I am delighted and honoured, that I stand here once again and this time for the last time in my capacity as President both of the BDP, our great Party, and of our Republic, to perform this pleasant task; of officially opening our National Congress.
I do so with a sense of immense satisfaction as I look back at what we have achieved together, which I must hasten to say, includes the success of our Young Zebras.
And therefore, not surprisingly, I find myself in an enviable and nostalgic disposition as I recall the friendships and the inspirational camaraderie I have shared with many here and throughout our motherland as well as in the region and beyond.
To reflect my satisfaction, I am tempted to quote an excerpt from Paul’s letter to Timothy in the Bible where he says “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness”.
I look forward in the next nine months to retirement and rest. I do so in the conviction, that I did my best, like Frank Sinatra, I did it my way and like Tony Blair I did what I thought was right.
I am further comforted by the belief that I have led a good Party, with the assistance of good men and women, who are positioned to take it to greater heights. In the Botswana Democratic Party we have always operated as a team. We do not embrace any personality cults as they do in other parties. In the BDP, the institution is more important than the individual.
Batswana now know that there is still no alternative to this Party. It represents competence, experience and an unwavering commitment to develop Botswana for the benefit of all Batswana. No amount of malicious propaganda will deflect it from this noble goal.
Our government has championed citizen empowerment for the past 41 years, and we will continue enthusiastically to do so. A plethora of empowerment schemes exist and have existed as individual projects or as sectoral programmes in our development plans. Since they have not been isolated and highlighted in one document, some people, including members of the BDP have erroneously assumed that we do not have a policy on citizen empowerment.
In most cases, the segment that is being singled out for targeted empowerment tends to be a historically disadvantaged group, but in Botswana our empowerment efforts should and must focus on every single Motswana and not a specified segment of the population as we have all been previously disadvantaged.
The BDP Governments have over the years focused aggressively in resourcing the poor in our society. Not only has poverty dropped from 60 percent in our population in 1985/86 to 28 percent in 2002/03; a clear indication of our success in our poverty eradication efforts, but we have also very effective safety nets which ensure that not one Motswana can perish because of hunger.
Our safety nets include schemes for the poor, the aged, remote area dwellers, orphans, the disabled and war veterans. As I speak, my government has allocated some P395m to drought relief projects for this year alone.
This will provide part time employment for some 180, 000 Batswana the majority of whom would have depended on agriculture had the rains been good.
Education has been either heavily subsidized or totally free for all Batswana from primary to secondary education. All deserving Batswana continue to get substantial assistance for their education even at tertiary level. These subsidies on education are a targeted investment by the BDP government, intended to provide Batswana, with a springboard they could use to empower themselves.
The expansion of the University of Botswana; the planned Botswana International University of Science and Technology; and the Medical School and Training Hospital are recent examples of projects in education aimed at further empowering Batswana for employment and higher caliber job creation. Recently, the Ministry of Education started to sponsor students at local private tertiary institutions for Diploma and Degree courses. Over 7000 are now so sponsored. This is empowerment.
Health care is virtually free in Botswana. Even expensive medications such as ARVs are availed free of charge.
The BDP government is cognisant of the relationship between an individual’s health and their overall ability to command an acceptable living standard.
For this reason, we have ensured, on a sustained basis, that our people have the best healthcare we are capable of providing as a nation. The evidence is overwhelming! Our commitment and determination to arrest the spread of HIV/AIDS is total and unshakable – hence the modest success we have registered in reducing the rate of infection.
All government departments and parastatals subscribe to the programme on the Use of Locally Manufactured Goods and Services (ULMGS). Local manufacturers and service providers are given preference over their foreign based counterparts. This is empowerment.
The Local Enterprise Authority has been established to empower local enterprises with the skills and expertise necessary for sustainable economic growth. Small, medium, and micro enterprises tend to be one of the economic growth engines in an economy.
I was encouraged to learn that Batswana women entrepreneurs have embraced some of the government assisted programmes so enthusiastically that they now produce artifacts of international quality in basketry, leather and bead work. I would like to see the momentum generated by these programmes accelerated.
The Citizen Entrepreneurial Agency continues to empower Batswana through financial assistance in the form of loans. The role of CEDA is strategic, as it provides financial assistance that our citizens would not be able to obtain from any other financial institution; and these loans are provided at preferential interest rates.
The BDP government considers it necessary at this stage of our development to provide subsidised and preferential access to credit for our citizens in the hope that this will facilitate the establishment of a vibrant entrepreneurial class. Of course, we would not like to see Batswana getting addicted to subsidies. We are using schemes such as CEDA to force a transition from the agrarian conditions in which most of our people lived to a more enterprising community of citizens.
