Friday, October 23, 2020

“Government is wasteful and reckless”

Nchunga Nchunga’s essay, ‘We should Audit our life styles”, calls on the government and citizens to rid themselves of the cancerous culture of waste. In his State of Nation Address in 2006, Mogae added to this clarion call. I wish to add my voice although I wish to focus more on the carefree attitudes of government managers with respect to resource utilization.

Suffice to state that some years back, when President Mogae was the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, he queried the decision of the government to procure high-value and heavy terrain suited vehicles (such as the Toyota Land Cruiser Lexus) for use by cabinet ministers. Mogae was sincerely, and rightly so, worried that this amounted to gross resource waste, more especially that the vehicles were under-utilized since they were mostly used in Gaborone and its precincts with tarred roads.

Obviously, being a lone voice, Mogae was dismissed as mad and talkative, yet a powerless and hopeless servant of an extravagant government. The practice was, as expected, retained and has since spilled over to district and urban councils that are even determined to surpass their big brother’s reckless desire for spendthrift.

In line with this mad man’s resource management style, government and its fanatic cry-babies (district and urban councils) continue to provide state of the art modern facilities across the country.

In the article I published in the Journal of Social Development in Southern Africa (2000), in reference to this planning and management style, I pointed out that, “Most projects could not be completed on time and experienced huge cost overruns.

Completed facilities become largely under-utilized and unsustainable. The infrastructure that was completed was disproportionate to the resource capacity of local communities to use and maintain”. This is too obvious and common to warrant the citation of classic examples. The preceding quote’s emphasis is that the mismanagement of the country’s resources seems to have been institutionalized.

It should be recalled that sometimes in 2006 it was revealed that Cabinet ministers were bleeding the national coffers through their ludicrous countless benefits with specific reference to the monthly allowance that is almost fifteen (15) times greater than the monthly pay of an industrial class employee. Every weekend, ministers are chauffeured to their cattle posts in official vehicles. Institutionalized fraud or entitlements? The Works and Transport Minister even bragged about her unfettered embezzlement (as a right) of public resources. As a consequence of their failure to walk their talk, the only logical thing for President Mogae and his government is to be silent on this issue, lest they invite ridicule. They certainly do not have the moral standing or divine order to give a lecture on financial management or modest living. Their calls for citizens to live modest lives spoil the case for sincere and truthful people like Mr. Nchunga.

My next proposition is that it appears that government expends huge resources to construct necessary infrastructure but does not expend the needed resources to maintain these vital facilities. Instead the government waits for the facilities to dilapidate and then attempt to take costly remedial action that normally involves substantial repair or reconstruction. All too often, there are incessant calls from members of the public and the government itself for speedy project implementation. There are hardly corresponding calls for the relevant authorities to equally focus on maintenance of existing facilities. Is this some kind of infrastructure-dominated development syndrome where the immediate concern is to provide ‘glass house’ infrastructure? I have, of course, been made aware that there is a policy on maintenance of government facilities, which prescribes preset schedules for inspections, and or maintenance of government facilities. For instance, the policy may prescribe that a certain facility may be due for periodic maintenance after, say, five years since the date it started operation. I am not particularly familiar with this policy.

But how can one justify the poor and inhabitable state of most government facilities?

Travelers or visitors who regularly use the Tlokweng Border gate would bear testimony to my assertion.

Entering into Botswana through the Tlokweng entry point, there used to be an electronic direction sign board which has since been deformed either through deliberate acts of vandalism or an accident of some sort. Like many other vital signposts that have been accidentally knocked down or vandalized, no one seems to care. As a result, entry into Botswana and subsequent attempts to drive onwards to the immigration clearance or check-in points is an absolute nightmare, especially for first time visitors. There are no road markings to act as an alternative to give directions to motorists.

Third World standards, or is it?

Public toilets on the Botswana side of the border are rarely in a satisfactory working condition.
Travelers from the Botswana side who may have an uncontrollable urge to answer the call of nature are forced to hold tight till they reach the South African side of the border where the bathrooms are always clean and inviting.

The boom gates on the Botswana side have collapsed even before they are put to efficient use.

As one enters the Tlokweng border from the Botswana side, there is a magnificent clock tower with a very impressive clock that I suppose was put up for a good cause. As is common with many of such in Gaborone, the clock has been stuck at something past ten for more than a year. It seems the authorities care not, perhaps suggesting that we are never bothered about time. Or perhaps its preset schedule for inspection and or maintenance has still to draw closer. Why put it up in the first place?

