Boko's dream of a better Botswana

SHARE   |   Monday, 19 February 2018   |   By Duma Gideon Boko
Boko's dream of a better Botswana

I am a dreamer of big dreams; dreams of immensity; dreams of intensity. I am a big dreamer, not just for my family and myself, but also for the country and every single one of its people. I dream of a sustainably prosperous, inclusive and just society in which people dream and realize their dreams through their own enterprise, hard work and ingenuity. I dream of a resilient and sustainable high performance economy that works for all, not just the political and business elites, and guarantees all who want, and are able, to work, abundant opportunity for decent work, and all who work, a decent wage. I dream of a society where none subsists below the poverty line; a society of zero hunger and zero poverty. I dream of a nation united in promoting and protecting the fundamental human rights of all through competent laws and institutions; a society that prides itself on how humanely it treats its weakest and most vulnerable: children, people with disability or other-abled in modern speak, the elderly, women, the infirm, poor people, disadvantaged minorities, refugees and others who leave their home countries to come live, work and do business amongst us; a society of zero invidious discrimination. Yes, I dream big for this country because I love it and appreciate the development possibilities God has gifted it in the form of natural wealth. Providence had given us a veritable head start compared to other nations which have not been so generously endowed. I also know that dreams and ambition are the stuff from which leadership and success are hewn. We are blessed as a nation to have so much natural capital. Our duty, to ourselves and to posterity, is, and has always been, to manage this good fortune for the benefit of all, within and across generations. That our Government of 52 years has mismanaged our good fortune, and we have achieved far much less than our potential reveals, is not reason enough for us to stop dreaming and dreaming big. Nor should we stop dreaming of a future of clean and competent governance merely because of the heights of corruption, incompetence and impunity the current crop of leaders has scaled.  I dream because exactly four years and eight months after the current President of our Republic was born, some farsighted nation realized one of its most immense dreams. The Soviet Union, as it then was, had dreamt that one day it would put a man made contraption into space. On 4 October 1957, that nation of dreamers attained the spectacular feat it had dreamt of as the first man made satellite, Sputnik, began orbiting our planet. It was a dream come true.  I dream because I still have and cherish my imagination. Yes, imagination, that aspect of the mind that is neither modular nor formulaic, that has the power to reconcile everything with everything else, that advances in insight by defying its own methods and presuppositions and that subsumes everything actual under a penumbra of adjacent possibilities.  I implore all of you as I have done countless times before in this House: dare to dream, for self and country!

The Consttutional prism
I take my counsel from James Joyce who tells us that before you plunge into the inscrutable, it is always best to “wipe your glosses with what you know.” I choose to anchor and ground my submissions on the Constitution of this Republic. I invite your attention to Sections 3 and 4 in particular but generally the Bill of Rights enshrined therein under Sections 3 to 16 inclusive. I also ask you to keep at the foreground of our engagement, Section 18 which enjoins our Courts to ensure that this Constitution is faithfully adhered to and that any violation is met with appropriate relief. The luxuriant growth of Constitutional jurisprudence in the enlightened world establishes that where the Constitution has been violated, the Courts must afford redress, and that where no relief exists or is known in law, the Court must create or fashion appropriate relief. I recall in these regards, the blistering eloquence of Justice Ackerman of the South African Constitutional Court in Fose v. The Minister of Safety and Security. Section 3, which our apex Court interpreted many years ago in Attorney General v. Dow, is a substantive, over-arching and rights conferring provision. It guarantees all in this country, among others, the equal protection of the law. The State is placed under obligation to ensure the enjoyment of this inherent right to protection of the law. The citizen and all persons in Botswana must be assured of their safety and security. The State is the assemblage of persons or the authority to which we entrust our safety and security so we do not have to form and deploy vigilante groups or mob justice to protect ourselves from those who fall foul of the law. This imposes a positive obligation on the State to ensure that ordinary people do not get mugged or robbed of their belongings; that their houses are not broken into or burgled and their valuables stolen, that people do not suffer the indignity of violent and intrusive crimes or any crime at all. The State must deploy well-resourced police personnel to prevent the occurrence of crime in all localities, not just around State House 1 and State House 2. This calls for visible and preventive policing to ensure that citizens and all residents are safe at all times. Section 4 recognizes and guarantees the right to life. The sweep of this right is wide and far reaching. The one aspect of it is the requirement for due process before life can be taken away by way of the punishment of a competent Court. Another equally important facet of the right to life was discussed in two very important Constitutional judgments from jurisdictions far and more advanced. Chief Justice Y. V. Chandrachud of the Indian Supreme Court, speaking for the full bench, identifies the right to livelihood as a critical facet of the right to life. The learned Judge delivers himself as follows,
"[N]o person can live without the means of living, that is, the means of livelihood. If the right to livelihood is not treated as a part of the constitutional right to life, the easiest way of depriving a person of his right to life would be to deprive him of his means of livelihood to the point of abrogation. Such deprivation would not only denude the life of its effective content and meaningfulness but it would make life impossible to live.”

