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State of the Nation address 2007: Festus Mogae
Opening of the Fourth Session of the Ninth Parliament – "Achievements, challenges and opportunities"
5 November 2007
Festus Mogae
Government of Botswana

Acknowledgements: FANRPAN acknowledges the Government of Botswana as the source of this document: www.gov.bw


Introduction

  1. Mr. Speaker, it is once more my honour and privilege to address the Nation, on the occasion of the first meeting of the Fourth session of the Ninth Parliament. As we meet here today, let me again emphasise, that this hallowed hall belongs to the people of Botswana.
  2. As I have noted on previous occasions, the progress our country has made over the past forty-one years has been the product of not only our collective efforts, but also common vision. The goals that unite us remain far greater than any differences we may have. The opening of this assembly of the people is, therefore, always a tangible manifestation of our collective values and aspirations.
  3. Our democracy was founded on the basis of a Constitution, which continues to guarantee the civil liberties and fundamental freedoms of our citizens, including freedom of association, expression, and religion. Our nation’s collective progress has rested in our continued commitment to work within the legal framework of our Constitution and the values it upholds.
  4. The separation of powers among the three arms of Government - the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary – is fundamental. Just as the family three legged pot, standing firm on all its three legs, has provided sustenance to each one of us from the cradle to maturity, so it is with our three arms of Government. Without the support of any one leg, the pot would tumble.
  5. It is all three arms of Government, standing together, working together, that have ensured our progress. This does not mean that they shall always be in full agreement. Differences in perception among and between the three branches of Government are inevitable features of any mature democracy. And let us be proud of the fact that we are, indeed, a mature democracy.
  6. Let us also recognise, that the three arms of Government will only deliver outstanding results to the nation if they work in harmony. We should never allow our differences to blind us to our common purpose of serving the aspirations of Batswana.
  7. This country is well known for nurturing and promoting an independent judiciary. The courts of this country, at all levels, exercise their functions without any interference. Batswana and residents of this country have faith in our Judiciary. Justice has been brought nearer to the people by the appointment of Resident Magistrates and construction of Magistrate Courts throughout the country.
  8. Mr. Speaker, a number of national issues were the subject of extensive debate during the past sitting of this House. In the interest of seeking common ground, I shall say a few words about two – the issue of Cost Sharing for some public services, such as education, and privatisation. It should be recalled that cost- sharing features prominently in the 1994 Revised National Policy on Education. This policy, together with the Privatization Policy, were accepted by Parliament after extensive national consultations.
Cost Sharing

  1. Government introduced cost sharing in all sectors of the economy as part of public sector reform aimed at sustaining service provision. Today we are faced with many challenges, which require additional public resources. At the same time donor support has diminished as a result of our relative economic success and consequent classification as a middle income country. This circumstance calls for greater self–reliance.
  2. If we are to maintain the level and standard of services we have attained thus far, there is need for those who can, to contribute towards provision of public services. Those in need will continue to be assisted.
  3. The issue of cost sharing in education should be viewed in this context. The payment of school fees for primary education was abolished in 1981. This was followed, in 1984, by the abolition of secondary school fees. It has thus been over two decades since the fees were first abolished and the introduction of limited cost sharing.
  4. Government continues to fully fund primary education. With respect to secondary and technical education, parents are required to make a contribution of only 5% towards the education of their children. This contribution amounts to P300 per annum out of the P6,000 annual cost for a Community Junior Secondary School student, P450 per annum out of the P9,000 annual fees for a senior secondary and P750 per annum out of the P15,000 per annum for a technical college student.
  5. Furthermore, parents who have more than one child at a secondary school or technical college are also assisted if their income is below the minimum wage of P550 per month. Where the family has two to three children, the family pays for one child while the others are exempted. With four to six children, the family pays for two and the rest are exempted and where there are seven or more children, the family pays for three and the others are exempted.
  6. Where these children are at different levels (junior secondary, senior secondary and technical college) the family pays for the child or children at the lowest level while those at the higher levels are exempted. Those parents who cannot genuinely afford are exempted.
  7. Education has consistently enjoyed the largest share of our national budget; for the past ten years over 25% of total spending. Compared to cost sharing in other areas, the contribution by parents towards education is the smallest, a minute and miniscule contribution, a contribution far less than the worth of our children.
  8. I therefore wish to appeal to the nation to understand, that we all need to play a part in securing the achievements we have made thus far in the provision of good education for our children. I am pleased that the majority of Batswana realise that they have to make a contribution in this respect.
Privatisation

