Boko’s response to SONA 

SHARE   |   Monday, 13 November 2017   |   By Duma Boko
Boko’s response to SONA 

On behalf of the people of this country, and in particular its children, youth, poor people and workers, I wish to register my great disappointment that the President has blithely told them that their dream of inclusive prosperity has been deferred to 2036, declared the Leader of Opposition Duma Boko in response to President Ian Khama’s State of the Nation Address (SONA).  Boko says:  

 The record

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President Khama took office on 01 April 2008, about eight years to the end of the Vision 2016 cycle. He defined his approach to the management of the nation’s affairs in terms of five principles, Democracy, Development, Dignity, Discipline, and Delivery. We had hoped that his government would develop measures by which it would objectively monitor its performance and the targets that would define success at critical points in what we look at as accounting cycles – the government’s financial year, the National Development Plan and the long-term vision. The President and his Government have neglected, refused and/or failed to provide these marks and measures. This much we know. It is a fact and reality that jeers at President Khama and should haunt him well into his old age and indeed for the rest of his life. We in the UDC will measure the performance of our government, not by what it has done or how much it has spent, but rather by the changes it has made in people’s lives and the extent to which it has laid the foundation for sustainable prosperity as our bequest to posterity. We are interested in the numbers and proportions of people who are lifted out of poverty and vulnerability to poverty, the number of decent jobs created, growth in average real wages and household incomes more generally, the share of national income accruing to workers and the extent to which inequality is reduced and inclusion achieved. We want discernible improvement in the overall quality of life of citizens and their enjoyment of basic human rights and freedoms. We want to see educational performance rising, access to quality basic services universalised, and the quality of institutions and the public’s trust and confidence in them growing.When you assumed the high office of President of the Republic in 2008, the national poverty head count ratio was 19.3%. One in four Batswana who wanted to work and were fit to work (26.2%) went without a job. The economy had achieved a sustained average real GDP growth rate of 8% over the decade preceding your tenure. Our institutions, though imperfect, were functioning satisfactorily. Our planning system, with the then Ministry of Finance and Development Planning in charge of planning, budgeting and development coordination, was highly regarded as a model others could follow. We had reasonably robust systems of accountability. They were not perfect but they were robust nonetheless. The Government and organised labour were making progress toward better industrial relations. And most important, the people were not afraid of their government even though we did have incidents of people dying under suspicious circumstances in police custody.

The Economy

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You will bequeath to your successor an economy whose growth is slow, jobless, pro-rich and fragile due in part to slow progress on the diversification of both the economy and markets, and weak external competitiveness. You are handing over an economy in worse shape than you found it in 2008. Whilst we appreciate the positive sovereign credit rating, this macro level indicator should not take our focus from the economy’s dismal performance at the microeconomic level, where firms and households are facing difficult odds. Business closures have become all too common, household incomes are depressed, real wages are declining, household debt is rising, the ranks of the unemployed are swelling, vulnerability to poverty is growing, and a growing share of our population has become dependent on the safety net and Ipelegeng. We catalogue these because they provide an unanswerable reproach to the contrived reality the President sought to present.These indicators suggest that the economy is not working for the average person. No wonder ours is now the third most unequal society in the world. This government has failed on job creation, poverty eradication, economic inclusion and the expansion of opportunity for our burgeoning youth population. Whereas vision 2016 envisaged full employment and zero statistical poverty by 2016, nearly one in five Batswana are unemployed, and an almost equivalent number subsists below the poverty line.We urge the government to challenge the country’s economists - in government, academia and the private sector - to develop an alternative model for this economy, re-examine our economic policies and strategies, and inject a measure of creativity into policy design. The current dispensation, in which we muddle along seeking to spend our way to success, and we throw money at problems, is neither working nor sustainable, because the days of rich mineral revenue yields belong to our past. Yet, this is exactly what successive BDP governments have been doing, all the while mouthing platitudes about economic diversification and transformation.During the tenure of your government, formal employment grew at a slouchy 1.5 per cent per annum, with the highest annual job growth rates registered by public enterprises (4.6%) and Ipelegeng (3.4%). From 2011 to 2015, enrolment in Ipelegeng rose by 28 percent! Public enterprises and Ipelegeng cannot be the primary sources of job growth for a country with ambition for its young people. The overwhelming majority of our public enterprises survive on heavy government subsidies, while participation in Ipelegeng engages people for only three months on low pay, little work and zero development of functional capabilities.

