Thursday, December 3, 2020

“Ntlole” bites back…

Finance Minister – Thapelo Matsheka this week had no option but to face legislatures with a desperate request – seek for additional funds to pay for the salaries of civil servants mainly that of discipline forces. Matsheka however got an egg on his face as legislatures threw the P1 billion request out of the parliament window.

The wage increase for members of Police, BDF and Prisons, locally referred to as “Ntlole” was done out of the normal budget process thus forcing Matsheka to request additional funds from government’s development budget.

The government said in mid 2019 that the decision to rationalise salary structures for members of the disciplined forces in April 2019 was meant to address discrepancies in the pay structures of the Botswana Defence Force, Botswana Police Service and Botswana Prisons Services.

The then Minister of Defence, Justice and Security – Shaw Kgathi told Parliament that the net effect of the rationalisation exercise was to move the entry levels of members of the disciplined forces such as privates, warders and constables from B3 to B1 scale.

In Matsheka’s original plan, which was shunned by Parliament on Thursday, Ntlole funds were to be diverted from “slow spending” projects under the ministry of land management, water & sanitation services.

Matsheka said that the ministry would not fully utilise its approved budget for the year and as such he considered it prudent to reallocate the unspent budget balances rather than seek additional funds from the consolidated funds.

Tapping from the consolidated Fund, Matsheka said, is bound to increase Botswana’s projected fiscal deficit. The Government Budget Strategy Paper published in October 2019 points to a deficit, contrary to one of the National Development Plan – NDP 11’s fiscal objective of maintaining modest surpluses in the second half of the Plan period.

Botswana’s 2019/20 fiscal deficit forecast has been revised upwards to 3.8 percent of gross domestic product from 3.5 percent, as revenue growth slows against rising expenditure commitments.

Since the beginning of NDP 11 in 2017/2018, the country has been recording budget deficits; P1.98 billion in Financial Year 2017/2018; P6.35 billion anticipated in Financial Year 2018/2019; P7.79 billion estimated for Financial Year 2019/2020; and P6.94 billion forecast for Financial Year 2020/2021.

Apartr from defence ministry, three others – Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration (MPAGPA), Basic Education(MoBE) and Local Government and Rural Development (MLGRD) were to benefit from the P1 billion request. MPAGPA was to receive funding of P12 million, MoBE P71 million, MLGRD P260 million and MDJS P757 million respectively.

In his earlier presentation on Wednesday Minister Matsheka said “the Supplementary Estimates of Expenditure contained in this Financial Paper were prepared pursuant to the authority conferred upon the minister responsible for finance by Section 119 (3) (a) of the Constitution and the requirements of the Presidential Directive CAB.1/99 which provides guidance for assessing requests for Supplementary Budget Estimates.”

The Presidential Directive CAB.1/99 stipulates that only Supplementary Budget requests that arose from emergencies or were not foreseen qualify under this dispensation.

The Leader of Opposition in Parliament – Dumelang Saleshando differed with the minister and said “Part of the problem is the famous “Ntlole”. It simply means what the minister of finance is telling Parliament is that the President went from military camp to another announcing an increment that the minister of finance had not foreseen.”

“When we go through these terms, the biggest difficulty I have is that it cannot be correct that most of these items where unforeseen. Surely government knew they ought to be an adjustment of salaries and provisions should have been made. If you are going to tell us it’s possible to do that, it simply means that supplementary will be a consistent feature. When they are supposed to be more the exception than the norm.”

“It clearly violates the Presidential directive cab 1/99 because there is no way we can say these things were unforeseen. The reality is that at the end of the financial year we were going to have unspent balances under the recurrent budget exceeding the amount being requested today,” Saleshando said.

By Thursday afternoon Matsheka acceded to the withdrawal calls after further consultation at the General Assembly.

“Despite the fact that my request was legal and in compliance with our financial prudence I have decided to reconsider the matter and withdraw the motion,” Matsheka said.

RELATED STORIES

Read this week's paper

The Telegraph December 2

Digital edition of The Telegraph, December 2, 2020.