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'WE NEED RADICAL, AUDACIOUS INTERVENTIONS to transform Botswana'

SHARE   |   Wednesday, 27 November 2019   |   By Thapelo Letsholo
'WE NEED RADICAL, AUDACIOUS INTERVENTIONS to transform Botswana'

       Let us shift our way thinking to a solutions based frame of mind

I bring myself forward with humility and respect to you and the congregants of this August House. It is with great reverence for the nation of Botswana, its progression, its prosperity and its potential that I am here today. I rise to respond to the State of the Nation Address delivered to the Twelfth Parliament by His Excellency the President of the Republic of Botswana, Dr Mokgweetsi. E.K. Masisi.

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I also acknowledge and appreciate the response to the State of the Nation Address by the Leader of Opposition, Honourable Dumelang Saleshando as well as other members of the house who have already delivered their responses.

Mr. Speaker, The honour bestowed on me to be democratically elected by the hopeful and humble people of Kanye North and indeed by the Botswana Democratic Party, is not one I take lightly. I am indebted to the people of Kanye North for having extended to me the privilege to represent them. I will represent them with the utmost of humility, passion and focus.

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Before probing some key takeaways from the State of the Nation Address, I reaffirm that it is of great importance to Batswana to familiarize themselves with the State of the Nation Address; to unpack, analyse and contextualize the contents of the Address as it reports on the economic and social welfare of the people of Botswana.

Mr. Speaker, there are multiple mentions of areas of vast success with the potential to bring sector growth, job creation and economic advancement to Botswana, like the Open Skies Policy which seeks to spur the growth of the aviation industry. This policy opens up the industry, stirs the possibility of the development of local low cost airlines and increased earning potential.

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The recent adoption of the Declaration of Assets and Liabilities Bill is commendable as a step to fighting corruption. So is the undertaking and full commitment to a comprehensive review of the Constitution of Botswana to include strengthening the functions of oversight institutions. There is need for clear day light between all the three arms of Government and the independence of Parliament in particular, needs to become more pronounced and practical.

Mr. Speaker, corruption is a sign of a society whose moral values have been eroded over time. The corruption-free Botswana of our forefathers was known to be a community anchored on botho. We have to produce a society that puts its values first, more particularly embedding the values of botho. This must become a common thread in the whole system across job creation, the right education, control of resources, empowerment of governance structures and law enforcing institutions etc.

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At policy level, there is need to reconfigure the reporting structure of institutions charged with the responsibility of preventing corruption. There is opportunity for the institutions such as the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC), the Office of the Ombudsman and the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) to report directly to Parliament, with the Heads of those institutions also appointed by a committee of Parliament. Their recruitment ought to be public and transparent, and their credentials, integrity and fitness to hold public office publicly interrogated. Their term of office should also be fixed to a specific period and non-renewable, such that their continued deployment is not at the pleasure of the appointing authority.

This development will not only improve accountability and transparency within our nation, it will also enhance the positive perception of Botswana as a beacon democracy and aid efforts at promoting foreign direct investment.

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Mr. Speaker, while we indeed have many reasons to be proud of the achievements we have made to date, there are some areas that require bold interventions to move Botswana forward, to support the transformation agenda and to open the floodgates for an economy that is both progressive and inclusive.

Due to the limited time I have been afforded, I have chosen to highlight some areas that could bring growth to the constituency that I have been voted into Parliament to represent, in the areas of Education, Sports and Recreation, Youth Employment and Health.

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My response today is anchored on the belief that our role is to offer ideas that the executive can use. The notions I put forward are framed as a means by which to offer complementary, great impact and large-scale ideation that is so necessary to approach the radical transformation of the state of our nation.

I stand here willing to be ridiculed for breaking the seal of small goal setting and introducing radical, audacious aspirations and ambitions. The dreams and goals we set for this country need to be so audacious that they incite fear that rouses inspiration, motivation and interventions to see them through to fruition.

