In an alternative reality where Botswana had a Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO), the latter would have provided independent analysis of the economic stimulus package, Ipelegeng, Youth Empowerment Scheme, Constituency Fund, Constituency Football League and many other government programmes.
For some time now, the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) has been proposing the establishment of a PBO styled after the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) in the United States. A recent development in the US has provided an opportunity for UDC to demonstrate the effectiveness of the CBO. The new US president, Donald Trump, plans to “repeal and replace” his predecessor’s Affordable Healthcare Act (colloquially called Obama Care) with his own American Health Care Act ÔÇô “Trump Care” as it were.
As it did with Obama Care, the CBO undertook thorough analysis of Trump Care and last week produced an estimate of its budgetary effects. In terms of this analysis, some 14 million more people would be uninsured next year under the legislation than under current law; enacting the legislation would reduce federal deficits by $337 billion over the 2017-2026 period; the increase in the number of uninsured people relative to the number under current law would rise to 21 million in 2020 and then to 24 million in 2026; and, in 2018 and 2019, average premiums for single policyholders in the one market would be 15 percent to 20 percent higher than under current law.
The UDC’s Vice President, Ndaba Gaolathe, points to the release of this particular report as “a pristine example” of having a budget office that would analyse a programme with surgical precision.
“Whereas the Trump Administration had made the public claim that their plan is destined to reduce medical insurance premiums, and possibly even extend universal coverage, the report suggests the opposite,” he says.
He adds that this analysis informs not only senators but the public as well and puts pressure on the White House to revise its health policy in a way that would yield more positive outcomes.
“Without the CBO, the White House would likely have been more aggressive about pushing its plans with no real pressure to refine it towards more positive outcomes. The United States is so serious about the effectiveness of their system of government and the separation of powers that objective decision-making facilitated by organs such as the CBO has become a vital cog in the functioning of the American democratic process,” says Gaolathe who is the Gaborone Bonnington South MP.
Bringing his argument closer to home, he says that the CBO process would significantly change the way the Botswana parliament goes about its work.
“Take the example of the economic stimulus package. The Budget Office would have provided an independent analysis of envisaged jobs, incomes, poverty, inequality and the economy. This analysis would have informed Parliament on whether it was worth spending as much money for the expected benefit. An independent analysis makes it difficult for the executive branch of government to conceal facts. It also makes the budgetary process more objective where it is not a contest of mere opinion between one political party against another. Such an environment of independent impact analysis means that the CBO/PBO could also consider the alternative budget or policy posture of the UDC and provide an independent projection of cost, jobs and income,” Gaolathe says.
He adds that such process would allow the public to make a fairer if not more informed assessment of their government and other public representatives. In the final analysis, the process makes it difficult for the government of the day (which could be UDC) “to mislead or exaggerate the veracity of their own ideas or plans.”
Established in 1975, the non-partisan CBO produces independent analyses of budgetary and economic issues to support the Congressional budget process.