Sunday, October 17, 2021

Why are we letting our infrastructure fall to pieces?

Elsewhere in this edition we carry a story in which the International Monetary Fund (IMF) reminds us of a well known fact ÔÇô Botswana’s public infrastructure is deteriorating.

We hope that the IMF report will bring back the much needed dialogue on issues related to public infrastructure in our country. For a very long time we have been talking about this issue in such abstract terms, if one may say. We talk about infrastructure as one thing, when really it’s transportation and water infrastructure and broadband and energy and things like that. All these things matters, because all of them are designed and governed and financed and delivered very differently. But they all complement each other when it comes to growing our economy.

According to the latest IMF technical report, despite our country’s relatively high public investment spending, the quality of infrastructure has fallen down sharply in recent years.

What should be of worry to most is the fact that while Botswana has over the years compared well when it comes to public infrastructure development, there is a downward trend.

Our nation’s refusal to face facts and take care of our buildings, roads, bridges and pipelines will have real consequences, both for public safety and for our economy.

A short drive within the capital Gaborone to Marina Hospital gives a clear picture of the country’s public health care system and how close it is to a breakdown with the infrastructure failing to keep up with the growing population. Just under two weeks back when the Botswana Power Corporation (BPC) switched most part of the country (due to their poor infrastructure) we were told how lives of thousands of patients at Letsholathebe Hospital in Maun were in high risk due to lack of power back up. These are the kind of mis-happenings that we should not be talking about after 51 years of independence and “sound macroeconomic management”. But our lack of proper planning leave us with no option but to atleast caution that neglecting of public infrastructure comes with a steep price tag. Already we are experiencing some of the consequences. We continue to lose lives of our people in roads due to their poor maintenance. We continue to experience darkness due to power cuts as soon as we get slight rain.

As we write this, none of us is aware or able to calculate how much money we lost when bridge after another fall in Moshupa in December 2016 or when the road linking Gweta-Nata-Kasane was closed for weeks due to poor roads during the popular “Dineo” rains. We don’t even know how much we lost during the times when the North-South Carrier (NSC) pipeline busted every two days of the week.

As it stands, it certainly becoming clear that the biggest challenge that this country faces is to develop an environment that can attract private investment to complement government’s developmental efforts.

The past aside, going forward we should not forget that greater involvement of the private sector in the planning and management of pre and post implementation of infrastructural development projects is crucial in the understanding and commitment to socio economic impact and implications. In short, the Private Public Partnerships (PPPs) must be engaged at all levels. But of course, the Government must first and foremost remove all opportunities and incentives for corruption. Corruption, just like incompetence remains the great evil of our time.

While the government has previously agreed that something need to be done, there seems to be little consensus on where funding should come from as well as to who should do what between the government, the public and the private sector.

A more developed public health infrastructure, for example would require that state and central government raise the share of healthcare spending. This includes human capital at such public health facilities. For instance at Marina Hospital cleaning services have been out sourced but as we know, the private sector is all interested in cost cutting and profit making ÔÇô it does not always care how that come about. As such when we decide to outsource some services to the private sector, we equally need to ensure that we have enough personnel to supervise any company awarded such tender. This would go in a long way in ensuring that our public infrastructures are well taken care of.

The truth of the matter is that well maintained infrastructure does not only facilitate economic efficiency and competiveness, it also enhances job creation and above all stimulates the economy. This infrastructure includes but is not limited to office buildings, road and rail transport.

The #Bottomline is that to fully realise economic growth from public investment spending, a number of areas require further attention. One of these areas is public infrastructure. Infrastructure is clearly a building block which naturally tells us that it is impossible to build a modern economy without taking care of it. As is stands, we are just destined to crumble both the infrastructure and our economy.

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