YOUTH EMPLOYMENT

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Mr Speaker, I would like thank His Excellency the President for the exciting vision of setting up Botswana as Southern Africa’s Start-Up capital. Perhaps we should actually be aspiring to set up Botswana as Africa’s start-up capital. It is commendable that His Excellency has undertaken to emphatically prioritize the growth and empowerment of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) through the creation of regional Entrepreneurship centres of excellence. I look forward to one in the villages of Kanye or Ntlhantlhe.

Having significant understanding of our agricultural landscape and Botswana weather, and then implementing solutions that are unique to the challenges we face, has the potential to see vast improvement in our farming output and creating enduring jobs.

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It has come to my attention that various wells and boreholes in Kanye, including Mmasekou borehole, are said to contain water that is unsafe for human consumption. I plead with the Ministry of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services to work on a solution that will enable our people to use this water for crop production or industrial purposes as may be possible. This water has the potential to form the backbone of a program that is complementary to Ipelegeng, relating to the creation of farming clusters that use the water for irrigation. These clusters will combine their produce in order to derive better returns.

Mr. Speaker, many villages in Kanye North, including Ranaka, Ntlhantlhe and Kgomokasitwa, are endowed with rivers that are a healthy source of river sand. Knowing the value that river sand has in the building construction industry, there is an opportunity here to capitalize on. I plead with the Ministry of Mineral Resources, Green Technology and Energy Security to reserve the mining of river sand to Village Development Committees (VDC) and Community Trusts such that the associated economic benefits accrue to the community. This opens up a further opportunity for VDCs and Community Trusts to enter into operating partnerships and joint ventures with private companies to operate the river sand mining operations, as happens in the wildlife and tourism concessions.

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Understanding that youth employment prospects are dependent on robust SMME sector growth requires that Government employs measures to improve the ease of starting and running small enterprises. Global trends show that progressive and successful economies are driven by SMMEs and an opportunity lies in the founding of the vision of Botswana being the start-up capital of Southern Africa that adopts global know-how partnered with local, indigenous treasures.

Our landscapes and elements, such as the sun, wind and air, remain largely untapped. It is possible for us to literally take Botswana to the world with the solar capacity we house. Youth employment and economic growth can be achieved through solar power generation, storage and re-investment into the grid with sustainable, long-term capability to drive industries. There is no reason why individual households with solar panels on their roof-tops, should not be able to sell excess power that they generate, into the national grid.

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Mr. Speaker, Innovations that are untapped lie in the export of the sun and air to nations like India and China who desperately need and will compensate handsomely for elements we take for granted. Organisations like the Canadian company, Vitality Air, are using innovation to harness their environment and create solutions to global challenges. The company sells batches of canisters filled with fresh air from the town of Banff to China who are currently facing a serious smog problem due to poor air quality. This is the type of solutionist thinking that I undertake to encourage and that I hope to see coming out of Botswana - the commercialisation of the fruits of our land.

Financing and maintenance of said industries promise longevity as the technologies used do not deteriorate at the rate known to other industries. So, I challenge financial institutions in Botswana to apply on the pulse, flexible rates to financing the exploits of the future. This ought to be supported by legislation that incentivizes through tax exemptions, lenient restrictions and financial incentives for growth in innovation.

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An aggressive approach to research and development and concerted efforts at pursuing investors and accordingly incentivizing them is required to improve the ways of working. There is a dire need for research-intensive organisations to be formed and supported. If any are in existence, they should rise to the occasion and provide missing insights that can aid market knowledge in the health, business forecasting, product development and innovation space.

I commend the pronouncements that have been introduced to aid youth employment creation such as enabling land use optimization by allowing one to use their ploughing land as one sees fit up to 50% of the size, the introduction of online business registration, allowance of at-home operations and availing internet throughout Botswana even at cattle posts. These are movements in the right direction and ought to be applauded.

