Mine is Priority of Priorities- LOO
On Wednesday, the Leader of Opposition, Dumelang Saleshando responded to the 2022/2023 Budget Speech which was delivered by Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Peggy Serame.
The Voice Staffer, DANIEL CHIDA looks talking points in the Member of Parliament for Maun West’s speech.
EMPTY BANK ACCOUNT
I have some sense of pity for Minister Serame, unlike most of the men who held the position you have been appointed to, you will not walk into an office with bag loads of cash from the sale of diamonds and other exports. You will find coffers that are almost empty.
You do not have the luxury of focusing on how the available funds are to be allocated but have the burdensome task of first securing the funds.
Possibly, you face the same task that our first Minister of Finance faced, the late Sir Ketumile Masire.
If he were alive, he would have probably proclaimed that you are either, “Very Foolish or Very Brave” to have accepted this appointment.
You need to take comfort Serame in the knowledge that God the Almighty does not place heavy burdens on our shoulders without giving us the proportionate strength to carry the load.
In the excitement of receiving a new baby, we normally all forget about the older children.
Less than two years ago, we congregated to salute the then Minister responsible for Finance, Thapelo Matsheka. He was heralded as a messiah.
MPs from across the divide took turns to express their confidence in his skills to steer the ship to calmer waters.
None of us knew at the time that we were addressing a man that was to serve the shortest term as the Minister of Finance.
Having been removed from the revered position of Finance, he has now been completely dropped from cabinet.
Certainly, this is not normal and without precedence in Botswana, and even without the knowledge of what could have influenced the drastic decision, none-dare ask in case they offend the Master.
WARNING TO MATSHEKA
When we retreated to Kasane as newly elected Members of Parliament in 2019, I had a side chat with Matsheka as he prepared to report for duty at the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning.
Whilst wishing him well, I cautioned him that his ascension to the position marked a betrayal of a long-standing tradition of appointing former senior officers of the ministry to the position of minister, a development that will likely subject him to internal resistance.
It will not be easy for him to effect change. As they say, the rest is history.
I hope that the new Minister will have better luck at maintaining the confidence of the appointing authority.
Stability of leadership is critical, and it is now common knowledge that in his first term, President Masisi has effected more cabinet reshuffles than his predecessor did in 10 years.
As I wish Serame well, it will be remiss of me not to state some observations that will be worth reflecting over.
On the 26th of February 2021, your predecessor when responding to a parliamentary question that sought to establish if in the preceding five years, Parliament had ever effected any changes to the Appropriation Bill. The answer was a short no.
It is highly probable that this has never happened since independence.
This is not to say there has never been any attempt by any Parliamentarian to propose changes to the annual budget.
I for one attempted such a feat during the 9th Parliament. The attitude of successive Ministers of Finance has been to reduce debates on the budget to a talk show “Maokaneng” with no desire to entertain value adding changes that will have been informed by the debates in the House.
When you recently presented the revised Financial Intelligence Agency Bill, we observed with heavy hearts your gallant fight to reject all the opposition proposals for possible improvement to the Bill. It is possible that you belong to the school of thought that being in opposition equates to lack of patriotism.
We will put you to the test and propose what we consider value adding recommendations to the Bills that you will be tabling before the house.
You, more than other members of the House, appreciate the concept of opportunity cost.
The nation is worse off by the actions of a ruling elite that only wants to hear its voice, ignoring proposals from the other side of the House and belatedly adopting the ideas that were previously rejected with contempt just because they are from the opposition.
There are many examples of proposals by the opposition that were rejected that were to be later adopted at a huge cost to the nation.
WELCOMING TABLETS IN SCHOOLS
Serame, you know that the introduction of tablets to public schools is a proposal that was championed by the opposition UDC in the run up to the 2019 general elections.
This was laughed off by the ruling party who characterised the suggestion as a wild dream.
The position of the BDP government is that Covid, not the opposition, has opened their eyes to the merit of introducing technology in schools.
We welcome the change of heart and will fully support the initiative. The fact of the matter is that Serame is a Minister of Finance under the BDP government.
