The President of this country [Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi] made his case known on Monday. Frankly, I was not able to pick up if the President thinks the state of our nation is strong, moderate or weak. Blame me for lack concentration of you wish, but I was not able to pick if he stated this matter. Our assessment of the state of the nation is that it is dire. The circumstances in which we find our nation are of such gravity that failure to rise to our calling as a leadership, and as a people, with the force, determination, creativity and urgency the times demand, means we will sink. We are on the brink of both collapse and greatness. It can go either way depending on the choices we make and the actions we take now.
We are on the verge of collapse; at the same time we are on the verge of greatness. The state of our nation is that of “Do or die”. That is the state of our nation, and if I may say so, our assessment of the Presidential Address is that of a “lost golden opportunity”.
There is an enemy in our midst that is rising. He has launched a vituperative attack on our national coffers and on the seeds of progress. He is like a war, so furious, so implacable and so exterminating. On open battlefield he carries the name corruption. When he hides in high offices he is known as nepotism or favouritism. At the financial institutions where he is invisible and receives what is not his, he is known as money laundering. This is an enemy of progress, an enemy of wealth for the people, an enemy of effective services to the people, an enemy of excellence, and any enemy of true greatness.
It is not clear how this enemy eludes those at the helm of Government, so much so that this enemy escaped the State of the Nation Address on Monday.
This should have been time to call out this enemy by name, Corruption, and confront him as in war, “straight on, without faltering or wavering, until every vestige of him shall be erased on our land. And indeed we must not stop fighting this enemy until the sun in all his journey from the utmost eastern horizon, through the mid-heaven, till he sinks beyond the western lands into his ocean bed, and we shall not behold, in all our broad and glorious land, the single footprint of corruption”.
No one is able to discern accurately the resources lost through our porous governance systems over the last few years. It is possible the amount runs into the billions. The cases of monies lost at the National Petrol Fund, or through the Public Officers Pension systems are the most notorious, but there are many more potential cases of monies lost through a litany of semi-autonomous public funds, or through the over-invoicing in major tenders, or through transfer pricing by multi-nationals or through outright bribery, or through negligence, favouritism, or through poor workmanship or through sheer lack of management capacity. Much of these monies are lost through corruption.
Our Governance system
We need more than just Commissions of inquiries or forensic audits to unearth the nature and extent of the cancer that is corroding our resources and prospects for the future. Importantly, we need to govern our country well, on a system premised on sound institutions, founded on an eco-system of democratic systems that complement, balance and counter check each other. Many of our citizens yearn for such a system that is inspired by values and a culture that nourishes and rewards integrity, honesty, truth, decency and the respect of the sanctity of the human life.
Such a reconfiguration of how we govern our country will not be possible without a comprehensive reform of our constitution. And indeed the conservatives have a right to resist any irresponsible tinkering of our constitution. Those who are reluctant to tinker with our constitution should consider a few quiet truths about our past as a nation. First, is that the framers of our constitution never claimed that Botswana was a finished house. They had understood that theirs was a foundation on which to build, and that is why they assigned to the Legislature, the task of framing laws for the good governance of our nation. This task includes the reform of our democratic institutions to make them more robust in pursuit of their mandates. And so the idea of constitutional reform is much more than an adventure, it is a responsibility, it is a solemn moral obligation of our generation of leaders and citizens.
And why should we reform our institutions? We need to reform our constitution as part of finishing the work of those who laid the foundation of this nation. We need to reform our constitution to ensure the Executive Branch of Government is kept under constant credible oversight so we suffocate any prospects of corruption. We need to reform to ensure the Executive Branch of Government (led by the President) appoints key personnel based on merit and not patronage. This is part of our route towards instilling merit and excellence without which it is not possible to catapult this nation to unparalleled prosperity.
The reforms to bring checks to the Executive necessarily will entail explicit mandates of confirmation and approval by Parliamentary Committees. Reform will entail obligatory establishment of non-partisan capacity for economic forecasting and impact studies within the legislature. Reform will entail removal of the Audit office from the Executive, so it is truly independent and a legislative branch organ.
Reform may entail, depending on extensive consultative processes, significant separation of the Executive from the legislature (including cabinet) and direct appointments of cabinet subject to the approvals by the legislature (the President will not be able to make appointments without approval from the Legislature), hybrid electoral system to accommodate greater participation of women, youth, people living with disabilities, other minorities and special representative groups such as unions in our governance system.
