Choppies Cookoff

SONA 2016: Boko responds

SHARE   |   Monday, 12 December 2016   |   By Duma Boko
SONA 2016: Boko responds

This regime has presided over the worst destruction of our democratic impulses and energies. It has intensified the monitoring of viewpoints, disrespecting those with whom it disagrees and foreclosing the common ground upon which we can listen to, and learn from, each other. And all the while the President struts across the country like a behemoth seemingly oblivious of the formidable dangers of his self-serving hypocrisy. His Ministers and henchmen strut with him, like peacocks, all the while forgetting that peacocks strut because they can’t fly! A healthy democracy is one whose branches of Government are all strong, independent and empowered to pursue their mandates. A functioning democracy is one whose laws and practices are designed and applied to ensure fairness as well as checks and restraints in the entire system. These are the necessary conditions for prosperity, justice, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Is our democracy healthy and functioning? No, it is, in fact on its death bed. It is imploding because the Executive has become the law unto itself; it does as it pleases in its unchecked lust for power and dominance. There is nothing that the legislature can do about this suffocation of our democracy except ineffectual and superficial debates on the floor of Parliament.

The Executive projects to the outside world the spurious glitter of a well-functioning, three-arm democratic set up when in reality it has emasculated the other two arms. This Parliament by tradition reports to the Office of the President and has no Budget office of its own or fully fledged Bill-drafting units. The Parliament of Botswana cannot make its own economic projections or carry out its own sector impact studies. How does an institution charged with the lofty mandate to hold the Government to account on the economy, among other things, do so competently when it does not have the tools to do so?  Parliamentary debates are not televised and the public is deliberately kept in the dark except on those few instances when the President is responsible enough to turn up for Parliament, and even then, only to listen to his own voice and disappear, or when there is a visiting foreign Head of State. It is important that we, as Members of Parliament, subject ourselves both individually and collectively, to some serious, sustained and deeply probing examination. We are not here to fake the funk and tell lies and melodramatic tales about ourselves. In the face of the relentless manipulations and lies of the Executive we must submit our institutions to sustained examination and offer a critique of all institutions of authority animated by an endless quest for intellectual integrity and moral consistency. We need some fearless speech that unsettles, unhouses and unnerves people from their uncritical sleep walking; what Philosopher Socrates, called Parrhesia, and what we call Puo Phaa!.

We must speak out against the venality of this President and his Ministers. The unfortunate reality is that even the ruling party beck bench, with the exception of one Ignatius Moswaane once in a while, and ruling party Chief Whip Kablay, when his position of Chief Whip is under threat, lacks the courage to exercise frank and plain speech. They whine in private but engage in overt superficial pandering. Tortured souls! The idea that Botswana is a democratic state is a fallacy and a superficial bastardisation. Botswana has merely donned the mask of democracy in order to appear good to the world and an ignorant electorate. The Executive branch is an albatross that chokes the other branches and lacks any commitment to genuine democratic ideals and practices. The consequences of this imbalance are dire: an unaccountable and incompetent Government that lacks the will and disposition to transform the lives of our people. The further erosion of what once looked like a democracy also manifests itself in the blatant corrosion of the integrity of the judiciary by the Executive. It is now more than a year and four months since the judiciary of this country was thrown into a crisis that saw twelve judges of the High Court petition the Chief Justice over generalised discontent at the state of the judiciary as well as the erroneous payment of housing allowance to some judges. The petition by the twelve judges resulted in bully boy tactics that saw humiliating backsliding by some, wilting, it would seem, under intense pressure and dictation, as well as the suspension of four others by the President. The four suspended judges have since instituted legal proceedings to challenge their suspension. This case has seen the most blatant disregard of elementary principles of justice and fairness where the Chief Justice who is a party to the litigation saw fit to empanel a team of judges to preside over the case. The salutary adage that justice must not only be done, it must manifestly be seen to be done seems to elude the judiciary in this case. This is an embarrassing and most damaging blight on our judiciary. We now have a judiciary at war with itself.