  1. Mr. Speaker, Government remains committed to Privatisation in line with the Privatisation Policy Master Plan. I wish to re-assure the public that the process of privatising will be done through consultation with concerned stakeholders, as well as in a transparent and fair manner.
  2. Let me also state, that if we delay the process of privatisation of public enterprises, whose services can be better performed by the private sector, we will be doing ourselves a great disservice. While privatisation will, at times, entail short term costs, such as retrenchments, we must not be oblivious to its long term benefits in terms of efficiency, sustainable employment, as well as higher quality services. Resources saved can be used for more pressing priorities elsewhere in the economy.
  3. I must also report to this Honourable House, that negotiations with SA Airlink about the privatisation of Air Botswana were unsuccessful; but this does not detract from Government’s determination to privatise the airline if the terms and conditions are right.
Keeping the Promise

  1. Fellow citizens, I have run my part of our country’s relay towards its national vision. I should, therefore, account for the privilege you accorded me of leading our beloved country.
  2. As I assured you when I took the Oath of Office, I will leave with no tormented conscience. As President, I placed the welfare of all Batswana at the centre of everything I did. Prudent, transparent and honest use of national resources for your benefit has been my guiding principle and code of conduct.
  3. I have ensured that our nation does not live beyond its means. Let me also assure you that I will not leave you and our children groaning under the yoke of intolerable debt and despair.
  4. In the running of our nation’s affairs, the decisions I took, with the support of my Government colleagues, were dictated by common aspirations and principles, the attainment of our national vision, and my Party’s promises. I have not allowed political expediency and the pursuit of populism to cloud my judgment and service to the nation.
  5. For the road to political expediency and populism may be lined with cheering crowds; but in the end, we can not escape the cold hard facts of our limitations as a developing country. As sure as the merry–maker must account for his excesses with a splitting hangover the morning after, an even hasher punishment awaits a nation that spends unwisely in pursuit of immediate gratification rather than sustainable development.
  6. Our planning process, which is built on grassroot consultations, adherence to the Plans and everyone waiting their turn of project implementation has stood us in good stead in terms of discipline and prudent resource use.
  7. Where the obligations of leadership so dictated, I have not shied away from taking responsibility. It is with this in mind that I toured the country to appeal to the nation to accept the recommendations of the Balopi Commission in the spirit of give and take. I am very pleased that true to our nature, the spirit of compromise prevailed.
  8. In my Inaugural Address in 1998, I promised that I would work with you towards the attainment of our national objectives, and to do my best to help you realize your dreams.
  9. I pledged before you that we would together build a united and prosperous nation, where every citizen in our land would be entitled to his or her fundamental rights and freedoms. I also promised to ensure:
    • That our public service remained one of the best in Africa, if not the world;
    • That the private sector’s participation in the economy would be increased;
    • That my administration would maintain respect for the rule of law, transparency and fair play, respect for the sanctity of contracts and private ownership of property; and
    • That our national principles of Democracy, Development, Self- Reliance, Unity and Botho would be my moral compass.
  10. These were the promises I made; and I have used my best endeavours to keep.
  11. Fellow citizens, we can say with pride and confidence, that our country is today a vibrant, competitive nation of opportunity. Whatever our challenges, and we have many, ours is a land of hope and promise. Many positive outcomes are there for all to see.
Achievements and Challenges

