ESP must target the poor and underprivileged

SHARE   |   Monday, 11 January 2016   |   By Comrade Moore
ESP must target the poor and underprivileged

It is clear that the name ‘ Economic Stimulus Package’ is a misnomer  because of the projects targeted are very general and therefore the most vulnerable members of our country have a right to stake their claim to ESP. In view of the fact that; ESP was first announced at a BDP conference by Ian Khama, the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning has been sidelined and normal government tendering processes will be by-passed. ESP is a recipe for gross abuse of the funds by the BDP.

Political analysts, who claimed that all ministries under the Khama dictatorship will end up being  controlled  by the Office of the President with the exception of the Ministry of Finance because of its technical expertise simply do not understand how the mind of a dictator and a control freak works. We are now witnessing a blatant usurpation of the powers of the Ministry of Finance by the President. If Finance Minister Mathambo has a backbone he must challenge this usurpation of his powers and demand that ESP be handed over to his Ministry where it rightly belongs. Why parliament was by-passed in such a reckless and an unprecedented manner is another cause for grave concern. 

The Office of the President has arrogated to itself the power to preside over the ESP.  It is shocking to learn that before President Khama announced the ESP and well before Parliament debated the programme the Office of the President had long started implementing the ESP! We have a President who violates not just the constitution of the country but standard government procedures willy-nilly.  The centralisation of projects in the Office of the President is a clear testament to the dictatorial tendencies of the regime which has been castigated by various studies.

The 2015 Ibrahim Index of African Governance and the World Justice Project Rule of Law Index 2015 lambasted Khama for transforming this country into a veritable dictatorship.  Furthermore it is unclear how ESP relates to the country’s national development plan. Has the national development plan been subverted by the all-powerful Office of the President? The long-standing BNF position on foreign reserves has always been that the amount the country keeps should be enough to cover three or four months of import cover in the event that the country’s normal revenue sources cannot be relied upon.

A year or two ago the country’s foreign reserves had grown to a point where they could cover up to 20 months of the country’s imports. The reserves are estimated at P87 billion. The standard response of the BDP regime was that the reserves were meant for emergencies (madi a ke a makatadimetche). The BNF counter argument was that high rates of unemployment  and poverty, the growing incidence of  school dropouts and the scourge of HIV/AIDS and street urchins constituted an emergency that justified spending a significant amount of the country’s foreign  reserves. Why has the BDP suddenly somersaulted on its long-standing position regarding the use of foreign reserves?

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As political pundits have argued, this country has earned the dubious distinction of having the worst inequalities in the world and ESP must be used to try and bridge that yawning cleavage between the rich and poor. The fact that of the 21 countries whose Human Development Index (HDI) declined from 1990 to 2001 Botswana was the only country in the world whose HDI fell while the country was enjoying high economic growth rates speaks volumes about the country’s flawed development strategy. The country’s development trajectory clearly indicates that the greatest challenge facing this nation is not shortage of money per se.

The root of the problem is Government’s failure to come up with pro-poor polices targeting the vulnerable groups in society. Our development policies and budgetary allocations are not consistently pro-poor. Unless there is a paradigm shift in the country’s development agenda an increased development budget may simply amount to the further widening of the gap between the haves and have-nots. ESP is simply offering more of the same failed policies. The Global Hunger Index released by the International Food Policy Research Institute in 2006 showed that Botswana had a serious hunger problem which had grown worse over the past decade, even when the country enjoyed high economic growth rates.

Between 1980 and 1996 (while the economy was growing) the number of permanent destitutes increased from 5 000 to 15 597 with Gantsi and Kgalagadi being the hardest hit. Indeed the rate of destitution in Gantsi and Kgalagadi is reported to be about 50 times higher than in urban areas. The government destitute programme only covers ¼ of the total number of destitutes in the country. Data for the period 1993 and 1996 indicates that the number of permanent and temporary destitutes was increasing in all districts.


Professor Kenneth Good demonstrates that between 1990 and 2004 under-five mortality rates doubled from 58 to 116 per 1 000 live births. For an upper middle income country with only 2 million people this is unacceptable. But even more scandalous is the fact that according to the World Bank Report (2013), Botswana Social Protection Assessment , there are 72 000 under five children who are classified as stunted or suffer from suboptimal brain development with long lasting consequences, likely to compromise their cognitive and academic performance in school. The following vulnerable groups must be targeted by the ESP.

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1. The entire Feeding Programme – School Feeding Programme, Vulnerable Groups Feeding Programme which covers under-fives, pregnant and lactating mothers as well TB and leprosy out- patients must be reviewed and augmented as a matter of urgency. While most families with orphans, destitute and elderly persons over 65 benefit from Ipelegeng the rest of families in absolute poverty are missed out. That is why the World Bank suggests a family as opposed to individual targeting of social protection packages because even those individual beneficiaries belong to families.  Despite government media hype and propaganda, Ipelegeng caters for less than 3% of the population in dire need of assistance.