The rest of the judges who signed the petition against the Chief Justice and who have not been suspended present another challenge which plunges the entire judiciary further into the muck and mire. Does the fact of their favourable treatment by the same President that suspended their brethren not compromise them and render them favourably disposed toward the Executive in some quid pro quo? How can the ordinary citizen or any litigant trust such a judiciary to dispense justice without fear and without reproach? The President needed to speak to these embroilments and conundrums if only to assure the nation if this judiciary can still be looked upon to discharge the onerous and solemn duty of upholding the Constitution and the rule of law without fear, favour or ill-will. We in the UDC do not agree that it is enough for the President to tell us about physical infrastructure: how many courtrooms are being built without speaking to the grave and fundamental challenges facing the judiciary. The judiciary is a key institution in any democracy. Any threat to the independence, stability and integrity of the judges and the judiciary is a matter that must rank as the highest priority, and warrant immediate resolution. I call upon the President to address the following issues: Why has the President seen it fit to suspend only four judges over a petition signed by twelve judges? What assurances are there that we do not have a compromised and deeply divided judiciary, given that eight judges who signed the petition still remain holding office while their colleagues have been suspended? Is it not time we accepted that the judiciary is an institution in crisis deserving of a carefully constituted Judicial Commission of Inquiry? Why, after 50 years of independence is our Court of Appeal still dominated by foreign judges and why are there no female judges of Appeal? Is this not an indication of lack of confidence in female legal practitioners and our local attorneys?

THE STATE OF THE ECONOMY
Botswana continues to face persistent socio-economic challenges: Slowing economic growth: Where growth rates have declined to 3.3% during NDP 9 and 3.9% thus far in NDP 10; Undiversified economy: Between 2008 and 2015 traditional exports (diamonds, mining, beef) have grown from 90% to 95% share of exports. This is despite numerous efforts starting in the 1970s with the Industrial Development Policy (IDP), Financial Assistance Policy (FAP), CEDA, and ESP; Insufficient job creation: Formal sector employment grew by 1.5% per annum from 2009 to 2015, against a population natural rate of increase of 1.9% per annum. The highest employment growth is government led, with parastatals growing 4.6% and Ipelegeng labour rising at 3.4% per annum. These challenges will be further exacerbated by the closure of BCL which led to a loss of more than 6000 direct jobs and will impact related industries in and around Selibe Phikwe; Negative net exports: up to 2013 driven by higher growth in merchandise imports than merchandise exports; Persistent social challenges: which included inequality, and low life expectancy.

THINGS WE NEED TO DO WITH OUR ECONOMY
The combination of the current economic context, and the reality of global megatrends, shapes a few key principles that drive future economic development in Botswana with a view to creating sustainable jobs and economic activity. These principles are:
• Focus on sectors where Botswana can build global competitiveness at scale to stand out from other countries, both on the continent and beyond:
Select very focused sectors to signal clear intent to the local and global investment and talent market, and to concentrate government resources in building world class capabilities and scale; Focus on sectors where Botswana has continuing advantages due to being more advanced than other African countries (financial services) or having resources that can only be exploited locally (diamonds and mining, tourism and agriculture). These align with sectors Government has indicated but is doing little to pursue with aggression;

• Build and attract globally competitive

Align talent development with these four focus sectors: including university training, technical training, vocational training and trainee/internship programmes. (We had proposed amendments to NDP 11 to augment development expenditure in this area by a significant amount). Build a talent path to support these sectors, that includes the aforementioned skills development, clear targets for foreign labour participation (skills and capabilities) and localization targets;

• Create a competitive business environment that keeps pace with rapidly changing technology and innovation

