Sunday, October 17, 2021

Ipelegeng finds permanent home in employment surveys?

On Tuesday, Statistics Botswana released the 2015/16 Botswana Multi-Topic Household Survey which paints a picture of the current employment and unemployment situation of Botswana.

The first point to examine is the inclusion of Ipelegeng in employment statistics. Ipelegeng is a labour intensive public works program centred mainly on projects that are financed by public funds for the benefit or use of the general public. It focuses largely on repairs and improvements to public infrastructure. It started out as a social safety net that was meant to cushion the severity of unemployment but later morphed into a job creation economic sector. According to Ministry of Local Government Ipelegeng is a government programme whose main objective is to provide short term employment support and relief at the same time as carrying out essential development projects that have been identified and prioritised through the normal development process. Workers re-apply every month and are engaged based on availability of places and if applications exceed number of places, priority is given to those who didn’t have work the previous month. Regarding the subject of differentiating economic acts from non-economic activities ILO made a probing observation that; 

‘The exact boundary between economic and non-economic activities is a matter of convention, but unless a precise dividing line is drawn, the statistical

treatment of many situations encountered in practice remains ambiguous and will raise questions about the reliability of the resulting statistics.’

ILO notes that non-market economic activities include the following: Production of, and major repairs or improvements to, fixed assets for own use, such as own-account construction of dwellings, farm buildings, roads, tools and similar items which have an expected life or use of one year or more. This contrasts economic activities which are described as goods and services normally intended for sale on the market at a price that is designed to cover their costs of production. ILO also defines economically active persons as those who “contribute or are available to contribute to the production of goods and services.” From these statements it could be deduced that Ipelegeng aligns too closely to a non-market activity. Its workers could also not be considered economically active as they don’t contribute to the production of goods and services.

In addition, a 2013 BIDPA and World Bank report had suggested previously that the value derived from Ipelegeng public works does not match the cost incurred. “Of total expenditure during the last five years, 68 percent was spent on labour, 21 percent on materials, and 11 percent on overheads, which included personnel emoluments, motor vehicle fuel and maintenance, and small tools,” it had stated using estimates obtained from the 2013/14 period. The programme had absorbed 56 274 people at the time.

Data collection reference period

A second point which also needs scrutiny is whether or not Statistics Botswana should have used a short reference period to measure the current employment and unemployment situation of the economy.

‘The ILO guidelines distinguishes two measures of the economically active population being a.)  The currently active population (or labour force), measured in relation to a short reference period such as one week or one day, and b.) The usually active population, measured in relation to a long reference period such as a year.’

The survey period of the current findings was between November 2015 and November 2016 and within this period Statistics Botswana applied the period of a week to measure active population. What is worth noting is that during the one year survey period Botswana exposed its vulnerability against the global volatile market conditions to which the local economy caved in to. One noteworthy occurrence within that period that unnerved the economy was the abrupt closure of BCL which spewed over 6000 people into joblessness. BCL closed its gate on October 7, 2016. Other job losses include that of copper mining contractor Moolman Mining which cut 500 jobs and African Copper which cut 340 jobs at the end of 2015.

The bleeding of jobs from the economy during that period provides nuances that take the employment and unemployment situation out of its standard context, one that needs acute attention. ILO points out that “where significant seasonal patterns of activities or substantial labour force movements exist, the employment picture obtained for one short reference period may not be representative of other periods. In such situations, measurement should be made over a longer period of time, either by repeating or staggering the current activity measurement so as to cover the desired longer period, or by using the longer period itself as the measurement reference period.” The statement by ILO puts into the question the short reference period that Statistics Botswana applied during such a time the economy was going through repressed conditions.  

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