Monday, September 28, 2020

Khama’s ESP under scrutiny

BY BONNIE MODIAKGOTLA

The Botswana government is currently making an assessment of the Economic Stimulus Programme (ESP), three years after making the spontaneous multi-billion-pula expenditure.

Unlike government projects funded from the government budget, the ESP was the first of its kind for the usually prudent country when out of the blue, Ian Khama, then president in 2016 announced the over P2 billion ESP, purported as a government initiative to boosting the economy through accelerated job creation and citizen empowerment using the Economic Diversification Drive (EDD).

After his impromptu declaration of ESP, the finance ministry was taken aback by the announcement but eventually found a way to sneak it in the 2016/2017 budget by stating that the ESP will be used to eradicate backlog of projects. The ministry did not include the ESP financial budget at the time. However, the owner of the ESP idea, former President Khama during the State of the Nation Address 2017 said the ESP was allocated a budget of P2.2 billion.

With the programme coming to an end in March 2019, Nonofo Molefhi, minister for Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration, said as of January 2019, a total of 6668 projects have been planned under ESP, with about 5, 000 of the projects awarded to contractors. Of the awarded projects, only 68 percent have been completed while rest are still ongoing.

“Due to some implementation challenges, a total of 1623 projects have not yet started. A total number of 990 contractors have been engaged over the duration of ESP with a cumulative contract sum of P6.9 billion and a total cumulative expenditure of P3.7 billion,” the minister said on Monday in parliament.

It appears the ESP has not only surpassed its initial budget, but will continue to gobble more funds. The ministries for the whole of March will be appearing before parliament to seek approval for their respective budgets, and by the look of things, they will be seeking more funds for ESP projects.

The ministry of Basic Education this week requested about P542 million for its ESP projects: P143 million for construction of staff houses, P183 million junior schools’ maintenance programme, and P216 million for expansion of six junior secondary schools. Meanwhile, the ministry of Local Government and Rural Development said it’s on the third phase of its ESP programme, and as of January this year, about 46 projects were at various stages of progress and 52 are at procurement levels.

Still, Molefhi said the impact of the programme has been achieved through promoting citizen empowerment in the construction and manufacturing sector, contributing significantly to stimulation of the economy and employment creation. The minister says the ESP has created about 27, 299 jobs at the last count in November 2018.

However, some observers have berated the ESP as a failed programme, and a cesspool of corruption. With the bulk of ESP funds spent on construction, there has been reports of cost overruns and outright corruption. In fact, a year later after the programme was rolled out, the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crimes (DCEC) revealed that it was probing shenanigans surrounding the ESP.

While there is yet to be a complete and comprehensive review of the ESP, Molefhi says they are currently assessing the impact of the programme in achieving the objectives as well as compiling lessons learnt in the implementation of ESP, which will be used to improve projects implementation and improved service delivery.

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