Monday, December 11, 2023

It’s time to reclaim the economy from the so called experts

Albert Camus once wrote, “Each generation doubtless feels called upon to reform the world. Mine knows that it will not reform it, but its task is perhaps even greater. It consists in preventing the world from destroying itself”.

This quote should remind us of the fact that it is during times of economical crisis ÔÇô when individuals, families, classes and whole section of society are torn up and reconfigured. That is, it has become so clear just how interconnected our individual circumstances are with either domestic or worldwide economy.  At their time, Albert Camus’s generation had to prevent the world from destroying itself in nuclear war. Our generation has a huge task of reclaiming economic from the so called experts and transform it from a technical discipline into a public dialogue. As far as we concerned, economic is for everyone. Precisely because it affect everyone. Economics is not about numbers that Finance Minister Kenneth Matambo always “shines” with during the budget speech parliament sittings. We need to remind our people that although economics is generally described in the language of mathematics, measurements, graphs and percentages, which are normally adjusted to things that ordinary Batswana cannot easily understand, such things, as inflation, are usually just a convention. Economics is about human behaviour. Numbers are merely a way of expressing how much cereal we have harvested or this year or whether we have shifted away from beef to donkey meat.

In Botswana of today, we are at a point where we need to take heed of Adam Smith’s warnings about unchecked corporate power backed by the state. Take for example of what is alleged to be ongoing at some of the state owned entities (SOEs). Another example, although it is largely across the border, is that of a world leading audit firm, KPMG. The giant audit firm’s past big mistakes are threatening one of the oldest profession ÔÇô auditing. All these are partly due to neglect by ordinary man, who left everything in the hands of the so called experts.

In Botswana, if it’s not institutionalised corruption, it is negligence or ignorance. This is why it is important that we consider democratising economics so that in the end we have an increased participation by members of the public in decision making.

As we speak, we have been told of how global copper nickel prices have been on the rise, yet our so called experts have long closed the state owned copper mine in Selebi Phikwe. The poor people who made a living as a result of the existence of the BCL mine were left with no option but to take everything up that was said by the government crew that visited Selebi Phikwe in October 2016 to announce the closure. Imagine what would have happened if a large number of Batswana were able to engage with the so called economic experts and politicians as equals ÔÇô scrutinising their decision to close down the mine and holding them accountable for the financial mismanagement that was reported at BCL Mine.

The BCL story and others such as the Palapye Glass Project, SSKA, Morupule B, and Maun Bus Rank amongst others should leave us feel uncomfortable. Although to a larger extend the financial mismanagement and by extension “economic wastage” that we have witnessed in this country is as a result of selfishness and greediness of some politicians, we could also partly blame it on the absence of citizen participation. In the absence of an active citizen, mega projects funded by public money have either been left unfinished while others are of sub standard quality yet nobody is liable. The absence of an active citizen means no one questions anything ÔÇô there is no ‘accountability’ or call for it.

It is worthy noting that although there is sizeable populace that is learned and chose to care less about such national issues, there are those who totally clueless on what’s going on. Often than not, we find our elites conducting public discussions about economic and developmental plans, (NDP 11, ESP) in a language that excludes the majority. This is bad because real choices require an understanding of the options available and this is difficult when the so called experts are obscured by the jargon of economics.

The #Bottomline is that without being able to speak economics, it hard to have our people to raise a meaningful voice on key decisions that are being made. Yet it is the same people who are supposed to reclaim their economy from the elites, politicians and the so called economic experts who, precisely are supposed to be a bridge not a barrier to increasing public participation in economic discussions.


Read this week's paper