In the private sector, which accounts for 56 per cent of formal employment, the rate of job growth averaged 1.2 per cent per annum between 2011 and 2015. Yet, over this period, the labour force grew at an annual rate of 3.5%. Juxtapose labour force growth and the rate of job growth and you arrive at the terrifying conclusion that we have an annual job growth deficit of two percentage points! The message behind these figures is unambiguous. There are no jobs for the unemployed and the youth who leave colleges with diplomas and degrees hoping for a job. Workers cannot expect wage growth! Our collective well-being is eroding.The most recent rate estimates put unemployment at 17.7% of the labour force in 2015/16. That amounts to 149,300 unemployed active Batswana job seekers out of a total labour force of 844,050. Add discouraged job seekers and the rate of unemployment rises to about 30 per cent. Remove Ipelegeng from the employment figures and the gravity of Botswana’s joblessness and exclusion becomes more apparent.It is time to jettison the current economic model and obsession with macroeconomic performance in favour of a model that puts people, empowerment and jobs at the centre of development management and strikes an optimum balance between macroeconomic performance and outcomes for firms and households. We do not, Mr President, share your optimism on the economy, not because the platform for success does not exist but rather because you propose nothing beyond business as usual, even in the face of a deteriorating state of national wellbeing. To be sure, good fortune is still smiling on us because “new” mineral wealth has been found and indications are more will be found. Though the “new” wealth does not promise anything as stupendously productive as our diamond assets in Jwaneng, Letlhakane and Orapa, it provides a buffer against the depletion of these assets and the underperformance of the non-mining and non-tourism sector.But we are not helping ourselves. We cannot depend on good fortune and providence forever. We have a duty to transform the economy, broaden and accelerate growth as well as create opportunity for all to earn, through their own hard work and enterprise, the kind of lives they desire. We must also convert our exhaustible natural wealth into sustainable alternatives, especially quality human capital, innovation capabilities, and good institutions.

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Democracy and Governance

 It is ironic that in the end, the President who sold democracy as a personal governing principle did the most to take the country’s democracy backwards. In the nine and half years your government has been in office, it has not done anything to broaden and deepen democracy. The all party conference died under your watch. Your government clamped down on the private media, denying them government business, harassing journalists, tightening regulation and taking the curious step of announcing government sponsorship for ministers and civil servants to sue newspapers. Your government has turned the two government owned radio stations, Botswana Television and the Daily News Newspaper into propaganda instruments for the government and the ruling party, diverting them from serving the core democratic function of informing truthfully and fairly. They do not only deny the opposition equitable coverage but also insidiously target events that are unfavourable to the opposition for extended coverage.If you need any quick illustration ponder the fact that when the President delivered the SONA Btv was here to beam live to the nation the President’s address. Three days later, when it is our turn to respond they are conspicuous by their absence. This is no accident. It is a deliberate and aggressive promotion of conformity. It a shameless one-sidedness that conspires to deny our people the benefit of alternative viewpoints and place the government’s claims beyond the intense probing we deploy here. We are denied coverage so that this President and his government may continue the political con game they have played for so many years. We are beset at every step by the dread and calamity of a President and a ruling party trapped in dangerously outmoded patterns of thought.Two years ago, in my response to the SONA I stated that “It is about time we took our citizens more seriously by broadcasting the proceedings of this House live to them. That would truly take our parliament to the people.” Two years on we are still where we were then. We take this opportunity to call for progressive democratic reforms, including full autonomy for the Independent Electoral Commission, timely action on the recommendations of election audit reports, public funding for political parties to level the playing field, restrictions on the use of public assets for party political activities, and self-regulation of the media. We reject the Electronic Voting Machines in whatever shape or form they are presented. Our people have stated that they reject the EVM and see it as an attempt to undermine the integrity of the electoral process. We reject the EVM even if it comes dressed up in some fancy garbs that include the so called Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail. I would like to warn this government that there will either be fair and credible elections in 2019 or no elections at all until this government comes to its senses. We will expose your claim to upholding democracy for the illusion and the fraud it is.