  1. As citizens of a mature democracy, it is important for us to continuously reflect on our collective achievements, challenges and opportunities.
  2. As I cautioned in 1998, and on numerous occasions since, we are still faced with many challenges. Besides such priorities as reducing unemployment, alleviating and ultimately eliminating poverty and overcoming HIV, we should revive our spirit of personal and collective responsibility in tackling negative social trends, such as the disturbing levels of violence and crime, substance abuse and decline in our traditional modesty.
  3. But, in meeting all of our challenges, we have the advantage of building on the solid progress of the last decades.
Economy

  1. Notwithstanding the adverse impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, in particular, over the past decade, our nation has continued to enjoy positive economic growth, accompanied by reduced poverty and an increase in domestic employment. As Batswana, we can take some comfort in the stable economy we have maintained, and general improvement in living standards that it has engendered, as reflected in rising incomes and household expenditure.
  2. At the same time we all recognise that much more progress will be necessary if we are to meet our Vision 2016 goal of building a productive and prosperous Botswana for all.
  3. While the Botswana economy grew annually at an average rate of 9% during our first four decades, we were only able to reach about 4% growth at the beginning of the current (NDP 9) planning period. Real growth is now projected at 6.4% for the remainder of the period.
  4. In terms of vocational opportunities, total domestic employment increased by 59% since 1998; from about 345 thousand to 550 thousand jobs by last year. By way of contrast, at independence local employment stood at only 14 thousand. According to the 2005/2006 Labour Force Survey, unemployment has declined modestly, from 21.5% in 1996 to 17.6% in 2006.
  5. Continued economic growth has contributed to a steady reduction in poverty from 59% in 1986 to 47% in 1994 to our latest, 2004, figure of 30%. Poverty levels are projected to fall further to 23% by 2009. Our progress in this area has earned us the accolade of being this continent’s leader in poverty reduction. But, clearly, we still have some way to go.
  6. In recent years, we have also been able to control the rate of inflation, despite a sharp rise in the cost of such critical imports as petroleum. This year’s inflation rate, which has been hovering at around 7%, is now at the upper end of the Bank of Botswana’s target. Inflation is projected to further ease in the coming year.
  7. Such progress as we have achieved can, in part, be attributed to our now widely recognised record of maintaining and enhancing a conducive environment for domestic and foreign investment, through our longstanding commitment to sound macro-economic management, coupled with democratic good governance. Over the past decade this has earned us increasing international recognition.
Global Benchmarks

  1. Mr. Speaker, in an era of increased globalisation it should come as no surprise, that the state of our nation, for better or for worse, has become a topic of outside interest. In this respect, a growing body of comparative analysis further confirms, that with respect to many critical indices, the state of our nation rests on a solid foundation of sustained achievement.
  2. While some critics may persist in perceiving only our failings, many independent and objective analysts and institutions affirm our country’s positive socio-economic performance, without also neglecting where we may be lagging behind. I shall cite but a few examples.
  3. Of late, various studies sponsored by the World Economic Forum have consistently placed us in either first, second or third place on our continent in terms of our global competitiveness, quality of public institutions, and sustainable development. These findings have been further buttressed by the corresponding studies of such institutions as the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, the World Bank Institute, and most recently the inaugural report of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.
  4. The World Bank Institute’s recently released report “Worldwide Governance Indicators 1996-2006”, ranked our country number one in Africa, followed by Mauritius and Cape Verde. This measures such broad areas as human rights and accountability, political stability, public service delivery, regulatory quality, rule of law and control of corruption.
  5. Our record in the control of corruption has, of course, also been confirmed on an annual basis since 1998 by Transparency International. This achievement is in no small measure due to the multiple safeguards we have put in place, which include such relatively new institutions as the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC), Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Board (PPADB) and the Ombudsman, as well as our constitutionally entrenched provision for independent oversight by Parliament, the Auditor General, and the Judiciary. We should, however, avoid complacency by maintaining our commitment to “zero tolerance” for corruption at all levels of society.
  6. In the category of political stability, the World Bank Institute currently ranks us number 16 out of 212 countries. Stability has been a factor in the high sovereign credit ratings we have maintained with Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s Investor Services, as well as the low risk assigned to our country by global insurance brokers such as AON.
  7. Over the past decade our country has also been a consistent leader on the continent in the areas of economic freedom and openness, as measured by such diverse and respected bodies as the global Economic Freedom Network, Freedom House, the Carnegie Endowment, the Heritage Foundation, the Wall Street Journal, as well as the World Economic Forum. The Democracy Research Project at the University of Botswana has also commended many of our democratic processes.
Global Marketing

