Wednesday, October 27, 2021

‘Beautiful’ CEE document just a litany of ‘broken promises’

Who in this country will fix the broken promises contained in the CEE policy? 

There is a “beautiful” black and white document sitting somewhere in the cabinets of the Government Enclave, the Ministry of Trade and Investment to be precise. The printed out policy document, which has probably gathered dust by now is known as the Citizen Economic Empowerment (CEE). 

The promises contained in it are precious but the failure to deliver them has only resulted in them being “broken promises”. This failure could perhaps be explained by the fact that despite numerous call we have made over the years, its makers have refused to turn it into a law. Maybe that was or is being used as the scapegoat by the powers that be. 

Our CEE policy has close to 10 key pointers or indicators that also allow us to measure the progress made regarding its implementation. In this commentary we look at some of them which include, i) Ownership of land & property by citizenship, (ii) Ownership of business by citizenship, (iii) Reduction in unemployment by citizenship, (iv) share of GDP attributable to private sector … etc. The list is not as long but those are some of the eye catching key pointers in the “beautiful” CEE. 

Top of the list in the CEE is the land allocation and ownership by the citizenry. We have lost the number of times that we have written in this space that unavailability of serviced land is no doubt impeding the country’s economic development. The delivery of serviced land is one of the major challenges that this country continues to face. There appears to be no solution for the problem in sight. 

Do not be fooled by the recent land polices and laws. Scores of Batswana have been on the waiting lists of the Land Boards, Department of Lands and other government agencies charged with the responsibility to deliver residential, industrial and commercial plots for far too many decades now. Some people applied for residential plots more than 20 years ago and are to date still waiting to be allocated plots. 

The problem is not only rampant at the land boards. It is spread across all the sectors that are responsible for the delivery of serviced land. The question therefore becomes, who in this country can step up and fix this broken promise of “ownership of land and property by citizenship” as stated in our CEE policy? 

A track record on the implementation of the CEE shows that the idea of introducing a policy on empowering citizens was adopted more than 10 years ago and ultimately brought to Parliament in 2012.

A review of the ownership of companies doing business with government between 2004 and 2006 indicated that while the majority of tenders awarded went to citizen owned companies, the value of tenders awarded to Batswana owned businesses was less compared to that of non-citizen owned companies doing business with government. 

This points us to another key indicator which speaks on ownership of business by citizenship. The decision by the government not to give Batswana “business” as seen in the case of private media which has been hit with advertising ban can only results in closure of some of the citizen owned businesses. A sizeable number of news outlets closed shop in the past few years whilst those that survived are operating below capacity. 

That is just a study case of what happens in other sectors of the economy that citizens wishes to participate in. Dear reader, as you might be aware, in January 2007, our government undertook a review of citizen economic empowerment programmes with a view to formulating a comprehensive citizen economic empowerment policy and strategy for Botswana.

However, available records show that although various initiatives contributed towards business development in the country, generally citizen participation in major economic activities and opportunities is not significant, which economic experts says is not a good indicator for sustainable economic development. Do we perhaps need someone to step up and fix this particular “broken promise” as well? 

One other key indicator of the CEE policy points out the need to have tertiary education output by citizenship that is linked to requirements of the economy. Do we have such? Whilst we wait for someone to set up and fix what appears to be another “broken promise” we ought to note that any government that is serious about empowering its people does not simply educate them; it educates them predominately in fields critical to contemporary economic needs. 

Had we followed suggestions made by the now late Patrick van Rensburg (MHSRP), maybe, just maybe our educational system could have been tailored to drill our college students with skills that can enable them to make a living on their own even if they are not formally employed. As it stands, thousands of our youth are on the streets with no jobs or ideas on how to make a living. That’s another “broken promise” that needs to be fixed ÔÇô “Reduction in unemployment by the citizenship”. 

The list of the “broken promises” that needs to be fixed is endless. It’s been a while now that the government or policy/law makers have been urged to come up with a definite law on citizen economic empowerment because the current status quo puts the population at a disadvantage while unscrupulous foreigners capitalise on the prevailing environment. Passing the test of standards and requirements, foreign owned companies are free to set up business in the country, thereby suffocating struggling locally owned businesses with their excessive funds and abundant resources.

The #Bottomline is that Botswana has the potential to economically empower its citizens, especially since it remains a big tourism player and is in the process of privatising some of the State Owned Entities (SOEs). Ideally, when government divests from state-owned companies, it is citizens who assume control of them and become millionaires, unless the decision makers are as greedy as they appear to be. 

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