It may be that the batteries are past their life span.
Other facilities such as Kerekeng flats in Gaborone serve as clear cases of sickening waste or carelessness. Perhaps the Department of Building and Engineering Services could set the record straight so that the public may appreciate this disgusting situation. The Department is reminded that well operating facilities enhances the pride of the citizens and reflect the nature, character and attitude of the citizens to visitors. I was really embarrassed a little while ago when I had to advise a friend from South Africa to ensure that his bowels were in sober condition before we leave the South African side of the border. I had to be honest with him more specifically to be certain that he did not, under whatever circumstances, opt for our own bathrooms due to their filthy condition. How was I going to explain the situation?

Wouldn’t a visitor legitimately assume that by extension Batswana are filthy and dirty?

Sometimes due to their grimy condition, toilets are kept under lock and key.

The relevant authorities are thus called upon to review their policy on the maintenance of public facilities with a view to ensuring frequent inspections and taking immediate correctional intervention so that the facilities are always clean, safe, sanitary and, above all, convenient and attractive at all times, especially those with high public use and more likely to be used by visitors.

Government is advised to opt for preventive maintenance rather than programmed maintenance that, by and large, allows structural damages to accumulate. This, in turn, implies that the structurally defective facility will require extensive repair work to restore its original or at least operational condition. Certainly this approach to maintenance is costly and a source of humiliation for citizens as it demeans their pride.

Preventive maintenance entails regular inspections and or maintenance and ensures that the facility retains its original shape and worth.

It also helps to prolong the life of a facility. For instance, immediate replacement of worn out ceiling, floor tiles and damaged roof is necessary to pre-empt further deterioration of buildings. Preset schedules could be reserved for major effort such as large-scale refurbishment.

Over the years the Botswana government created numerous institutions with a view to strengthening the country’s democratic culture. Whereas the significance of these institutions cannot be wished away with cunning simplicity, it is my strong opinion that some of them are bleeding the national treasury, especially those whose mandate is merely advisorial. Expenditure on them seems to outweigh their actual contribution to national prosperity, public morality and probity.

On many occasions their recommendations are disregarded with impunity in a way that suggests that the institutions are a waste of public resources. They literally consume considerable resources with no visible output.

The Auditor General repeatedly complains of poor accountability in the disbursement of public monies and stores. Every year, the report on public accounts carries the same banal story indicating that very little is being done to implement the Auditor General’s recommendations.
Is it of any use then?

The Office of the Ombudsman was established to prevent mal-administration in connection with government business. The Office has on numerous occasions identified instances of improper conduct by certain persons and has made easy-to-implement but sound recommendations to remedy the situation only for it to be told off embarrassingly by the Office of the President which is expected to protect it and give it some kind of spiritual leadership. No wonder very few genuine complainants care to approach it to seek redress.
The Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime has still to convince many people that it was not clandestinely established to sniff out corrupt practices by the small man in a way that seems to legitimize corrupt practices by powerful persons. Its contribution towards preventing corruption and economic crime among the lower social strata is commendable but until it also targets or at least seen to target the rich, it will remain perceived as irrelevant, treacherous and wasteful.

The Independent Electoral Commission’s mandate to contribute towards upholding one of Botswana’s national principles, democracy, is negated by its inability to issue writs of elections. Its significance in ensuring that elections are conducted fairly is thus questionable, perhaps indicating that it was merely established to satisfy international standards. By and large, these institutions were supposed to be at the core of our democratic system but are they really providing the relief that they should? Does their functioning meets the needs and expectations of the broader society?
A wholesale review of these institutions and many others could certainly reveal that besides being part of the historical events of contemporary relevance and standard norm in a global village, posterity will remember them as wasteful opportunities.

By the way, wouldn’t it be sensible to call on the National Assembly to enact a piece of legislation that would allow the Botswana Police Service to usurp ownership of impounded road vehicles roadworthy upon expiry of the mandatory period of their retention. This will considerably increase their fleet and, by extension, facilitate timely response to urgent calls. The Police Chief has, on numerous occasions, revealed that shortage of transport is one of the major impediments to efficient and effective policing. The lawful use of proceeds from crime to fight crime by law enforcement agencies can be a justifiable undertaking.

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