The last decision I want to refer to is the decision of Field J in Munn v. Illinois, as far back in history as 1877 where he stated, “Life means something more than the mere animal existence and the inhibition against the deprivation of life extends to limits and faculties by which life is enjoyed.” I have taken you through these constitutional provisions in order to construct from their textual wellsprings, a lens or prism through which we must view, probe and examine the actions of Government, aware at all times that the validity of all such actions must be traceable to the Constitution as the Grundnorm. It is through this constitutional prism that I propose to engage with the Budget Statement presented by the Minister of Finance. I assert that this prism enables us to appreciate that we must at all times submit to our constitutional duties and obligations, the better to hold the Government to account against the canon of rules and standards of behavior defined by the constitution. I make two bold and forceful propositions based on the prism I have constructed. I state and state forcefully that poverty amounts to a gross violation of human rights as well as the expansive reading of the Constitution of this Republic. I contend further that the persistent failure by this Government to provide adequate safety measures and to ensure the security of every citizen, inhabitant or visitor of Botswana, amounts to a flagrant violation of its constitutional duty to ensure equal protection of the law as enshrined under Section 3 of the Constitution. It is an obligation of the State, I submit, to ensure that there is a certain minimum level of existence below which no citizen may live. I will imminently contextualize this obligation and present it in reasonably quantifiable terms and units of measurement. This calls for not just an awareness of the obligation but also, more critically, a deployment of the resources of the State to meet this obligation and meet it fully. The levels of poverty in this country place large sections of our population in conditions of sub-human existence. Such people become a threat to the security of others and the country itself, out of desperation. It is important for the Government to appreciate these issues and to use the budgetary process and exercise to respond decisively to them. I need not remind you that the most dangerous creation of any society is that man who has nothing to lose. The very high and ever increasing levels of crime in this country point to a serious and dangerous under investment in ensuring the safety and security of the populace. People are unsafe and at risk in the streets, walkways, malls and shopping areas. They are unsafe in their houses and residences. They are unsafe in the schools and in their workplaces. This country is gripped by a wave of insecurity, fear and the dread of an imminent violation always and everywhere. Our police service is overwhelmed and unable to cope. The police are neither properly resourced nor capacitated to deal with the challenge of crime in Botswana. It is for these reasons that citizens have now resorted to self-help through mob justice, which marks an extremely dangerous trend.  We are beset, at every step, by the troubling and widespread phenomenon of under reaching police conduct, where the police do not respond, either timeously or at all to reports of crime committed or about to be committed. This is not merely a moral evil, but a mortal danger!

