Public works program, Ipelegeng appears, over the last six years, to have gained a domineering role in the country’s economy in terms of its absorption capacity to those seeking employment.
This is in contrast to the ‘traditional’ sectors of the economy which prior to its inclusion in employment figures had been taking up people looking for jobs. The comparison excludes the private, parastatal and central government sectors.
Latest jobs figures shared by the government statistics agency, Statistics Botswana (SB) through a survey for the period running from March 2011 to March 2017 shows that the controversial programme grew at a stunning 46.2 percent. The survey figures show that Ipelegeng sopped up 43,651 people in March 2011 to 63,836 by March 2017.
The SB data shows that as at March 2017 Ipelegeng had 63,836 paid employees. Despite Ipelegeng overtaking sectors as Agriculture, Mining and Quarrying, Construction and wholesale and Retail Trade to mention but a few, the wages/income earned under it seems to undermine its perceived benefit. Ipelegeng workers earn far less than the minimum wage set under these sectors which within the context of formal employment definitions suggests underemployment. This speaks to people engaging in some economic activity in order to survive, however little or inadequate its wages may be. Ipelegeng in that regard could be considered a hand to mouth source of living.
Sectors such as Agriculture, construction and Wholesale and Retail trade are generally labor intensive and as such tend to absorb a sizeable number of employees. Compared to Ipelegeng however, these sectors fall short to the sponging up characteristic of this public works program. Even the national address by President Ian Khama made reference to the rate at which people have been taken up by the programme. “Over the course of the last decade, the Ipelegeng programme has provided temporary relief to vulnerable groups amongst rural and urban communities through labour intensive public works providing short-term employment to over 60,000 people on a monthly basis,” read President Khama in his address.
What might perhaps be considered an irony to Ipelegeng dominating the country’s formal employment is that it suggests that the group of people to which it is targeted to, being vulnerable people in rural and peri-urban communities, are the most active in seeking employment. It could also suggest that unlike the traditional economic sectors it offers more opportunities of work, indicating a stagnancy of job growth in other sectors. Ipelegeng focuses largely on repairs and improvements to public infrastructure, which means that maintenance of existing infrastructure creates the need for employment as opposed to actual and new jobs being created.
Statistics Botswana figures also indicates that employment in most industries remained constant except mining and quarrying and construction which recorded declines of 11.1 and 0.3 percent respectively. Electricity & Water industry and Health recorded the highest growth with 3.4 percent and 1.6 percent respectively, followed by Other Community with 1.2 percent increment in employment. This refers to the period between December 2016 and March 2017.