Monday, September 21, 2020

Ministry of Finance should shed its image of an agent of regression

Traditionally, the Ministry of Finance in Botswana has enjoyed greater prestige than other ministries.
This emanates from its role as a coordinating ministry.

But it also has a lot to do with the fact that immediately after independence this ministry was led by Ketumile Masire who was Vice President at the time.

The founding President, Sir Seretse Khama, effectively left all the domestic policy, including the macroeconomic direction of the country to his trusted friend and political ally, Masire.

Naturally, Masire became a very powerful figure and his power also washed onto the officials with whom he surrounded himself at the time, so much so that some of them began to see themselves also as being vice presidents like their political master.

The truth of the matter is that the civil service was very small and it made sense that the best brains that the country had at the time, in addition to those seconded from overseas, had to be concentrated at this ministry, the hope being that they could direct the country from there by effectively running other ministries by proxy.
As the years rolled on, former individuals who traced their roots from the Ministry of Finance became influential figures in Botswana’s political economy.

The ministry has been an operations centre to at least three Vice Presidents since independence: Masire, Peter Mmusi and Festus Mogae.

Masire and Mogae went on to become State Presidents.

In addition to those, the ministry has, over the years, produced a plethora of names that went on in their later years to wield significant power in Botswana’s political economy.

Other than the three mentioned above, these included the current Minister of Finance, Baledzi Gaolathe, the current Minister of Minerals, Ponatshego Kedikilwe, former governor of the Bank of Botswana, Quill Hermans, the current MD of BDC, Ken Matambo, and many, many others.

Clearly, this has been a very powerful ministry, playing a very crucial and central role in Botswana’s path to economic development.

But it looks like as its power grew with the size of the economy over the years, the ministry somehow over indulged and got drunk with that power so much so instead of acting as a facilitator, that it was created to be, it now started not only blocking progress but also bullying the other less prestigious ministries.

Because of their power, the ministry officials over the years insisted on things being done only their way and would not entertain or listen to alternative opinions from other ministries.

This was in disregard to the fact that not only had the civil service grown in size, but also in technical expertise, meaning that good brains were no longer the exclusive feature of the Ministry of Finance.

Other ministries were now with officials just as able as those found at the Ministry of Finance.

This brings us to the issue of how the Ministry of finance treats other ministries and also its supposed claim to exclusive wisdom on matters pertaining to where this country should go economically.

For many years now, there have been complaints, and advice from many quarters that there has to be a change of mindset in how the economy of Botswana operates.

But in its now traditional contempt for other opinions, the Ministry of Finance has clung to its philosophy of “my way or the highway.”

This ministry has effectively become an instrument not of positive change but that of regression because they do not want to move with the time.
They do not want to view other ministries as equals, but rather as subordinates whose very thinking should be controlled by it.

Which is why even on this day they still do not think other ministries have the capacity to manage own budgets as approved by parliament.

Change, however, will be difficult as long as this ministry enjoys its ancient prestige, further increased by the patronage from its former officials like the state president and a good number of influential figures that are in cabinet, and the private sector.

It is up to Members of Parliament to insist that power be decentralised from the ministry of finance to other ministries.

The country has been held at ransom by the Finance ministry’s nostalgia and love for old for far too long.

Even the way the national budget is crafted has to change.

The story that we run elsewhere in this paper by Member of Parliament Guma Moyo is very informative.

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