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Home » News » Letters » THE RACE TO 2019 HAS BEGUN:

THE RACE TO 2019 HAS BEGUN:

Publishing Date : 02 February, 2016

Author : BERNARD BUSANI

NATIONAL BUDGET, WATER, REVENUE SOURCES, OUR NATIONAL VISION CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES!!
 

Like the annual state of the nation address by the president, the annual national budget presentation by the minister of finance and development planning is something that, not only the nation looks forward to with anticipation, but the world at large has great interest in it.

The nation wants to know what developments have been completed and what new developments will be taking place in the country, when and at what cost and how they will benefit from such developments.  They want their fair share of the national cake. 

The business community wants to see what is planned so that they can prepare themselves to participate in a meaningful way.

Some years back the government workers had particular interest in the budget presentation as their annual salaries and benefits increments were announced during this presentation. These days with the bargaining council in place it is not clear how the salaries and benefits of government employees are catered for in the budget as these are now ‘negotiables’. The global business leaders and multinationals want to see if there are opportunities for potential investment to grow their business interests in the country.

While the ordinary people in the streets and villages do not really care much because they do not really understand the implications on their lives except perhaps the pensioners on tandabala who will be hoping for some increase on their paltry monthly allowance.

The budget normally contains what they call recurrent budget and development budget.  In the language that I understand, the budget contains working costs and capital costs. 

The working costs or recurrent budget is for the day to day running of government operations.  It must include salaries and benefits for all government employees, including old age tandabala pensioners; running of all government facilities, offices including maintenance of such facilities and offices.  This budget should be predictable and easy to come up with annually. 

The capital or development budget normally should contain working capital, which is capital for on going projects. This should also be predictable and should only change due to approved changes of scope and or unpredictable changes in prices. The second part of the capital or development budget should be on new developments from the national development plan or new compelling opportunities.

So why should budget preparation be so onerous? Why should it be so secretive? Why can’t the nation be involved through Kgotla type meetings?  Obviously government will be duty bound to priritise and then explain the priorities to the nation during the budget speech.  From time to time they will be need for chopping and changing items from the budget due perhaps to financial limitations to support the required budget, but this should be transparent and presented clearly by the minister.

It is my belief, my deep conviction that any nation that wants to be amongst the top performers in the world must have a long term vision for the country as well as a transparent long term national development plan to anchor that vision.

The annual budget then becomes just a formality to explain where the country is against its development plans and what adjustments are necessary to stay on course towards their vision.

It is therefore not clear why government has to go to parliament during the year; each year seeking supplementary budgetary allocations, which runs into billions of Pula. Is someone sleeping on the job and allowed to do so relentlessly, year on year?  Should we not keep on probing our budgetary systems and questioning their usefulness with a view to improve? I think we must as a matter of urgency reconsider our budgetary approaches and systems.

The other side of the budget coin is the sources of funds that will support the work to be done. Where will the money come from? We should have a good idea where the money will be coming from.  This is where the ministry should be spending most of its time, determining and scrutinising all the sources and ensuring that every ‘thebe’ is accounted for from each source; tax collection for instance, are we collecting all the taxes? Are we getting all the royalties from our minerals? Are we getting all we should be getting from our diamonds? Are we getting what is really due to us from all our mineral reserves and other sources? Are they any financial leakages in our systems? Corruption and inefficiencies must be major sources of such leakages.

Let us check and improve our revenue collection systems. Let us make these systems transparent so that the nation at large can also help. Involving the nation meaningfully is the only way we can genuinely “move Botswana forward’.

Moving on, I would like to acknowledge that, it is going to be a very difficult budget presentation for the minister of finance and development planning this year. I would also like to offer some suggestions to help the minister to come up with an extraordinary budget proposal to mitigate the dire situation ahead of us because of two main dangers facing us head on; drying water sources as well as drying revenues from our mining sources. These are real dangers that have potential to bring our economy to its knees fast.