Some say the displacement of the previous DISS Director General with a new one has rid Botswana of a rogue institution that was at the heart of much of what was wrong with how Botswana has been managed over the years. Far from it. As long as our intelligence legislation remains unchanged, our nation faces the same threats to our democracy and governance. And so our reform agenda needs also to inspire an overhaul of the DISS. This overhaul should entail a reconfiguration of the intelligence oversight role, by a Legislative Committee “to focus on several key tenets including a mechanism to a) verify if the intelligence community is fulfilling its mandate or whether it reflects policy or vision b) ascertain that the analysis work by the intelligence community is adequately rigorous c) establish if there is adequate operational capacity and resources to fulfill the intelligence mandate. To be effective, the oversight configuration and framework should possess certain basic levers such as: a) a say in budgets for approval b) right to conduct hearings on activities including where there has been abuse c) entitlement to prior notice in the case of covert action by the executive arm of government d) right to refuse approval of some intelligence community programmes e) latitude to motivate or conduct investigations and generate report on them f) right to nominate or reject nominations of key appointments – through public interviews of the nominees d) space to deliberate on alignment of budgets or plans to national priorities and national security strategy. Botswana has generally lacked these levers since the inception of the intelligence services. Essentially, this is how the new Botswana intelligence eco-system must look like.”
For such an intelligence community to develop the right culture, capacity and capabilities to pursue its mandate for the people, it must have the right oversight configuration and mechanisms backed by adequate resources. Such a reconstruction must also entail a specialized window within the judiciary without which eavesdropping and surveillance on individuals are not possible. Our system should also be explicit on the illegality of assassinations. If this does not take place, even the appointment of any extraordinary Head would not cure the symptoms of an organization gone rogue, let alone craft a foundation for a flourishing democracy and economy.”
Declaration of Assets and Liabilities, Transparency and Accountability
While we welcome the commitment made by the Executive to introduce a law governing the Declaration of Assets and liabilities, we strongly feel that such a law won’t serve the intended purpose if it is not preceded by the much needed paradigm shift towards transparency and accountability. The United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC), which has up to now been ratified by 166 countries, requires that any declaration of assets legal frame work should be anchored upon transparency and accountability. As a benchmark you may want to look at the US approach to asset declarations which is often considered a model because it is both comprehensive and transparent.
As part of the reforms that we need to ensure the law is effective, we expect the president, as a matter of urgency, to do the following: to announce the relocation of oversight institutions such as Ombudsman, DCEC and DIS from the office of the president to ensure their complete independence; Bring to Parliament an access to information bill, to assist the monitoring and evaluation agency, that we envisage under the declaration of asset law to collect and verify information and investigate, prosecute and sanction those who fail to comply. And on that note, I want to remind the President that he promised to bring that bill to this Parliament, a long time ago when he was minister in the presidency. We were skeptical of his honesty at the time he made that promise. It is therefore my hope that he will prove us wrong.
In short, our approach to fighting corruption is anchored upon transparency and accountability. We believe that you cannot have an asset declaration law without an access to information law because you need the latter to ensure a healthy balance between the right to privacy and the need to safe-guard the foundational right to free expression and access to information.
The media as the fourth Estate
While, the term "fourth estate' hails from the European idea of three estates of the realm – the clergy, the nobility and the commoners, in modern times it has been associated with the doctrine of separation of powers that identifies three arms of government. As much as we envisage strict adherence to this doctrine in the 'New Botswana', we also commit to a free and unfettered press, who we regard as partners in development and not adversaries that need to be harassed and jailed. If the Executive, is committed to true and meaningful transformation, he must repeal all media unfriendly laws such as the media practitioners act. We must also champion the return to the international standard of a three tier system of public, private and community media that was introduced by the Broadcasting Act of 1998 and unceremoniously curtailed by the regressive BOCRA act.
Labour Relations and Public sector productivity
I want to take this opportunity to urge this current Administration to create a true, open and honest working relationship with Trade Unions in this country. For too long now, the Unions have been subjected to undue pressure and antagonism by Government for simply trying to do their job of being true representatives of the workers. I do recognise that the Government has of late been trying to reach out to Unions, as signified by the recent decision to revisit the issue of the Bargaining Council. On the other hand the recent court case on the matter of re-registration of Unions only goes to demonstrate the half-hearted manner in which this government wishes to reach to the workers.
Over the years, much taxpayer’s money has been used in many unnecessary court cases which the government lost with costs. It is time now to just do the honourable thing and talk to the Unions. There is no doubt they too have the interest of our country at heart.
