This retreat held under the theme; DRIVING TRANSFORMATION: THE ROLE OF LOCAL AUTHORITIES, though overdue could not have happened at a better time and place as occasioned by the Covid-19 pandemic currently ravaging the world. The tourism sector has been negatively impacted by the scourge due to travel moratoriums necessitated by the need to combat the spread of the disease. Our choice of Kasane for this retreat demonstrates our support to contribute to resuscitation of the tourism sector. You will all agree with me that tourism is one of the key contributors to gross domestic product after minerals.
The delayed induction after our election to office in March presents an opportunity for us to reflect and realign our efforts to combating the spread of the disease to save lives as well as repositioning local governments to ensure that economic activity yields desired dividends. The period of extreme social distancing demonstrated our susceptibility and gaps in our response mechanisms to disaster situations.
I call upon on you colleagues to utilize this retreat as a springboard to develop strategic interventions to position local authorities for advancing national aspirations. The lessons drawn from this meeting need be cascaded to the local levels for local authorities to be relevant. I thus want to implore you to ensure that such lessons are trickled down to branches for effective and efficient delivery of services. I commit to providing strategic leadership for the advancement and achievement of such. Our councils are key in ensuring development priorities are adequately delivered, thus my commitment to their empowerment.
We come into office midway through the implementation of key development agendas being the National Development Plan 11 (NDP11) and Vision 2036 at the national level as well as the UN Agenda 2030 and Paris Declaration on Climate Adaptation at the global levels. The common aspirations of these agendas being to deliver sustainable economic activity to reduce inequalities towards “Achieving Prosperity for All’’ and leaving no one behind. His Excellency, President Dr Mokgweetsi E. K. Masisi’s in his roadmap commits to the aspirations of Vision 2036 of transforming Botswana from an upper middle income to a high income knowledge based economy. This thus calls for concerted efforts by all sectors, with local authorities at the coal face of local development to achieve this ambitious agenda. The need to harness skills, be they technical, indigenous or otherwise and employ such for purposes of propelling Botswana to a knowledge based as opposed to resource based economy especially at the local levels can never be over emphasised.
The government of Botswana through Vision 2036 is committed to achieving prosperity for all by year 2036, key reflections to consider being:
• Transitioning from mineral based resources as our economic mainstay
• Developing mechanisms for competitiveness, productivity and efficiency outside the diamond industry
• Policies that foster self-reliance and unleash the entrepreneur potential of our people
• Putting emphasis on territorial planning for local development initiatives
Local authorities remain the key governance sphere to ensure that Batswana are facilitated to meaningfully participate in transforming the economy and lessening dependency on social safety nets from government.
As a member of the United Nations and global family of nations, Botswana subscribes to international protocols and agendas, key amongst which are the UN Agenda 2030 and the Paris Declaration on Climate. Local authorities are key to domestication, localization and implementation of these agendas for them to be responsive to the needs of our people. It is thus upon us to position ourselves for the implementation of the envisaged decentralization policy as a tool to achieve prosperity, self-reliance and independence of our people.
Decentralization though a desirable governance practice places added responsibilities upon local authorities. Some such responsibilities being the need to develop revenue streams to fund our development priorities at the local levels. It is thus imperative for us to position ourselves and start devising means for revenue generation. Taking advantage of the current government funding to cultivate investment opportunities for revenue generation will solidify our relevance. I sincerely believe that if we engage in deliberate efforts to establish investment arms coordinated by a professional board, we would be able to create a vehicle for revenue generation for our councils. Modern day development trajectory recognizes local governments as partners with national government on national issues especially as every development or socio-economic activity takes place in a local space.
The government having made a commitment on a holistic review of the constitution of Botswana as well as decentralized governance functions, there is need for inputs from nationals to inform our development path and governance structures. It is against this background that I wish to employ you collectively and individually to position ourselves for added responsibilities.
On issues of councillor’s welfare which of recent has been a nagging issue, there is need to lobby a constitutional entrenchment to eliminate any inherent uncertainties . Since councils are the first port of call to the citizens, it is only proper that we lobby for councils to be an establishment of the constitution in the envisaged review of the national constitution.
As I draw towards conclusion let me hasten to draw your attention to societal and moral decay resulting in increased violence of all sorts. Of late there has been an alarming increase in cases of gender based violence and abusive behaviour by students towards teachers and other students. The rate at which lives are lost due to passion killings does not reflect well on us as a nation. This inhumane act need be eradicated as it defeats one of the pillars on which our nation is built on being “Botho”. As leaders we cannot sit back and watch the values that have set Botswana apart from the rest of the world deteriorate into oblivion. The strong family structure in our societal set up contributed to the high moral standards that have cultivated peace and tranquillity enjoyed over time amongst us. It thus calls for us to mobilize our communities to re-work the values that have made Botswana a beacon and model of good moral values.
Of late concerns have been raised in relation to maternal health. Though government has good health programs for expectant mothers right through child development and growth stages, there seems to be a very low uptake of such programs resulting in high maternal deaths and infant mortality cases. As civic leaders it is our duty to educate and empower our communities to take advantage of available health programs to save lives.
In conclusion, all the above mentioned require a well-defined and documented strategic path for meaningful implementation and attainment of desired goals. We however cannot develop our strategy in a vacuum since it has to compliment national strategic priorities. This then calls for a halt on our strategy development pending the conclusion of review of that of our parent ministry to enable proper alignment.
Lastly of late we have experienced unprecedented increases of positive covid-19 infections. Given the limitations of our health infrastructure and economy, this situation calls for all to heed the set health protocols and adherence to laws under the current state of public emergency to minimise the spread. As civic leaders we are duty bound to educate our communities on the need for adherence to reduce the spread and imminent threat to human life.
Let us educate our people to:
• Social distance
• Avoid crowding
• Wash hands and/or sanitize regularly
• Wear masks in all public spaces
• Travel only when it is absolutely necessary
I wish us all a fruitful retreat, the results of which should propel and position BALA as a model of good governance, advocate and driver of effective and sustainable local development initiatives.
*BALA PRESIDENT OFFICIAL ADDRESS AT THE RETREAT OF THE NATIONAL EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE HELD AT CRESTA MOWANA HOTEL IN KASANE FROM 6TH TO 8TH OCTOBER 2020