The budget speech by Finance and Economic Development Minister, Dr. Thapelo Matsheka paints a picture of a wasteful past, says Executive Director of Botswana Council of Non-Governmental Organisations (BOCONGO), Monametsi Sokwe.
Sokwe contends that the budget speech tells us a story of a broke government which means that the little support that the government might have offered in the past is going to be limited. “If you zero into just the initial 37 percent which I believe is conservative, we have lost billions as a country and we should not be surprised to find ourselves where we are,” Sokwe says. He adds that as civil society they have for a long time called on the government to review its spending as it did not translate into national development. “Remember waste and corruption are synonyms and in Setswana they both mean tshenyo,” he worries.
BOCONGO has in the past called for the independence of oversight institutions but in Sokwe’s view, there is no political will to fight corruption and reduce waste. This according to the BOCONGO boss spells doom for the citizens more especially the low-income population. It also has a gender dynamic to it because women are majority in the informal sector and increasing costs of the product they sell in the streets is a challenge. Sokwe adds that the budget does not mention the much-needed shelters for victims of GBV, which is on the rise.
BOCONGO worries a great deal about the increase of taxes - 2.5 percent increase in the price of fuel, two percent increase in vat and more levies. The organisation believes that the inefficiency within government is not being addressed but Batswana are being asked to pay for it. They strongly believe that there is a need for government to review the way it conducts its business and plug out tax collection processes. “As a country that has been grey listed we would deal with such illicit financial flows before asking Batswana to pay for it.”
According to Sokwe, there is also a need to have a Corporate Social Investment Act because a lot of profits are repatriated outside and are used to develop other countries. This will incentivise private sector participation in development and improve lives of communities. Sokwe is surprised that there was no mention of funding for at least initial processes of the constitutional review process. This to them is an area key to inclusive democratic government. “The current constitution recognises and glorifies colonialism and does not recognise the cultures and traditions of Batswana as a means to socio-economic development,” Sokwe is convinced.
He believes that the current constitution leaves out Batswana and this is evidenced by the current set up where Batswana are spectators in the economy. Civil society sector particularly NGOs are run and controlled by Batswana and it is surprising the budget speech never mentioned the participation of CSOs as partners in development. Basically, the sector that is owned by Batswana for Batswana is not being mentioned. This, according to Sokwe is another indication that “we are a self-loathing nation with a strong belief that only outsiders are worthy of participation in the development of Batswana”.
BOGONGO also worries that government never acknowledges and makes mention of the number of people employed by civil society, their contribution to the national funding through numerous projects and funders.
In BOCONGO’s view, the 2021/22 budget could have prioritised COVID-19 but with involvement of Batswana. Sokwe is convinced that the Botswana Police and Botswana Defense Force should not be at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19 as it is the case now. “If we are to move into upper middle we need to empower the nation instead of policing the nation. We are denying Batswana an opportunity to take greater responsibility for their issues and this also results in a lot of unnecessary spending,” Sokwe says.
The other priority, according to Sokwe should be agriculture. In his view, food security is key and the government needs to facilitate access to farmlands by improving roads and infrastructure. This, according to him will fight hunger and create the much-needed jobs whilst creating wealth for Batswana. “Currently the World Food Programme reports that Botswana imports 86 percent of its cereals and we have 600 000 Batswana or 26 percent with insufficient food consumption, this is unacceptable and has adverse impact on health and education indicators,” Sokwe says.
BOCONGO also believes that another sector that needs priority is manufacturing so that people have means of production and are able to participate in the supply chain that has largely left them out. Turning to the country’s civil society, Sokwe says they increasingly recognise the need to work together if they are to be a meaningful development partner. BOCONGO and the Botswana Association of Local Authorities (BALA) recently sealed a deal to work together with the assistance of a massive cash injection of P2.4 million from the European Union Commission. According to Sokwe, when policy makers and communities work together, it creates a greater avenue for people-centered policies at local level. The reason BOCONGO and BALA have been failing to work well together, according to him has largely been a matter of timing.
“Civil society organisations in Botswana including BALA and BOCONGO are developing”. He however, is optimistic that with more understanding and increased clarity of mandates within the organisations, this will be followed by a natural affinity to work together. Sokwe adds that national and global socioeconomic shifts including common issues of climate change, human rights and pandemics call for urgent need to collaboration as “we are all serving one individual”. The non-governmental organisations’ mother-body is currently grappling with a myriad of challenges that are hindering it from effectively carrying out its mandate.
Firstly, there is lack of understanding of the civil society within the citizenry and some people in positions of power. This, according to Sokwe has led to limited involvement of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in some sectors and lost opportunities for community participation in development. Another challenge is the growing frustration among citizens, as they don’t see themselves involved meaningfully in development through these organisations.
Civil society is also plagued with financial challenges, as there is limited appetite for financing civil society coordination.
“This has led to BOCONGO in some instances finding itself in implementation space to the frustration of its members,” Sokwe says. To resolve some of their challenges, Sokwe says they are formalising relationship with other institutions like BALA, University of Botswana (UB), Trade Unions and Business Botswana among others. The Memorandum of Understanding that BOCONGO recently signed with BALA will allow the organisations to share expertise. Sokwe who leads the 220 member-organisation regrets the turn of events as a result of COVID-19. The pandemic has brought the organisation to its knees, he says.
“COVID-19 has led to shrinking civic space because the mitigation measures mean we can’t come together in action for example,” he says, adding “civic space is key to liberty and is our right, however the pandemic has led to state control of our lives.” COVID-19 has also stretched the services of NGOs due to rise in social ills including rise in Gender Based Violence (GBV), hunger, psychosocial challenges and corruption that forces NGOs to do more with so much less.
While under normal circumstances NGOs would look further afield for alms to continue their work, currently international donor community is looking internally to support challenges within their own countries and that has cut local NGOs off their traditional donors. Unfortunately, according to Sokwe, there are no plans to help non-governmental organisations to survive the harsh economic conditions that prevail now.
BOCONGO is currently encouraging member organisations to learn to adapt to the current situation by adapting their programming to include technology