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A free and independent media plays a critical role in any democracy. Our media may not always cover itself in glory but we have a duty to recognise the special role it plays in informing and educating the nation while holding the leaders and institutions to account. We call for the further liberalisation of the airwaves, to among other things, allow for community radio stations to be set up. We demand that Btv and all state broadcasters be urgently released from their current stranglehold to operate as proper public broadcasters and not exclusive mouthpieces of the government and the ruling party.We have seen how social media has facilitated instant communication and the rapid flow of information between people and institutions, as well as business marketing and networking, especially for informal traders and small and medium enterprises. We have also seen how it can be used very effectively for disinformation and nefarious purposes. These defects notwithstanding, it remains a powerful force for good and we urge extreme caution in regulating it. Let the people network and speak to each other.Your government has also actively sought to weaken and marginalise another powerful wellspring of democracy: organised labour. The Public Sector Bargaining Council has died under your watch; its death an inevitable outcome of meddling in public sector bargaining by the state. Your government has also failed to recognise labour as a stakeholder and partner in the resolution of society’s economic and social problems, opting instead for permanent conflict and the use of draconian regulation to break labour’s back. This includes the classification of virtually all public services as essential, unilateral amendments to the Public Service Act and the Trade Dispute Acts and wilful violation of ILO conventions on employer-employee relations.The effects of taking this path are palpable. Public servants are disillusioned and productivity in the public service has suffered, with dire consequences for service provision, including in critical areas such as education and health. You cannot expect disgruntled and demotivated teachers to produce good examination results, or unhappy nurses and doctors to provide quality health care. As the UDC, we take the view that there is correlation between industrial relations, work ethic, productivity and efficiency. This is a significant point of difference between the UDC and your government’s view of industrial conflict. Good industrial relations yield labour market stability, which is good for our broader socio-economic objectives.

What is to be done?

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As we see it, Botswana’s development challenges are rooted in the closely related trinity of failed leadership, governance failure and corruption. They then become manifest as an economy that fails to meet the expectations of its stakeholders, resulting in the all too familiar problems of unemployment, poverty, inequality and exclusion. Thus, in our view, Botswana’s problems require in the first instance, competent, ethical and farsighted leadership. We know this because history is replete with such lessons. Nations do not prosper by chance or good fortune. The ever-present feature of nations that succeed is that they are well led. I address this to the people of Botswana more than this house because they alone choose their political leadership.When a nation chooses the correct leadership, such leadership tends to replicate itself throughout the nation, so that society is well led at all levels, and merit prevails. We have elected the current political leadership and our reward is a closed crony-capitalist system that has captured the state and uses it to serve the narrow interests of its members. Thus, we witness corruption on an unprecedented scale with its beneficiaries acting with impunity. Major projects are bungled, most probably because corruption handed us the wrong executors, and no one is held to account. People are appointed to positions of leadership, not on the basis of merit but on account of their loyalty to the system. If the leadership challenge is addressed, the specifics that we need to take will be easy to attend to. In our view, the urgent priorities for Botswana are as follows:

i) An alternative economic model for Botswana: UDC will jettison the current economic model in favour of one that: targets a GDP growth rate of 6-8 percent; seeks an efficient balance between macroeconomic performance on the one hand and outcomes for firms and households on the other; prioritises job creation and economic transformation as central tenets of development management; makes markets work better for inclusion; pays special attention to SMMEs as the vehicle for economic transformation; and prioritises policy innovation in pursuit of the above ends. We will challenge our economic advisors in that manner. We understand the deep necessity for authentic change in our country at all levels. This moment requires that we correctly understand and interpret developments around us, including global thinking on development and the experience of other nations. It further requires that we do so with a solid and evidence-based appreciation of our own circumstances, and willingness to reject the temptation to adopt fixed frameworks of ideas as panaceas for our problems. Thus, even as we embrace markets, globalisation, trade and foreign direct investment as forces for good, as essential to our pursuit of rapid, inclusive and sustainable prosperity, we will reject fundamentalist globalism the same way we reject market fundamentalism. Our development model must be sensitive to our peculiarities.