There can never be any development and no meaningful budget in this country when all our water sources and mining revenues are drying up. The water situation in the country is dire and poses a real threat to the future of our nation. Without water needless to say there is no life. Water is life in the literal sense (no water you die) but also in the business sense (no water, no business, no development and no future).

If ever there was ever a need for an economic stimulus package (ESP), it is now for the provision of adequate water supply for all our national needs.  With the current challenging weather situation, those northern dams will dry up just like the Gaborone dam has dried up.

Unless the good Lord opens up the flood gates of heaven to fill our ‘dying’ rivers and dams, we will have to come up with emergency plans fast for sustainable water supply.  

Bringing water from Chobe has been talked about for decades and the ‘pipeline’ seems to be very very long, the water from the Lesotho high lands also has even a longer ‘pipeline’ that will take ages to arrive in Botswana. But we must also be mindful of the lessons from the past; that we must have enough of our own to satisfy our own national needs and even more for export. This is a basic prudent planning lesson I leant at secondary school and unfortunately as a nation we fail to learn.  Even in Setswana we have an expression for this ‘motho o kgonwa ke sa gagwe’, meaning you should rely on your own resources.

Mr.  Mokaila must dig into the pages of the national water master plan of 2005 and come up with an emergency plan to get some of the projects detailed therein expedited.  We must as a mater of urgency determine where adequate ground water is situated, whether potable or non potable; any water can be treated and cleaned up for potable use?

Where is all the water that flows annually from the Okavango Swamps? Where is the water that flows annually from the Nata River? Where does the Makakaraga potable ground water come from? We need answers before the country dries up?  I am convinced that we have adequate underground water sources. God did not create our country without a plan for our survival in it. Even in a desert we can survive; ask Dubai, Chile, Israel and others!

The use of waste water which was also part of the national water master plan of 2005 must be expedited. There has been a lot of talk about this but no visible action.  By now they should be no such a thing as waste water in Botswana. All the water that is used must be recycled back into the water supply systems without any hesitation or questions. It is an international norm, practiced over many decades if not centuries. We need some action on this from Mr. Mokaila and his team. We cannot continue to talk without taking any action.

Let us hope that the minister of finance will announce some far reaching measures that will address the water situation countrywide before we all perish from thirst.  I would like to end by saying that a nation without a vision is a lost nation. 

We had a brilliant vision inappropriately coined ‘vision 2016’. This was a beautiful vision for the country. It has not been achieved and we are now spending millions to come up with yet another vision that will not be realised (talk of wasteful expenditure).  Vision 2016 should be our national vision until it is achieved then we can come up with another vision if necessary.

What is required is a national development plan with milestone for achieving our vision. It will be a step by step approach towards that vision, the vision cannot be achieved over night and in many cases it will never be fully achieved.  It should not be time bound like an objective or plan.

For instance ‘an educated and informed nation’ is a vision that will always be there as long as the nation is in existence.  A vision should not die if it is a good one. What changes should only be development plans to help get the nation closure and closure to that vision. A vision is a long term aspiration, a mental picture of what we want to be as a nation.

This country needs a visionary leadership that will see beyond its lifespan; visionary leadership that will consider the nation first and personal gains as secondary; selfless visionaries, who will be able to listen to all the voices from their people, act decisively and lead their people to prosperity and self actualisation. It is time for the people like ‘madam speaker sir’ to be listened to, it is time for people like the ‘first people of the Kalahari’ to be listen to and not to be panel beaten into submission. 

We need leaders who will judge their people not by who they know but what they can do to advance the fortunes of their nation. We need leaders with pure hearts who will do only what is right regardless of partisan dogma.

Without visionary leaders, our country will be driven into the abyss and perish as prophesied by King David who said a ‘nation without a vision will perish’. Our leaders should engage the nation on this budget and the national vision in a meaningful and untraditional way. We need to address the water situation like yesterday. We need to re-assess how Debswana is managed so that we can begin to get more from our diamonds to support our economy. We must expand our maginations!
 

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