Government wants to use stealth tactics to implement a public policy that they had always lacked the confidence and presence of mind to implement even as all available evidence has always pointed it had to be.

If cutting down the size of the public service becomes a Government policy, such a policy should be clearly pronounced, with very clear policy objectives and implemented transparently. Over the weekend Government released a section of the report by the International Monetary Fund. To be honest there is nothing new in this latest report. As the ones before it, the report calls on Government to take care of the public service, which is said to be bloated.

The report makes it clear that at P12 billion, the public wage bill is unsustainable. It would in our opinion be very interesting to know what IMF thinks of such fancy projects like Ipelegeng. It would be informative to know the opinion of IMF on such things like the constituency league.
Talking about IMF, it would also be instructive to know what key institutions like the Bank of Botswana think of such projects. The half-heartedness and gun shyness showed by Botswana Government in dealing with the size of the public service has also been repeated in another quarter.

While in public the Government say they support privatization, in reality they have been doing the opposite. Instead of coming up with a law to drive privatization, Government has opted a piecemeal approach of trying to drive such a complex undertaking through a policy. That cannot be right.
We call on Government to introduce reforms now when there is still room available for flexibility, when there is still room for maneuver and when the Government can still afford the rare luxury of trying out many options and alternatives.

Once the economy collapses and Botswana Government runs out of options, it is the same IMF that is the first to move in with a stick, literally shouting down orders of what to do, when to do it and at what speed. Such has happened elsewhere. The ruthlessness of such establishments like IMF, especially when it is their money driving reforms is legendary. IMF is used to administering painful austerity measures and if we are careful it is to the same poisoned well where as a country we are headed.

RELATED STORIES

Read this week's paper