Leverage technology to build a world-leading, Government-Business interface in information dissemination, company and labour permit applications, other licensing and taxation; Support installation of ubiquitous high speed installation of high-speed broadband (HSB) and drive usage (through e.g. government-business interface) to drive down average cost. High Speed Broadband should be availed across participants in priority sector clusters, particularly financial and other services, diamonds and tourism; Invest in power and water infrastructure to ensure high capacity and redundancy, particularly in Gaborone to retain and attract investors in target sector. (We have proposed significant additional expenditure)
• Foundations of economic clusters
Botswana has started developing clusters in five key sectors namely, diamonds, other mining, cattle, tourism, finance and other services. Most traction has been achieved in the diamond cluster, including DTCB relocation. However, other sectors have not taken off satisfactorily for a variety of reasons including lack of capacity and capabilities to implement. There are numerous examples of world class clusters including financial centres in London, Hong Kong and New York; Hollywood film industry; Silicon Valley high-tech agglomeration; the Italian luxury leather fashion cluster; the Dutch flower industry. Each of these successful clusters has specific foundational elements that help create scale and competitiveness, including: large number of companies; suppliers of specialised inputs, e.g., machinery, components, services; downstream connections to channels and customers, lateral connections to manufacturers of complementary products or industries related by skills and inputs;  Governmental and other institutions, including Universities, standards authorities, think tanks, and trade associations to build capacity; Funding mechanisms- banks, venture funds and government support agencies; Failure to provide these ingredients could lead to delayed or failed cluster development. It is imperative that Government provide these elements to ensure the fastest possible path to scale in each of the chosen clusters. In addition to these principles, the country must be focused on chasing opportunities within its control. Here are some of the things that UDC proposes for Botswana’s economic take off:

TOURISM

• Objective: Expand the tourism hub in the Okavango-Makgadikgadi triangle, including down-market in selected areas to increase penetration; and develop South East (Gaborone and environs) as a regional MICE centre.
• Suppliers of specialised inputs: increase capacity for hoteling (3-5 star), both local and globally recognized hoteling brands; invest in world class events and conferencing facilities with state of the art technology connectivity;
• Downstream and lateral connections: Encourage citizen investment in product development including cultural activities, restaurants, transport, entertainment and hoteling supplies concentrated areas e.g. downtown Kasane, Maun and Gaborone.

• Government and institutional participation: Provide skills development via LEA and local colleges for cutting/polishing/jewellery creation and downstream/lateral industries and hospitality. Improve visa process (e.g. all electronic) to facilitate tourist entry; improve border crossing experience; active government investment in and championing of marquee international events in line with hotel capacity targeting relevant sectors e.g., AfDB, SADC, other multilateral events, tourism, mining, diamond etc. events).
• Funding Mechanisms: Create dedicated funding via Tourism Sector Fund. We have suggested an amendment to NDP 11 to make funding available.

The framework developed and enunciated here in relation to the tourism cluster would mutatis mutandis apply in relation to the diamonds, cattle and agriculture, financial and other services.

Clusters support delivery and performance management

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Given the historic inability of the government to scale up economic development, a completely new approach is required to drive delivery. The proposed delivery mechanism includes creating a new Botswana Delivery Unit and delivery capacity within each of the four prioritized sectors. This Unit is required to ensure projects are delivered on time and on budget. The Delivery Unit will have a time-bound mandate, (e.g., 10-20 years) to ensure specific priorities scale up and this will entail:

• Coordinating the planning for clusters
• Monitoring and communicating progress with Government and the public against pre-defined and implementation and outcome metrics. These metrics will link quarterly activities with economic outcomes to improve accountability.
• Identifying critical issues for escalation
• Deploying top talent to identify and resolve implementation bottlenecks by leveraging internal consulting resources and/or qualified external experts.
 
 The current set of existing coordination and project management institutions like (Government Implementation Coordinating Office (GICO) can be repurposed by adjusting the mandates and increasing their human resource capacity in line with the country’s ambitions and challenges. The core skills of the Delivery Unit should include top talent that has significant experience in delivering large scale projects in the public or private sector, and that has advanced problem solving skills that will enable it to address the challenges of executing large scale national projects.

