Sunday, May 28, 2023

Has the 2016 Budget Placed the Economic Stimulus Programme for Us?

The 2016 national budget was delivered and is currently being debated in our National Assembly. Questions that most people had before its presentation are still being asked today including by Honourable Members of Parliament and this can only mean that the budget speech as presented did not unpack clearly what Batswana should expect and in particular where the ESP fits in the hitherto known government practices of national development planning & government’s implementation machinery and its capacity. It is these issues that I want to briefly reflect on in this piece.

Firstly, I had expected the budget to unpack in very clear terms, how the ESP is going to change the focus of our known development processes in the following areas; the percentage of increase expected above what would have normally been the budget (in the absence of the ESP). I am of the view that our planning does not and should not suddenly appear as though it has been non-existent or it is now secondary to ESP. In this regard the budget ought to have firstly spelt out how the budget itself will accommodate the ESP as a new intervention on ongoing pursuits of government. The budget should have then indicated the increased monetary value as a result of ESP, built on what would have been a normal budget, at least for us to appreciate the effects or expected shift emerging on account of the ESP. 

Secondly, I had expected the budget to address the perception or intention to drive the ESP as a mainly political programme as opposed to the tradition and culture of programmes and in particular development processes led, managed and directed from the Ministry of Finance & Development Planning, as the custodian of the nation’s development, planning, budgeting and general public financial management processes. In short how does the shift to a politically driven development planning & budgeting affect the locus & focus of power on the above processes? One would want to believe that driving ESP from the political side would have implications on the type and place of the machinery that will drive this process. It could mean that there would be more political appointees in the MFDP to give the programme political impetus and clout and thus offsetting the current and known delegated powers and authority as hitherto exercised by the expert public servants in that ministry. Inversely, it could mean creating another organ of the state which is more politically attuned to the party specific manifestos and policies and this would then have to share or subsume some of the responsibilities of the MFDP. My understanding of the presented budget is that none of the two came out as the preferred option of how to deal with the ESP.  This is the source of my confusion as it leaves one to ponder the question, if the ESP is such a big government intervention on our economy, surely its implementation must necessarily bring about certain visible changes structurally, functionally and operationally. It certainly can’t be business as usual.

The third aspect that I had hoped to hear clarity on is the impact of ESP programmes on the government’s capacity to monitor large scale projects of an accelerated nature. Let’s be reminded we have just emerged from a period where major government projects were not completed on schedule resulting in not only cost overruns but compromising the quality of these projects as completed outcomes. In part the government has been found wanting in terms of ensuring quality monitoring and adherence to standards, specifications and timelines. It is therefore important to understand if this inadequacy has been addressed such that the same machinery is now deemed capable and capacitated to efficiently and effectively manage, monitor the anticipated increased projects for timely delivery. The budget barely clarified the status of government machinery in terms of its readiness to not only handle the normal budgetary and planned load but also those projects that would be specifically coming in from the side of ESP.

Of utmost importance is not how many more projects will be allocated to local contractors and entrepreneurs but how the government machinery has been beefed up and enhanced to ensure that the outcomes of these increased projects is nothing else but quality for the improvement of citizens’ livelihoods. In the absence of a robust, efficient and effective monitoring machinery, the additional projects are going to see a serious short-changing of the public expectations and desires. Lastly it was my expectation that the budget would clearly state how the current budget and ESP relate to the National Development Plan 11. We should by now be able to see the linkages between the presented budget, the ESP and NDP 11. This is important for us as a nation to appreciate any shifts in focus, priorities and goals as maybe imposed by the ESP on both our budget and NDP 11. If the ESP only effects the accelerated aspects and not change in focus and priorities, then we should as well be able to appreciate that minimal relationship.

However, by the time you read this the ESP would have been officially launched in Machaneng village and hopefully some of the blurred areas I have discussed in here would be clarified for the nation to appreciate the short, medium and expected long-term effects of the ESP, particularly as it relates to jerking up local entrepreneurs so that they also in turn increase the visibility of the private sector such that eventually the much talked about “taking over” the lead in development of the country by the private sector becomes noticeable. This should also help us understand how ESP will re-engineer efforts towards the Public ÔÇôPrivate Partnerships, assuming that ESP is meant to have some positive effects on this front. It is just my expectations and hopefully once the ESP train gains speed we would be clearer on not only the direction but the various stop-overs and final destination as envisaged by many.              

 

*Molaodi teaches Public Administration at the University of Botswana

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