The fact that this programme has produced 72 000 under five stunted children is a manifestation of its failure and is therefore in urgent need of a rude shake-up. There are also high and persistent levels of malnutrition. Government intervention must be based on the latest data on poverty levels. The problem is that Botswana Core Welfare Indicators Survey (BCWIS) is carried out every 7 to 9 years. That is far too infrequent to permit informed and timely policy corrections and interventions. Household Incomes and Expenditure Surveys are also carried out every ten years.  Some countries carry out limited surveys every year or every two years and more detailed surveys every five years. We must begin to collect data much more frequently.


2. ESP must target the estimated 336 000 Batswana living in abject poverty or below the poverty datum line. This translates into only 84 000 families. Half the population lives on US$1 a day. Up to 50% of the all female headed households live below the poverty datum line. Indeed poverty has a ‘woman’s face’. If the government poverty alleviation programmes begin to target families rather than individuals there will be fewer overlapping of programmes and improved targeting of deserving people. The joint World Bank and BIDPA study calling for a Family Support Grant to replace programmes for orphans and destitutes must be given consideration, although it might be premature and risky in our situation to replace food handouts with cash payments.

Their suggestion that the grant should increase the food poverty line of about P170 per person per month to P340 per family of four per month is rather too mean and penny-pinching. Family targeting might close loopholes and enhance the efficiency of the social safety nets which are fragmented and straddle many ministries.

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3. In 2010 the government was catering for only 48 118 orphans while the overall number of orphans was estimated at a staggering 137 805. The fact that programmes for orphans are supported to the tune of  34% by the state, 43%  by households and 39% by relatives means that the government is not doing enough and must increase its share of support. The greatest challenge facing NGOs catering for orphans is lack of funding. Gantsi with the highest number of orphans, thanks to the ruthless land dispossession carried out by the BDP regime in the 1970s, has NGOs like Permaculture, Widow of Hope, Thuto Isago Trust and Kuru Development Trust which are in dire need of funding. With international donors having stopped funding these NGOs because Botswana is an upper middle income country the government must step up to the plate.

4. Only 41% of the population has access to sanitation. Studies have shown that 17% of the 15 000 boreholes have signs of nitrate pollution due to human waste. Waste water sanitation is poorly developed and constitutes a threat to the health of the people. The number of households still using pit latrines even in towns is shocking. This is an area that requires urgent intervention. 

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5. ESP must target universal provision of pre-primary enrolment for all children in Botswana as a human right. Pre-primary enrolment statistics were estimated at 18.9% in 2010/11 in Botswana. This is very disappointing for an upper middle income country. Other middle income countries are way ahead of Botswana – Jamaica at 113%, Costa Rica 72% and South Africa 65%. Pre-primary education is enjoyed by children of the rich and this only helps to widen the gap between the rich and poor. What needs to be done, among other things, is to add one or two blocks of classrooms to every primary school for all children to access pre-school education. Government must give the over 3 000 unemployed teachers crash courses to offer pre-school education.


6. ESP must give all the workers of this country pensions to fall back on upon retirement. The fact that contributory pensions cover less than 13% of the workforce is a matter of grave concern that needs urgent attention. Given the low wages many retirees are just one month’s salary away from poverty. They find themselves on Ipelegeng queues just one month into their retirement. These people simply join the capitalist reserve army of the unemployed soon after retirement. The country’s fight against poverty is severely compromised if workers do not have pensions. ESP must correct this anomaly. 

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7. ESP must be used to introduce unemployment benefits because these people need to survive and be part of the mainstream economy. Unemployment officially stands at around 23 % but when those who have given up on actively looking for a job are counted it rises to 30 or even 40%. In a society characterized by capitalist commodity fetishism everybody needs money to survive.  It is the duty of every government to ensure full employment for its citizens and while struggling to achieve that goal it must pay unemployment benefits to those who cannot find jobs.


8. ESP must be used to increase wages and salaries by at least 15% because the 6% salary hike was far too small. And that is why Ministers and MPs, like ‘vultures’, secretly increased theirs by up to 40%. Families are currently heavily indebted to and exploited by private banks and their contribution to the revival of the economy is compromised by their weak purchasing power. Enhancing the buying power of families would certainly contribute to the recovery of the economy.

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9. Informal sector workers (estimated at 677, 857, ¾ of whom are women) are among the poorest members of our society that deserve their fair share of ESP. This sector is not only a manifestation of poverty but most of them are caught up in a poverty trap. The quality of their work is poor and there is neither recognition nor protection for these workers by the country’s laws. They cannot access loans from banks because they have no security.

They do not enjoy workers rights nor do they have representation, voice and social protection. Most of them are illiterate and lack production skills. Part of the ESP must be ring-fenced for this vulnerable group. Government, working in collaboration with trade unions and the International Labour Organization (ILO), should facilitate the organization of these workers into cooperatives and help them transition from the informal sector to the formal sector. Government should create a conducive legislative framework for cooperatives to thrive, provide tax incentives and training for members of cooperatives.

