Questions have been raised about statistics presented by Statistician General Anna Majelantle on Thursday painting a rosy picture about the decline in the proportion of people living below poverty datum line from 30.6 percent in 2002/3 to 19.3 in 2009/10 and 16.3 percent in 2015/16 in Botswana. Similarly preliminary results of the 2015/16 Botswana Multi-Topic Household Survey (BMTHS): Poverty Module show that the proportion of people living below one dollar a day (currently $1.90) has also been declining from 23.4 percent in 2002/3, to 6.4 in 2009/10 and 5.8 percent in 2015/16. Of particular interest in the preliminary results is that while the proportion of persons below a dollar a day decreased at national level, the actual number of persons living below a dollar a day increased from 119, 144 to 119, 383. A similar trend is observed in urban villages where the proportion drops from 6.0 to 5.1 percent while the actual number of people below a dollar a day increases from 40, 602 to 46, 356. This trend is reversed in rural areas where an increase in the proportion from 8.4 percent to 8.8 percent goes against a decline in the actual number of person living below a dollar a day from 67, 810 to 64, 054. In cities/towns a drop in the proportion from 2.7 percent to 2.0 is followed by a similar decline in number of persons from 10, 732 to 8,973.
The national survey which was conducted over a one-year period from November 2015 to October 2016 covered 7, 188 households from cities and towns, urban villages as well as rural areas. Despite an impressive decline in percentage headcount at national level recorded between 2009/10 and 2015/16, a quick perusal of poverty incidents by district and sub-district level shows that the actual number of poor persons has drastically increased in most of the localities. For example, while there were no poor people in Orapa in 2009/10 (0%) the figure has jumped to 1, 669 in 2015/16. In Jwaneng township the number increased from 352 to 1 715 poor people. Contrary to expectation, the embattled mining town of Selebi Phikwe - the home of BCL mine which closed down in October 2016 leaving over 6 000 workers unemployed- has seen a reduction in number of poor persons from 6 241 to 5 552. The most significant reductions were recorded in North East (12, 690 down to 3, 457); Central Boteti (15795 to 7, 483); Central Bobonong (25 385 to 8, 983) and Kgatleng (16 209 to 7, 956). When requested to explain some of the 'discrepancies' Majelantle and her executives pleaded for patience, saying SB is still aggregating volumes of data in their possession to find justification for the findings contained in the preliminary results released on Thursday. Another observation is that in the preliminary findings of the survey no reference is made to the Threshold Price, which in the 2009/10 Botswana Core Welfare Indicators Survey (BCWIS) stood at P887.67 per month for a family of four. The omission of this statistical measure, which presents an accurate estimation of the levels of poverty among households, has raised eyebrows among statisticians. "This threshold price, previously arrived at in the aggregation of statistical data collected in the survey is very useful and in the past was used to persuade Government to determine and adjust minimum wage for lower cadres like security guards. It is also useful for policy formulation, particularly Government departments who determine beneficiaries for social safety net and grants," a veteran statistician observes.
The national monthly household consumption expenditure was estimated at P3, 927.43 in 2015/16, an increase of 28.9 percent from P3, 045.94 in 2009/10. Consumption patterns showed that at national level, households allocated significant proportions of their consumption expenditure to transport (23.9 percent), followed by housing and Food at 17.8 and 12.8 percent respectively. According to Malebogo Kerekang, the Acting Deputy Statistician General, households were required to keep a 14 day diary of data on food consumption, being food and non-food purchases, in the two weeks data collectors visited. An independent statistician observes that the poverty survey by SB compiles a list of foods which in their estimation forms a food basket for the poor. This, in the end, presents a distorted picture because, for example, while tobacco products (cigarettes), brands of rice like Tastic and alcohol may be left out of the pre-determined food basket the reality is that data those classified as poor actually consume those very products more.
Poverty remains a serious social challenge for the country with approximately 16.3 percent of the 2. 073 million population (2015/16 BMTHS) living below the poverty line. Botswana has one of the world's highest recorded Gini co-efficient for disposable income at 0.645 and 0.495 for consumption. 55 percent of female headed households live below the national poverty line in comparison to 45 percent of male-headed households. In the rural sector, agricultural productivity is low and geography, demography and current income levels mean that there are few viable economic opportunities. Rural poverty remains high because of lack of employment opportunities in rural areas, and the fact that agricultural GDP is low and has stagnated over time. Poverty status is largely influenced by, amongst others, large household sizes, single parenthood, marital status, gender of household head and employment status.
To address this challenge, the Government has reviewed the National Strategy for Poverty Reduction (NSPR: 2003) and developed a policy on poverty which focus on economic diversification, employment creation and poverty reduction, safety nets and the environment. According to the 2010 budget speech, “These are critical in transforming our economy to deliver the benefits of development to all Botswana.”
Botswana has over the years experienced rapid and sustained economic growth, and implemented deliberate policy measures to spread the benefits of growth to sectors other than mining. However, the country continues to face the challenge of high and persistent levels of unemployment, estimated at 17.5%, (CSO 2007) and poverty (30.6% during 2002/3) mainly due to the country's heavy reliance on capital intensive mining and quarrying activities. Labour intensive sectors such as agriculture and construction do not contribute as much to the country's overall Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Since its inception in 2009, the Poverty Eradication initiative by Government, the country has seen poverty levels decreasing significantly, but this is not to say the fight against poverty is over, as there are still some pockets of poverty. Statistics show that in 1985, the number of people in the country living below poverty datum line in percentage was 59 percent and reduced to 47 percent in 1993. These numbers further dropped to 30 percent in the years 2002/03. This shows significant decline and today that number stands at 16.3 percent. With her desire to eradicate poverty by all means, the Government introduced two flagship programmes; the Poverty Eradication programme and Economic Diversification Drive (EDD). It is through these programmes that poverty levels continue to go down. The programme targets less privileged people of the society such as orphans, destitute and the unemployed with no income. The programme has guidelines to provide information to beneficiaries in making decisions in selection and management of projects to kick start their own projects. Through the EDD, Government supports beneficiaries operating packages such as bakeries that supply schools with bread, eggs and vegetables from cluster gardens, by purchasing their produce for the primary school feeding programme.
At the recent three day National Poverty Eradication Expo hosted by the Poverty Eradication Coordinating Unit (PECU) in Gaborone, President Ian Khama urged the business community to help grow beneficiaries businesses by financially supporting their endeavours. This they can do either through purchase of their produce or pledging resources to aide growth of business and enable the citizenry to be economic drivers and create wealth for themselves for a better life. The EXPO was held under the theme itsee tsia, ema o itirele where all sixteen districts were represented. The Poverty Eradication Unit is mandated to provide a coordination mechanism and enabling environment for effective implementation of poverty eradication initiatives, policies and programmes; empower the poor to participate effectively in poverty eradication programmes as well as strengthen institutions and systems for poverty eradication to ensure a life of dignity for all Batswana. The purpose of the Expo was to present the beneficiaries to the public as a way of marketing their goods and products