Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Red tape remains Botswana’s topmost holdback to productivity, output, innovation and creativity

Unemployment, especially among young people is an evil that unless we change the way we are doing things will remain with us for generations to come. One only has to look at the number of young people our education system continues to churn out every year. These are the same young people who immediately join long queues of already existing unemployed numbers that have for years been looking for jobs that do not exist. There is a strong perception among outsiders that as a country Botswana is a hotbed of xenophobia.

It is difficult to dispel this perception unless we can plausibly account for why it would seem like we are deliberately making it difficult for people who have skills and indeed money to set up in this country. History will show that the United States of America, by far the most economically and technologically successful and advanced country in the world is a country of immigrants. Successful as it is, even as we speak, America is today deliberately going out of its way to attract some of the world’s finest scientists, researchers, technologists, engineers and inventors by enticing them with easy access to American citizenship, not to mention a wide suite of other benefits. Somehow it would seem like, Botswana, a third world African country, with not much to its name is not only unwilling to embrace expatriates, but is also going out of its way to make it extra hard for them to come here. Our immigration policy, especially its dastardly point system could easily have been an over the top invention from a paranoid and excessively security minded Soviet era Kremlin during the hey days of Joseph Stalin.

The business community through interventions at the much vaunted but now increasingly irrelevant HLCC (High Level Consultative Council) has over and over again sought to convince government, which by the way claims to be pro-business about the follies of making it hard to allow people with skills to come into the country. But somehow it would seem like our politicians and their policy advisors live in a different world. To them it appears like staying, working and investing in Botswana is a lifetime opportunity that every non-Motswana would kill for. How naïve! In their small world, the entire outside universe is queuing at the door, falling over their knees as they wait to be allowed into the borders of half desert country called Botswana.

What these politicians do not know is that on account of our silly policies, laws and decrees, like cutting down on entertainment hours, fewer and fewer internationally minded entrepreneurs would want to come here. What our leaders do not understand is that internally minded entrepreneurs would be less comfortable staying in a country run by a regime that deliberately goes out of its way to may alcohol 70 percent more expensive than brewers are willing, comfortable and able to sell it while still making profits. Although there is talk of us being outward look, especially in international road shows by our ministers as they call on the world investors to come and setup here, in reality we remain a closed country that refuses to tell the same investors the many hurdles they will go through once here as they apply for such mundane things like work and residence permits for their skilled personnel to settle here and run their businesses. Red tape is one leading miscarriage that makes Botswana unattractive and uncompetitive.

No person with money and skills wants to be thrown from pillar to post before they can settle down and run a business in order to make money for themselves. The world over, countries are struggling to attract enough people with the right skills to help run economies.

While many countries are putting in place a motley crew of incentives to attract skills to their shores, we seem to be moving into an altogether opposite direction. Just what makes us think that of all the countries we can actually stand at the gate and tell skilled people that want to come here but have other options besides ourselves that we have no need for them? It is hard to imagine a more insensitive lack of gratitude. Productivity in Botswana is among the lowest in the world, our work ethic, we all concede, is among the worst, output is getting lower and lower, yet we do not want to allow into our midst people who would be helpful in turning around and changing the culture of decadence.

Because productivity is low and work ethic is poor, it necessarily follows that profit margins are very small, principally because costs of doing business have inevitably become too high. This is elementary economics that has somehow eluded those in government. There is a wrongheaded belief, chiefly orchestrated to a very large degree by our government’s complicity in crowding the private sector that the civil service will continue to be an infinite employer of the multitudes that our education system churns out every year.

This is a kind of outdated communism that we all have to accept has not only failed but has brought many once thriving economies of the world to their knees. We need reforms, or we will continue to endlessly brag about international commendations and awards that have no actual bearing on the living standards of our people, much less on creating jobs for the multitudes of young people who roam our streets with increasingly haggard and hopeless faces.

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