Saturday, December 3, 2022

“Doing more with less” – It’s time to walk the talk

On Monday the Minister of Finance and Development Planning Ken Matambo is going to present what easily ranks among the most difficult budget speeches ever presented by a Minister since diamonds were discovered in Botswana.

While there are hopes of a recovery, on the overall, Botswana is still reeling from the effects of a terrible economic patch, which in 2009, saw a decision taken to close down our diamond mines as a way of cutting down operations costs simply because continued diamond production did not make commercial sense as there were no buyers on the other side of the equation.

Matambo’s budget speech on Monday comes at a time when our national savings have continued to deteriorate as a result of Government’s sensible decision to use the reserves to sustain the economy instead of leaving it to collapse.

There is no question that the Minister is going to announce yet another year of deficit, made worse by a cumulative effect of national debt and an economy that is still operating far lower than its full capacity.

There used to be a time when money was not a big issue for Botswana.
That time is gone, even though we hope not for good.

While history has been very kind to us we have now to face the painful reality that as a country we can no longer enjoy the luxury of hiding our inefficiencies behind mountains of money as was the case in the past.

Our Government has always laid claim to be a custodian of prudent economic housekeeping.
We want to say that may be such claims were made too early when they were not deserved.

It is when times are as hard as they are now, when only shrewd, calculated and deliberate balancing acts can carry us through the day that the mettle of economic prowess should be displayed for all to see.

After all, the true test of the mettle of any human being is not how they handle success. Rather it is how they handle failure and difficult situations.

Thus we look ahead with keen interest just how our Government intends to handle the difficult situation they have in their hands.

We have always doubted the veracity of a claim by our Government that all the achievements the country has made since independence were almost exclusively a result of economic prudence on the part of the leadership.

We have always wondered how our leaders never found it important to mention just how large a scale has been the amount of revenue derived from diamonds over the years; so large that it tended to shield all our weaknesses in development planning and imagination.

We have always wondered just how self-serving it has been that no mention is made just how far ahead the country would have been had we been much more efficient in utilizing revenues at our disposal.

More puzzling has been a failure on our leaders to just how little headway we made in our quest to use the immense diamond revenue to diversify the economy.

As a country, we have never seriously addressed the skewed and defective structure of our economy where, in an abnormal sense, government expenditure continued to act like a performance enhancing drug without which the entire structure would not move for a day.

Our past failures to run a proper economy that is private sector driven has brought us to where we are today where the entire economy continues to rely, almost exclusively, on cumulative public spending, which, as Minister Matambo will no doubt make clear on Monday, is debt-financed.
At stake here is our long term ability to continue to be an attractive borrower, especially if recovery continues to be as sluggish and uncertain as it is.

We hope to hear Minister Matambo tell us just how we have failed to rid our business regulatory frameworks of the excessive and unnecessary red tape which undermine our competitiveness and ability to attract foreign capital and talent.

He must come up with new initiatives.
Minister Matambo has to remind us that for far too long we have been excessively casual in how we deployed the money that we had. He has to tell the nation that those are gone.

Projects were not properly monitored, Government was cheated through loopholes found in its procurement systems, there were too many cost overruns for far too many projects and, last but not least, projects were not completed on time while many more were simply never completed.
The truth of the matter is that when one looks at all these, on the balance there is no evidence of prudence.

We only managed to carry on and find our way through this haze of inefficiencies by spending our way out.

Our economy no longer has the strength to spend its way out of troubles.
Things have to be done more imaginatively and much more cost effectively.
We simply can no longer afford to be as casual as we used to be.

Our contention has been that while it could not be contested that our forefathers made it a part of their vision not to loot the national treasury, the sheer size of money derived from diamond sales was also so high that, with so much revenue at their disposal, anybody, no matter how unimaginative, could still have managed to achieve that which our Government has done over the years.

Having squandered our opportunities to diversify our economy, we now are faced with a situation where we have to rely on productivity and organic efficiencies to run an economy that had grown addicted to running on diamonds money.

For the last three years, our Government has been singing the mantra of doing more with less.
Now this is the time to walk the talk!

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