Recalcitrant realities under this Government
 A recent survey, which measured governments’ budget transparency, was carried out by the International Budget Partnership and covered 102 countries across the world. It produced a world Open Budget Index Ranking in which Botswana fares embarrassingly low. The highest score of 89% went to two countries, South Africa and New Zealand. Botswana ranks at the very bottom at 8% in the company of Somalia, Comoros, and Zambia, with dysfunctional countries like Myanmar, Burundi and suchlike occupying the same bracket. Among the major weaknesses identified is the fact that the Legislature provides very limited, if any, oversight during the budget cycle. Part of the challenge is a systemic one. The Parliament of Botswana, it has been observed by international agencies, operates at less that 25% of the total budget it needs to properly carry out its functions and provide effective oversight as required by the Constitution. In a word, Botswana operates a feeble and ineffective parliamentary regime. Put more starkly, the Botswana Parliament is incapable, on the resources allocated to it, of carrying out its constitutional duties either properly and effectively, or at all, in certain instances. One has only to look across the border at South Africa to see what an effective Parliament can do to hold the executive accountable. It is patently clear that the committees of this Parliament are a sorry excuse for what they should be and should be doing. Blatant Exploitation and Impoverishment of Public Sector Workers. The salaries of public sector employees are deplorable, to put it rather mildly. It is important to capture and present this matter in a manner that brings it home to all of you in this house and to the entire nation. This is the context I foreshadowed earlier.The entry point or lowest notch in the A Grade salary scale of our Government pays an employee P 19 644. per annum which works out to P 1 637 per month. This is the A3 scale. Its highest notch pays an employee P 23 340. per annum, which works out to P 1 945. per month. At salary scale or grade A2, the lowest notch pays a monthly salary of P 1 962. The highest notch of that scale pays P 2 345. The lowest notch of the A1 scale pays P 2 351 per month while the highest notch of the same scale pays P 2 811 per month. What is most debilitating is that it takes an employee on average 10 years to move from the lowest notch to the highest in each scale. Put more plainly, it takes an employee 10 years to move from earning P 1 637 per month to earning P 1 945. Ten years to rise by a miserly amount of P308! If we take this illustration to its logical conclusion, it takes an employee, in government, 30 years to move from a salary of P 1 637 per month at the lowest notch of the A3 salary scale to a salary of P 2 811 per month which is the highest point of the A1 scale. It takes an A grade employee 30 years to attain a raise of P 1 174. By the time an employee exhausts the entire A Grade scale they are due for retirement. They retire at a salary of P 2 811 per month. Our public sector employees survive at the margins of society as the working poor and retire in that state into abject poverty and destitution.

When all is said and done, the President receives exuberant adulation as this champion who has dedicated himself to fighting poverty. We submit that the crushing poverty that paralyzes many a household in this country is manufactured by this Government and actively imposed by it. We maintain boldly and forcefully, that this Government must adopt our policy position as the UDC and ensure that no employee in this country earns less that P 3 000 per month. What this proposal would achieve is to raise the salary at the lowest notch of the A3 scale to P 3 000 per month and even on the existing salary differentials ensure a meaningful raise for all employees up to the D 4 scale. The vast majority of public sector employees fall within these salary scales and the proposal we make would achieve exactly what the economist Keynes had in mind when he posited that the best form of economic stimulus is to increase the rewards and compensation for labour.
Your Government, Minister, and your President, are the main reasons why our people are so poor and have been for the last 52 years of your regime. I am afraid, you, Mr. Vice President are equally culpable.  The overall import of this Budget reflects what obtrudes as the fundamental problem with the BDP government: the failure to direct public investments in a manner that balances long term structural transformation with immediate term needs to grow the economy and create jobs. The structural transformation of an economy such as Botswana’s will only take place when an increasing proportion of economic output and employment are generated by sectors other than mining. Our fundamental concern as the UDC is that we have had jobless growth for years and this growth has not triggered the requisite transformation to markedly change the economic landscape of our country. 

The Khama Years
As the Minister says, this is the last Budget Statement to be delivered under President Khama. It is fitting that we devote some time to reflecting on his stewardship of the economy and the society. The Minister was at pains to enumerate the achievements this country made under this President. He says we withstood the effects of the 2008/2009 economic and financial crisis. He cites economic diversification and reduction in both poverty and unemployment. This is creative accounting, to put it euphemistically. This government has miserably failed to diversify the economy. It has failed to develop appropriate policies to engender a viable private sector led employment creation. A number of sectors such as manufacturing, tourism and agriculture have failed to take off due to lack of supportive policies. Over the years the country has been declining in terms of productivity, competitiveness and the ease of doing business. Various World Bank Competitiveness Reports as well as World Economic Forum Reports have constantly chronicled the country’s slipping and sliding down the scale with the resultant decline in Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Over the last 9 years of his reign President Khama’s regime has spent over Pula 455.05 billion. Sadly they have very little real meaningful outcomes and results to show for such massive expenditure. Only 9 810 jobs were created in that period. In 2015 Government’s expenditure was P 54.4 billion. This was increased by P 1.9 billion in 2016. But in that same period Government employment declined from 130 220 to 128 279. Contrary to the fantasy reported by the Minister, the 2017 IMF Country Report on Botswana bemoans the fact that the country’s income inequality, with a Gini Index in excess of 0.60, is one of the highest in the world especially when compared to other upper middle-income countries. These outrageous income inequalities are not only associated with shorter growth durations but are a major contributing factor to low economic growth and the levels of poverty we see. Continued high unemployment among young people, in a country with a median age of 25, marks the single biggest challenge facing Botswana today. Four in five young people are jobless and a growing number of them have tertiary qualifications. Over 35% of young people cannot find a job and many have been searching for years.

