Monday, October 25, 2021

UDC juggles figures to throw BCL financial lifeline

Working around the rules and without making any impact on the total development budget, the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) plans to table a motion to amend the National Development Plan 11. By hiving P6.7 billion off the “Development of the BDF”, P4 billion off Ipelegeng and P147 million off the electronic voting machines project, the party reckons that the government can put up P3 billion, invite other investors on board and revive BCL Limited.

The man spearheading this ambitious fiscal-legislative campaign is Gaborone Bonnington South MP, Ndaba Gaolathe. The MP says that when he approached staff at the National Assembly seeking guidance on navigating parliamentary procedure, he learnt from the Parliamentary Council that this is the first time in the 50-year history of the Botswana Parliament that a comprehensive amendment schedule has been proposed. Given the full extent and implications of the amendment his motion proposes, he understands what the odds are.

“This motion may not make it to the Parliament floor,” he said stoically on Thursday evening.

However, after a meeting on Friday morning with the Counsel and the Clerk of the National Assembly, the MP held out hope of the motion making it to the floor “at some point” in the near future. 

From this meeting, Gaolathe learnt that the Counsel has passed on the motion to the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development. The MP doesn’t think it would be necessary for him to meet ministry officials himself because he has connected the dots to determine what the outcome would be. 

The officials get instructions from Cabinet and a member of that Cabinet has tabled a national development plan that is at fundamentally at odds with Gaolathe plans to propose to the same Parliament. When the MP last heard from the National Assembly, the Counsel was to translate his submission into “legally compliant format” and that information has given him hope.

“The long and short of it is that it looks like the amendments will make it to floor at some point,” he said on Friday.

UDC’s proposals would affect 12 ministries and two departments and on the whole doesn’t alter the total development budget. In explaining the latter, Gaolathe says that while the rules allow the UDC to reprioritise, they don’t allow the varying of the total amount of the budget.

In his presentation to Parliament, the Minister of Justice, Defence and Security, Shaw Kgathi said that in order “to remain at efficient and effective operation posturing in NDP 11”, BDF would need “adequate resources.” By subtracting “fighter jets and associated equipment” from Kgathi’s shopping list, UDC makes a saving of a whopping P6.7 billion. 

The party focuses on what to all intents and purposes is a fiscally-orphaned disciplined force within the same ministry: the Botswana Police Service. Under a “Rule-of-Law” programme that improves facilities and equipment, UDC increases BPS’ budget by P300 million.

Every opportunity it gets, UDC lambasts the government for wasting money on Ipelegeng, the labour-intensive public works programme operated under the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development. In Gaolathe’s motion, some P4 billion would be trimmed off this programme. More focus would be put on local government infrastructure and services in the form of the tarring of roads and construction of storm water drainage systems especially in high density areas as well as maintenance and modernisation of primary schools. All three programmes would result in a budget increase on P1.9 billion for that ministry.

Under the Ministry of Transport and Communications, UDC proposes a budget increase of P5 billion to construct a railway line to a nearby port (P3 billion) and dualling of the south-north corridor at a cost of P2 billion. 

What started its life as the mining town of Selebi Phikwe is now turning into a ghost town on account of the severe and protracted depression in the commodities market. The response that UDC is proposing is that the Ministry of Mineral Resources, Green Technology and Energy Security should be allocated P3 billion to both revive BCL’s mining operations and enhance the competitiveness of the copper/nickel sector. The party also recommends that the government should invite other investors in this venture.

Not too long ago, Gaolathe stressed the need to build the capacity of MPs to carry out their legislative functions more efficiently by establishing a budget/economic office as well as a legislative drafting unit. In the motion that he proposes to table to Parliament on behalf of the party that he is Deputy President of, some P15 million has been allocated for such venture. 

At least at a rhetorical level, that sounds like a suggestion the government might express support for right before listing a host of reasons why it cannot allocate funds to set up such structures.

Where UDC MPs will definitely butt heads with those of the ruling party is on Item 1.1 under the Independent Electoral Commission. Much to the chagrin of the opposition collective and at great haste, the government amended electoral law to introduce Electronic Voting Machines EVMs. The received wisdom in the opposition as well as in some circles of academia, the press and diplomatic corps is that the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) wants to rig the 2019 General Election. 

The result has been that the opposition is opposed to the introduction of such machines with UDC threatening to boycott the elections in which EVMs are used. Item 1.1 reduces the IEC’s budgetary allocation by P147 million with the simple explanation: “Cancel Electronic Voting Machines.” 

Gaolathe says that their numbers “are not really where we really want them but we thought it necessary to send signals about our priorities. We think our development plan would be significantly larger, geared at massive modernising of infrastructure and steering strategic sectors.  So naturally we would expect higher revenues and much more urgent focus on employment creation.” 

In the event the motion does indeed come to the floor, at least one BDP MP will find himself in an awkward position. Three weeks ago and only then speaking in general terms, Tati East MP, Moyo Guma, urged the Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Kenneth Matambo, to recast the NDP 11 budget in such crisis mode that BCL (and with it Selebi Phikwe and surrounding areas) is given priority. 

The precise strategy of how that should be done has come from across the floor but as other BDP MPs and has happened throughout this and the previous Parliament, Guma has to vote in line with the wishes of the executive.


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