BFTU RESPONSE TO THE 2020 S.O.N.A
Presented by Thusang Butale-Secretary General
This response is premised on our understanding of what SONA is and our expectations of what the 2020 SONA was going to address. We understand the SONA as an opportunity for the President to appraise the nation on the achievements, challenges and failures made by the country over the preceding 12 months and what the next 12 months will focus on to advance the developments of the nation. In his address the President touched on four (4) broad areas which are, (i) Economy and Employment, (ii) Social Upliftment, (iii) Sustainable Environment and (iv) Governance, Peace and Security. The BFTU 2020 SONA Preview Paper did not follow this categorization, however, our response will try as much as possible to follow the SONA categorization. Secondly, our response will not address all the issues raised by the President but will limit our scope to issues raised in the BFTU Preview Paper and other issues of interest to workers not raised in the paper but which were raised in the SONA.
2.0 General Observations
The President from the onset set the tone by highlighting the ambitious 2036 National Vision of taking the country from an Upper Middle-Income Country to a High-Income Country. To this he revealed the pillars of driving this vision as knowledge-based and inclusive economy underpinned by democracy, good governance, the rule of law and respect for human rights. The President further reiterated the principle of “Leaving no One Behind” for a free, fair and prosperous Botswana. It is therefore worth checking as to whether what the President presented for the coming twelve months speaks to these aspirations. We answer this question at the end of this paper.
We noted that the President had invited “Special Guests” to this SONA. The President said nothing about reasons for inviting them save, to only recognize their attendance. We are of the view that this type of recognition may be used to motivate individuals to work harder for the country if used properly with clear motives.
The last general observation is that the address was just too long. We appreciate that there are many things that the President has to appraise the nation on; however, we believe there was room to make the Speech shorter. For example, there are unnecessary details of which some are already common knowledge that could have been left out and secondly, some paragraphs do not add any value to the speech.
3.0 Economy and Employment
Under this pillar, BFTU had expected the President to talk about the production of the electric car, the current challenges of employment and solutions thereof, the endeavors to develop the agricultural and tourism sectors and mineral beneficiation. We make our response to each of these issues below:
The President said absolutely nothing about this much publicized election promise. In fact, the President said nothing about the manufacturing sector, especially what government has been doing to promote the manufacturing sector and what it will be doing to promote the same in the coming 12 months. There are sentences here and there in the speech that may be related to manufacturing, but it is difficult to pinpoint what they want to communicate in this area. For example, under paragraph 39 on AGOA there is a mention of the Leather Entrepreneur Association but it is not clear what its role in the manufacturing sector is or will be.
For a country that is seeking to diversify its economy, one would have expected the President to lay down the road map on how his government is going to champion the manufacturing sector. It is common cause that the manufacturing sector is one of the key sectors that are labour intensive therefore a source of job creation. We had expected to hear what efforts will be made in using this sector to diversify the economy and create jobs.
On the electric car itself, the President owes it to the nation to at least update it on what his government’s thoughts are on the envisaged project. Even if the government is not ready for the project, there is need to say so.
The President has once again reiterated his government’s commitment to create jobs especially for the youth. He has also pointed at the Botswana Decent Work Country Programme (BDWCP) as proof to his government’s commitment to promoting decent work. And lastly, he touched on the ongoing review of labour laws to align them with the requirements of the international labour standards.
We can appreciate the signing of the BDWCP and the ongoing review of the labour laws. However, we are also mindful that this is the second BDWCP and the first one which ran from 2011 to 2017 was far from being a success. We are also mindful that the process of reviewing the labour laws has been ongoing for over two years now and is far from coming to an end. In all these instances government has much to blame as a facilitator and regulator.
The efforts to create jobs especially for the youth leave much to be desired. It is unthinkable that for a country with 10s of thousands unemployed youth we can boast of employing only under two thousand of them in a period of twelve months. The idea of government to be throwing money to young people and demanding that they create jobs for themselves and their peers is tantamount to throwing them under a moving train. The President did not reveal a single large-scale project that government has embarked on or is planning to embark on as a flagship of job creation.
We note that the President cited other efforts made by the likes of CEDA and BDC. However, it is not clear whether these projects are making any success in creating meaningful employment for Batswana. Huge sums of money are waved around but we don’t get the quantity and quality of jobs they create. It is not enough for the President to tell the nation about plans that don’t have targeted outcomes. A case in point is the P1.039 billion BDC investment and we can only salvage a mere 270 jobs out of it.
