Saturday, October 16, 2021

Mass Unemployment, Stagnant wages, corruption……then?

It is just a matter of days before all eyes and ears turn towards Finance Minister Kenneth Matambo as he delivers the 2018/19 national budget speech. Generally the speech is expected to provide good indications of what both small, medium and big businesses can expect from economic and regulatory point of view.

To the unemployed, anything falling short by the minister of outlining tangible job creation initiatives will be mostly devastating. For the ordinary people, rural and urban dwellers likewise, they will be looking at the minister to unveil a land servicing budget that will facilitate the delivery of serviced land for not just residential but commercial and industrial purpose.

In short, Matambo is expected to announce key decisions that will affect incomes of both the public and private sectors going forward.

One ought to state though, that of late, the budget has proved to be a quiet affair. No preview talks or public debates relating to the budget. Even on the budget date, it is now norm for the minister to drone on and on while a few that i watching or listening yawn. We have reached a point where one of the fears is not only that the speech disappoint the audience but also bores them. Over the years the government budgets, which purported to deliver “jobs, growth and long-term prosperity,” did nothing of the kind. It ran short on ideas for getting the economy back to full employment. The close to 40 percent of the employable population that is unemployed bears testimony to that assertion. The question therefore is, what is the government doing to change this deplorable situation? Virtually nothing apart from minor mean-spirited tinkering if one is to give an honest answer.  The current economic situation of prolonged economic stagnation, continuing mass unemployment, and falling real wages needs a budget that will usher in a new dispensation with the capacity to solve these persistent economic problems.

Given our current economical situation, we need a budget that is filled with smart ideas for expanding the productive capacity of the economy. Perhaps one should also remind Matambo that it his or rather the government’s responsibility is to ensure that our economy keeps growing, through provision of more jobs and more money in the pockets of our own people including SMEs. While the government continues to claim to have improved quality of life for many of the citizens this country, challenges still remain, particularly in the eradication of abject poverty. The answer to much of these woes lies in the extent to which the government helps sectors such as SMEs. The budget should ensure improved citizen welfare that is not reliant on social safety nets and social programmes like Ipelegeng, which have proved to be unsustainable and expensive to administer.

We all remember that in his previous addresses, Matambo highlighted the need for government to continue providing resources for social welfare programmes such as destitution allowances, school feeding programmes and other measures aimed at the vulnerable groups in society. To be honest we are sick and tired of such lines. The truth of the matter is such programmes are only good in as far as they are stop gap measures. We continue to make the mistake to think that in any measure they can be counted as solutions to the crisis that we have at hand.

In both his inaugural speech after re-election in 2014, and a letter widely circulated to the citizenry during the run to the general elections, President Ian Khama stated that his government will make job creation a priority.

We therefore hope we are not being unfair to Khama’s minister to make a commitment related to job creation or unemployment rate reduction during the budget speech slated for Monday.

Once again our sincere plea to Matambo, as he takes the centre stage next week, is therefore that he must NOT forget to make a CLEAR announcement related to job creation.

We all know that last year and the year before last – Matambo and his predecessors have been telling us that the rate has been going up. But nonetheless everyone who has had access to political parties manifestos for the 2014 general elections can testify that the unemployment situation in the country was one of the loudest issues the politicians promised to deal with once voted. We therefore believe that the government of the day has set itself a target at which it will reduce unemployment rate at, atleast just for this year. Just in case the Minister or anyone else need a reminder of the figures, the 2013 unemployment rate among population aged 18 years and above was estimated at 19.8 percent while for persons aged 15 years and above was estimated at 20 percent.

It is therefore of paramount importance to have the minister have a line like, “The jobless rate will fall at…..% this year.” Or put better, “We expect to create… (this much) jobs this year.”

There is no need to remind Matambo that it is the government’s responsibility to ensure that the economy keeps growing, providing more jobs and more money in the pockets of its own people.

But as it stands, we all know that every year our education system churns out thousands of youth into the streets to look for jobs that are non-existent. That should get any serious government worried.

By serious government i mean one that provides a roadmap for accelerating economic growth, expanding opportunity for all Batswana, and ensuring fiscal responsibility. Such a government invests in infrastructure, job training, preschool, and pro-work tax cuts, while reducing deficits through health, tax, and immigration reform.

Perhaps another reminder to the minister could be the fact that these high levels of unemployment could result in a groundswell of anger, resentment and disillusionment among those directly affected should the problem be left un-attended.

The #Bottomline is that we need a budget that aspires to meet the needs of all of our citizens, not just those who are in the high earning notch but also for those who do not have a regular disposable income.

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