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Job creation has remained by far President Khama’s biggest failure. There are today more unemployed people in Botswana than when he became President. The recent closure of BCL has been by far the most disheartening of all this Government’s many tragic blunders. As the UDC we are of the firm view that BCL should never have been closed in the first place. We have described this closure as an act of gross irresponsibility, in fact bordering on the criminal. To us, saving BCL makes much better economic sense than closing it. To that end we have put together for Parliament’s discussion, a detailed economic position paper which, if adopted, would reopen BCL mine. To us, BCL provided jobs to more than the 6000 or so people it directly employed. It provided jobs also to its independent contractors, to many people employed by small businesses with which it did business but also to employees of State Owned companies like Water Utilities Corporation, Botswana Power Corporation and others. The closure of BCL so far remains by far the biggest reason why this Government is shamefully unfit to continue to hold power.


PERSONALISED MILITARY SPENDING

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During both his tenure in the army and as Head of State, President Khama has mulcted this country in extremely wasteful and ill-advised military expenditure. There is, as we speak, over 500 lb of Mark 82 bombs and F5 Rockets that have gone past both their operational and shelf life without ever being used. This is military equipment that has set the country back by over 300 million Pula. It is money gone to waste while our people are down in the dumps, catching hell. He is the same person who nearly sparked off an arms race in the region by seeking to purchase F4 Phantom fighter aircraft, with inflight refueling capability, from Turkey, an acquisition that was prevented when South Africa raised alarm. Let me further sketch for you the kind of President we have. The Botswana Defence Force has 8 Bell 412 helicopters. Three of these are set aside for the President’s exclusive use. These are the H 04, which is an Augusta Bell, the H 07 and the H 08. These are very modern helicopters available for his exclusive use. Yet what does this emperor do? At a time when the country is facing economic hardship which results in closures of mines and massive job losses, he purchases an EC 225 Supa Puma helicopter for his own exclusive use and enjoyment. Our people are caught up in the death grip of poverty and unemployment, yet their President is abusing their resources on himself and his eccentricities. State-owned enterprises are retrenching and sending many people into a bleak future, and our President is busy feeding his frenzy and satisfying his extravagant pastimes; buying a luxury helicopter for over 300 million Pula. The cost of transporting the helicopter to Botswana in the Antonov aircraft that brought it here was well over 5 million Pula. As if that is not enough, he takes over 10 Billion Pula and applies it to the purchase of Grippen Fighter jets that we do not need. A single Grippen jet equates to the combat power of a whole battalion.

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Such combat power and capability is not only totally unnecessary, it is prohibitively expensive, considering we will never get to use it unless our belligerent conduct angers our neighbours and triggers an arms race that will leave the security situation in the region highly volatile and dangerous. As I have said before, our President is like a demon propitiated only by human sacrifice and suffering. He has brought nothing but huge DISASTER upon our country. As he staggers into his retirement, he will forever be haunted by the guttural cries of the many people whose lives he has wrecked, and the silent tears of the workers of this country whose livelihoods he brought into rack and ruin. I can only hope that as he struts around enjoying the opulence he has painfully extorted from the people of this country he finds time to remember that like the rest of us he is but a mere mortal, and that one day when his finitude catches up with him in this ceaseless rush of time, he will have to wrestle with the question of what mark or imprint he left this country, what legacy he will be remembered by if at all. I would like to tell him that even as he lives his life of fun and games in the midst of such suffering, he must remember that Elle Wiesel counsels us that the opposite of life is not death, but living your life unconcerned, and disconnected from the people you could offer hope to. This state of the Nation Address does not even so much as acknowledge, let alone chronicle the pain and suffering of those employees of BCL who saw their future explode into spasms of uncertainty and sorrow. We hear the suicide toll stands at 8 so far. For this to not even elicit a tincture of compassion from the President of the country is very telling indeed. We maintain that this country deserves better. It deserves this compelling alternative that is the UDC. It deserves a President and a leadership that truly and genuinely cares about their plight and predicament - A leadership that will commit the country’s resources not to the purchase of jet fighters when the situation calls for specialised forces to face any threat of terrorism, but to addressing their everyday problems and challenges. We are the superior and compelling leadership and proposition that this country so desperately needs.
*This is part of speech delivered by the Leader of Opposition Duma Boko in Parliament in respond to President Ian Khama’s State of the Nation Address (SONA).