The efforts being made in the Agricultural sector are much appreciated. Especially the efforts to develop and improve the dairy sector are most welcome. The interventions by NDB in assisting smallholder farmers to increase their production capacities are also welcome. We also take note of the efforts to improve small stock production and the assistance to farmers to slaughter and sell their animals. We had, however, hoped the President will shed more onto his ‘small stock initiative’. As raised in our preview accountability and transparency are pivotal.
We had hoped that the President will highlight what these initiatives will achieve in the short-term, medium-term, and long-term in terms of food security, job creation and poverty eradication. Once again, the efforts seem to be aimless and not intended to address any of the national objectives.
On tourism, we welcome the review of the policy on tourism. However, our view is that we need to review the Tourism Act to ensure more meaningful participation in the tourism sector by citizens than it is right now. We also need to deal with issue of monies paid in foreign territories to tourism operations based in Botswana and therefore depriving the country much needed foreign currency.
At paragraph 51 the President states that Government has development a beneficiation strategy to facilitate citizen participation. He further says P1.5 billion worth of rough diamonds were availed to cutting and polishing industry during the first half of 2020. It is not clear how citizen participation is enhanced by these rough diamonds. For example, does this mean that the companies involved in cutting and polishing are owned by citizens? How about job creation in this respect? In fact as a federation we have regularly alerted government to the decent work deficits faced by Batswana working in this specific sector.
Other minerals beneficiation efforts are not clear either. Soda ash beneficiation is earmarked for 2024 if the feasibility study is positive. Not much is said about coal beneficiation, although this is one mineral that can produce a variety of goods out of it and a create thousands of jobs directly and indirectly. The commitment therefore by government to mineral beneficiation is doubtful.
4.0 Social Upliftment
BFTU welcomes the harmonization of social protection programmes by reducing them from 29 to five life course programmes. In its position paper in 2007, BFTU held that the current social security system is reactive, indirect and unsystematic. It further held that the system is fragmented and hidden in various State expenditure. It is therefore for this reason that we more than welcome the harmonization of the system. What we are not happy with is that this harmonization seems to be the sole baby of the Government and those affected by social protection are left out. We have in the past and continue to hold the view that “nothing for us without us” principle must be observed if programmes meant to serve people are to properly respond to their needs.
We also welcome the “re-engineering” of Ipelegeng programme. We believe that if what the President said will be done with the programme it will be more beneficial to Batswana than the current scheme. Again, there seems to be no consultation on this issue which we believe should be discussed with social partners as it constitutes active-market policies. Secondly, the President said nothing about when this envisaged re-engineering will take place. It will therefore not be possible to hold the President accountable if it would not be done by the next SONA.
The President informed the nation that as at July 2020 the Poverty Eradication Programme had funded about 40, 000 projects and 80% (about 32, 000) of them were in operation and employ about 35, 000 Batswana. However, the President omitted to inform the nation about the costs of these projects. It is not clear whether these projects are new (i.e. funded within the immediate past 12 months). It seems also that almost all the projects are single-employee projects. It is therefore impossible to gauge whether these are really successful projects or not. The President ought to have briefed the nation of the poverty situation and what Government efforts have been and the level of success or failure and related challenges.
Our SONA preview paper raised an expectation of an update on land related issues such as the use of masimo for business ventures and the situation on land allocation.
We note with regret that there is nothing positive that the President said on the acute housing problems facing Batswana especially in urban areas which is occasioned mainly by unavailability of land. The President’s address offers no solution whatsoever to this problem. He alluded to the review of policies, but the timelines of March 2022 are absurd to say the least looking at the urgency of the housing matter.
Land allocation has come to a standstill in most land boards. We had expected the President to apprise the nation on the problems the land boards are facing regarding land allocation and what solutions are being put in place to address the situation. It is not clear what the Land Reform Agenda is all about and how it will resolve the current land allocation backlogs. And again, the timelines are set way afar. In recent past Government embarked on the LAPCAS (Land Administration Procedures Capacity and Systems) project. We expected that there will be brief on its successes or failures and what Government is doing about it. The President only managed a vague paragraph on the matter.
BFTU expected the President to appraise the nation on COVID19. Specifically, we wanted to hear what the impact of covid19 has been on development projects and programmes, the impact on government revenue, job creation efforts, job losses due to covid19 and how the ERTP will mitigate these.
In his address the President focused more on the details of funding the fight against the pandemic, testing, and measures taken to reduce the spread of the disease. Much as these were important, some details were unnecessary such as the well-known details on the opening of ports of entry. The president neglected to inform the nation on the job losses occasioned by the disease, the companies that have closed shop as they could not afford to continue trading, precise counter measures to create jobs, to mention but a few.
