Wednesday, October 20, 2021

The end of Khama-nomics era

The President, Dr Ian Khama’s is expected to deliver his last state of the nation address (SONA) on 6th November 2017. “In his last words”, as one newspaper put it, Khama should reveal just how deep his ten years administration’s fiscal fault line ran. He should not, use SONA to just blow his own trumpet but paint a picture to the nation and the entire world what kind of economy he adopted and the state he is leaving it under.  

We say this because, at the beginning of his term, in 2008, Khama’s ability to stick to the fiscal prudence path laid down by his predecessor Festus Mogae was to become the barometer by which the then new President stand to be judged with when his own term ends in April 2018.

But as much as he has over the years pledged to hold the line, with less than six months left for him to close the last chapter of his legacy, Khama has little prospects of succeeding in undoing the economic injustice he did over the past ten years.

There are several reasons for this. The first is that, just like his predecessors, Khama was unable to direct money towards the pockets of indigenous Batswana. To this date, a sizeable number of Batswana are still grappling with challenges of limited access to finance despite Botswana much talked about economic success of diamond mining. Botswana’s case of rich state, poor people is supported by many studies amongst them conducted by the African Development Bank (AFDB) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). The two organisations have previously listed Botswana amongst countries with the high levels of unequal distribution of wealth and development amongst citizens. While they have commended Botswana for prudent management of mining revenue and good governance, Botswana’s report card shows that the country’s formula of sharing wealth leaves a lot to be desired. The report card also showed that incidence of poverty is also high, with 18.4 percent of the population living below the poverty line. Other challenges include a high unemployment rate of (17.8) percent, and relatively low Human Development Index (HDI) ranking and score mainly due to the high HIV/AIDS prevalence of 23.4 percent that drags down life expectancy. This report was in sync with the 2011 CIA World Fact book, which ranked Botswana as fourth-worst in the world on the measure of inequality in wealth distribution. The question is whether Khama, on his last state of the nation address acknowledge the challenges he faced during his presidency or possibly blame them on the 2008 global economic recession.

The second reason, why time is not on Khama’s side to undo the economic injustice relates to state owned enterprises (SOEs). Most of them (SOEs) are in the throes of a serious financial crisis. Some, like BCL Limited has been liquidated under his watch whilst nothing has been done about the corruption/maladministration that the media widely reported about at the Botswana Tourism Organisation (BTO) late last year. The BTO mess happened under the watch and possibly influence of his younger brother ÔÇô Tshekedi Khama. On the other hand, the Water Utilities Corporation (WUC) is financially crippled ÔÇô thanks to its failure to collect money owed to it by amongst others government departments. The Botswana Power Corporation is only now trying to find its feet following a sorry story that is Morupule B power station. The long and short of the story is that over the years delinquent SOEs like BPC, Air Botswana, BCL Limited burnt through billions of Pulas of government guarantees. Nothing is more worrying than the failure to have the people, more especially the young population have jobs or own businesses even at a small scale. This is as worrisome as the failure to diversify the economy of this country from it’s over dependence on diamond and SACU revenue to turn it into an industrialised one. 

All these raises these questions, where was the President? What kind of legacy does he leaves behind as he bows out? It is our believe that, as he steps down, Khama as the Chief Executive of this country must bear some responsibilities for this maladministration and failures which in turn led to the economic injustice that is being felt by the people of this country.

To his credit, we can certainly give two things. One he has revived the arts and culture of this country. Though we are yet to see the economical benefit of this to our people, if well packaged, the sector certainly has the potential of uplifting our people economically. Secondly, his housing appeal has helped quiet a sizeable Batswana who were classified to be living under abject poverty. It was thoughtful of Khama, to remind local companies, through this initiative of their Social Corporate Responsibilities towards our people. We do not have exact number of beneficiaries under this scheme but certainly, if asked, Khama can and should count this initiative amongst his achievements over the past ten years.

Yet again, if he is guilty of anything, it is believing that throwing money at the problems will wash them away. The Economic Stimulus Programme (ESP) that he launched in Machaneng village some two years is good example. Through the ESP, the Khama administration wanted to reduce unemployment and jerk the domestic economy. We doubt if such has been realised as much of the money was spent in South Africa for buying construction materials where it is cheap. On employment front, only a few graduates were fortunate to get temporary jobs.

Despite this evidence that spending money on projects that do not regenerate more money for the people, Khama went ahead with his heavy military spending. We can only guess that, as an ex soldier and army commander, his thinking is that he should leave behind well equipped barracks. But the question is who are we fighting? If none, why then cant we use the money to fight our number one enemies, being unemployment, unequal distribution of wealth and by extension poverty.

At the end, the #Bottomline remains, with the help of his cabinet, and some top civil servants, Khama has been kicking the fiscal can down the road for some time.  As a result, Khama-nomics era leaves a lot to desire and we are glad it is coming to an end. 

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