President Ian Khama’s poverty eradication initiatives are creating a culture of dependency, unless there are sustainable and creative alternatives to employment creation, two analysts observed this week.
Government has allocated over P580 million during the 2013/14 financial year to Ipelegeng, a short-term poverty eradication scheme, which ‘employs’ some 50 000 people who earn a living wage of about $2.20 a day, barely exceeding the international poverty measure of $1.25 a day.
“Government likes quick fixes, often not backed by research,” observed University of Botswana lecturer, Professor Keitseope Nthomang. He argues that given its budget allocation, the Khama-led government will not achieve its poverty eradication efforts. “If government believes Ipelegeng will eradicate poverty, then money is going to waste,” Prof. Nthomang told a gathering during a Botswana Guardian quarterly breakfast seminar at The Pavillion restaurant.
The socioligist argued during the budget discussion that social safety nets have a tendency to create dependency as beneficiaries resort to menial jobs as opposed to looking for long-term employment. Ipelegeng has been criticised before. Despite its critics, government says the scheme has significantly reduced the number of people living below the internationally measurable poverty datum line from 23.4 percent in 2002/2003 to around 6 percent in 2009/10. Currently government is taking care of some 31 000 registered destitute persons.
At 17 percent, unemployment remains high and income inequalities are deep. At least half of the unemployed is young people. “Khama is prioritising safety nets over employment creation,” he said and dismissed the recently announced surplus budget (of P779 million) as less significant because it is a result of under spending. “It means that jobs were not created.” Prof. Nthomang called for budget reforms that will anchor the interests of the general public.
Finance minister presented a surplus budget of 0.2 percent of Gross National Product (GDP) amid tight and cautious global financial markets characterised by tight squeeze in diamond exports. He expressed disappointment at Kenneth Matambo, finance minister’s exclusion of the agriculture sector in his budget speech, saying it signals lack of commitment to addressing issues of employment creation.
In 2012, government spent about P278 million on Ipelegeng and over P700 million on other poverty alleviation initiatives. While minister Matambo’s priority was to balance the budget, he did that at the expense of other priorities, says Prof. Haile Taye of Botswana Institute of Policy Development Analysis (BIDPA). He echoed Nthomang, saying there is need for a long term and sustainable fixes to poverty and unemployment. About one in five Batswana live in extreme poverty.
The figure is somewhat an improvement when compared to 2003 figures when 31 percent lived below the bread line. Government attributes the improvement to initiatives such as Integrated Support Programme for Arable Agriculture Development and the Livestock Management and Infrastructure Development (LIMID).