The 2015/16 national budget continued to receive scathing reviews across the country as stakeholders and industry captains dismissed it as a lackluster budget that failed to address pertinent issues and provide lasting solutions to problems that are bedeviling the country.
Government one again came under fire at the Stanbic budget review session in Francistown last week as panelists accused it of failing to account to the nation and provide a conducive environment for doing business in Botswana.
The first salvo was fired by Dr Jonah Bajaki Tlhalefang, a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of Botswana, who accused government of being secretive and refusing to open up to the nation about the problems that are bedeviling the Morupule B power plant.
Dr Tlhalefang said poor project management and implementation is a major problem that has resulted in government losing millions in cost over-runs over the years. He cited the Morupule B power project as an example and implored government to open up to the nation and be honest about the troubles facing the failed power station.
“Last year, government allocated P1.5bln to Botswana Power Corporation (BPC), most of which went to maintenance and operational costs while the other was used to purchase emergency power supplies from Eskom, simply because of the failure of Morupule B. If we had done things right from the word go we wouldn’t be spending that much money. It is also my view that government needs to come out and be honest. Government owes us an explanation as taxpayers on what is really happening at that plant. There is also a need to engage the private sector and seek other avenues of resolving the crisis,” he said.
Dr Tlhalefang, who is also the Chairperson of Stanbic Bank Botswana Quarterly Economic Review, challenged government to take a leaf from neighboring South Africa, which is actively engaging the private sector to find a solution to its power problems.
The P11 bln Morupule B was meant to make Botswana a self sustainable power producer and establish the country as an exporter of power to the region. However, the project was riddled with controversy, delays and cost over runs amid allegations of corruption, shoddy work and poor project management. As the power crisis escalated, the national economy was almost crippled by power outrages, forcing the BPC to purchase emergency power supplies from South African power utility Eskom at very high prices.
Dr Tlhalefang also urged Batswana to hold government accountable its use of public resources.
“A budget is very important as it influences welfare by stimulating economic activity and changing the incentives structure. Therefore it is important for all stakeholders; civil society organizations, the media, the public, legislators, the business community, to demand timely information so that we can hold government accountable” he said. “Without scrutiny and checks and balances, government will make bad choices on unpopular or inappropriate programs. They will waste the tax payer’s money and open doors for corruption. That’s why we must demand that they account to us.”
He also said when ordinary people and businesses are informed and allowed to participate in the budgeting process they can promote efficient governance and policy.
Also speaking at the review, Chief Executive Officer of Stanbic Bank, Leina Gabaraane said although the budget speech was business as usual and well drafted, it left out pertinent issues pertaining to facilitation of the private sector.
“As the private sector we also have a role to play in growing our country’s economy, but we have long standing demands that were not addressed in the budget speech. We have a government that says it supports the private sector, but it is not fixing the basics. We need to have a flexible public sector that supports the private sector. Sadly, it continues to be difficult to do business in Botswana,” he said.
He expressed worry that Botswana continues to perform poorly in the global competitiveness index, due to the fact that it is not easy to do business in the country. He said such a predicament continues to affect the private sector’s performance and thereby the economy.
Gabaraane also said the budget failed to address issues like access to affordable finance in banks, as factors that lead to increase in cost of borrowing from banks were not adequately addressed.
“There is also a problem of work permits. For business to grow there should be new skills and Botswana like other countries across the world needs to operate in an open environment. There will always be a need for new skills to improve competitiveness. The difficulty in processing work permits is also serious concern,” he said.
In conclusion, Gabaraane said it is important for government and the private sector to closely work together to in order to grow the economy.