  1. Where possible, we have sought to take advantage of such favourable comparative ratings in order to internationally market our potential. Leaders from Botswana, including myself, are periodically requested to share our country’s experience with others. We have accepted this not because we wish to brag about our achievements, but in the enlightened self interest of selling our country’s potential.
  2. Such engagements are, of course, only useful if they are followed up. It is for this reason that over the past decade we have established such strategic public sector agencies as the Botswana Export Development and Investment Authority (BEDIA), the International Financial Services Centre (IFSC), and the Botswana Tourism Board. These are meant to supplement the broader outreach efforts, being undertaken on an ongoing basis, by appropriate Ministries and such additional non-government stakeholders as the Botswana Confederation of Commerce, Industry and Manpower (BOCCIM).
  3. For its part, since its establishment in 1998, BEDIA has helped attract over P400 million worth of investments, including expansions of existing enterprises. This has resulted in the creation of over eight thousand new jobs. BEDIA has further embarked on the Export Development Programme (EDP), targeted at Botswana based manufacturing companies that have the capacity or potential to export. So far, 17 companies are currently enrolled on the programme.
  4. Government, working with BEDIA has also approved the Botswana Brand, through which Botswana will be differentiated from other countries and repositioned as a destination of choice for investors.
  5. While we have done reasonably well in creating a stable macro economic environment, the cost of doing business in Botswana unfortunately remains a serious challenge.
  6. Notwithstanding these and other challenges, Botswana can continue to grow as a vibrant and competitive nation of opportunity through entrepreneurship development, improved labour productivity, an enhanced skills base, increased investment and the scaling up of implementation of Public Service Reforms which focus on customer satisfaction.
Labour

  1. Mr. Speaker, sustained economic development is not possible in the absence of a well motivated, as well as productive, workforce. This fact, along with our broader commitment to social justice, was the basis of Government’s decision to soon extend minimum wage protection to the household domestic and agricultural sectors. Legislation will also be introduced to prorate severance benefits according to the number of years served.
  2. Over the past decade, labour relations have been transformed as a result of our ratification of the core ILO Conventions, more especially those relating to freedom of association, the right to organise and collective bargaining. This step was followed by legislative reviews as a result of which public officers are now unionising to create appropriate structures for collective bargaining.
  3. Improvements have also been introduced in the trade dispute resolution system, in order to make it more impartial and expeditious. To this end a panel of arbitrators has been established. In addition, instead of two steps of mediation within the Labour Department, there is now only one step, following which a matter goes to the Industrial Court. These measures call for the mediation of disputes to be accomplished within 30 instead of the current 120 days.
  4. Mr. Speaker, having outlined what government is doing to promote harmonious labour relations; I wish to register my concern about certain developments. The current multiplicity of trade unions, for example, makes communication and collective bargaining in the workplace difficult.
  5. While on the issue of trade unionism, I would like to re-assure the labour movement and workers that this Government recognises trade unions as essential institutions of workplace democracy, and indeed participatory democracy at the national level. We also recognise that trade unions may not always agree with Government on policy matters.
  6. What is regrettable is the extent to which, some union leaders appear to pursue political careers under the guise of trade unionism. Given that genuine trade unions will naturally represent workers from across the political divide, they should avoid being hijacked by personal and partisan political interests. This in no way, however, precludes union leaders from expressing views on matters with a bearing on workers’ interests.

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