Thursday, July 9, 2020

Our economy needs less babbling and more work

The counting of days of Mokgweetsi Masisi’s presidency and legacy continues. Masisi has to date clocked about 18 months as stop-gap president and now almost three full months as elected president. This makes a total of over 20 months whilst he has been occupying the most powerful office in the land. Other things held constant, this says there got to be something tangible or atleast visible that the President and his team can point out to and say, “this is our key achievement thus far”.

To date it has become very clear that no matter what the media, active/retired politicians, and academics might suggest—and no matter how vehemently they might express themselves—there are no short cuts to economic growth and prosperity for all.

In our view, by now the President Masisi should have made major policy changes that will ensure that the country’s threesome problems – joblessness, landlessness and lack of business opportunities for the locals do not become an everyday song.

While President Masisi cannot control how fast the economy grows, he has more influence over how the growth, even if it is little is divided. The final outcome of his decision as supported by cabinet will be shown by the gap between the Haves and Have-not. A rhetoric question could be – is the gap between the rich and the poor in this country growing or being reduced?

While all look for statistics relating to income and wealth inequality, we wish to state that the President Masisi probably cannot do much, for example, to bring back jobs that were lost over the past decade but we put it to him and his cabinet that they can put up initiatives that can ensure new jobs. They can also initiate a new debate on minimum wage vs. living wage and ultimately ensure that the country’s biggest retailers and other employers who hide behind the law of minimum wage to pay peanuts to the already impoverished Batswana bring that to an end. Yes, the President and his cabinet can see to it that thousands of citizens of this country who have been waitlisted at various land boards and authorities for over three decades finally get a piece of residential land to build own houses.

Let’s not kid ourselves, the change of personnel at government enclave will not on its own bring bread to a lot of tables. We should also be honest to ourselves and remind ourselves that praising the problems that are before us will also not bring any bread to the many of our tables. What we need is to stop talking about these problems and do something about it. Now is the time to turn the talk into action. We cannot be a progressive nation if we are going to spend half of the time talking about the problems and not implementing any strategy that will bring such problems to an end.

The truth of the matter is that persistent economic inequality and a geographically uneven recovery have left many Batswana deeply frustrated.

As numbers would show, our country’s declining fiscal and economic space can be traced back to the global economic crisis of 2008, and the Ian Khama presidency which gained traction at around that time. Under Khama, Botswana experienced the erosion of democracy and declining economic fortunes, and a rise of authoritarian leanings and patronage-driven elitism. It will take a herculean effort and many years to recover from this disastrous decade presidency during which millions if not billions of Pulas were siphoned by some powerful individuals from the public coffers.

The country’s 2020 Budget Strategy Paper published in October 2019 confirmed yet again that the country is in deep trouble, and sadly it looks like the situation will only get worse as the last embers of “Masisi wa re bitsa” fizzle out. The only positive way out is to put our words into action.

As stated above, the 2020 Budget Strategy Paper paints a bleak picture: Stubborn deficit (largely driven by decline in revenue and increase in public expenditure including public wages, ntlole…. etc). This tells us one thing. We need imaginative leaders.  The kind of leaders who can be selfish enough to protect their own people through economic reforms. To reform entails turning the inevitability of change in the direction of progress. To reform is to improve the life of every citizen of this country, more especially indigenous Batswana. 

Fresh thinking is certainly required from government policymakers precisely those at the Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industry. This is one ministry that houses key institutions such as CEDA, BITC, LEA and BDC that can help create wealth for our people. 

President Masisi and his cabinet should bear in mind that they can harness the energy of the people of this country either towards constructive work to generate optimism and hope by providing basic services efficiently (That means less talk and more action) or towards tensions and unrest by failing to provide the basics such as land, jobs and business opportunities. The #Bottomline is that is that Batswana cannot eat hope but if we put some action to the promises that were made over the several past months then maybe even GDP growth can be worth celebrating.

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Sunday Standard July 5 – 11

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of July 5 - 11, 2020.