Saturday, May 21, 2022

Interest of the nation should take precedence when drafting policies

One thing that the Botswana government cannot be accused of is a lack of financial commitment to crop Agricultural boosting schemes. On the other hand, one can direct the backlash whip to the government over its fixation to measuring the impact of a program by the number of people it assists as opposed to determining its relevance by the desired and meaningful outcomes for which it was intended to produce. 


Experts say the Botswana Government no longer has the luxury to splurge a substantial amount of financial resources to programs that are necessary, but do not produce the desired outcomes. Its crumpling budget should be competitively allocated to programs that will yield positive and real returns. 


Generally, when a program that is intended to offer meaningful and necessary support does not produce the desired effect, it might be natural to first question its intent, but more often than not its intent is not what’s misplaced but rather the way in which the program is packaged and delivered. 


During his accounting engagement with the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Ministry of Finance and Development Planning Permanent Secretary, Solomon Sekwakwa openly admitted that the way in which government gives its assistance is largely politically motivated than results oriented.


“One of the problems is giving assistance that is not targeted because I can tell you it doesn’t give you results. We don’t target our assistance but we need to target. The problem is the way we package a scheme. Politically it’s much easier. I’m appealing to PAC, as our oversight organ, that when we make policies, it might be easier to take the easiest route but generally the quality is in the other route,” said Sekwakwa. 


When it comes to designing programs pundits argue that politicians’ interest with gaining favour with their voter population takes priority to packaging schemes that will not only maximise impact but also use financial resources efficiently, especially in the face of the growing budget constraints. It may not come as an easy admission from politicians but ‘likeonomics’, the fervent quest to be liked, has watered down the economic crust of programs which unfortunately has taken away the notion of a results based program and replaced it with the interest of how many people it covers. 


To provide evidence to the assertion that crop Agricultural boosting schemes are inappropriately packaged, this article will cite the example of ISPAAD which replaced Arable Land Development Programme (ALDEP) in 2008. ISPAAD was primarily crafted to enhance technology adoption. The recent revision of its guidelines is an admission on the part of government that it had been loosely packaged. 


“The current farming system in Botswana does not categorise farmers to their level and area of production hence farmers are assisted equally under ISPAAD. To this end farmers do not get appropriate assistance for their level of operation and production. Hence the need to categorise farmers and to package appropriate subsidies according to their level of production,” states a revised guidelines paper by the Ministry of Agriculture. 


The program requires applicants to register with the Department of Crop Production extension officer in the area, aged 18 and above with Omang identification and demonstrating proof of land availability (dully allocated or leased). 


Given the misconstrued way in which schemes are packaged a bold assertion could be made that the reason why Agriculture has failed dismally to contribute to the economy is because the schemes do not have the right tools to target and involve farmers who are not in this craft. 


According to a 2011 BIDPA working paper, “traditional system dominates crop farming and accounts for 85 percent of total cultivated area and the commercial sector accounts for the remaining 15 percent.” These figures indicate that Agriculture has a very long way to go in terms of providing food security to Botswana. Promises made in exchange for votes can no longer be the motivation behind program designs. Political economists are of the view that although, electoral promises are important to fulfil, they should not be done at the expense of a meaningful return on investment made by government. 


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