Sunday, April 18, 2021

Just how sustainable is Botswana’s civil service?

As the strike action by the civil servants comes to an end, the nation should start reflecting on difficult questions ahead.

Save for a few reported misdemeanors here and there, the 10-day strike was carried out with a level of maturity and decorum that is almost irreproachable.

We want to recognize the trade union leadership who did all in their power to ensure that during this volatile time, there were no incidents of violence, vandalism and or general lawlessness.
Controlling crowds as big as those that we witnessed across the country, especially in major centers where the public service has sizeable numbers, is never easy.

As we know, when people gather in large numbers, it is often easy to be infiltrated by elements with totally ulterior motives from those of the mainstream.

Not only that, it is not always easy to control large crowds, especially when emotions are as high as when people want salary increases, when there are provocative side remarks as those that were made by some of our leaders towards the striking workers over the last two weeks.

Having paid homage to the workers for demonstrating such high levels of maturity, we now wish to ponder on the issues, which somehow escaped the public’s attention for the duration of the strike, even as to us they are at the heart of the matter.

Chief among those issues is the size of the civil service.

Since the early days of Festus Mogae’s administration, it was always a fact of life, well known to Government that the size of the country’s civil service was too big.

The reason why we have been able to sustain the big payroll that comes with the size of such a civil service has been, to no small measure, a result of the high profitability of the mineral sector, especially the diamond mining.

We welcome the debate started by President Ian Khama last year when addressing the private sector in Francistown where he talked about the need for evaluate the true reasons why Botswana has been unable to diversify the economy and also why despite all attempts to build a strong private sector, there is not much to show for it.

The structure of Botswana’s economy is such that Government sprawls every sector of the economy.
Recent figures indicate that a disproportionately high ration of the country’s budget goes towards honourimng the wage bill of the public service.

As if that is not enough all indications are that, at least for a foreseeable future, the size will continue to grow, given that there are still unfilled vacancies for which Government continues to invite applications or continue to fill.

The size of the Botswana civil is service is too large.

It is a known fact that the country’s diamond resources, which have for a long time been at the centre of generating money to finance this disproportionately large institution, are diminishing.
It is also a known fact that in the medium to long terms it would no longer be possible to carry on with this monstrous size of an institution unless steps are taken as early as now when there still are resources to talk about to institute reforms, which by the look of things are not only going to be socially painful but also likely to leave on their trail indelible political ramifications.

Continuing to increase the size of the civil service, against dwindling resource base when such institutions, like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, have already indicated that we are sitting on a time bomb, is not only irresponsible but suicidal.

In fact, other than sustaining a large civil service, purely for political reasons, it would be wiser that such money, which wholly goes towards footing a bludgeoning wage bill, could be diverted to such causes like fighting HIV/AIDS, itself a huge, financially draining course, which has lately come under fierce stress as a result of the same resource constraint that we are now talking about.
Politically speaking, it is always tactical and strategic.

Popular as he is, President Khama is now damaged goods.

For the remainder of his tenure he is going to be negotiating and meandering what no doubt is going to be a field littered with deadly political landmines that threaten his very survival as a politician.
From the look of things, he is a man now more concerned about his legacy than by implementing what he had set out as his roadmap, which, among other things, included delivery.

Ways have to be found to cut down the civil service.

It is our hope that such a reform will be carried hand in hand with a steadfast move towards implementing the long stalled privatisation process, which, in our view, if properly carried out, has the potential to fill in the void in as far as sustainable employment is concerned.
We simply cannot continue looking at the government like it is employment bureau with infinite resources when all evidence points to the fact.

It is true that there used to be a time, not so long ago, when money was not an issue for the Government of Botswana.

That era is gone, and from the look of things, likely for good.

Political authorities have to set expediency aside, bite the bullet, and be forthright with trade unions by pointing out to them that increasing salaries under the current size of the civil service is not an option.

With that in mind, concerted measures have to be taken to cut the current size of the civil service.
We hope that, as evaluations are made of the just ended strike action, all options, going forward, including reducing the size of the civil service, will be on the table.

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