Friday, December 4, 2020

SONA should become more accountable

In a short while the State President will deliver the most important speech in a calendar year; the State of the Nation Address. Ideally this is the speech in which the president is expected to account to the nation. He is also expected share his vision for the next twelve months. It is also a speech in which the nation will hear an account of key issues that the President would have made in a similar speech the previous year. Some of those things would for various reasons not have happened.

It is crucially important for the nation to know from the State president why each of the promises he would have made top the nation a previous year have not happened. That is called public accountability. Yet in reality, SONA has been allowed to drift into a meaningless ritual. In all practical terms, SONA has become both a farce and a travesty. Promises and undertakes are made but never followed through. The office of State President is a sacrosanct institution. It should never be taken for granted. Its word is a covenant with the people. And such a word should always be respected. A State President does not bluff. Where he is not able to fulfill a promise he has made, he should always come back to account why that has not happened. Such accounting enhances confidence and public trust.

The President, his private office, cabinet and also Speech writers have been left the undertakings made every year to fall through the cracks without an explanation. It is the responsibility of the President and his permanent secretaries to put the speech writers on a tight leash – or else they become excitable and write down things that are unachievable under the circumstances. That is wrong. And should be stopped immediately. Many Batswana no longer look forward to SONA exactly because it has become anone-binding regurgitation of unkept promises and undertakings.

Politicians should use their goodwill wisely. That includes the president. Goodwill in public service is essential when difficult, unpopular but essential decision have to be taken. And squandering such goodwill on none-issues cannot take the country forward. Even a most powerful institution like the presidency needs people on its side if it is to stay relevant. Or else it will stay with power that is legalistic but not relevant. The presidency sits at the centre of a massive state apparatus. presidency is like a nucleus. What happens at the presidency often has a snowball effect. And if people lose faith in it, all other institutions that service it too will lose power.

In a SONA last year, too many promises were made. Covid-19 has made it impossible to carry out many of them. But there has to be transparency when the next SONA arrives.Covid-19 should not be used to cover for inefficiency.Covid-19 has caused immense ravages to the economy. And it might become necessary to spend aggressively out of the ravages. The Bank of Botswana has done just about enough to cut down the Bank Rate. Of course, the cost of borrowing can still be reduced. But the Fiscal authorities need to come to the party. People will be listening carefully to determine if the SONA this year offers anything new other than an exhausted boilerplate template of all the previous SONAs.

RELATED STORIES

Read this week's paper

The Telegraph December 2

Digital edition of The Telegraph, December 2, 2020.