The government’s response to this massive youth unemployment has been to come up with various uncoordinated and technically unsound programmes which are not even sustainable despite the huge amounts of money expended on them. The National Internship Programme and Tirelo Sechaba add to the litany of calamities engineered by this government. For those employed, mean real formal sector wages have been declining over the last 10 years and job quality has also been declining in terms of pay, security and conditions of service. We need targeted measures to support employment creation. There is need to identify areas where job creation is possible, which we term job drivers. Specifically, the UDC economic agenda points to employment opportunities in sustainable agriculture and food processing, entertainment, leisure, the performing arts, sport and tourism, services (niche sub-sectors within services such as health services, engineering services, business process outsourcing, business services, logistics/ transportation services, Information and Communication Technology, pharmaceuticals and medicines, mining and mineral processing and sustainable energy and water. We remain firm and clear in our solemn commitment to create 100 000 jobs within the first 12 months of our Government in 2019. These jobs will be created within the overarching framework of a living wage of at least P 3 000 per month as I have articulated it. This will be part of our overall rapid job creation and economic transformation strategy. We urge the government to urgently embark on the formulation of a jobs strategy and set itself performance targets on job creation and employee compensation. We insist that we would be failing if we cannot commit to full employment and a living wage. If the Minister genuinely believes President Khama has been good for development, he must try telling that to the swelling number of unemployed and unemployable youth roaming the streets. Tell that to the hundreds of thousands of Batswana who use the public health care system and show them the progress you tout when clinics frequently run out of essential drugs such as those for hypertension; when hospitals like Princess Marina and Nyangabgwe are referral hospitals only in name but lack the management, personnel and culture to offer referral services; when working conditions for the doctors and nurses are intolerable and deteriorating and our people die needlessly in our health facilities because of a poorly managed health system.

Go tell that to the teachers in public schools that ballooning class sizes and consistently poor examination results suggest good planning and progress. Tell the teachers and all public servants that the decline in their real wages is indicative of progress. It is still fresh in our minds that over P 250 million was stolen from the National Petroleum Fund through a manifestly fraudulent scheme, but senior people under whose watch and perhaps with whose collusion this happened remain firmly in their positions. One has in mind here the Director of Intelligence and Security Services, whose agency obtained funds under the guise of building fuel storage facilities only to divert the funds toward the purchase of spying equipment, all in contravention of the Public finance Management Act. There has been deafening silence from the President and yourself Minister of Finance and Economic Development. And yet these are but a symptom of the extent to which corruption has become institutionalized under this President. We demand that the Minister prioritize government efficiency and reigning in corruption as the first steps in fixing the business environment. Government planning and processes must be both efficient and effective. Pay government suppliers, especially SMMEs on time. Close down the opportunities for rent seeking and corruption through tight legislation on insider trading and conflict of interest. That means the regressive decision to allow public servants and politicians to do business with Government must be reversed forthwith!

State Owned Enterprises
If we are serious about improving the performance of our State State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) we will urgently attend to their governance, in particular the appointment of their Boards, CEOs and the role of the shareholder. For as long as our SOEs have a meddlesome and disruptive shareholder in the form of Government, which appoints weak boards and usurps their functions, our SOEs will perform badly. We should also review the business cases and models of our SOEs. Can Water Utilities Corporation, for instance, possibly run profitably when saddled with the provision of water in rural areas at sub-economic rates? Is it not time we developed a sound tariff and subsidy regime that allows WUC to provide water at sustainable charges in rural areas? Is the business model of an entity such as the National Development Bank still viable?