Over the past months there has been much debate about privatisation and its different implications and permutations. Debate and differing opinions on an issue are healthy for a democracy such as ours, but such debates should be handled with maturity. Our privatization policy is not necessitated by any budgetary deficits – it is prompted by the desire to make our economy more efficient. The economy has now reached a stage where we must sophisticate its management.
As our economy gets more refined, sustainable growth and employment creation have to move from the government to the private sector.
Diversification of the economy, job creation, and long run macroeconomic stability will eventually rest upon the private sector with guidance and monitoring from the government. It is neither sustainable nor desirable, that government should continue to be the largest employer and investor in the economy.
The net effect of the process of privatization will be greater efficiency, diversity, and dynamism in the economy; and it has long been stated that diversification and innovativeness are the key to long term economic stability and job creation.
Our economic policies and approaches have always been characterised by a sense of conservatism and caution, and as we embark on our structural reforms, much thought and planning has been given to the strategic direction in which we want our economy to go.
I am particularly perturbed by allegations that we are pursuing privatization in order to recklessly sell-off national assets at discounted prices to ourselves or some entities in which we are shareholders. These are malicious and unfounded allegations meant to besmirch the good name of our Party and its government.
The Privatization of Air Botswana is one issue on which everyone has held an opinion. In particular, it is thought by some that the government has no right to be negotiating with potential partners without prior permission from Parliament. I want to assure the nation that no law will be breached or disregarded in this process.
We tried to sell Air Botswana as a going concern in accordance with the Air Botswana Transition Act in 2002. There were no takers and for five years no-one has come up with any bright initiative. Now that government is exploring a possibility, tongues are wagging.
Instead of sitting around while the airline continues to make losses and to bleed the country of much needed resources, my government has started the ball rolling on possible other ways to privatize Air Botswana and return it to efficiency and profitability. I want to assure the nation that any outcome of these proposals will first have to be legislated into reality by Parliament.
They will go to Parliament as all proposals in the form of a bill.
There is, therefore, no justification for any jumping of the gun and stalemating the negotiations into a still born outcome. Time and tide wait for no man. As Shakespeare has said, – there is a tide in the affairs of men that, taken at its flood, may lead on to fortune but, omitted, their life is bound in shallows and miseries. Upon such a sea are we afloat. We must strike while the tide serves or lose our goal.
Government has been in the process of reviewing the experience requirements for entry level positions into the civil service with a view of reducing high experience requirements for entry level positions. This will, however, have to be carefully considered because it would be a grave mistake to give our youth the impression that experience and long service do not matter.
Our ultimate objective is to achieve full employment for all our citizens as reflected in our Vision 2016 statement. As Democrats are aware, the rate of unemployment was around 10 percent in the early 1990s. However, as a result of a combination of chronic droughts and the plateauing of minerals growth with a concomitant depression in the construction industry, unemployment rose to 24 percent and it hovered around that level for many years, until recently, when we were able to reduce it to 17.6 percent.
The big projects which your government has initiated should force unemployment to go down further. I must express my concern though, about the rather lax attitude of some of our people. Many jobs in the agricultural sector remain unmanned for a long time because Batswana are not interested in working in that sector. This is regrettable. If we are to fight unemployment successfully we must become less choosy.
From the onset let me inform you that the Party is strong, united and gearing itself for the 2009 national elections.
This followed the Party corporate strategy that we adopted which was followed by a media strategy, retreats and unity seminars, that we held across the country. It would seem that the appeals by the Chairman and I for democrats to work together and harder are now bearing fruit. I say this because we are now winning by-elections; we also witnessed calm and friendly campaigns for the Youth Wing, Women’s Wing and now the Central Committee elections.
MaDomkrag I spoke to you recently at the National Council, as I always do at these occasions, about the need to remain united and cohesive, so that we can continue to be the dominant political force in Botswana. Let me reiterate, one more time, that “United we stand and divided we fall”. This adage remains true now in our Party as it has always been.
When some of our colleagues in the party feel left out or even victimized, they tend to sit at home or worse still, vote with the opposition to get back at those they regard as their enemies within the Party.
This is why we must work hard to ensure that the primary elections are free and fair. The idea that a group or groups among us, with different agendas can form and crystallize within the Party, without resulting in negative repercussions for all of us is a fallacy.
There must be only one agenda, the BDP agenda, which should of course, be consistent with the national agenda. It is for this reason that I urge you, not just at this congress, but throughout our existence as a Party, to see ourselves as one, to treat each other with respect and courtesy and that means to disagree, where we must without name calling and abuse.
The same goes, distinguished delegates, for the way we speak in Public fora about our very party itself. To expect that it is acceptable to speak ill and vulgar about our Party during the week and then don its colours at the weekend and sing its praises hoping to persuade other people to vote for it is simply na├»ve and unrealistic.