5.0 Sustainable Environment
We welcome initiatives on investing in clean energy. It is our hope that some of these policy initiatives will be backed by legislation to strengthen their adherence and to ensure that Batswana leverage on them for economic development, especially rural economic development. It is important that we get it right the first time by empowering disadvantaged societies and groupings to take advantage of these new initiatives rather than living it to the “survival of the fittest”.
6.0 Governance, Peace and Security
This is one big issue that BFTU expected to here from the SONA. We welcome the fact that the President mentioned that the constitutional Review will start in earnest early next year. We, however, are disappointed that he did not provide any details beyond this. A commitment on something of this importance as Constitutional review necessitated that the President provides a little bit of detail as to the envisaged processes and approximate timelines. The President did not sound enthusiastic and looking forward to the process, but it seemed like ‘wa ikgolola’. The Constitutional review is one exercise that is at the heart of many Batswana and it should therefore be given the necessary impetus.
We note the changes that are being made in an effort to promote and protect human rights. We further note the conversion of the Ombudsman to the National Human Rights Institution and the wider mandate that goes with it. However, our understanding is that the Ombudsman’s main mandate is that of the ‘public protector’. While there may be issues that touch the public protector and the human rights portfolios, these mandates are not necessarily the same. We therefore don’t believe that promotion and protection of human rights can be improved by converting the Ombudsman into a human rights office.
What is of note is the way we constitute our oversight institutions and the manner of their reporting lines. The tendency of making these institutions accessories of the Office of the President is counter productive and weakens their effectiveness. BFTU would want to see these institutions being independent from any arm of government including Parliament. It is only then that their effectiveness can be enhanced as they will perform their duties without fear, favour or prejudice.
The President has been very vocal in his quest to fight and end corruption in the country especially during election campaign period and immediately following his election. One would therefore have thought he will use the SONA to outline his road map on the fight to end corruption. This is even more so that some sectors of society have indicated that they do not have confidence in him as a vehicle to fight corruption as they claim he is part of the problem. Therefore, the President should have taken the opportunity to restore that confidence by indicating his move against corruption. It is thus disappointing that all he managed to say was about an MoU which is not clear how it will help to cub corruption.
The President’s address on this issue leaves much to be desired. The SONA presented an opportunity for him to bring back confidence to the electoral system of the country and/or to share with the nation his observations on what needs to be done to improve our electoral system but he failed to rise to the occasion. It would seem the President is unconcerned that there was this large number of petitions that alleged gross election rigging. It matters not whether the allegations were true or not, or whether they were unsuccessful or not. What is of importance is that they were an indictment to our electoral process. As a leader, the President is duty bound to commit to restore public confidence on the system.
We had hoped that the President will outline how he intends to provide leadership of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security. It is not enough just for one to mention the assumption of a position without articulating what they intend to do with that position. Botswana is a neighbour to Zimbabwe which is notorious to human rights abuses. It is therefore important for the President to come clear on the position of his government on the human rights violations happening within the region especially that Botswana chairs the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security.
Prior to his election last year and immediately following that, the President was a champion of social dialogue, especially dialogue with trade unions. In his 2019 SONA the President had 16 paragraphs where he spoke at length about his desire to improve labour relations in the country but the 2020 SONA has no mention whatsoever of trade unions except where he spoke of signing of the BDWCP. We note that the promises made to workers in 2019 regarding the resuscitation of the Public service bargaining council and indeed sectoral bargaining councils have not been fulfilled but there is no update on the same.
We have also noted in a number of initiatives which in our view should be undertaken in consultation with social partners that social dialogue is absent. Challenges such as unemployment, poverty, social protection, economic recovery, just to mention a few cannot be left for the government enclave alone. The COVID19 pandemic presents a good opportunity for strengthening of social dialogue and yet it seems government believes it can deal with it alone. Botswana is yet to have a functional national social dialogue structure where all social partners can dialogue at equal footing on social, economic and related policy initiatives for the betterment of livelihoods. We regret to note that the President seems to be not taking social dialogue seriously despite his initial enthusiasm.
At the beginning of this paper we posed a question as to whether the SONA reflected the principle of “Not Leaving Anyone Behind”. From our analysis of the issues contained here, it cannot be said that the President’s address lived to his assertions that he is building an economy that is inclusive. The SONA has failed to properly outline the achievements, failures and/or challenges encountered in the past 12 months. It failed to outline a clear vision or pathway of delivering prosperity for Batswana in the next 12 months and beyond. It is difficult to align the SONA with the promises of the President that he has been making over and over again. While it is possible to reach High-Income status by 2036, it remains a pipe dream that we will have an inclusive, equal society. This is so as there is no clear government initiative that is geared towards eliminating inequalities.