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(ii) Accelerated Job Creation: The circumstances we are in demand it. We have had a two-percentage point gap between the growth rate of the labour force and the rate of job creation for most of this government’s tenure. The result is a burgeoning population of unemployed young people, a growing proportion of whom have college degrees and diplomas. Under current conditions, a UDC government will deliver 100,000 jobs within the first 12 months of assuming office. To achieve this we shall do the following:

• Get BCL back into operation. That will deliver about 5,000 direct jobs in BCL and a further 15,000 jobs in the rest of the local economy and the SPEDU region. This is our real measure of the recklessness of closing BCL in the first place without a rigorous economic and social impact assessment.

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• Through the relaxation of the onerous regulatory demands on SMMEs and individuals, and the extension of support services, we will liberate thousands of jobs in the SMME sector. As we speak, a large number of would be residential guest houses have not been opened because of unnecessarily strict requirements such as those relating to parking and ownership of premises. Many farms that should be integrating tourism and hospitality into their operations are constrained by rigid land use regulations. Many professionals are unable to use their skills as trainers to employ themselves and because of the cost and regulatory barriers the Botswana Qualifications Authority has created. Easing these regulatory measures alone or removing some of them altogether, will create thousands of jobs.

• We will require that all government projects, including major ones, be deliberately designed to include SMMEs. This will include unbundling large-scale projects to the extent they are not technically compromised and efficiency is retained. For instance, those who win large-scale construction projects will not be given quarry and sand mining licenses in areas where locals can provide those resources.

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• Through focused and proactive agricultural extension, willing landowners around major population centres will be assisted to produce agricultural goods – vegetables, poultry, pork for which demand exists.

• We will explore and actively undertake as necessary and advisable the production of medical marijuana as well as industrial hemp to harness the unique potential offered by these enterprises. We will enact appropriate legislation to enable and facilitate these unique areas of economic activity.

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• We will reign in corruption to ensure that corrupt politicians and civil servants do not steal employment opportunities from the public.

• We will provide incentives for firms to hire young people, train them and prepare them for the world of work. This includes subsidies and tax incentives.

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• We will use public procurement to influence and leverage job creating and labour-intensive procurement, while embedding fair labour practices in public procurement contracts.

The key to creating the 100, 000 jobs is regulatory efficiency. The undue and unjustifiably over regulatory approach of this government greatly impedes the establishment and growth of SMMEs.

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ii) Medium Term and Long Term Job Creation: Over the medium and longer terms, our approach to job creation will hinge on three pillars, namely :

• Regulatory Reforms: We will create, through policy, legislative and institutional reforms, an entrepreneurship ecosystem that encourages start-up businesses, the growth of SMMEs and citizen economic empowerment. This will include reviewing and raising SMME thresholds to expand the population of firms eligible for SMME support. For instance, the special dispensation the HRDC extends to citizen SMMEs in respect of the training levy will then cover firms that currently are too big to benefit from it. The reforms will also include the development and implementation of a National Employment Policy and infusion of employment targeting into macroeconomic planning and development management. In support of the policy, we will mandate the conduct of annual labour force surveys to provide up to date labour market data to support planning, and the establishment of an independent Labour Market Observatory and a formal Labour Exchange, including online recruitment.

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• Value Chain Identification, analysis and development: We will not create quality jobs and sustain high growth so long as we export our commodities in their raw form. It is a travesty that the agricultural and tourism value chains remain largely untapped. We will target these value chains for development to unlock the jobs that reside in down-stream processing activities in agriculture, the expansion of the product offering in both sectors and the development of upstream supply linkages. Most importantly, we will carefully begin work to more proactively promote the beneficiation of our minerals and localisation of the quality engineering and other jobs that we expatriate through raw commodity exports.

• Reforming the education system urgently at all levels: It is critical that we raise the quality of training and align our education system’s products with the needs of the economy and the development needs of young people themselves. The crisis of quality and performance in our education system also requires an audit of the system early in the first five years to set a baseline for take-off towards a more effective system of education and skills development. The reforms will include more focussed attention to the learning environment, with a focus on technologies such as tablets and the development needs of teachers. We need a government that is acutely alive to the reality that in this day and age the most economically significant industrial property is not the machine but the design, and not even so much the design as the capacity to innovate design in process and product.

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• Revamping our innovation systems: We may not be a leader in innovation but the path to a high-income knowledge economy is paved by investment in innovation systems. We will therefore invest more and strategically in research work by lecturers, teachers and students.