Botswana possesses more natural resources (land, water, fertile soils, clear skies, tourist appeal, minerals including diamonds, coal, uranium, human talent) than is necessary to generate full employment for each citizen and still have tens of thousands job openings for professionals, investors and workers from around the globe. We are endowed with adequate fertile soils to feed all our people and even feed part of the world. We are endowed with enough coal and gas over the Mmamabula and Mmashoro sand-beds to light all of Africa every night and on Christmas night. The talent of our youth if developed and harnessed judiciously, could bring our nation honours and wealth in sport, music, art, film, software development, special foods, and modern services. Yet we miss and continue to miss the opportunity to achieve the possible for our people. We, the Progressives, believe that it is possible to cultivate this new Botswana, a nation where opportunity abounds for the adventurous entrepreneur, and for the quiet worker, for the citizen that cherishes the country-side and the one that is attracted to city work. We believe in a new Botswana where citizens are empowered to seize opportunity, and where in the end, talent, merit, hard-work, creativity, training, constant research and development, good governance, smart collective decision making, robust institutions, fairness and collective effort ALL MEET to generate wealth, chip away income disparities, and completely eradicate poverty and harsh circumstance. Although the talk continues of the need to aggressively diversify from diamonds and minerals, let it be known, that even without diversification we should have been able to create tens of thousands of more high wage jobs, we should have been able to create thousands more job-creating millionaires and we should have been able to do more with amenities in communities if we were more creative in the management of our diamond and mineral industry. We have talented luminaries in the diamond sector who no one in our system talks to, but through whose wisdom and guided intervention, we, the people, could start taking our place in the more lucrative parts of the global value chain including in aggregation, sales, marketing, jewelry-making, design and even retain. We may not be able to churn the 900 000 jobs that India makes from the diamond industry, but we could step up significantly from the 10 000 jobs that Israel makes with minimal diamond production. The diamond value chain remains a potent vehicle available to Botswana to transform the economic welfare of tens and thousands of our citizens.
Economy, other sectors
For all the promise of the new economy, the knowledge economy and the advent of technology, the temptation is to disregard the agriculture and agro-processing sector. This is a sector that is test and tried for its job intensity and for its strategic relevance during economic hardship. History is pregnant with positive narratives of what this sector was able to do in the industrial transformation of America, China, Europe and Australia. Here is an opportunity for tens of thousands of more of our people including the youth. Our desire for economic transformation is intertwined with the need to inspire Agricultural transformation as a catalyst, a cog, part of jigsaw in transforming our economy. We need to keep working at sustainably modernizing agriculture, enhancing land and labour productivity, instilling greater market orientation, establishing production diversification and forging domestic and export competiveness. We need to marry our research and development with efforts to cultivate a massive food processing/manufacturing capability and capacity for export. We need to work on improving our yields to bring them closer to the agricultural high-achievers (yields for cereals in recent years are about 1 000 kg/ha in sub-Saharan Africa (about that level for Botswana), compared to 5 000kg/ha in East Asia, 4000kg/ha in Latin America and 2500kg in South Africa)
We need to invest substantially and systematically in agricultural infrastructure (electricity, water, serviced land and formalized land rights). We need to systematically develop and implement support programmes for young aspiring farmers to evolve under tutelage of established successful commercial farmers.
We need to adequately fund our Agricultural farming institutions and research centres and forge the idea of learning while producing. We need to introduce legislation that lowers barriers for small scale farmers from accessing supply contracts of large chain stores.
We can do much better than an apologetic aspiration for small incremental approaches to job creation. The opportunity is here to be bold, and create the circumstances for a massive and intense push for job opportunities, for all our people over the next ten years. For this we will need visionary leadership, pristine governance systems of country, skills, right cultures/value systems and as the leader of the Opposition Hon Duma Boko lamented, sound decision making and innovation capabilities. We will need management capabilities and capacity for coordinating or managing large projects. We need to aggressively invest in such capacity and capabilities.
The civil service and lost opportunities
For nearly two nearly decades now Botswana has had the status of a middle income country. This is why many donors have left our country in reference for the promotion of trade and investment. Is seems we are now in a middle income trap that we don’t know how to get out of. We are struggling to get the country to the next level, but we to. Botswana and Singapore obtained their independence from the UK a few months apart. Today the two countries are worlds apart. Singapore has nothing by way of natural resources while Botswana has plenty. Singapore has to import water from its neighbours. The only natural resource that Singapore has is its human resource and its ingenious way of managing that resource and getting the most from it. In this country we have trained many citizens over many years and the education share of the budget is one of the highest in the world. But the country has very little to show for this investment. The country remains a mono-culture economy dependent on diamond revenue for its public finances and for balance of payments which opens the country to severe risks should tastes change, technological changes take the luster of diamonds or the global economy go through another down turn as it did in 2008. Trained Botswana citizens now scattered on the global marketplace, because they can’t find work or attractive working conditions here at home. Very soon the so-called youth dividend will dissipate. As a country we must make working conditions attractive for our professionals to find it appealing to come and work at home and use their skills to develop our country. Over the past twenty years we have moved to politicise the public service. Appointments and promotions to senior positions are no longer based merit but rather on party political affiliation. This has not only corroded the professionalism of the public service but has had a deleterious effect on the moral of individual public service.
The role of infrastructure in job mass job creation
A massive infrastructure programme, financed by both the Government and private sector is necessary to unlock the potential in all sectors in which we seek to compete, including agricultural and food processing potential and for unleashing the platforms to facilitate our participation in the value chains of the minerals, manufacturing, beef, tourism, finance and knowledge sectors.