We do not expect her to change the policy outlook of the BDP.
We expect her, like the nine gentlemen who came before her, to champion policies that will protect the interests of the private sector ahead of workers’ rights and ensure that the rich get richer, and Botswana remains one of the most unequal societies in the world.
We expect her to preside over an economy that aims for high economic growth rates while wages remain low for the majority of the workers.
We do not expect to see a shift towards industrialization but expect to see jobs being exported through unprocessed goods when Batswana wallow in poverty and afflicted by unemployment
I have decided to adopt “Priority of our Priorities” as the theme for my presentation. Our economy is coming out of a recession, businesses have had to restructure their operations and some have had to lay off workers whilst others have not survived and closed operations.
Breadwinners in families have lost jobs, leaving their dependents stranded.
Children have lost parents, many families have lost an income earning parent.
Families are under threat of financial distress and hope for reaching the Promised Land in 2036 are fading for many.
What then should be the Priority of Our Priorities as a nation? What is the one thing we cannot take our eyes off?
Creating job opportunities for the many of our people who are trapped in unemployment.
Today, more than ever before, we cannot afford to assume that there are some macroeconomic variables that we can throw around and simply hope that the economy will, by some chain reaction, deliver the elusive jobs.
We know that the growth in economy that is being talked about is in the main driven by the recovery of the diamond market.
Will the demand for rough diamonds and improved jewellery prices create jobs for Batswana in our respective constituencies?
The simple answer is no. Is unemployment a threat to our nation?
If Minister of Finance is unable to advise the President that he is sowing seeds of corruption when members of his immediate family, who were not into any major business before he ascended to the Presidency, are directly awarded multimillion pula tenders, then our economy is doomed.
If the new Minister of Finance is unable to tell the President that he is opening the country to the dogs when we have young BDP members with no track record of entrepreneurship becoming instant millionaires through Covid procurements, then we are on the highway to a typical failed African state.
If the new Minister of Finance will tolerate expenditure on luxurious and non-critical items in the time of financial crisis such as the purchase of armoured vehicles for the President, purchase of Tautona Lodge in a covert manner, building of a Presidential retreat in the Okavango Delta, then there is no point calling for Parliament to pass the budget when there are hidden items that we cannot be given details of at the time of approving the budget.
Botswana roads are in a state of disrepair. The A1 needs to be turned into a dual carriageway.
Roads leading to major tourist destinations such as Nata Maun, Maun to Sehithwa proceeding to Mohembo need to be redone.
The above proposal was premised on the UDC Manifesto which reads as follows at page 34; “Build world-class road and rail systems to provide a solid backbone for the economy, connect markets, raise economic efficiency and give impetus to strategic sectors such as tourism, transport, logistics and manufacturing. We will turn the A1 into a state of the art multi carriage way and give economic efficiency and tourism a big boost, and save lives and human capital.”
The above UDC proposal has found its way to the 2022 Budget Speech which promises at paragraph 93 that the A1 Road from Ramatlabama to Ramokgwebana will be progressively reconstructed and converted into a dual carriageway. This is a welcome development.
Though the Minister calls out corruption as the biggest challenge we face, she falls short of stating steps that will be taken to combat it.
The President has taken steps to weaken the DCEC through periodic changes to its leadership and recently appointing to the leadership of the DCEC dubious characters who are suspected to have abused their public offices to mount false charges against innocent citizens.
The Minister should call for the review of the DCEC Act to make it truly independent and equip it to deal with the monster called corruption.
A significant part of the budget will result in the issuance of tenders. It is now an open secret that the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS) has usurped the powers to adjudicate over tenders.
Public officers who do not comply with the directives of the DISS over tender allocations are intimidated and sometimes detained for questioning.
Some companies have had tenders withdrawn from them because the DISS, without providing any evidence, labels such companies a threat to national security.
If the Ministry of Finance does not see the need to protect the procurement process against an overzealous and rouge spy outfit, Batswana will never get value for money through the billions committed to the development budget.