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Inside the Presidency-Issue No 10 of 2011

President addresses HLCC and Nation on Strike

Welcome once more your weekly window into the Presidency. H.E. the President, Lt. Gen. Seretse Khama Ian Khama will be in Namibia today attending the Extraordinary SADC Summit. The Summit is expected to discuss regional political issues, including the unresolved conflict in Madagascar and the status of the SADC Tribunal. The President is scheduled to return home this evening.

During the week His Excellency’s announced the appointment of the Hon. Dr. Gloria Somolekae to Cabinet as the new Assistant Minister of Finance and Development Planning. She replaced the Hon. Vincent Seretse who was transferred to the Ministry of Trade and Industry in place of the Hon. Maxwell Motowane, who in turn replaced the Hon. Kentse Rammidi at Local Government.  

On Thursday, the President chaired the 30th meeting of the High Level Consultative Council (HLCC). The biannual meetings of the HLCC bring together senior representatives of Government, the private sector and additional key stakeholders to discuss ways of ensuring that Botswana becomes a more productive and prosperous nation. The work of the HLCC is supported by regular meetings of economic sector sub-committees within each Ministry.     

Besides addressing industry specific issues, yesterday’s meeting provided an opportunity for His Excellency to not only address the HLCC but also the nation, through the public and private press in attendance, on the ongoing strike action by a segment of public sector employees.

The President reminded the gathering that Government spending remains in deficit, with a projected revenue shortfall of P 7 billion in the current financial year. He further noted that public sector wages already cost Government P 12 billion annually, considerably more than the P 10 billion allocated for development this year. A 16% wage increase would thus add nearly P 2 billion more to the budget deficit, in the absence of deep cuts elsewhere.

The President further cited continued volatility in the economy, due to internal and external developments, such as rising fuel prices and the earthquake in Japan, to explain why Government had made a conditional offer of a 5% increase, which would be implemented if Government stayed within its budget projections. He also confirmed that Government had also offered an unconditional 3% increase. 

His Excellency noted that unlike many other countries burdened with budget deficits Botswana had not cut public sector salaries or jobs. He expressed his regret that this fact was not appreciated by those on strike.

The President also reminded the meeting that Government was committed to spending large sums of money on critical infrastructure projects such as new power stations to ensure the country’s economic future, while at the same time assisting Batswana through various social welfare and empowerment programmes such as Ipelegeng (50,000 monthly beneficiaries at an annual cost of P330 million), ISPAAD (currently 156,000 beneficiaries at P 200 million) and Poverty Eradication  (64,000 beneficiaries  at P 100 million).   

Summing up the challenge the President promised that he would not take any decision that would drive the country deeper in debt, noting that one cannot give what one does not have.

Earlier in the week the President had also spoke at the Mmopane Kgotla about the need for Government to live within its means, while carefully balancing its spending priorities for the equitable benefit of all Batswana. He affirmed that Government remained committed to assisting those most in need. He was in Mmopane to participate in this month’s Office of the President Community Service Day activities, which involved environmental clean-up and the donation of winter blankets, jackets and wheelchairs to the needy.

One of the most unfortunate outcomes of the strike has been the recent outbreak of violent unrest in some schools. As a result Government took the decision on Monday to close all Government primary and secondary schools until further notice. This step was taken out of concern about the safety and security of students, teachers and members of the public, as well as public and private property.

As H.H. the Vice President, Lt. Gen. Mompati Merafhe informed the nation on Monday evening, the closure will give time to restore a proper learning environment. In this regard, His Honour noted that Botswana has progressed on the basis of our paramount value of Botho, and respect for the rule of law, adding:

“It will take time, money and sacrifice to undo the damage that has been caused by a few to our economy. This means that we shall face serious difficulties in repairing, fixing and rebuilding facilities in schools that may have been damaged. As a result, the welfare and future learning of our children will be further compromised. On behalf of Government and all Batswana, I appeal to all those bent on disturbing the peace to refrain from any destructive behaviour, more especially injury to fellow Batswana, and damage to property.”

The Vice President will be in his home village of Mahalapye this morning, where address residents at the main Kgotla for the first time since his return to duty. Tomorrow he will return to the Mahalapye Kgotla as the guest of honour at this year’s National Culture Day celebration.

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