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SONA 2017: Did Khama deliver on his economic agenda?

Publishing Date : 13 November, 2017


When His Excellency the President, Lieutenant General Dr. Seretse Khama Ian Khama presented this year’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) on 6th November 2017, his last SONA since he is retiring on 31st March 2017, many Batswana had high expectations.

President Khama having emphasized ‘Delivery’ and made it one his Five “Ds”, many Batswana expected that this, being his last SONA, would have given an account of his achievements not only for the year under review, but also for his entire term of office. Some believed that since President Khama presided over the last ten years of the Vision 2016 era he would give an account of Vision 2016’s achievements and challenges. Others believed that since he oversaw the formulation of Vision 2036 he would anchor this, his last SONA, on the Vision 2036 pillars.

The latter had reason to believe as such considering that the 2016 SONA was anchored on Vision 2036 pillars, namely Sustainable Economic Development; Human and Social Development; Sustainable Environment; and Good Governance, Peace and Security. In order to assess whether President Khama’s 2017 SONA has met Batswana’s expectations it is fair that it be judged not only against his flagship programmes, but also against the national priorities as encapsulated in the nation’s successive National Development Plans (NDPs) and democratic and economic fundamentals generally.

In this two part series we consider whether President Khama has delivered on his agenda. This week we consider his delivery in relation to the economy. Next week we consider delivery in relation to democracy generally and political reforms in particular. President Khama’s flagship programmes include the Poverty Eradication Programme (PEP); Ipelegeng; National Internship Programme (NIP); the new National Service Programme (Tirelo Sechaba); Constituency Tournaments; Economic Stimulus Programme (ESP); Constituency Funding Programme (CFP); Housing Appeal; Alcohol Levy, e.t.c.

Nobody can doubt that President Khama had a wish to see Batswana emancipated from poverty. This he tried to do through, inter alia, the aforesaid flagship programmes. The question is: did these programmes lift Batswana out of poverty? Take the Poverty Eradication Programme for instance. The SONA 2017 did not mention the number of Batswana emancipated from poverty as a result of such poverty eradication programmes as backyard gardening, livestock project, e.t.c.

But, anecdotal evidence suggests that many backyard gardens are white elephants and the few that exist have hardly made any contribution to food security in our country. Anecdotal evidence also suggests that the livestock project has hardly contributed to beef and milk production. For instance, with respect to milk production President Khama himself stated that our national milk production levels only satisfies about 10% of our national need. No wonder we rely on South Africa for milk supply. This, despite government’s local milk industry protection measures.

Granted, the Ipelegeng programme, through the intensive public works projects, has provided household incomes which have gone a long way in providing relief for the poorest of the poor among our communities. There is no doubt that the 60,000 people that President Khama says are engaged under the Ipelegeng programme monthly contribute towards their families’ sustenance. Of course it is augmented by such government’s social safety nets as the Old Age Pension Scheme, but Ipelegeng’s significance cannot be underestimated.

Yet, there can be no denying that government could have done better in designing the programme in such a way that its beneficiaries gain life skills that would empower them to embark on economically viable undertakings. In its current form, the Ipelegeng programme promotes dependency in government handouts. The National Service Scheme, Tirelo Sechaba, is another programme which, if it were run creatively, would contribute to economic growth, albeit in a limited way. Instead of being limited to national service, Tirelo Sechaba could have an international service component similar to the USA Peace Corps.

This could see thousands of Batswana, especially the youth, serve in other countries, gaining allowances or stipends to enable them to make a living. Not only that. These Batswana would gain skills and attitudes which they can later use to grow our economy upon returning back home.    

Nobody can doubt President Khama’s will to address the evil of unemployment, especially among the youth. This, he tried to do by continuing such programmes as the Young Farmers Fund (YFF), Youth Development Fund(YDF) and introducing such programmes as the  CFP and ESP. Of course, the 20,227 jobs that President Khama reports were created under ESP projects are worth celebrating. So are the 3,071 jobs he says were created under the Citizen Entrepreneurship Development Agency (CEDA).

The same applies to the jobs created by the tourism industry as a result of its 11% annual growth rate thanks to the reported 2 million international arrivals annually. Batswana are equally grateful for the jobs, albeit few, created by such programmes as LIMID and ISPAAD. But, the question is are these long term jobs which provide a living wage to the employed or they are just hand to mouth jobs? The other question is: are the projects funded through ESP and CEDA, for example, contributing to economic diversification?

The other question is: have the 4,006 businesses that President Khama says have been funded by CEDA since 2008 employed enough Batswana to address Botswana’s unemployment problem? What about the 17,040 entrepreneurs that he says have been capacitated by the Local Enterprise Agency (LEA)? Have they really improved entrepreneurship in our country?  Granted, the classrooms, clinics and roads that President Khama says were completed through ESP are welcome. But, the question is: should the ESP be about backlog eradication or about economic stimulation?

Important as they are, classrooms, clinics and roads cannot stimulate the economy in real terms. But a manufacturing industry can. Yet, President Khama did not mention a single manufacturing industry which was funded under ESP. But we still import such small things as tooth picks, clothes hangers, candles and match sticks. That notwithstanding, we are grateful that our inflation is projected to remain between 3 and 6%. That we have made a budget surplus of 1.21 Billion Pula for the 2016/17 financial year is another milestone worth celebrating. Equally worth celebrating is the fact that Standard & Poors has upgraded our economic outlook to stable.

But, can we confidently say that these successes are trickling down to the average Motswana on the ground. Are Batswana getting value for money for the 2.2 Billion Pula that President Khama says has been invested in the ESP to date? What about the SPEDU project? Will the 3,600 jobs that President Khama says are projected to be created within the SPEDU region in the next three years address the economic time bomb that has been set by the closure of the BCL mine which led to the loss of more than 5,000 jobs?

No doubt, government should be commended for, as part of reviving the SPEDU region’s economy, planning to build an International Convention Centre (ICC) in the region. But, will the ICC really make a difference to the economic woes facing the region? Of course it will make a difference. But will the difference be enough? For our economic prosperity to be assured we need to embark on real economic diversification. Yet, according to Khama it will take us until February 2018 to finalize our Diamond Beneficiation Strategy.

Will the projected increase in diamond production that President Khama said we would enjoy be really worth it if we are yet to finalize as basic a thing as a Diamond Beneficiation Strategy? How can we talk about diversification of our economy when we cannot even derive maximum benefit from mining?   

Though the programmes may not bear immediate fruit in terms of job creation and economic growth, President Khama’s government needs to be commended for such programmes Pre-Primary Education and the Multiple Pathways Educational Programme which allows children to branch into their desired educational paths at an early age. The Disability Economic Empowerment Programme is another programme which, though it will not induce immediate economic growth, is important since it targets a hitherto forgotten yet cardinal section of our society, those living with disabilities.



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