The Leader of the Opposition, Dumelang Saleshando, has written a letter to President Mokgweetsi Masisi calling him to close the gaps in his government‘s efforts against COVID-19’s challenges to the nation. Saleshando listed a number of areas which he urged the president to look into and address.
On business and residential rentals, Saleshando said a number of Batswana entrepreneurs do not own the premises that they occupy for their business operations. There is a need, according to him, to ensure that businesses owned by Batswana will be able to resume operations post-COVID-19, failing which the campaign for citizen economic empowerment will be doomed even before a law on the same is passed.
“As with business premises, home ownership is still low in Botswana. The low-income group, most of who are in the informal sector, are tenants and risk being evicted as at the end of April by landlords. Kindly consider opening up the COVID-19 Fund to property owners (commercial and residential) and directing Botswana Housing Corporation not to collect rentals from low and medium cost tenants for at least three months,” reads his letter.
On the informal sector, Saleshando says Batswana in the informal sector, commonly referred to as “hustlers,” are in dire straits, saying compliance with the lockdown meant losing their entire income.
“This sector of our economy, though critical, is not under the watch of BURS and therefore not catered for by the COVID-19 Fund. At the time when the COVID-19 (Fund) was set up, a parallel facility should have been established for the likes of ‘Mma Seapei,’ the airtime vendor, taxi men etc..,” he says.
He proposed that the government should urgently call on operators to register their business interests and through a rapid self-assessment process and further submit the quantum of the losses they have endured on account of the lockdown, and government to offer some financial relief.
“This is a project that LEA in conjunction with CEDA should be able to deliver with relative ease and build critical data needed for the development of the informal sector,” he suggested.
On the farming Sector:
“There are reports of farmers being denied permits to attend to their farms and ‘masimo.’ We are at a point where our ability to feed ourselves as a nation should be at the pinnacle of our immediate national strategic interest. Farming by nature does not require high density of workers and allowing the sector to operate will not undermine our response to COVID-19,” he says.
Saleshando says our current reality compels us to urgently reconsider our approach to agriculture. “In the last debate of the national budget, all MPs who contributed to the agriculture budget debate noted that the allocated amounts are a small fraction of what is needed to turn the sector around,” reads the letter.
“As part of the economic recovery strategy post COVID-19, consider launching an aggressive programme of identifying farmers who can be assisted to expand their operations. Subsistence farmers should be hand held to graduate into efficient commercial operations. Senior civil servants who are part time farmers should be enticed to retire early and take up the new agricultural schemes geared at helping Botswana to produce enough to feed itself.
Provision of Food Baskets:
Saleshando says as a response to the delays in the distribution of food, “a number of your cabinet members” have now resorted to setting up their own constituency programmes and using their ministerial positions to secure food hampers for their individual constituencies.
“They do not see the need to channel donations to the national fund but appear to be using the Corona crisis to endear themselves to those under the threat of hunger. I am sure that the DCEC, if asked to advise on this development, will inform you that this amounts to cultivating fertile ground for future corruption. The donors that are opening their doors for ministers’ constituencies expect the favours to be returned at a later date. Kindly advise cabinet members to focus on the national fund and not be driven by narrow partisan interests at a time of a crisis,” reads the letter.
Tourism, Creative Industry and Event Management:
“Long before the lockdown, some of the sectors that provide employment for the youth were compelled to close down. International travel was severely disrupted as early as January and tourism operators, particularly in Ngamiland, were compelled to shut down, many sending their staff on unpaid leave or terminating employment contracts. Most of those who work in this sector as bar tenders, waiters and waitresses, drivers and freelance professional guides are the youth,” reads the letter.