It’s now almost ten years since the Government of Botswana made known its intension to sell to private investors some of is assets, a majority of which are held in parastatals.
During that time, Government also made it known that they wanted to introduce a wide range of reform initiatives in the public service as a way of enhancing service delivery to the public.
That was after a general consensus was reached that Botswana Government’s continued involvement in providing services that, under normal circumstances, would be best left to the private sector was no longer wise.
While in the early years it made both commercial and political sense for our Government to establish and own many of the parastatals that we have today, the structure of the economy today is such that a paradigm shift would take us to new heights.
During the early years following independence there was effectively no private sector to talk about to fill the gap. Whatever passed for the private sector was nothing more than an apology.
Also because the domestic market was not sufficiently developed enough, there was always the great danger that without Government involvement (as both owner and regulator), left on their own profit driven agencies would not do enough as to cover the broad developmental challenges that the country faced at the time.
Take, for example, the telecommunications front: up until recently no private telecommunications company would ever be foolish enough as to commit its resources outside Gaborone, Lobatse and, may be, Francistown, where there were realistic chances that returns would be worth the investments. Yet there was a political imperative that the entire country be developed evenly, however costly the undertaking proved.
To achieve such a mandate, Government had to come in and establish its own telco ÔÇô in this instance, the Botswana Telecommunications Company, to make sure that most parts of the country, including rural areas were connected to the grid.
The same philosophy underpinned the forming of such parastatals, such as the Botswana Power Corporation, Botswana Housing Corporation, Water Utilities Corporation and many others!
But things have since changed.
Take for example the Botswana Meat Commission.
What sense does it make for a modern and sophisticated Government such as ours to continue to be involved in the slaughter of cattle in this age and era?
BMC is nothing more than a glorified butchery. The question is: do we still need our government to be involved in the business of running a butchery ÔÇô however large, sophisticated and international the market?
To help it sell its assets and introduce reforms, Government set up the privatization agency ÔÇô PEEPA, which was given the advisory mandate.
Truth be told there have always been underlying structural difficulties that PEEPA was always going to contend with.
Chief among these challenges was the absence of a law that drove PEEPA’s mandate.
Instead of enacting a law, Botswana Government had chosen the easy route of a policy.
Perhaps this was a best example of a lack of total commitment to the process.
By its very nature, a policy appeals only to goodwill of those involved, beyond which there is no other recourse.
But even with these difficulties, we want to point out that PEEPA has not been worth the amount it has cost the nation for its upkeep.
We now hear there is a change of guard at PEEPA. We hope this change of guard will also bring about a mindset change.
If PEEPA cannot deliver on what it was created for, then the best thing, we submit would be for Government to disband it, and stop pretending they are committed to privatization and policy reforms.
Tragically though, such pretensions have up to now cost this nation a leg and an arm!