February 28, 2008

Robust growth predicted in 2008 / 15 percent wage rise a 'mockery to workers', says labour union

Buoyed by several industries enjoying robust growth, Botswana's economy is expected to grow considerably in 2008, an analyst at Investec Asset Management Company has announced. Investec Fund Manager Bakang Seretse says the mining, retail, construction and banking sectors have been experiencing boom times lately, a trend likely to continue in 2008. "Mining, in particular, is thriving, with the DTC facility expected to open soon," Seretse noted. "Construction of the Tati Mine Activox refinery and the beginning of Diamonex operations in Lerala are other factors."
Giving a market preview for 2008 in his company's quarterly newsletter, Benchmarking Botswana, Seretse said there were three buoys to attract investor spending this year - strong consumer spending, increased household (27.7 percent) and business credit (28 percent) and robust government spending which had risen by 22 percent compared to that time the year before. Seretse said the current strong corporate optimism was a plus for investors. In similar vein, the Bank of Botswana's biannual Business Expectations Survey showed clear evidence of businesses experiencing improving conditions.
Another positive for the economy in 2008 is Government's open hand from which state spending should continue to climb. "Election years are normally associated with increased expenditure on the part of Government," Seretse pointed out. "Increased spending on infrastructure and recurrent expenditure will more than make up for restraints elsewhere in the national budget," he emphasised. But there was a need for prudence on the part of Government. "Though we welcome government expenditure, they have not sacrificed balance in the process," he noted. Balance of payments continues to run healthy, with exports exceeding imports.
Meanwhile, the labour unions have dismissed the civil servants' salary increment as 'a mockery to workers'. Reacting to government 15 percent across the board salary adjustment, the Botswana Secondary Teacher's Union (BOSETU) president, Eric Ditau said the decision would adversely affect productivity and the ability of the civil service to retain expertise. Ditau said a lot of government work force was fleeing for greener pastures at parastatals. He feared that government has been turned into a training ground. "If at all the motive of our government is to promote productivity, then this is a bad gesture to show it," Ditau complained. The BOSETU boss was also frustrated that there were no allowances developed for the teaching fraternity. He predicts that employees would drag their feet on the job.
Ditau also said it was amazing that cabinet had overruled a decision of the Salaries Review Commission set up in 2007, chaired by former BOCCIM president, Iqbal Ibrahim. His view was that government employees were the lowest paid all over the Southern Africa region and dismissed government's position that government expenditure should not exceed 40 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and that of development expenditure. Botswana Teachers Union (BTU) secretary general, Keorapetse Kgasa said his organisation did not welcome the 15 percent increment against the 30 percent recommended by the salaries commission in 2007.
Pelotshweu Baeng, Botswana Land Board and Local Authorities Workers' Union (BLLAWU) president argued that the increment fell short in addressing the issue of eroded purchasing power. "As progressive citizens we were prepared for the recommended 30 percent," Baeng stressed. He further warned that such a meagre amount would not ensure delivery and retention of quality staff on the part of government. "Implementation is going to be a problem". "There is no social justice because of this inequitable distribution of resources," he complained.
The Botswana Confederation of Commerce, Industry and Manpower (BOCCIM) also warned that the private sector would be under pressure to make an increment in order to match that of government. "This might mean an increase in the price of goods and services," BOCCIM deputy executive secretary, Norman Moleele, said, while hinting that the adjustments are inflationary. Meanwhile, Executive Secretary of Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), Comma Serema has welcomed the increment with open arms stating that this is a sign that his party has interest in the welfare of Batswana. "It can never be enough, but with 15 percent you can go home happy," said Serema recognising the effects of inflation. (Mmegi/The Reporter, Gaborone)

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