COMMENTARY: Of economic stimuli and broke parastatals

SHARE   |   Monday, 19 October 2015   |   By Staff Writer

It has been an eventful week at government enclave. It started off with the surprise announcement of an Economic Stimulus Package by President Ian Khama, which although details are still to be unveiled, is said to have the objective to stimulate the economy for accelerated employment creation and economic diversification.
With the risk of being accused of jumping the gun, we await the details promised "in the next few weeks" so that we can critically evaluate the benefits contained therein to an ordinary Motswana. We do hope that the framers of the ESP will put the benefits to citizens before any other player even as the package is mainly targetting tourism development, agricultural production, construction of buildings and roads as well as manufacturing.

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Just a glimpse as the targeted sectors shows that the focus is on construction projects, which many have complained that contracts in these sectors have gained a reputation of being synonymous with corruption and outright abuse. We are also aware that some economists, analysts, commentators and politicians alike are already questioning the motivation behind drawing from foreign reserves to stimulate an economy that has managed to survive the world economic downturn of 2008. Why now, they ask, particulalry when we are projecting a surplus in the current financial year.

Could it be that government is waking up from slumber land and realising that the many problems besieging the economy in different sectors has long been begging to be stimulated, or as some suggest could this be a political gimmick by the ruling party to improve their fortunes as we march towards 2019? We pray that the latter is not true, but then again we will wait and see.  Just days after the ESP was announced the minister for women affairs also made a similar announcement of 'soft grants' to all eligible candidates, which hirtheto was unheard of.

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The speed with which government is suddenly implementing policies is interesting. We are very much aware that Parliament of Botswana in August 2015, adopted the National Policy on Gender and  Development  which prioritises   gender  mainstreaming  as a means  to achieving  equity and equality. The Policy among its imports also emphasises the empowerment of women for economic independence. Although the minister says this is not part of ESP, the coincidence is too much to ignore. In just two weeks individual women will enjoy  grants under the Women Economic Empowerment programme of up to P100 000, while two will be P250 000.

A group of a minimum of five women, cooperatives and other community groups will have an opportunity of getting up to P500 000. We would like to  urge women around the country to take advantage of this new development to improve their economic status by "making hay while the sun shines".
Even as these stimuli are being launched left, right and centre it is depressing to note that in the same week government companies appearing before Parliament’s Committee on Statutory Bodies and State Enterprises are all in an embarassing state. Most, if not all the parastatals, have reported one problem after another, with losses and debts amounting to billions of pula in total. Ironically all of them claim to have one form of a turnaround strategy or another, but the results are not coming. We totally understand the frustration demonstrated by the committee members, chief among them Samson Moyo Guma who chairs the committee. We can only hope that concerns expressed by members of the committee will go beyond the walls of the parliamentary buildings and action taken to address these problems.

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Just as is always the case with the Public Accounts Committee it would be a sad day if these deliberations are reduced to just talk shops. For the little comfort it may bring we also witnessed in the same week that government has stopped paying lip service to problems of skills mismatch in the economy when five new sector Human Resource Development Committees were launched by HRDC.The sector committees are composed of a mixture of individuals of different experiences, qualifications and authority, who will be working to develop a comprehensive human resource development plan and align it with the national plan.

We concur that there is a need to transform the country’s education system from being supply led to demand driven.  The new introduced sector committees include Education &Training, Health, ICT, Public sector, Research & Innovation and Science & Technology. We learn that these sector committees exist to produce specific human resource development plans that will ensure a direct linkage between the education skills that are being developed and the needs of the economy. We commend HRDC for such a development. We hope that the sector committees will advice education institutions on which skills are in demand in the market so that relevant personnel could be produced to avoid skills mismatching.



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