Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Kwelagobe lauds welfare state that World Bank says is regressive, should be ended

When the academic year starts next month and amid a crippled economy, the Department of Tertiary Education Financing will, as it has for the past several decades, pay tuition for children of multi-millionaires. Former cabinet minister, Daniel Kwelagobe sees this generosity as progress, the World Bank says it is regressive.

Kwelagobe expressed this view last Thursday at the Gaborone version of the Sir Seretse Khama Centenary Celebrations. Kwelagobe had a lot of wonderful things to say about a man who made him president when he was only 26 years. One was that, on the basis of foundation laid by Khama, Botswana is now the largest and most generous welfare state in Africa.

Botswana’s social protection system has three major categories: social insurance, social assistance or safety nets, and active labour market programmes. In the social safety net category are scholarships and sponsorships which support students in tertiary education, accounting for 1.4 percent of GDP and nearly half (45.3 percent) of total social-assistance spending. With Botswana’s tertiary education gross enrollment rate itself being low for a middle-income country, the overall programme coverage is small, with only 1.4 percent of the population living in recipient households.

However, a poverty study by the World Bank shows how poorly designed Botswana’s social protection system is. According to this study, “the richest fifth of households take 55 percent of [government] scholarships; the poorest fifth get only 7 percent.” This serves to widen wealth and income inequality. The Bank found that almost 40 percent ofpeople in the richest 20 percent quintile receive some form of government aid. One such is the Integrated Support Programme for Arable Agriculture Development (ISPAAD) which was introduced by Khama in 2008 to support and develop the agriculture sector. A poverty and social impact analysis of ISPAAD by the UNDP-UNEP Poverty-Environment Initiative (PEI) Botswana has found that the programme was not means-tested but was instead made universally accessible. Its eligibility criteria allow all active persons (including multi-millionaires) with access to arable land to benefit.

In the 2020/2021 budget, former finance minister, Dr. Thapelo Matsheka, said that in order to harmonise social protection programmes as a means of boosting efficiencies, a National Social Protection Framework would be developed.

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