Sunday, May 17, 2009

President Khama stresses importance of continued private sector input in meeting economic challenges

source: Republic of Botswana (17/5/09): TAUTONA TIMES no 14 of 2009
The Weekly Electronic Press Circular of the Office of the President
"Democracy, Development, Dignity and Discipline"

C1) 15/5/09: President Khama stresses importance of continued private sector input in meeting economic challenges

Re: Press Release on yesterday's HLCC Meeting - please find below a Press release on the proceedings of yesterday's meeting of the High Level Consultative Council. As in the past members of the Press, both public and private, should have been invited to the opening session, but apparently there was a failure to notify stakeholders. Our apologies, members of the press should receive timely notification in future (indeed the scheduled date of the next meeting is at the bottom of the article). The release includes a summary of the proceedings of the closed session. I am available for further comment.

[Start] Press Release: HLCC reaffirms need for Public-Private Sector Partnership; President Khama stresses importance of continued private sector input in meeting economic challenges.

H.E. the President, Lt. Gen. Seretse Khama Ian Khama, informed leading business and civil society leaders on Thursday that a Task Force had been set up to look at ways and means of countering the economic impact of the ongoing global recession.

Speaking at the opening of the 28th meeting of the High Level Consultative Council (HLCC) on Thursday, the President noted that the Task Force had come into being following the inaugural meeting of the Botswana Economic Advisory Council (BEAC) in December, on which BOCCIM is represented by its Chairperson.

He further confirmed that the Task Force has already made recommendations to Cabinet that are now being implemented by relevant Ministries.

According to the President, Government's ongoing interventions were aimed at maintaining business confidence and employment, while repositioning Botswana for future medium to long-term growth so that the country will be better able to cope with the recession if it endures.

While noting that Botswana was in a better position than many countries to weather the current financial storm, due to prudent resource management, the President emphasized that ultimate success was dependent on both the public and private sectors working together in partnership.

Expressing his concern about the rate by which the price of food and other basic goods was escalating, despite the global downturn in fuel costs, Khama called upon BOCCIM to join with the Consumer Protection Unit of the Ministry of Trade and Industry in examining factors contributing to high inflation for certain goods.

He further observed that the crisis called for collective effort at the international as well as national levels, which was why he was pleased to have been able to participate in the recent London Summit of African leaders with British Prime Minister Brown, held in preparation for the G20 Summit, which had been specifically convened to address the special needs of developing countries.

The President concluded his opening remarks by noting that "strategic thinking is not the monopoly of Government", which is why his administration welcomed constructive recommendations and ideas in charting our way forward:

"I urge you to be proactive. Do not wait to be invited. Use the structures of this High Level Consultative Council and the Sectoral Ministerial Councils to good advantage. Do submit your recommendations supported by well researched information for consideration by Government" he told the gathering.

Responding to His Excellency's opening remarks, the President of BOCCIM, Mr. Modiri Mbaakanyi welcomed Government's continued commitment to the HLCC Process. He further observed that BOCCIM understood the consultations to be a two way process in which Government should bring its own issues before the private sector, as well as take on board the sector's concerns.

Mr. Mbaakanyi also expressed special appreciation for Government's engagement with the private sector in its initiatives to support Zimbabwe's economic rehabilitation through win-win partnerships with local business. In this respect he reported that he would soon be leading a BOCCIM business delegation to Zimbabwe.

Mr. Mbaakanyi echoed the President's concern about the rise in consumer prices, promising BOCCIM'S further support in the matter.

Convened twice a year, the HLCC consists of the entire Cabinet, along with their Permanent Secretaries and other senior officials, and parallel representatives from civil society and the private sector coordinated by the Botswana Confederation of Commerce, Industry and Manpower (BOCCIM).

Since its inception in 1997, the primary purpose of HLCC has been to actively consider the reports of the Council's Sub-Sector meetings, which are convened on a quarterly basis within each of the Ministry.

It is thus within the Sub-Sectors that the primary work of the Council is carried out. Chaired by the Ministers responsible, they serve as consultative fora for public and private sector members to address specific areas of concern. If an issue cannot be resolved at sectoral level, it may be referred for further consideration to the full HLCC, which the President chairs.

Among the issues that surfaced at Thursday's HLCC was concern about the issuing of resident and work permits.

Speaking to the issue, the President reassured Council members of Government's continued commitment to streamline, rationalise and, where possible, fast track the issuing of permits to non-citizens who are willing and able to make a contribution to economic growth and job creation.

He emphasized that in such cases Botswana remained open to the potential contributions of individuals from any country on a non-discriminatory basis.

The President went on to observe that it had been his hope that by now the country would have already achieved a significant reduction in the average time it takes to process permits; but that progress in this respect has been stalled by the need to crack down on widespread abuses, including the forging of permits and identity documents and emergence of regional human trafficking syndicates.

The President expressed confidence that the success of the crackdown would open the door to more efficient, costumer friendly processing of permits.

He further acknowledged that he was aware that the crackdown had resulted in instances in which some public officers had been overzealous in their approach; reassuring the gathering that the Minister of Labour and Home Affairs was taking action to rectify the situation so as to remove any uncertainty on the part of qualified expatriates and their employers that their contributions were indeed valued.

During the discussions it was also observed that there was a tendency on the part of some public officers to attribute delays to issues of security when the bottlenecks were indeed found to lie elsewhere.

With respect to Omangs the Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs was able to report that material shortages, which had resulted in a suspension of processing, were being resolved. It was further reported that the Ministry had some 50,000 uncollected cards.

Another issue brought before Thursday's HLCC was the emergence of abuses in the implementation of the new Coupon System for the distribution of destitute rations.

The system is currently being rolled out to allow destitutes to directly access food from local retailers.

It was reported that there had already been instances where some retailers were abusing the system through such practices as overcharging, selling beneficiaries items outside the food basket list and confiscating coupon cards.

The meeting voiced strong consensus that firm measure should be taken to remove those engaging in such malpractices from further participation in the programme.

The Council also considered ways in which greater accountability and efficiency could be introduced in the awarding of contracts to cut down on continued delays and cost escalations.

The need for tighter supervision of project implementation and avoidance of changes in the scope of projects was underscored.

The Council further welcomed ongoing efforts to streamline PPADB processing procedures.

With respect to Education there was general agreement about the need to ensure that where Government sponsors students to local private institutions it must be assured that it gets value for its money in terms of quality instruction at fee rates that are consistent with relevant benchmarks elsewhere.

In the area of tourism members welcomed ongoing initiatives to promote culture and heritage alongside flora and fauna at the centre of the industry.

The promotion of Botswana's creative industry outside the country through the success of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency TV series was also noted with appreciation.

With respect the Media Practitioners Act, members of the Council expressed willingness to work with Government in crafting regulations for the law's effective implementation.

In the area of education there was further consensus that the private sector could assist Government in its ongoing efforts to get computers into classrooms. It was observed that the need to prepare Batswana for the modern demands of the knowledge based economy was a major factor in Government's determination to electrify rural schools and public facilities.

In terms of water connections, the Council welcomed the news that the shortage of meters on the market, which had caused delays for some months has now been resolved.

Members of the Council also welcomed Government's open commitment to service standard for the public service. There was a feeling that these need to be further communicated both within the civil service and to the general public as part of the campaign to ensure effective delivery.

The meeting closed with the announcement that the next HLCC was scheduled for the 12th of November 2009.


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