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Mr. Speaker, Job creation, predominantly targeted at the youth, is a major priority. The arts, creative and entertainment sector presents glaring opportunities that require Government leadership to harness. In Kanye North, we have a strong ambition to work with the private sector to create Botswana’s first Television Production Incubation Centre in the village of Kanye, to give our local talent the opportunity to produce content initially for Botswana Television but ultimately for international consumption. The fully equipped Incubation Centre will be operated by young Batswana graduates currently roaming the streets. It will provide the necessary equipment, guidance and execution of various concepts proposed by creatives. This concept has not only already been developed for Botswana, but has also already been tested in various other countries such as Nigeria and Kenya, resulting in the creation of jobs for the youth. It will address the challenge of lack of access to television production equipment and associated support. We are intent on harnessing the strong demand for local content coupled with the evident abundance of talent in Kanye North.

I have found that Batswana youth are not limited by innovation but rather the inability to access funding, lack of appropriate training as well as cumbersome and unclear processes. I espouse the commitment to establish Centres of Entrepreneurship. There is most certainly an opportunity for a centralized information hub, a public education drive and a centre of entrepreneurship to aid with the upskilling, mentorship and training to turn Botswana youth into a segment that works.

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Mr. Speaker, it is universally accepted that SMMEs are the engine of the economy. On the other hand, late payments by clients sabotage and collapse small businesses. The late or non-payment of SMMEs cripples their growth and impedes progress and sustainability. If SMMEs are the engine of the economy then it follows that sabotaging small businesses sabotages the country. Sabotaging the country in this way must be a criminal offense. The time is now to penalize or criminalize the late payment of suppliers. The time is now for Government to have a Compliance Office to monitor adherence to payment terms by Government such that Government is exemplary.

SPORT AND RECREATION

Sport and recreation is a sector that has incredible potential for revenue generation for the nation, through large-scale events that pull international media attention, sportsmen and enthusiasts to our land. Engaging at this scale creates alternative employment, makes moves in alleviating poverty, creates an entertainment and recreation avenue and creates a positive public perception of Botswana which could aid Brand Botswana, BITC and BTO. This could be done via hosting perennial sporting events like Formula 1, Formula 3 and MotoGP that have infrastructural benefits and in-built maintenance capacity as the gift that keeps on giving. I challenge the Ministry of Youth Empowerment, Sport and Culture Development to become party to and play a leadership role in a possible collaboration with Kanye North, both local and international businesses and annual global sporting event organisers to bring one such event to Kanye North.

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These facilities only require limited space and I know for sure that in Kanye North we have both the land and the necessary desire to make it happen. Building for future value, knowing the financial capacity is available, with the support of Government through endorsements and guarantees, is a sure way of diversifying Botswana’s offering to the world. This line of thinking aids in attracting and retaining foreign income and investment and contributes to the creation of meaningful, sustainable jobs.

Mr. Speaker, when I made similar comments at a different forum a couple of months ago, some people made jokes of me articulating how this is crazy thinking and how that “It is not possible in Botswana because even South Africa has not done it”. However, there are scores of Batswana who were quick to understand and offer voices of support, such as Mr. Michael Dignash Morapedi who wrote:

“It's this thinking small that impedes growth, there's absolutely nothing wrong with thinking F1, Dubai ran with a simple narrative of 'build and they'll come, I need not explain further, Thaps that's the right trail of thought my man, when the Wright brothers conceived the thought of flight, the small minded thought they were 'high' on cheap weed of their time, when Sol Kezner wanted to build lost city in the granite complex of manyana-kanye area, the then administration thought he was crazy, where's lost city now, in the same Pilanesburg granite complex that is of the same geology that he had seen many years before right here in this republic......Thaps it's all the more reason I want you in Parliament.... disruptive thinking, nobody knew Finland until Nokia

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I implore this house and our fellow country-men and women to set our sights on building for what will come and not what is now, based on successful working examples like Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Dubai in reaching out to be a major player in the MICE industry, built the World Trade Centre building, and trusted that users and complementary businesses and industries will follow, and they certainly did.

