Saturday, September 13, 2008

Speech by his Excellency The President Lt. Gen. Seretse Khama Ian Khama to mark the offcial opening of the 10th National Business Conference

source: Republic of Botswana (13/9/08): TAUTONA TIMES no 27 of 2008
The Weekly Electronic Press Circular of the Office of the President "Democracy, Development, Dignity and Discipline"


[Salutations]... Ladies and Gentlemen

1. I am pleased to be here today to conduct the official opening of the 10th National Business Conference. Botswana has made great strides as a result of the fruitful partnership between Government and the Private Sector.

2. I appreciate the commitment the private sector has, through BOCCIM and its many partners made to the development of the Country. The strong and fruitful partnership between the Government and Private Sector has resulted in many policy decisions geared towards the improvement of the country's business environment as well as the welfare of workers.

3. Let me at this point commend BOCCIM for taking the initiative to develop the Private Sector Development Strategy for Botswana. As a country we need a proactive private sector that continuously engages government and proposes viable alternatives for moving the Botswana economy forward to take it to the next level of development.

4. I should at this point also commend the private sector for its recent interest in the challenge posed by alcohol abuse. Your concern is however somewhat belated but nonetheless welcome. One cannot help it but wonder why the private sector has been silent on this issue all along and only spoke when the introduction of the levy on alcohol was being considered.

5. That notwithstanding, I have received your proposals to address alcohol abuse and your submission is receiving due attention.

6. Alcohol abuse poses a multi faceted challenge to the nation with multiple negative effects that can truly undermine all our efforts to build a better country which include an enabling environment for a more prosperous and productive nation.

7. Alcohol abuse is a challenge which has been with us for quite some time now. We have long been aware of its role in promoting the spread of HIV/AIDS. We all are aware of its contribution to rising statistics of violent crime, including sexual assault, drunken driving and other forms of anti-social, risky and or criminal behaviour. We are also all aware of the ill effects of alcohol abuse on productivity at the workplace. It is common cause that an alcohol dependent nation can never be a productive nation. Continued alcohol abuse will certainly reverse all the developmental gains we have so far made as a nation leaving nothing for future generations. It is therefore imperative that we conduct a large scale educational campaign to sensitise our population especially the youth, of the ill effects of alcohol abuse and thus to help those needing rehabilitating and to restore their dignity.

8. It is my expectation therefore that the private sector will from now on, become a proactive rather than reactive, partner with Government and other stakeholders in finding positive ways to meet the future challenges.

9. The theme chosen for the 10th National Business Conference is, "Setting the Agenda for Sustainable Economic Growth". The theme is a very relevant one at this juncture in Botswana's economic development. As you may be aware, foreign assessments of the economy of Botswana have been consistently favourable and amongst the best in Africa and developing countries. But many of these assessments are generally backward-looking. They tell us little about the economy going forward.

10. While the lessons of history are important, it is of course the future prospects for the economy that are crucial, because key decisions are made on the basis of these projections. What we need to do is to ensure that past successes are built upon and surpassed in the future.

11. The conference theme addressing the sustainability of economic growth deals with these future issues directly. It also addresses the issue of change, which is one that I am particularly keen on. It poses the question, "are there things that we need to change in the way that we run the economy, so as to ensure that economic growth remains strong, that living standards rise, that we respect environmental constraints, and that we ensure that we hand over a healthy economy to future generations". I am always keen to invite alternative opinion on the economy because I have always said - Government does not have a monopoly on good ideas and is why I invited some notable economists along with BOCCIM to a discussion with Cabinet and Senior Officials recently and again later this month to give their impression on our monetary and trade policies.

12. The fact that we may have to change the way we do things does not necessarily mean that we have done things wrong in the past; far from it - the positive assessments that are generally made about Botswana and its economy suggest that, in general, we have been doing things right. However, the need for change reflects two things: Firstly, some things have to change simply because the national economy has changed and now has different needs as well as more challenges and requirements. Secondly, external circumstances have changed and therefore call for appropriate responses.

13. There are a number of themes related to the topic of Sustainable Economic Growth that I am pleased to see are being addressed at this conference. The following are some examples:

14. Role of government - Over the years the main driver of the economy has been Government and this led to high levels of dependence. Consequently a need exists to build the capacity of the private sector as the engine of growth. On this note I challenge the private sector to play a meaningful and leading role in on- going efforts to diversify the economy of this country. I also wish to see the private sector improving its service delivery and corporate governance standards across all its sectors. Government must ensure its role is that of facilitation and support for these efforts and not a hindrance by us limiting as much as possible regulations, procedures and generally too much bureaucracy.

15. Strong mineral revenues - We have seen this sector's significant contribution resulting in a healthy fiscal position for our country. As you all know, we cannot depend on this sector forever. Government has therefore taken deliberate steps to try to grow the economy away from over reliance on the diamond industry with the realization that revenues from diamonds will eventually decline and need to be substituted by other industries.

16. Environment - Our need and therefore dependence upon scarce water; the impact of climate change; coal-fired electricity generation as emphasis moves towards a "low carbon" future; range degradation, all demand that we come up with alternative ways and means of addressing the challenges that we are faced with. Our environment, our fauna and flora must be protected and conserved in a sustainable way. We must always be conscious of the fact that our desire for development does not undermine and threaten the environment we live in.

17. Investment - It is a given that investment is critical to future growth, but we need to invest wisely and productively, not wastefully. We also need to be innovative. We need to invest in our human resource. I would like on this note to underscore the importance of empowering workers and other players to enable them to deliver efficiently and thereby recognize the importance of excellence which has to be rewarded accordingly. I wish to take this opportunity to implore the private sector to seriously consider assisting with the implementation of the Government policy on Graduate Internship Programme by placing these graduates in your organizations to enable them to acquire the necessary work experience.

18. In this regard the Second D in the 4D's I referred to, that of Development does not only refer to infrastructural development, but as importantly development of our citizens through investment in education and provision of opportunities - hence my request to you.

19. It is a hallmark of Democracy that we listen to a wide range of views, whether conventional or unconventional, from within government, from the private sector, from civil society, and from outside of Botswana. One of the merits of gatherings such as this one is that many divergent and hopefully constructive views will be aired, and at the end, some conclusions that reflect a broad consensus will be reached. It is therefore important that recommendations that will be adopted by this conference are carefully studied and considered, especially as we go into NDP10.

20. As you are aware, many of the previous proposals emanating from this conference have been implemented, and I believe the country is much better off as a result.

21. I note that the agenda for this conference has a range of interesting topics and speakers, who certainly would not be all expected to reflect the view of the "establishment". I am aware that the BOCCIM Council and the Organizing Committee for this event have deliberately aimed for a programme and speakers who will perhaps be controversial, and may make us a little uncomfortable. I remain confident however that the conference discussions will be stimulating, and will in the end require us to review and reconsider some things that we have taken for granted. This is something that I definitely encourage.

22. It is now my honour and pleasure to declare the 10th National Business Conference officially opened. PULA!!!

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