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2018/2019, another stale budget by Minister Matambo

Publishing Date : 13 February, 2018

Kesitegile Gobotswang (PhD)
BCP Deputy Leader

In one of the previous instalment our overall assessment of the local economy was that it was on auto pilot under Minister Kenneth Matambo.  We further asserted that the Minister of Finance and Economic Development had surrendered the running and management of the public finances to the military section of the Office of the President.  Our conclusion was informed by systematic neglect of basic laid-down financial prudence. 

It was not uncommon for public funds to be exhausted soon after budget allocations approval by Parliament.  Departments at both central and local government are frequently directed to return a portion of their budgets for re-allocation to cover the costs of the President’s pet projects.  Wastage of public funds is in abundance under the current regime.

The 2018/2019 budget proposal is a clear demonstration that the current Minister of Finance and Economic Development may have been relevant and effective in the 1990s but he is certainly out of breath. The sooner he is relieved of duty the better. He has contributed in shaping the economic fundamentals for this country but it is time for him let go before he damages the little left of his reputation. 

A younger visionary and more dynamic professional is needed to take financial management and economic development to another level.  Otherwise the next Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) government might find itself working towards the establishment of basic financial systems instead of focusing on the implementation of alternative policies meant to improve the quality of life of our people.

In his 2017/2018 budget presentation Matambo warned departments against wastage resulting from financial mismanagement. He called for strong financial controls. However evidence is that his was mere talk with no real action against those who are in breach of the instruction.  It was a political gimmick that was not enforceable given the fact that the highest office in the land was the leading culprits in relation to misuse of public resources.  As we speak government is spending millions pula over the President’s farewell tour that is not worth the value of all the gifts collected.

The recent revelation concerning National Petroleum Fund (NPF) has exposed the failing financial controls in government.  Money budgeted for the construction of strategic fuel reserve was easily diverted to purchase anti-poaching equipment for Directorate of Intelligence Security Service (DIS).  The Ministry of Finance appeared helpless in the mist of flagrant abuse of public funds.  They seem to have lost control over public finance.

The budget proposals presented to Parliament on Monday was stale news. The only difference from previous budgets was a smaller word count. Otherwise it was the same in terms of lack of specifics and measurable targets.  More than fifty years after the country attained independence and a wealth of relatively good quality national statistics it is unpardonable for government to promise employment opportunities without setting clear targets and timelines for jobs to be delivered.

Many authorities strongly believe that Botswana is well resourced to attain full employment.  In some countries full employment is defined as four per cent unemployment.  Former Cabinet Minister and successful businessman Rre David Magang is one of a few national leaders associated with the ruling party who think full employment is possible in Botswana. Duma Boko the Leader of the Opposition and President of UDC recently announced an ambitious commitment to create 100 000 jobs within the first 12 months of the UDC government in 2019.   In his budget presentation Matambo could not counter the opposition set target, a move that suggests admission that it is an attainable target.

Since the ruling party campaigned on a job creation ticket Batswana expect every budget to demonstrate commitment to their election pledge.  Surprisingly upon being elected into power the ruling party spoke in tongues. Instead of implementing an ambitious job creation strategy the ruling party argues that job creation is not government responsibility.  According to government officials the role of government is to create favourable environment that allows the private sector to generate wealth and create jobs.  A business friendly environment is expected to attract direct foreign investment. 

These include removing unnecessary bottlenecks such as reduction of time it takes to register a company, opening of bank accounts, processing work and residence permits. That government is there to build social, physical and communications infrastructure. Under the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) job creation is everybody’s concern but nobody else responsibility. It’s a pathetic state of affairs.

Interestingly government has constructed a relatively good social and physical infrastructure. However, this has not translated into the emergence of a private sector that has the capacity to generate wealth and create jobs as anticipated.  The main reason is that provision of social and physical infrastructure is a necessary but not sufficient requirement for economic development.

The fact of the matter is that government has adopted an economic model that is driven by profit.  Unfortunately job creation is not in the profit making equation. Private business is there to maximise profit through exploitation of the working class. Brothers Malema a decorated professor of economics with the University of Botswana asserts that since government controls massive wealth, it is deceptive to then expect a private sector that is at its infancy to lead the job creation crusade and to cope with the ever rising unemployment levels.  It is only through government intervention that permanent and decent jobs can be created.  The Chinese model is there for all to draw a leaf from.

When it comes to job creation government has abdicated its responsibility.  They continue to follow an economic model that has dismally failed to create sufficient jobs despite abundance of natural resources.  For this reason government finds nothing wrong in allocating billions of pula to purchase sophisticated military equipment in the form of Swedish Gripen Fighter jets. 

Sadly not a single part of the aircraft will be manufactured or assembled in Botswana to create the much needed employment opportunities.  We have a government that sees nothing wrong in exporting unprocessed salt and cattle by-products. This is what Botswana Congress Party (BCP) calls job exportation.

A budget cannot be given a thumb-up on the basis of the amount allocated to specific ministries but should be assessed on the basis of service delivery.  Any excitement based on the proportion of budget allocation is misplaced. For example Botswana is well known for a relatively high percentage of the national budget allocated to the Ministry of Health and Wellness yet health care delivery has deteriorated in recent years.  The same is true in respect of budgetary allocations to the Ministry of Education. 

Another fallacy is to glorify economic growth as if it is a panacea to economic development and job creation.  In the past Botswana experienced one of the highest levels of economic growth. During the same period income inequality was on the rise as well as joblessness. GDP growth and per capita income have long been discredited as good measures of economic development.  Even friends of government such as Business Botswana describe the current budget proposals as unexciting.  It is yet another stale budget that is uninspiring.



Do you think the closure of BCL will compel SPEDU to double their efforts in creating job opportunities in the Selibe Phikwe?