Security Neurosis
The Minister persists in this Government’s security neurosis and mindset of imaginary threats intended to keep military appropriations at full tilt. The record of this government and this President is one of unrestrained fiscal profligacy and irrational public investment priorities. In this Budget he commits to the procurement of “air assets” which we understand to mean Grippen Fighter Jets that we know to be an ill-advised investment. They are expensive to purchase, equip and maintain. We have no enemies in the region that require us to have the offensive capabilities these fighter jets will confer on us. No honest assessment of our security needs will support the procurement of these “air assets”. We are aware that because of the intervention of the UDC which engaged the Swedish Government directly on these “air assets” the Swedish Government has now declared that it would not want to get involved in encouraging an arms race in our geo-political region and has therefore maintained that the jet fighters, if they are to be acquired from Sweden will not be configured to carry and launch missiles and has scaled down the type of weaponry they would carry. We are aware that this has stalled the deal with the possibility that President Khama will vacate the Presidency before this deal is concluded, affording the incoming President, unless he be merely a stooge or alter ego of his predecessor, an opportunity to cancel this deal altogether and return the country to fiscal sanity. On paper some of the expenditure priorities outlined by the Minister, with the exception of the procurement of the “air assets”, seem sensible. Education and Health remain urgent priorities. The allocation of P 7.97 billion to the Ministry of Basic Education while welcome fails to deal with a fundamental challenge which renders this Ministry unwieldy and unable to focus on its core functions. This Ministry is expected to attend to matters of the physical infrastructure of schools as well as the core issues of curriculum, teaching and management and supervision of teachers. This amounts, even with all the healthy outlay into this Ministry, to setting the Minister of Basic Education up to fail.

Fortunately, the Minister of Basic Education has now identified the real challenges her Ministry faces and has voiced them with some courage. We congratulate her for not only correctly diagnosing some of the maladies that plague her Ministry but also speaking out. We hope the new administration will hear and heed. The second largest share of P 7.54 billion allocated to the Ministry of Health is commendable at the level of allocation of financial resources. But there are serious shortcomings that need to be dealt with. The first one culled from my own experience in dealing with this Ministry, is the insolence of not responding to queries raised by Members of Parliament either timeously or at all. I wrote a letter to the Minister several months ago articulating the concerns of the residents of my constituency regarding the withdrawal of services that the Block 6 Clinic previously offered and the convenience such services afforded the residents. This clinic has now been converted into a specialized diabetes clinic servicing pretty much the whole country. The residents requested that the services the clinic had previously offered be restored in addition to it operating as a diabetes clinic and also that it be a 24 hour service clinic. To this day, the query of the residents of Gaborone Bonnington North communicated to the Minister through the good offices of their Member of Parliament have neither been acknowledged not attended. This is a serious failure on the part of the Ministry. It indicates inefficiency and unresponsiveness. It demonstrates a total lack of respect for citizens of this country and users of the health care system. This is all the more so when one considers that the withdrawal of the services the Clinic offered previously was unilateral and extremely prejudicial to the residents.
A population of 2 million in an upper middle-income country ought to enjoy good quality health care and not the standardized low-quality products currently being served. Concerns have been raised in this Ministry regarding inadequate protective clothing, overwork and poor conditions of service including salaries. Hospital beds are as low as 1.8 per 1000 patients. The World Bank Development Indicators Report of 2017 shows that stunted height development remains a challenge for children aged 5. It shows that this health budget is making scant if any impact on the ordinary citizens. The same report shows that the prevalence of undernourishment as a percentage of the population moved from 25% in 1991 to 24% in 2015. In Ethiopia, for the same period, undernourishment moved from 75% to 32%. For Lesotho and Malawi, it moved from 16% to 11% and 45% to 21% respectively.  Why do our people continue to starve and remain malnourished despite the continued increase in Government spending? Where is all this money going as clearly it does not reach its target population? The biggest challenge of this Government, and this applies to the incoming administration, is not learning new ideas and approaches so much as it is unlearning their old ways.  We look forward to the imminent departure of President Khama from public office. We wish his successor well as he tries to steady the ship of a moribund political organization choking under the deadweight of its own inequities and failures. In my dealings with Vice President Masisi, I have found him to be a regular guy, if you catch my drift. He is not the cloistered synthetic creation that was born in isolation of the common man and was alien to both the language and the lived experiences of the common person. I advise you now, Mr. Vice President, as I have in the private conversations I have had with you: one of your very first assignments when you assume office will be the appointment of a Chief Justice for this country. You must appoint a jurist of the highest eminence and virtue for that office. Please appoint on merit and, for once, resist the temptation to appoint on any consideration but merit and integrity.

*Duma Gideon Boko is the president of Botswana National Front (BNF) and the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC).