Botswana is currently facing severe socio-economic challenges that require urgent solutions. We are approaching the 2019 elections and have also experienced the first hundred days of the new administration, and as a responsible citizen and thus not requiring any solicitation higher than simple patriotism, I wish to add my bit to the problem solving initiative. I have sometimes fancied myself as a possible future President, but there being way too many aspirants, relevant and otherwise, may I offer my ideas to be utilized by the others: We cannot all become Presidents, and in half a century we have had only four; I will just live my life as what the Japanese would call a ‘salaryman’ to pave the way for other (hopefully worthier) people to lead the country while we support them with ideas to consider. Any aspects of the solutions I offer here can, without any compunction or reservation whatsoever, be incorporated into the manifesto of any political party, for the broader good of society.
For now, for the sake of this platform, I will just present the ideas in a brief and simplified form. For the sake of clarity, I will just use simple lay English: Expansion on these issues and elaboration of the methodological mechanisms employed in reaching various conclusions will be provided on other fora. Furthermore, I will remain freely available to offer clarification or guidance on these and other issues to any willing entities engaged in the developmental process; be they Central Committees of Parties, Universities, organs of Government, NGOs, Trade Unions and the Media. I am also willing to engage in any sober debates as and when called upon.
Having initially graduated in the Natural Sciences, before undertaking post-graduate studies in Environmental Science, Education and Business; and, above all, having been a long-time keen observer of the development process in Sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere, I have refined these ideas over time through interaction with various multi-oriented problem-solving philosophies. I have also been a civil servant and worked for a parastatal before. In addition, I have been a social-entrepreneur since 2010, assisting young people to re-purpose their lives appropriately (I am the owner of Star-Academy). I have, thus, benefited from experiencing a kaleidoscopic view of the nation from several distinct vantage points. Below are what I have identified to be the main economic problems bedevilling our nation. I then present my own perspectives and alternatives on how those problems may be solved or at least ameliorated. This is the Muzila Alternative: I challenge other scholars to present their own renditions on how the developmental trajectory of this nation may be forged.
Botswana competes with the rest of the world for investors. While we may be outcompeted by various other nations on comparative advantage and competitiveness on several scores, we can initiate a novel method of facilitating investments. The solution doesn’t lie in doling out sums of money to people and hoping they turn out to be good entrepreneurs, as current empowerment initiatives tend to do. Neither is it about government running factories, which has generally proven disastrous. Government should start an initiative whereby it just identifies opportunities, does all the paperwork required, including business plans, sites etc, then it should create shell companies, then announce a convention at Boipuso hall for all those who would be interested in investing into that particular initiative, be they locals or foreigners, and this can be designed along the lines of an initial public offering (IPO). An Alternative Investment Market (AIM) can be set up within the Botswana Stock Exchange to house such entities.
The businesses formed through this scheme, (for example, giant feedlots, a currency-printing and minting entity servicing Africa at large, a medical-tourism centre in Kasane, multinational power plants, dairy farms, a factory for moulding plastic chairs and bowls, factories manufacturing chosen motor vehicle parts, donkey farms, a diversified pan-African firm for fast-moving consumer goods, a road-construction conglomerate, or cement factories), should not be those that are looking at the Botswana Government as the primary customer, but those with viable local or international markets identified in advance: In fact, Government would start by presenting a bill for setting-up the business to the owners upon handover. Believe me, people want to invest, but they do not know where to put their money (we have excess liquidity in the investment markets). Through this initiative, every year we could set up over twenty new large privately-owned business entities, each valued above P50 million. This would help solve some of the challenges I have listed above. Ultimately, some of those entities will primarily operate in other African countries and even beyond, thus broadening our market base and resulting in many Batswana becoming foreign investors elsewhere. I have presented this initiative publicly in 2008, and I am presenting it for the second time in 2018. If there are no takers, I will present it again in future as and when new administrations are inaugurated.
Currently, there is too much inefficiency and unproductive allocation of resources by the government of Botswana. There are too many parastatals formed willy-nilly without an exhaustive need analysis process. To make matters worse, most of those parastatals are then made into huge behemoths, sometimes performing a role that could simply be executed by an ad-hoc committee: In a vicious cycle of spectacular wastage, such entities then have to find ways of feigning ‘busyness’ to force a semblance of relevance thus wasting yet more money by hiring additional officers with fancy titles, undertaking successive hypothetical studies, hosting expensive conferences, undertaking trips abroad, sending already-qualified staff for years of training abroad, splashing double-page adverts regularly in newspapers, printing newsletters at overinflated prices and hosting glitzy conventions just for signing memoranda of understanding among themselves. You, the unemployed graduate, whenever you see these things, or you witness your cousin driving yet another brand-new 4X4 double cab BX on yet another aimless joyride mission, just say ‘there goes my monthly salary’. Obviously, many government departments and parastatals are as efficient as the overweight behemoths they have fashioned themselves into, spending more and more just to maintain themselves and to sugar-coat their lack of defined purpose.
There are many parastatals that have very good and relevant mandates, and it would be wrong to pain them all with one brush, but one will often come across a scenario where there are four or five government departments / appendages / parastatals / hubs etc. having almost absolutely-overlapping mandates. This wastage is enough to result in the shortage of money for hiring teachers and policemen, which manifests itself in the form of the use of special constables and unqualified teacher-assistants while people qualified for those roles roam the streets. Some of these fancy parastatals gobble-up over P150 million each a year, enough to pay the salaries of 1,500 teachers for whole year.
For a small nation of only 2 million people, I believe we have too many parastatals. Already I can point out more than ten parastatals we could do without, and whose roles could be better facilitated by relevant ad-hoc committees for less than 2% of the cost. One will ask, but where will the employees of those parastatals go if they are closed down? Oh, you are propping fake entities to create false jobs for some people at the expense of people we really need to employ? Unless if one is incorrigibly addicted to corruption and patronage, anybody should withdraw that argument before even bothering to pronounce it: fake jobs and deliberately bloated entities have malnourished this country enough. You cannot run this economy on patronage – that is as unsustainable as a pyramid scheme and it is both treasonous and treacherous. Hire five cleaners, a plumber and an electrician for each school: We need people who can clean schools and their toilets rather than delegating that task to the unfortunate kids.
Another popular way of wasting money is unnecessary consultancies. I am currently offering you, Batswana, this gemstone of relevant and targeted recommendations free of charge, and ke le itse ke le tshepha, you are not likely to use it, whether you are in the opposition or government: You will rather go and look for Canadian consultants who will charge you P100 million for work equating to less than 10% of the utility you can obtain out of this one, or hunt for journal articles that obliquely address the problems of other countries.
A significant segment of our population is hell-bent on making a living out of swindling government, a scenario of which government herself is a willing and even encouraging ‘victim’. Due to a mixture of political expediency and greed, a culture of ‘tenderpreneurship’ has been established and deeply entrenched. This is the culture whereby some ‘businesses’ exist merely to supply government departments with goods and services at embarrassingly-inflated prices. Those people often do not have any other client besides government because nobody else in their right mind would purchase such goods at those inflated prices. We cannot run an economy on patronage. Neither can we continue doling out sums of money and spaza-shops to whoever raises their hand and hope they turn-out to be of the entrepreneurial ilk. That hope is misplaced; entrepreneurs will naturally arise within society provided the right culture is cultivated, not where we seem to be laboring under the chronic addiction to itch to gift someone with the nation’s assets.
We should go down to the basics and admit that we are a poor country that can ill afford the wastage we all witness, no matter how we brush it off and denounce anybody who questions it with some convenient wisecracking. It is high time some of these government agencies made themselves useful by identifying real ways of identifying points of leakage and wastage in the system. Voters should issue an ultimatum to all political parties to state how they intend to shrugh-off ‘tenderpreneurs’ of all shapes and sizes from devouring the carcass that they are turning this country into. It is not a sin to do business with the state, but too many people just do it purely as corruption, point-blank. By my estimates, the state could save over P5 billion annually if it committed itself to entering only into honest transactions rather that ‘assisting’ ‘bana ba rona’ or such other euphemisms for crime and irresponsibility: That money alone is enough to pay 45,000 people earning P9,000 per month each for the whole year.
Part 2 will be published next week