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As a starting point trade unions should organize the informal sector workers into trade unions to give them bargaining power and facilitate their organization into workers cooperatives. Surely if the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) of India who were street vendors -  vegetable sellers and home dress makers  in 1972 now boasts a membership of 1.9 million,  and has diversified into various successful cooperatives, the poverty of our people can be eradicated if there is political will to do so.


10. ESP must be targeted at vulnerable minority ethnic communities like Basarwa through Land Resettlement Programmes. These indigenous communities are not part of the   mainstream economy and unless a special programme to give them back part of their land taken away from them through Tribal Land Grazing Policy in the 1970s is instituted they cannot escape from the poverty trap. Basarwa are modern day slaves of the dominant ethnic communities and this state of affairs must be eradicated through ESP. Barawa of CKGR must be returned to  their CKGR homeland  and be allowed to derive direct mineral royalties from mining companies on their land. This will instantly lift them out of poverty.

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11. ESP must target slums dwellers in our towns which are an eyesore where there is a huge concentration of the lumpen-proletariat and other Lazarus victims of the capitalist system. The eradication of slums from the face of this country, the construction of decent housing and elimination of pit latrines that are a health hazard is long overdue.  Much of the collective security of communal obligation and redistributive mechanisms which typified our transitional society has been eroded by capitalist greed and individualism. Wealth no longer carries the onus of generosity.

In the past poverty-stricken women of Old Naledi used stock-fair as a survival mechanism. Stock fair and the selling of traditional beer was a redistributive mechanism – redistributing money from its chance concentration in the hands of few people.  Old Naledi residents used stock fair to rotate credit. Each person in a group contributed a fixed sum of money to a certain group member. With the advances the individual would buy ingredients of beer and brew it and sell the beer over a weekend. The recipient of group contributions would also buy offal or the head of cow from butcher shops, cook and throw a party with some music being provided. The recipient of the cash used the earnings to pay out as dividends to all contributors and pocketed the profit.

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A week or month later another member of the group becomes the recipient of the advances or shares in the beer as the system was rotated. In this way people living in the margins of poverty were able to eke out a living. Sock-fairs have been stopped by the Khama regime and with devastating consequences. Ian Khama’s anti-liquor laws banning the sale of liquor, including Chibuku and traditional beer, in people’s homes and limiting trading hours severely hit this already poor group of women. Only the few who are able to build a Chibuku depot have survived. There is no harm in selling Chibuku and traditional beer in one’s home once in a while. Cottage industries are found even an emerging super-power like China and the poor must be allowed to engage in survival activities in cottage industries.


12.  The growing number of female-headed households are among those struggling to survive and need special targeting through ESP. Some 50% of female-headed households live in income poverty as compared to 44% male-headed households. The number of female-headed households is growing because of changing marriage patterns and attitudes. Marriages are becoming less popular and divorce rates are increasing hence the ‘sharp decline in the proportion of the ever married women from 61.4% in 1971 to 50.5% in 1991. A similar trend is also observable with respect to marriage trends for men’ (National Population Policy, 1997; 7).

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Nationally female-headed households increased from 45.2% in 1981 to 47.1% in 1991, but during the same period in urban areas they increased from 32.8% to 44.4% and in the rural areas they increased from 48.4% to 49.9% (National Population Policy, 1997; 7). Also worrying is the fact that ‘both in the urban and rural areas the average size of female-headed households is larger than that of male-headed households; being 5.1 persons and 4.5 persons respectively’. So the poorer but larger female-headed households have less resources to sustain themselves.

The 1993/94 Household Incomes and Expenditure Survey (HIES) found that women constituted only 37.5% of all cash earners yet they have more dependents and work in sectors of the economy that earn limited wages and are more vulnerable to retrenchment in the event of an economic downswing. Women are shock-absorbers of the capitalist system – they are the last to be hired when the system expands and the first to be fired when the system contracts. These struggling in the informal sector face the constant threat of police harassment for violating so-called health standards and they do not have proper facilities.

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13. Unprotected freehold farm workers are virtual slaves of land and cattle barons. Some of the poorest people (sometimes entire families) are enslaved on freehold farms in Gantsi, Tuli Block, Gaborone, Francistown and Lobatse.  ESP must take these people out of their servitude and give them a decent way of life.


14. ESP must be used to ensure that all children not only go to school but complete their basic education. The problem of the missing 17% children of primary school going age in our schools must be eliminated by making basic education free and compulsory. Completion rates in Botswana compared to other middle income counties are very poor. At secondary level enrolment drops rapidly especially for the girl child, consequently, secondary education enrolment is only 61.1% in Botswana compared to 83.6% in Jamaica and 68.7% in Panama. Jamaica and Panama are also middle income countries like Botswana.

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Comrade Moore
Gaborone