The cost to our economic development is not the amount we will invest but the time we lose as a country when other nations implement big ideas while we are waiting and convincing ourselves that it is not possible. Here I quote Mary Kay Ash who said “There are three types of people in this world: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who wonder what happened.” This house has the opportunity to choose where we want this country to belong.

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Mr. Speaker I have noted and wish to commend the progress made by the relatively newly established Gambling Authority. I appreciate the benefits that will accrue to our country as articulated by His Excellency the President.

There is simmering growth opportunity in hosting recreational initiatives and improving our hospitality to cater for the first world. The potential of the recreation space in Botswana is bursting at the seams. Having noted the interest in MICE, I would like to challenge the Gambling Authority, in association with Botswana Investment and Trade Centre, through possible public private partnerships, to harness the drive and structure of private corporations with the legislative prowess of the public sector. There is an opportunity to explore the possibility of establishing Africa’s largest gaming and recreation resort along the stunning scenery and beautiful hills of Ranaka in Botswana. This is aligned to His Excellency’s vision to make Botswana a meetings and conferencing place, and a multi-sectoral tourism hub underpinned by unflinching quest for happiness, security and comfort.

EDUCATION

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Mr Speaker, the key proponent to solving the challenges of tomorrow is through education. I take this opportunity to applaud His Excellency the President for committing to improve education and training to create innovative systems in order to yield innovative young minds. An overhaul of the way the education system has been running and replacing it with more market specific, outcome dependent, globally competitive ways of educating our youth is timely.

This overhaul ought to include mandatory practical, applicable training aligned to entrepreneurship at all levels of education, having an understanding that the future employees and employers of our private sector require a radical shift in understanding of business. Furthermore, the entrepreneurship training will equip graduates to start and run their businesses effectively, and reduce the dependency on Government for employment.

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The inclusion of financial literacy is imperative for the improvement of livelihoods of Batswana from every spectrum and has a direct impact on the economic progression of the nation, and as such should be prioritized and made a mandatory subject from primary school level.

The First World has already done research to show that the traditional teaching and assessment model is not sufficiently effective and I implore fellow legislators, educators and opinion leaders in the education space to rummage through research to build curriculum and evaluation methods that best suit our current and future cohort of students - to teach our learners content that is relevant and to assess their knowledge in ways that encourage retention of information as opposed to the ‘cram to pass’ method.

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Mr. Speaker, if research calls for the abolition of examinations and implementation of continuous assessment, or the introduction of audience specific teaching methods, then so be it. There has never been a better time for radical, transformative and audacious interventions to be made.

We have opportunity to re-model our education system to that which collaborates with learners to identify, develop and harness key individual skills, talents and capabilities for the long-term benefit of the learners. Rather than teach children so that they can pass exams, the school system should be enabling learners to collaborate with each other and setting them up for life long learning. This approach will motivate and inspire leaners to take ownership of their own learning in a proactive manner and consequently reduce apathy in their studies.

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Mr. Speaker, if this is implemented effectively, I sincerely believe that there will be a significant improvement in the results of Seepapitso Secondary School in Kanye, the 13 primary schools and 5 junior secondary schools in the constituency of Kanye North, as well as Botswana at large.

With rapidly changing technology, a lot of the subjects being learnt now will not be relevant in the future, hence we ought to be aiding learners to transition into a state of life-long learning such that they can consistently keep up with new technology developments and the continuous acquisition of the developing knowledge that they will need to thrive in the new future. Mr Speaker, when I was at Kgalagadi Primary School many years ago, I didn’t know that there would be a job called Social Media Influencer. A job that pays people top Pula to live their best life.

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According to Forbes magazine, as much as 800 million jobs worldwide will be lost over the next 10 years due to automation. We need an education system that recognizes this reality. I wish to applaud the Botswana Democratic Party Government, for realizing the above and committing to an overhaul and modernization of the school curriculum, to enable us to respond to the needs of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. I further commend Government for undertaking to establish a skills fund aimed at retooling our graduates for the job market.

