With the government coffers slowly drying up, the private sector wants government to speed up privatisation, which could generate more revenue for the mineral-led economy.
These are views which were raised on Wednesday at a breakfast seminar hosted by Botswana Guardian in partnership with Standard Chattered Bank, where stakeholders met to discuss privatisation and challenges stalling the process. Botswana Confederation of Commerce Industry and Manpower (BOCCIM) Chief Executive officer (CEO) Maria Machailo-Ellis says Botswana’s economy lacks stimulation and remains stagnant because all sectors are government controlled and thus disadvantaged by government’s inefficiencies and failure to accelerate economic growth.
She feels that most if not all government organisations incur huge operational costs yet only a fraction of them are actually making profit. “Only Botswana Telecommunications Corporation (BTC) and Botswana Development Corporation (BDC) are making profits while others are loss making,” said the BOCCIM chief, further adding that with privatisation, companies would be profit oriented, expand faster and also employ more people, while government would reap benefits through taxes. However Machailo Ellis, just like Botswana Manual Workers Union (BMWU) head of Legal Affairs Victor Moupo, are worried by the slow pace of implementing privatisation process by government. The two leaders were highly concerned that while government launched the privatisation process years back, nothing concrete has since been achieved. This was despite the fact that Permanent Secretary (PS) in the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning Solomon Sekwakwa, maintained that a lot has been achieved. “As we speak, government has outsourced some services within government departments as part of the privatisation process.
Talk of security services, cleaning services and others,” stressed Sekwakwa. However, Moupo was worried that government was not keeping its end of the bargain as agreed with the union through the 1st Privatisation Master plan that services, which do not require skills should be reserved for Batswana to ensure that they remain employed and benefit from the process. Instead, he said those services are now being outsourced to financially strong foreign companies at the expense of Batswana. “We do not even know how government came to the decision of outsourcing those services, we only learn that the foreign companies have been given those tenders,” said Moupo, fearing that in its present form, privatisation would lead to massive job losses.
However, Sekwakwa said that the master plan is a document that gets to be changed with time, considering what is best for the country. As ways of speeding up the privatisation process and ensuring that ordinary Batswana reap the benefits, Machailo-Ellis suggested that government should use effective methods of privatisation like the Build Own Operate and Transfer (BOOT) and Public Private Partnerships. Machailo-Ellis also said that government is reluctant to spend money on privatisation, which is disadvantageous because after privatisation, government will benefit more. “The Public Enterprises Evaluation and Privatisation Agency (PEEPA) is also less capacitated to handle privatisation.
They have failed to sensitise and educate the nation on privatisation and to also speed up the process because they do not have enough resources and manpower to do so, since government is reluctant to invest in this privatisation process,” she said. Although he acknowledged there were challenges PEEPA CEO, Kgotla Ramaphane said his agency was working around the clock to ensure that they educate the nation. “Already we have addressed seven councils out of all the districts and councils about privatisation,” he said. Ramaphane also said that efforts to privatise BTC and National Development Bank (NDB) are close to completion.
Sekwakwa said that the other challenge is the passing of bills at parliament, which he said takes a lot of time since only one sitting in the June session allows for the passing of bills of which if missed, they have to wait for the following year. “As we speak, only eight bills have been passed while around 85 bills are waiting to be passed before parliament,” he said. Both Moupo and Machailo-Ellis said government needs to find a better way of ensuring that bills are passed quicker to speed up economic development.