Yes, we need to do the basic too including maintenance of major roads, hospitals, schools and the building of dams, airports and power stations. However we need to move beyond the 5 year planning horizon and starting embarking on 50 year plus long term projects that can catapult our fortunes now and for generations to come. We need to be bold and pursue transcontinental electric transport systems, underground water conveyance systems, serviced agricultural clusters, fibre-optic and satellite systems for communications and other infrastructure initiatives. Botswana needs to appoint a Chief Digital Officer in Government. We need a revitalised Government Project Office whose projects if coordinated well could change the economic fortunes of our people.
The role of Public enterprises
Despite the debates surrounding Debswana, the De Beers/Botswana Government relationship, it is fair to suggest this is an example of a multi-national that has generated billions of revenues without which many of country’s economic achievements of the past may not have been possible. Yet we have failed to exploit this foundation which, if judiciously exploited, should have provided us with an opportunity to launch our leadership in mining and related services in Africa and other parts of the world.
As a country, we possess the capital, or access to capital that many in our African family do not. Our public officers pension resources, amounting to about P60 billion, along with other pension resources, are almost the size of banking sector. We have failed to marry this national niche with an out-of-the-box thinking and management capacity to cultivate home-grown companies with footprints on the African continent and the rest of the world.
While we waver, procrastinate and fail to seize these opportunities, members of our African family who were much worse off than we were, continue to catch up and overtake us. And soon our nation, the once most promising son in our African family will turn into an under-achiever that the uncles speak about in hashed tones.
Yes, we have the Botswana Development Corporation, charged with a mandate to industrialise Botswana, and they are probably doing their best within the constraints that tie them. We need to be bolder, much bolder first by according BDC with a mandate to invest or coordinate real investments beyond the borders of Botswana, second by finding ways to facilitate their fundraising to do so at a much larger scale, and third consolidate other mechanisms for managing pooled funds to create wholesome, sustainable, lucrative and high impact employment generating ventures. Herein lies an avenue to the generation of hundreds of thousands of jobs over the next 10 years if we could get this formula right
A clear opportunity available to this nation is the beef and meat industry for which we were once famed for our performance but have since been overtaken by countries such as Namibia. An opportunity is available to this nation to improve the value add and the participation of a much broader segment of our population in the value chain from production to marketing, feed supply, logistics, special meats, financial products, information systems and management.
It is a simple idea to unclothe the meat sector from its monopolistic garment, yet in Botswana, a land of lost golden opportunities, this simple idea continues to be a mirage and a source of procrastination, vacillation and endless debate.
We need a new mindset, a leadership that says, “Let’s do it”, and we all roll our sleeves. What a lost golden opportunity. A postponement of thousands of jobs, a postponement of billions of Pulas, and postponement of so many dreams. We should accord credit to the Executive that a partial reform of the Energy sector is ensuing, but we are still far behind where we need to be.
We the Progressives still insist on the need for a coordinated system of Wealth Creation special sector “Funds”, with a mandate to invest in winners within the very sectors that we say we wish to create lucrative, sustainable, job intensive and international footprint enterprises. (Mineral beneficiation, agriculture/meat products, software development/technology, tourism, fish production/processing, manufacturing and services). We need to invest in the development of fish production, fish processing, beef processing, flower production, grain production, grain/food processing, services, technology, component part manufacturing, hunting and mineral beneficiation. We need to open our eyes and invest the export our culture, sports, film and creative industry in general.
Performance monitoring and social outcomes
As long as we have not adopted a rigorous performance measurement, evaluation and monitoring regime, we will continue to underperform in delivering the desired social outcomes. We will not improve until we are serious about building strong democratic institution.
It is noteworthy and welcome that the Executive is ready on at the finishing stages of a performance management regime. Problem is that this has been the posture of the Executive for many years now ever since those who are progressive impressed the need for such a system.
Even as the Executive make a claim to such a system, there are still no comprehensive commitments around targets – targets for job creation, equity, business ownership across sectors, level of service in hospitals or at the police stations, student pass rates, engineers/artisans/carpenters/chartered accountants/artists/athletes/footballers churned by our system after 5 or ten or 15 years.
We need to upgrade the dismal condition in our schools, police stations, prisons and hospitals. We need to raise the old age pension to P700 or more given our economic capacity and how our counterparts in the region are doing. We need robust mechanisms to determine a negotiated living wage with stakeholders, and better conditions/pay for those who work in and out of the public service. We need to overhaul Ipelegeng by marrying it with national/local infrastructure programmes and vocational training.
*This is part of the MP for Bonnington South and leader of Alliance for Progressives, Ndaba Gaolathe’s speech in response to SONA by President Mokgweetsi Masisi.