Monday, June 5, 2023

What would it take to build a different Botswana in the next 50 years?

The succinct documentation of the Botswana Economy at 50 outlined in the 2016 second quarter (Q2) Economic review compiled by economic think tank Econsult draws attention not solely to past key economic developments but also to the pivotal areas of transformation to build the next 50 years. SUNDAY STANDARD’s TLOTLO LEMMENYANE insists that economic success and development of the next 50 years for Botswana will depend on ‘transformation’.

Considered one of the poorest countries in the continent at independence, Botswana discovered unparalleled prosperity and economic success after the discovery of diamonds. The unearthing of the precious stone and the enduring partnership with De Beers laid the foundation for Botswana’s story of “rags to riches.”

The rest of Africa paused to watch and learn as through prudent management of the economy and equitable sharing of resources, Botswana attained economic success and uplifted the lives of its people, in the process earning the enviable accolade of “gem of Africa”.

A few years later, Botswana was declared one of the fastest economies in the world and it was not long before the country was ranked as an upper middle income country.

Fast forward to 2016, the country is not growing its economy as fast as it should, partly due to global economic slow growth but also due to policy making. The issue of policy making in the country has been presented and debated in various public platforms. Its documentation is captured in a 2013 Journal study compiled by Senior Research Fellow at the Botswana Institute for Development Policy Analysis (BIDPA) Gape Kaboyakgosi and Keneilwe Marata. The study examined factors that contribute to poor implementation of national projects. It identified as one of the attributing factors the lack of commitment to selected policy choices. “Since the turn of the new millennium, the government has increasingly created and adopted policies to which it does not adhere. Policy commitment assists in building state credibility (when dealing with outsiders such as investors),and certainty among the locals,” cites the study. It demonstrates as examples the failed privatization of the national airline, Air Botswana, following the invitation of international bidders and the failure to procure a private sector partner to develop the Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST) campus in Palapye in partnership with the Government.

It seems however that the noncommittal manner of government to selected policies has a twin vice of the reluctance to reform by government. The study further noted the increasing extent of refusal to reform by government, which is inconsistent with the initial tack in reforming the economic related frameworks of the country. A notable example the study detail is the results based monitoring and evaluation (RBM), a reform process that government neglected. According to the study RBM is used to generate information and data needed for evidence based policy making and it facilitates accountability and aids planning. “While the RBM is used as a way of generating data and information needed for evidence based policy making, it also ensures that policy implementers are accountable. The lack of quality data for national decision making, which is felt more at district level, has been identified as a serious impediment to implementation (Vision, 2016). Yet, while the tenth National Development Plan (NDP 10) was meant to institutionalize the RBM, with Chapter 16 dedicated entirely to that, little effort has been made to follow this through,” reads the study.

The paradox on policy making is not foreign to government given that two years before the BIDPA Journal Study was published in 2011, the current Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi who was then Minister for Presidential Affairs and Administration withdrew a draft policy on HIV/AIDS from being debated in the National Assembly on grounds that the Parliamentarians needed first to be factually equipped on the issue as to argue it from an evidence based approach, as cited in the vol. 16 publication of New Dawn, an event driven newsletter of the SADC Parliamentary Forum. The move by Masisi indicates the awareness by government that policy making needs to come from a rational and evidence based perspective. However, it is seemingly clear that the initiative by Masisi has not been fully adopted in government.

It follows from the findings of the BIDPA Journal Study that the recommendation made by Econsult could prove difficult. Given that the first transformation has already taken place in which the country was seen to move progressively from rags to riches, the Economic review posits that the ‘second transformation’ which it defines as the future developments that will take place in the country in the next 50 years will need government to change its approach. Econsult envisions that in the next half a century “the country will be deeply integrated into global and regional markets for goods, services, capital and labour. There will be extensive FDI in Botswana, and local firms will be active investors around the region and around the world. Migration will be a two-way street, and many Batswana will live and work in other countries. The private sector will be larger, and government smaller, than at present. Citizens will be empowered, but by competing successfully, not by being protected from competition. Botswana will have dealt successfully with the challenges posed by global warming and climate change, and will be a responsible global citizen by contributing to broader initiatives towards environmental sustainability.”

Sensitive to the challenges that lie in this transformation Econsult admits that the changes will be uncomfortable, difficult and will also challenge vested interests, however, it postulates that moving towards the vision it painted above will require such changes to take place.

The key message derived from a recently published economic review by Econsult Botswana detailing of the developments is the view that the “business as usual” will prove an impractical approach to the future building blocks of the economy. “The fact that “business as usual” is not an option going forward also means that “policy as usual” is also not an option,” cites the review. A recommendation it makes regarding policy making is that it should be “rational, based on evidence, and implemented consistently and transparently in the national interest.”





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