Saturday, September 23, 2023

The quality of our official statistics leaves a lot to be desired

This week the Bank of Botswana released its annual report.

The highlight of the report is a concern raised on Botswana’s high levels of unemployment.

Also to assume a centre stage as to be a part of report’s theme has been low productivity.

Another element that comes across as a red flag is the stubbornly low levels of competitiveness.

The three have become a jinx that is suffocating all efforts aimed at diversifying the economy away from diamonds.

Interestingly, even the Bank of Botswana report does not come up with satisfactory policy responses.

What is clear though is that a combination of these three ills will lead to decline of real economic growth as well as a decline of real wages. 

In fact both of these two consequences are now upon us. It is a long time since Botswana has been registering growth well below 6% that had been a national average starting in the early 1980s up until the latter half of the 2000s.

Additionally, it is now more than a decade, if not more since wages have had any significant real growth.

The economic stagnation that we are going through should be seen in the larger context of social harmony.

In the past authorities had an easy task to appease political and social demands because money was never an issue.

Because the economy was doing well, that same economy could buy political peace and stability while putting any form of political or economic populism at bay.

To the extent that the economy was doing well, some of our leaders even tended to mistake Batswana’s tolerance for docility. But that era has now come to an end.

Unless a solution to low productivity is found, we are clearly headed to social upheaval that risk upending even the fabric of our political values.

Botswana alone will not be able to come up with a solution to the troubles that we are making reference to.

Highly developed countries, including the United States, but also some of the leading emerging ones like Brazil, India and Russia have all reported declining levels of productivity.

In all those countries, there is no consensus on how to them the tide.

While we agree for example on the basic truth that there is a problem of unemployment, low productivity and indeed low competitiveness, we are however worried by the quality and indeed integrity of public data on all the above.

The available statistics on employment are more than six years old.

That is not the only problem; where it is available data is not detailed enough as to provide policymakers with options of policy interventions.

This kind of situation is pathetic to say the list.

Unemployment is a problem, but we cannot even begin to address unemployment when we have not even a rough idea of the extent of the problem we are facing.

We thus call on those authorities whose responsibilities including providing up to date data and statistics to up their socks before we are caught in whirlwinds that we would have no idea of their depth and/or speed.


Read this week's paper