Stats Botswana unemployment figures questionable
The preliminary results of the 2015/2016 Botswana Multi-Topic Household Survey (BMTHS) conducted by Statistics Botswana survey are finally published. The first instalment reports on Economic Activity with special emphasis on unemployment figures. This is certainly not without controversy.
The notion that numbers never lie is put under the spotlight. Upon close examination of the report on unemployment rates many quickly concluded that this time around numbers have lied.
According to BMTHS report unemployment declined from 20 per cent in 2013 to 17.7 per cent in 2016. The reference results were obtained from the Botswana AIDS Impact Survey (BAIS) IV of 2013. On the other hand the 2009/2010 Botswana Core Welfare Indicators Survey (BCWIS) recorded an unemployment level of 17.8% which translate into an insignificant improvement in job creation compared to BMTHS.
As expected the latest results came as a surprise to many. It is possible that even government did not expect such results. This is because the reality on the ground tells a different story altogether. Unemployed youth are visible everywhere. One just has to visit labour offices to witness young people carrying brown envelops queuing to officially register as job seekers.
Historically Botswana recorded jobless economic growth. Following the recent global recession Botswana experienced historic job loses especially in the mining sector. In addition to the mining sector, many workers experienced job losses in state owned enterprises on account of retrenchments. Botswana Water Utilities Corporation (WUC), Botswana Meat Commission (BMC), Botswana Power Corporation (BPC), and Air Botswana, the national airline retrenched hundreds of their employees underthe guise of restructuring aimed at reducing the escalating operational cost.
Under pressure from the International Monitory Fund (IMF) government also undertook a subtle retrenchment exercise to address what is perceived to be a bloated public service. Government departments have been instructed not to fill vacant positions to ensure that the salary bill is brought under control.
Projects with job growth potential never materialised. These include the botched Palapye Glass Manufacturing Factory, failed Morupule B, and the delayed commencement of Lobatse Leather Park. The much anticipated diamond cutting and polishing industry is experiencing stunted growth. Part of the reason is lack of political will. Besides, beneficiation in Botswana is a farce. It remains everybody’s business but nobody else responsibility.
The controversy concerning unemployment figures mainly arose from methodological inconsistencies. Firstly, the survey adopted a liberal definition of unemployment. Unemployed were simply defined as “individuals who did not do any work in the past seven (7) days” prior to commencement of data collection.
Secondly, Ipelegeng was treated as an employment program as opposed to a livelihood stress relief initiative. The programme was originally conceptualised as a temporary safety net. It is a rotational form of engagement focusing on menial tasks aimed at minimising the negative effects of drought.