The P600 a month graduate

The Scheme and what it hopes to achieve
On the 7th of April, the Botswana Government announced a new volunteer scheme for graduates. Housed under the Ministry of Youth, Sport and Culture (MYSC), the scheme targets unemployed graduate youth who are not in the internship programme and attaches them to organizations with volunteer work opportunities.   According to the Ministry, the program is intended to:  facilitate skills development and transfer them to graduates, promote the spirit of volunteerism, contribute to community development, improve resilience of graduates as well as to reduce their idle time.  “The participants will not only contribute to community development initiatives but they will also improve their employment readiness through on the job training and experience,” the statement from the Ministry read. Regarding placement, it was stated that participants will be enrolled where they have accommodation, and that emphasis will be in rural districts where there is need for service.   Participants will be enrolled in Government and public institutions including disciplined forces.

What motivated it?
The country is at crossroads. The national unemployment rate hovers over the 20%, and is much higher among some population groups, for instance, youth unemployment is in excess of 40%. Over 10 000 graduates are churned by universities, both home and abroad, each year. While the country celebrates notable growth in the economy, averaging 4% annually, the growth comes from the mining sector, especially diamonds, which is capital intensive and does not necessarily employ many people. Government has overtime failed to diversify the economy to non-mining sectors which are known to absorb many people into employment. Trade statistics demonstrate this; in 2011 75.6% of the total revenue raised from exports came from diamonds. In 2012, it was 79%, 83% in 2013, 82% during the first quarter of 2014, and 83% during the second quarter of 2014.  This situation is exacerbated by a mismatch between skills taught in the institutions and what industry really needs. This observation is affirmed by Professor Happy Siphambe, a University of Botswana academic, in a paper entitled Understanding Unemployment in Botswana, where he asserts “…that firms prefer to do on-the-job training for their artisans rather than employ graduates from training institutions.” He further warns that “…training institutions in Botswana run the risk of training graduates that are not appropriate for the labour market because they do not make any tracer studies of their graduates.” These factors, and many others, have caused Government’s desperation to create employment speedily to reverse the high rate of unemployment, hence the stop-gap measures.

Where is the money coming from?
The latest budget has recently been approved by Parliament. Delivering the budget proposal in February, Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Kenneth Matambo, did not make mention of the scheme nor funds allocated to it. This begs the question, where is the money for these allowances going to come from? The Botswana Gazette visited the Department of National Internship where all these youth programmes are housed to enquire about, among others, where the funds to bankroll the program will come from. Officers at this Department were clueless about the programme and referred this reporter to the Ministry of Youth, Sport, and Culture. At the Ministry, this publication was referred to the Director of Internship, Boitshepo Bolele, who was said to be travelling.

How is the scheme uptake?
This publication visited the Gaborone Youth Office, one of the venues where application forms are collected. The visit did not bear much fruit as the officers were clueless about the program. Asked how many people had applied, one of the officers told this reporter on condition of anonymity that around five graduates had come to apply but due to unavailability of forms they were turned back. “There are no application forms and we haven’t been told about the scheme. Graduates have been coming here referred by the Ministry but we only heard about GVS in the media” she said. The statement from the MYSC has stated that application will effect from April 13, but it seemed no preparations were made, including orientating officers who will implement the program.

Where does P600 a month place a graduate?
Research undertaken by this publication has shown that the P600, which the graduate volunteers will be earning, is in the same range or even less than what most people without the same level of achievement education wise are.

The  2014/2015  Minimum Wage Rates sets  the  minimum salary  for  those employed under the Agricultural sector, like herdsmen, at P550, just P50 less than a volunteer with the GVS.
A special constable employed by the Botswana Police Service is placed at the lowest notch of the scale and gets a monthly salary of around P1700, and lowest ranked officers, the Constables, earn approximately P3500 per month. The entry requirements for special constable and constable are a Botswana General Certificate in Secondary Education (Form 5) and this is followed by basic police training in the case of constables.

Security guards earn around P1200, which is more than what the GVS volunteers will earn. One security guard, Odireleng Mogomotsi, sympathized with the graduates “Even though we get this much, it is not enough. I feel so sorry for the graduates who will be getting P600; you can’t do anything with that amount. Maybe that’s why they call it a meal allowance because it is enough only for food.”
“This is a joke. There is no motivation for me to go back to school and improve my grades. It won’t serve any purpose because even after acquiring tertiary education, I will struggle to get a job and probably end up in this scheme and earn P600. Why not stick with my current job and earn my P1000,” one young maid quizzed rhetorically.

Dismissing the scheme  during the  Umbrella for Democratic Change rally over the weekend,   Member of Parliament for Gaborone  Central, Dr Phenyo Butale said  the program is a clear indication that the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) has run out of ideas. “The BDP seems bereft of new ideas and  creativity. The announcement of the programme by Government is acceptance that they have failed to create jobs. What they present to the nation are stop-gap measures that promote further exploitation of graduates,” he said. Butale emphasized that the nation needs concrete, well thought out strategies that will create long term employment opportunities for the youth. He maintained that there is no reason for Government to celebrate economic growth while there is jobless growth.