This does not mean that the Party and its government must not be criticised by its members. It means that the words used, opportunities chosen and tone adopted must be balanced and constructive.
It would be inexcusable, in fact intolerable, for any member of our Party, however important they may consider themselves to be, to behave like a bull in a china shop and destroy the very policies on which BDP roots are anchored.
You will be aware that one of the opposition parties – the BCP – has announced an agenda and programme of vilification against us between now and the elections. They intend, in particular, to target His Honour the Vice President as the prospective leader of this Party and this Nation. They have already published or produced a document highly critical of us and distributed it to the Resident Foreign Missions and others.
It is in the light of such attacks on us and on our integrity that I implore you that there should be a difference in the quality and tone of our criticism of our Party leadership and that of the opposition against us. If you wax lyrical in your vituperation of your Party and Government to the cheers and exultation of our detractors, please remember that the same invective will in future be turned against you by the same detractors.
This is the penultimate congress before the next General Elections in 2009. This means by the time we get to the 2009 Congress it will be too late to fine tune or sharpen our thinking in various policy areas. This congress is, therefore, the most important opportunity to do so.
Our election preparedness starts right now with the preparations for “Bulela Ditswe” our primary elections. The Central Committee has appointed a Task Force, which in turn has sent teams around the country to clean up our membership registration hitches. This is very important, as it will determine that we have a clean, peaceful primary election, not adulterated by incomplete voters’ rolls and allegations of rigging.
Of course, ultimately, the business of any political party that wants to run the country is to win elections. It is for this reason that everything that we do must be aimed towards the attainment of that objective – the 2009 elections. I shall never tire of reminding you to channel all your energies towards making sure that the BDP not only wins those elections but does so convincingly.
A scenario where we win the majority of seats but fail to command a comfortable majority in the popular vote is not a good one. Let us face it, it would undermine our mandate. Although in other countries it is not uncommon for a party to win elections sometimes with numbers as low as 30 percent, our opponents seem to think our 52 percent gives them some hope and even reason to celebrate.
I know we can legally and legitimately exercise a mandate even with less than half of the popular vote, but this we should never aim at. If all Batswana who were carrying our cards in 2004 had voted for their party, we would have won with more than 60% of the popular vote.
As for the opposition, we should remember that they still present no alternative to ourselves, united or separately. This is why Batswana look to us as their only hope. Our policies, programmes and projects are well thought out. I still do not know what our opposition stands for. This situation is further compounded by the very public disunity that currently plagues the main opposition party, the BNF.
Anyone who thinks their recent special congress has healed their rift has got another suprise coming. To begin with, the one group did not even accept the results and we are receiving reports of a divided and disenchanted opposition membership around the country.
We should not, however, just sit here and celebrate their current state of disarray. We must work hard to exploit it to our benefit. We should graphically point out their current state of affairs.
Imagine the leader of a political party contemplating to run in an election under another party name and symbol as we hear is being contemplated in Ramotswa! And as happened in Lobatse, when the leader of PUSO, in the person of Modubule, successfully usurped the BNF seat and came to Parliament. You could go through them one after another and still be left wondering. The answer is, of course, that there is still no alternative.
This is why it is laughable for an organization like the BCP, which is not even running for state power, to lampoon Botswana’s democracy. Our democratic credentials are impeccable. They constitute the foundation of our political culture. And as such they do not belong to a single party but to all Batswana.
An entity that dissociates itself from this democratic culture runs the risk of being driven into the political wilderness by our voters. I would not be surprised if the lonely member the BCP has in Parliament, who is there by dint of our generosity, went into extinction after 2009.
Madomi a Mantle, as I mentioned at the recent Women’s Wing Congress, the Constitution of our country, quite properly decrees that I retire by the 31st March 2008. I thank you most sincerely for the support that you have always given me during my tenure as Party leader. I have no doubt that you will extend similar support to my successor, His Honour the Vice President, Lt General Seretse Khama Ian Khama. I should enjoy my retirement immensely if you would do so.
In conclusion, let me wish you well in your Congress and encourage you to be level headed in your discussions if you are to come up with meaningful resolutions. May I also ask that we end our Congress in the spirit of love and mutual respect that must reflect our current theme: Unity and hard Work: Towards 2009 and beyond. Those elected and their supporters must, as they celebrate their success, do so with the utmost restraint and have consideration for the feelings of those who will have been less fortunate.
Much as I will spend as much time with you as I can, the immediate affairs of the country require that I, as is usual, leave you at some point to join the people of Goodhope on President’s Day. I join Batswana in different parts of the country every year for these celebrations at this time.