Responses in Parliament to a motion presented last week by Member for Shoshong, Duke Lefhoko, indicate a discernible appreciation of what is at stake if government does not move urgently to come up with a deliberate strategy to favour citizen companies through government procurement budget.
The motion by Mr. Lefhoko calls for the establishment of a policy to that regard as a matter of urgency.
That is a welcome development.
At the moment, citizen companies are left to the whims of civil servants, a situation that promotes and engenders patronage that easily culminates in corruption.
What is needed is a policy or in some instances a more radical piece of legislation that is enforceable.
A policy as that called for by Lefhoko will bring certainty.
Unfortunately, there are those in our midst who are already murmuring that the country is going through a wave of xenophobia.
We want to point out that it is in the interest of foreigners doing business in Botswana to ensure that citizens of this country are not left out.
We should not be fooled by those people equating citizen economic empowerment to xenophobia.
All governments in the world are known to deliberately favour their citizens over aliens.
So far, only Botswana seems to be an exception.
We also want to point out that leaving out Batswana from the economic mainstream of their country can only spell doom.
It will lead to ill will, resentment and envy.
Those who have been following the debate on citizen economic empowerment would recall that MP for Mmadinare and current Minister of Minerals, Ponatshego Kedikilwe, has in the past made such a similar call on more than one occasion.
It was also not so long ago when MP for Palapye, Boyce Sebetela, came with a related motion in which he called for a proper audit of the capabilities and capacities of citizen owned firms.
And now Mr. Lefhoko?s motion.
Thus, it is becoming increasingly clear that a number of our leaders are beginning to take citizen economic empowerment seriously.
It is very important to ensure that citizen economic empowerment is not confused with a broader aspect of general citizen empowerment.
Citizen-owned businesses have, on many occasions, complained about the absence of a deliberate citizen economic empowerment policy.
Failure to favour citizen companies in government procurement has meant that citizens who were lucky to access such financial assistance as that offered by CEDA (Citizen Entrepreneurial Development Agency) end up unable to pay back the loans because they are in most cases closed out from supplying government.
The absence of a deliberate policy has led to the collapse of many businesses.
We want to point out that, by its very nature, the structure of Botswana?s economy is overly dominated by government, in one form or another.
While private sector in Botswana is fast growing and becoming more vibrant, reality is that almost all sizeable commercial transactions that are of any value are still with the involvement of government, in one way or another.
Just by its sheer size, the government procurement budget, if properly managed, has the potential to unleash the full potential of citizen entrepreneurship in the country.
The government of the democratic South Africa across the border is doing just that; using the public procurement budget as a key avenue to economically empower the historically disadvantaged communities.
It is a deliberate policy of empowerment that (though with is its own faults) has, nonetheless, worked wonders for that country?s reconstruction and development process.
What we could do is to adopt our own policy and adapt it to our circumstances.
The problem today, however, is that in many respects, the Botswana of today is just like one of South Africa?s provinces -every year when the budget speech is made business people fly from South Africa to come and listen to the Minister announce how much is on offer and fly back that same evening to make calculations of how much they are going to rake in for themselves through their companies that are not domiciled in Botswana.
For those reasons, there is need for a deliberate policy that favours not just Batswana but also people who come and set up shop here.
It is grossly unfair to treat equally briefcase operators who fly in and out, people who do not pay taxes to Botswana?s treasury with those companies that are domiciled here, paying taxes and enduring the hardships of remaining here.