HEALTH

Mr Speaker, I endorse Government’s commitment to deliver quality heath care services to Batswana, by developing and implementing various preventative and curative programmes and improved service delivery. The people of Kanye North continue to plead for a Government-owned hospital in line with their needs. I echo this plea on their behalf and indeed on my own behalf. It is time to make health issues in Kanye North a significant priority.

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In the interim, and pending the possible construction of a Government hospital in Kanye, I would like to challenge the Minister of Health and Wellness to take a keen interest in, and lead the development of a renewed and innovative partnership model to progress Kanye SDA hospital into an efficient national hospital of repute. Mr. Speaker, I believe there is room for radical, audacious interventions in the health sector generally, but also specifically for the constituency of Kanye North.

The shortage of medicine and personnel is a grave disservice to the people of this nation, the people we are sent to serve, who we have through our constitution – promised a functional, effective welfare offering. There is a need to align our healthcare facilities to global standards and improve the conditions for the citizens who serve in their capacity as healthcare practitioners.

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Beginning with decentralization of healthcare services and the procurement system, we can move towards increasing the efficiency with which medicine is made available and increase the income generation prospects of private sector institutions within the medical space by increasing the opportunities for more suppliers to start and grow their businesses. I urge the Government and those businesses that will be given the opportunity, to leverage new technology such as the use of drones to deliver medication to various village Kgotlas where patients can collect. In Kanye North where I come from, people travel distances and start queuing as early as 4am to get their high blood pressure and diabetes tablets. This is unacceptable in an environment where other nations deliver pizza with drones.

Mr. Speaker, Aligned to audacious interventions is the proposal of e-dispensaries and other technological and digital measures that can be taken advantage of to alleviate the hassle of accessing healthcare. The roll out of 24 hour services like x-rays and ECG’s could shorten the time patients wait to be attended to and ensure that machinery that we invest in, work at full capacity. This also increases job opportunities for medics and affords us the luxury of attracting leading medical talent.

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The possible review of remuneration for the existing medical practitioners, improvement of their welfare and initiatives to capacitate them will ensure that the support services in the medical fraternity are fit for purpose. We understand the importance of healthcare; it is indeed time to come to a full understanding of the needs of the practitioners in this space. This is not only limited to financial remuneration, it includes the social and mental wellbeing of these people that are dedicated to taking care of the medical needs of our citizens.

CONCLUSION:

In conclusion, Mr Speaker, I stand here aligned to Botswana’s vision for the future, vision 2036. I am in agreement with the direction being set and pledge to adhere to all interventions that will bring our vision for an inclusive economy to life. The State of the Nation Address challenges us to show our ‘love' for our country as a verb, partnering large-scale thinking with the drive to push towards achieving the day-to-day needs of Batswana.

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It is of huge importance to me that we begin to shift our way thinking to a solutions based frame of mind; a grandiose one at that. In our approach to governance and servitude, may we reconfigure ourselves to radical and audacious measures paired with undeterred will to see them through to fruition. Be it in solutions to the employment, education, health or even economic growth opportunities availed to us, I urge everyone to think of solutions to tomorrow’s challenges with optimism and greater expectations of the possibilities. To work on serving our constituents and the nation at large with out of the box and unconventional thinking is the challenge, better yet, the opportunity we have been afforded as members of the twelfth parliament.

I wish to be associated with building and inspiring the formative steps towards a Botswana far greater than the expectations of the traditional, limited thinker. This Parliament can not be seen to be an entity that institutionalizes small thinking.

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Mr. Speaker, I take this moment to recommit myself to the humble people who have voted me into office. To fellow compatriots and lovers of this blue, black and white nation, I acknowledge that to serve is an immense privilege and I will use this opportunity to work today and everyday, making decisions big and small, that will be in effect and bear fruit in a future we may not even be a part of. I pledge to deliver, through my actions today, a brighter tomorrow.

I thank you.

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*A RESPONSE TO THE SONA BY THAPELO LETSHOLO, MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT FOR KANYE NORTH



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