Friday, April 3, 2020

Matsheka in no hurry to end financial aid to the wealthy

At a time that Botswana is increasingly finding itself short of money, the government continues to dole out scholarships to students from rich households.

The 2020/2021 academic year begins in just five months and if the government planned to stop paying tuition for the children of multi-millionaires, it would have made such announcement by now but hasn’t. That means that upon being admitted to tertiary education institutions, students would automatically qualify for a sponsorship programme that is administered by the Department of Tertiary Education Funding. This happens five years after a poverty assessment study by the World Bank showed that on average, the rich (including the super-rich) suckle more from the teat of the state than the poor.

The richest fifth of households take 55 percent of [government] scholarships; the poorest fifth get only 7 percent. The programme grants benefits on merit rather than poverty status; however, it is important to consider the implications in terms of its contribution to greater inequality,” the Bank says.

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, “the wealthiest 20 percent are 10 times more likely to receive [this] benefit than the poorest 20 percent.”

The situation has not changed in any fundamental way and while finance minister, Dr. Thapelo Matsheka, spoke about an ongoing process to recalibrate the country’s social welfare programmes, there is clearly no hurry on the part of the government. The World Bank’s poverty assessment was done five years ago and the recommendations it made were never adopted – not by Ian Khama who was president then and certainly not by his successor, President Mokgweetsi Masisi.

The World 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 allows all active persons (including multi-millionaires) with access to arable land to benefit.

In his speech, Matsheka said that in order to harmonise social protection programmes as a means of boosting efficiencies, a National Social Protection Framework will be developed in 2020/2021 financial year.

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