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Government’s youth programmes are misguided

Publishing Date : 13 April, 2015

Ndulamo Anthony Morima

For the past ten years government has introduced a myriad of youth empowerment schemes. These schemes include the Out of School Youth Grant (OSYG), Young Farmers Fund (YFF), Youth Development Fund (YDF), Youth Employment Scheme (YES), National Internship Programme (NIP) and National Service Scheme (NSS). The latter is a reincarnation of Tirelo Sechaba which President Lieutenant General Seretse Khama Ian Khama, at the dawn of his presidency, abolished against public outcry.

About seven years ago the OSYG was replaced with the YDF. Recently, Parliament voted to abolish the YFF and to replace it with what is said to be a more encompassing National Entrepreneurship Programme. Less than two weeks after the vote to abolish the YFF government has introduced a Graduate Volunteer Scheme (GVS) which the Ministry of Youth, Sports & Culture (MYSC) says is intended to address graduate unemployment.

There is no doubt that government has the political will to address the plight of our youth, especially unemployment. However, considering the multiplicity of the youth empowerment schemes developed over a very short period of time and the overlaps between the schemes, it is clear that government’s policy on youth development is misguided. The reason for this is that most of these schemes come either as president Khama’s own initiatives or are developed by ministers or Permanent Secretaries whose ulterior motive is to impress president Khama.

When the YFF was introduced under the Citizen Entrepreneurship Development Agency(CEDA) government ignored the public’s concerns that the programme is not sustainable considering the youth’s limited interest and skills in Agriculture, lack of infrastructure, especially in rural areas, lack of rain, lack of a national irrigation master plan, e.t.c. A few years after its introduction, government has abolished the scheme for exactly the same reasons that many Batswana were opposed to it.

When Tirelo Sechaba, which had immense public support, was abolished Batswana decried the fact that government undermined the spirit of volunteerism which the programme instilled within our youth. They disparaged the fact that the abolition took away the one thing which gave young Batswana the opportunity to learn new cultures, something which went a long way in promoting cultural tolerance and nationhood. After the abolition, which cost the tax payer millions of Pula, Tirelo Sechaba was reintroduced for exactly the same reasons it was first introduced.

But when we thought sanity has finally prevailed government has introduced yet another scheme, the Graduate Volunteer Scheme (GVS), which, in my view, is a duplication of the NIP and Tirelo Sechaba. No wonder a statement from MYSC states that for GVS’s enrolment “priority will be given to those in the NIP waiting list, though the scheme is open to unemployed degree holders, particularly graduates not enrolled in other schemes such as NIP and Tirelo Sechaba, as well as those who have gone through two years of the National Internship, but are willing to continue as volunteers under the new scheme,” In my view, these three schemes can be reduced to one scheme with a mandate for internship and volunteerism. With respect to volunteerism, there can be a local volunteer programme and an international volunteer programme.

A Botswana Youth Corps programme, for example, modelled around the United States of America Peace Corps movement, can assist our youth to gain income, skills and experience at an international level. It can also, in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs & International Cooperation, enhance Botswana’s image internationally and propagate Tswana culture and values internationally. It can also, in collaboration with the Ministry of Trade & Industry, promote trade relations we more countries than we are currently able to reach through our limited diplomatic missions.

Having too many youth empowerment programmes is counterproductive. Not only does it lead to duplication of mandates, but it also leads to waste of resources since the multiple departments that implement the programmes each spend on personnel, equipment, software and vehicles instead of such expenses being incurred by one entity. The result is that most funds finance administrative expenses as opposed to the core of the programme. It defies logic, for example, how government can, according to the MYSC Deputy Permanent Secretary, Kgopolo Ramoroka, by the end of January 2015 have placed only 4, 912 interns when it spends 92 million Pula annually on the programme.  
It has always been my contestation that to avoid duplication and to reduce government expenditure on youth empowerment programmes there is need for a National Youth Development Fund (NYDF). Such a fund will, unlike the current one which is wholly dependent on government subventions, be revolving and will be funded through such self-perpetuating means as levies. For example, government can introduce a Youth Development Levy (YDL) to finance the fund. Alternatively, government could devote a certain percentage from such existing levies as the alcohol and fuel levy as contribution to the fund.

The NYDF can be administered by one entity and it can have such votes or divisions as Youth & Volunteerism, Youth Internship, Youth Employment and Youth Entrepreneurship. The latter can be used to finance youth enterprises, especially in prime areas of the economy as may differ from time to time and from area to area. For example, while more funds could be devoted to Youth in Tourism in such tourist areas as Chobe, more funds could be devoted to Agriculture in areas most suited for commercial arable and pastoral farming.

The fund can also have such schemes as Credit and Guarantee, Invoice Discounting, Franchising and Cooperatives. The latter for instance would ensure that the youth use their skills, creativity and vibrancy to revive Cooperatives which are currently predominantly run by the elderly. Because of lack of youth involvement in most cooperatives Hon. Dorcas Makgato’s efforts to revive cooperatives when she was Minister of Trade & Industry did not bear much fruit.  

In South Africa, for instance, the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) uses a similar fund which has a Scholarship Fund, a Grant Programme, a Youth Build Programme, a National Youth Service Programme, an Entrepreneurship Development Programme, a Volunteer Business Mentorship Programme, and a Business Consultancy Service (Voucher) Programme. All these programmes fall under the NYDA which is an equivalent of the Botswana National Youth Council (BNYC).

If such a model is followed even the private sector will be encouraged to invest in youth development in a comprehensive and sustainable manner, especially if government provides such incentives as tax rebates and tax holidays to those who invest in youth development. In South Africa, while Murray & Roberts is cited in the NYDA website as providing an In-Service Training Programme and Bursaries, there is a Cipla Graduate Programme (Supply chain). There is also a Nedbank Bursary Programme.



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