I am very grateful to have been invited to officiate at this important conference - the 15th National Business Conference which is being hosted in this beautiful city of Francistown, the gateway to our strategic trading partner in the North, Zimbabwe. I would also, like to extend a warm welcome to our distinguished international guests and wish them a pleasant stay here.
Allow me also to commend Business Botswana for its tireless efforts in ensuring consistent convening of this conference on a biennial basis as a platform for Government and business to engage on issues of national interest, with a view to accelerating the growth and the diversification of the country’s economy.
The theme of this conference –“Breakthrough to a High Income Botswana: The Role of the Private Sector in Charting the Course” is indeed very appropriate and timely, as it is aligned to my Government’s roadmap of addressing current challenges facing Botswana including poverty, unemployment, bureaucratic red tape, and the quality of education. The roadmap ultimately entails concerted efforts to propel this country, on a very serious note, towards our desired destination by 2036 as espoused in our National Vision.
Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, Let me at the outset indicate that a National Transformation Strategy for Botswana is being formulated. The aim of this strategy will, among other things, be to seek practical and effective ways of enhancing the competitiveness of this country, an essential ingredient to ensuring productivity and attainment of high income status. Simply put, the Strategy is to define how we reach the status of a developed nation by 2036.
In the attainment of this stage of development, there is no doubt that the private sector has a central and critical role to play in charting this course.
Ladies and Gentlemen, The demands of becoming a highly competitive economy are enormous. They range from the need to ensure availability of modern and functioning infrastructure, including transport, energy, water, information and communications technology. Of equal importance are effective and efficient public institutions, a stable macroeconomic environment, and high quality as well as relevant education. Innovation, technological readiness, and the ability to produce competitive goods demanded by both local and foreign markets are critical aspects of the competitive economy that we aspire for.
Since Government and the private sector are partners in development, this particular conference will afford us the opportunity to thoroughly reflect on these issues, with a view to mapping a way forward on how to jointly address them.
I am happy to note that the participants at this conference are from diverse backgrounds and have extensive experience in business and the many issues that are of relevance to the theme. I am told that we also have experts from outside the country, whose knowledge and experience will in no small measure, enrich the deliberations at this important gathering.
Distinguished Guests, The role of Government as you all know is not to run business, but rather to play a facilitative role for the private sector to grow the economy and create jobs for our citizens. To this end, my Government remains committed to make doing business in Botswana smooth and seamless, through a regulatory framework that creates a conducive environment for business to flourish.
I must emphasize that, first and foremost, we have to deal with the bureaucratic red tape, which is one of the major issues that make it very difficult for business enterprises to set up and grow in Botswana. This includes policies, regulations and laws that cut across various Government Ministries but are not coordinated or complementary. In this respect, all Ministries have been directed to scan such laws and regulations in their areas of responsibility with a view to identifying those which are an impediment to the achievement of our policy goals.
This action will also require serious improvements in the productivity of our Public Service. In this context, Government is embarking on Public Sector Reforms that are aimed at improving service delivery and policy implementation across the structures of Government.
Dedicated efforts will also be required towards the fight against corruption. In this regard, in the near future, a Bill on the Declaration of Assets and Liabilities will be tabled in Parliament, which Law will cover politicians and senior public officers. This move will enhance transparency and accountability and therefore contribute to investors’ confidence in this country.
To this end, I wish to appeal to captains of industry to assist Government in fighting this scourge of corruption. It is a well-known fact some business enterprises also contribute to corruption by bribing public officers, something which is completely unacceptable.
Distinguished Guests, One other issue that has been impeding the attraction of Foreign Direct Investment is our Visa regime which we have discussed several times before at the High Level Consultative Council (HLCC).
In response to your concerns, we have decided to improve the turnaround time for the issuance of Visas, Residence and Work Permits. We are also considering issuing Visas on arrival provided applicants meet the set requirements. In addition, Government has decided to waive Visa requirements for foreigners who possess diplomatic passports.
I am also pleased to inform you that work is underway to develop a policy that will improve the turnaround time for the processing of applications for Environmental Impact Assessments in order to speed up the setting up of businesses, thus greatly reducing the cost burden on investors.
Director of Ceremonies, Land is a very important factor of production on which we have had very restrictive laws and regulations pertaining to its use.
In this regard, Government is working on legislation that will fast track the processing of applications for the change of land use so that land owners can benefit from its optimal utilisation. Our target date for the finalization of this law is December 2018.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Government continues to put in place policies, programmes and strategies aimed at diversifying the economy. The Special Economic Zones policy and the cluster development model in critical sectors like tourism, beef, financial services, agriculture and mining are such examples that are intended to promote economic diversification in this country, thus creating the much needed jobs.
We are also committed to enroll more students in vocational training centres as well as promoting increased use of Information Communications Technology in all schools.
Government is surely determined to address the problem of skills mismatch that the private sector continues to raise as a legitimate concern, in order to produce graduates who are ready for the job market.
Distinguished Guests, In their regular reviews of middle income countries such as Botswana and their path to further economic growth, economists invariably talk about a middle income trap. They define the “middle-income trap” as the “growth slowdown that tends to affect countries when they reach middle-income levels”.
In this regard, global partnerships are critical for the advancement of our economic development, hence we are doing all we can to source funds from our development partners, as well as our friends in the context of South – South cooperation, to implement projects that can unlock the potential of this economy. In this regard, we have secured about P 340 Million from China as a grant during the last State visit to that Republic. This will finance key infrastructure projects.
In the same vein, the experience of advanced economies affirms that innovation is a very important driver of economic activity and wealth creation. Consequently, one looks forward to solutions on improving the role of science and technology, including increasing the share of science and engineering graduates, as well as attaching our people in advanced economies and key institutions for exposure and development.
I am pleased to note that during this Conference, we are going to hear some global perspectives from both Batswana working abroad as well as visitors from other parts of the world. Their insights on how to get things done, should be received with open minds.
It is my sincere hope that during the discussions, we are going to draw lessons from countries that left it too late and found themselves either stuck in perpetual middle income status or regressing to lower income levels.
I therefore wish to highlight some key factors that should not escape your attention as you deliberate on Botswana’s transformation path to high income status. These factors are; productivity, quality of education, innovation, skills development, diversification of exports, and willingness to learn from other countries. A strategic imperative that we must always bear in mind is that the sustainable growth of our economy will depend on our accessing of global markets. Hence the need for our public and private sector to be in sync with the requirements and intricacies of the global market place.
Ladies and Gentlemen, In conclusion, I would like to urge the private sector to up its game in its contribution to the development of this country and the diversification of the economy of this nation. This will contribute immensely to employment creation particularly for the youth, who constitute the majority of our population.
Let me also take this opportunity to thank all the participants at this conference for their commitment and interest in the economic development of Botswana. On that note I wish you a fruitful conference whose resolutions and recommendations will inform us in formulating appropriate and relevant policies which will enhance your operations. This is the only way we can reach a high income status by 2036 as a nation.
REMARKS BY PRESIDENT MOKGWEETSI MASISI AT THE OFFICIAL OPENING OF THE 15TH NATIONAL BUSINESS CONFERENCE HELD UNDER THE THEME: “BREAKTHROUGH TO A HIGH INCOME BOTSWANA THE ROLE OF THE PRIVATE SECTOR IN CHARTING THE COURSE”
MONDAY, 10TH SEPTEMBER, 2018