 The Immediate Future

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This President and his government have taken us along a precipitous path and brought us to the dead end of economic advancement. We must get ourselves out of this mess. We must revive the entertainment industry to free our people to drink and drink alcohol, yes, but actively equip them with the message and learning to do so responsibly. We must move away from the paternalism that impels this Government to seek to control when people drink, party, enjoy themselves and engage in leisure activities. Leisure is not just an opportunity to unwind and catch up, it is a potential income earner and economic activity. Our music industry is dying. The performing arts have no platform for expression and growth. The whole country is stifled and suffocated. And we wonder why we count among the unhappiest people in the world?In concrete and clear terms we must urgently: abolish the alcohol levy and utilise the proceeds thereof accumulated thus far for the establishment of world-class rehabilitation facilities; remove all the current unreasonable restrictions on the hours of operation of bars, night clubs and other entertainment facilities; promote the growth of a local performing arts industry by ensuring clear support for the arts by public broadcasters and rewarding actors and performers appropriately for their talent and creativity.This forms part of the suite of urgent reforms that the next President of this country must undertake. He must also heed the outrage of the people regarding the Electronic Voting Machines and safeguard the peace and stability of the country by removing the EVM completely from our electoral process. The many concealed levies and taxes imposed on our people must also come to an end. Our people are made to pay way too much for some of the most basic entitlements. The overbearing presence of the government has seen too many licensing requirements that are attended by exorbitant levies. These must be abolished. There are too many restrictions to doing business in a country that claims to be actively addressing the ease of doing business within its borders. We must truly become steeped in values of innovation, flexibility and plurality.Another very important area that cries out for urgent intervention is the judiciary. Our judiciary is in total disarray with its dignity and integrity shredded by President Khama. Happily for his successor, the tenure of the current Chief Justice comes to an end soon after the departure of President Khama. This presents a special opportunity to appoint a leader of the judiciary who will be both jurisprudentially outstanding as well as an astute administrator who will restore the dignity of our judiciary. Our judiciary boasts some very able legal minds. It lacks a leader and unifier who can inspire and guide it.It now falls on the next President to find and appoint such a lawyer to lead our judiciary. Any mistake in these regards will prove terminally fatal. We can only look forward to the next SONA under a different President and hope that we will be treated to something more serious than the lullaby that was sung to us here.

Conclusion

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It remains for me to thank President Khama that he has himself assured us that he will leave the office of President at the expiration of his term. He undertakes to respect and uphold the dictates of our Constitution. If he does, it will certainly be the most important act of fidelity to the Constitution of his entire tenure as President. Otherwise he has had to be kept under restraint by the Courts on many of his attempts to subvert the Constitution. To all the Comrades on my side of the aisle I can do no better than to repeat what I have said before about the Umbrella for Democratic Change. I have asserted to all of you that the Umbrella for Democratic Change will not emerge from some miraculous act of immaculate conception; it must result from energetic debate, popular decision, collective sacrifice and constitutional creativity. It is an exercise in statecraft as much as it is an enactment of soul craft, which demands the best of our efforts and our humility. It continues to embody, express and represent our on-going quest for a better future for our country. It articulates a deep sense of Prometheanism: the idea that we can raise ourselves beyond the plane of ordinary existence in which the mass of ordinary men and women allow themselves to be diminished. We belong together because we are stronger together. We must fiercely resist whatever springs and urges impel us to exist and operate as isolated and insulated fragments drifting away from each other. We must find each and hold each other firmly by the hand. Plato advises us to be pious. He tells us that piety involves the reverent attachment to all the sources of good in your life and the people who gave so much to allow you to be who you are. I implore you all comrades, on that solemn note of piety, to reach out and find each other, and maintain unity.To our colleagues on the other side of the aisle, especially the Vice President, even as I feel the pulse of apprehension, I say: your immediate task is to overcome and transcend the distractions and narcosis of habit and in a lot of ways dismantle the faulty edifice attempted by your immediate predecessor. Your biggest challenge is not learning anything new, but unlearning your old ways in order to resist the gravity of your present position. I can only draw your attention to the words of that African American lyrical maestro, Tupac, when he said, “Ain’t it funny; When it rains it pours; They got money for wars; But they can’t feed the poor”.



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