COOKING THE NUMBERS: INSIDE STATISTICS BOTSWANA BOGUS EMPLOYMENT FIGURES

COOKING THE NUMBERS: INSIDE STATISTICS BOTSWANA BOGUS EMPLOYMENT FIGURES

Staff writer KEABETSWE NEWEL combs through Annah Majelantle and her Statistics Botswana (SB) latest employment figures and discovers a propensity to be creative with the figures. In her enthusiasm to create positive numbers for Government, Majelantle ends up doing extreme violence to the very definition of employment.

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Pic: Press Photo

Sometimes last year, there was commotion right in front of the national assembly. A group of fed-up young people took action to peacefully protest to the legislators about the rife unemployment, despite a pretense by government that creating employment was top of its priorities. These young people simply held placards lamenting their position and urging government to create employment. These were professional degree holders, some of which have over five years post-graduation. Embarrassed by the peaceful protest, government reacted with violence and sent armed police officers to wallop and violently kick the unemployed young people of the parliamentary premises. The last few years have seen the most contrained economic conditions resulting in mass sackings of those employed, and the cutting of vacancies for those looking for work.

Interestingly, a few months down the line, Statistitian General, Majelantle, calls members of the media, and tells them that unemployment has gone down considerably.

She seems to believe that as it stands total employment for the labour force aged 15 years and above (employable age as per the International Labor Organization ) was 694, 749 which means that 82.2 percent of Botswana’s employable population in her views is formally employed. Shocking. Well assuming that Majelantle’s seemingly creative numbers are true, it means that amongst the 694 749 employed Batswana, 12.2 percent of those are private household workers, or simply put, they are maids. It means that over 84 759 Batswana are employed as maids, and Majelantle and her team qualifies them as formally employed. In Botswana domestic workers earn as little as P500 while the highest paid get a maximum of P1200. In Botswana, domestic work as a sector is the third largest employer after private sector at 44.6 percent and public administration at 22.1 percent. However, domestic workers occupy the most disposable employment in the country. As a domestic worker, one would be lucky to keep a job for more than six months.

Further, of the total number of employed Batswana subsistence farming employs 9.9 percent, an equivalent of 68 780 people. Subsistence agriculture is self-sufficiency farming in which the farmers focus on growing enough food to feed themselves and their families. In Botswana subsistence farming is usually active between December and April which is the ploughing season.

Most people who are employed here, would be on a once-off tender, with a once off payment. For example, a subsistence farmer may employ three men to fence his farm, pay them off and let them go. To Majelantle and Statistics Botswana, it qualifies as decent employment. Further, the popular employment in subsistence farming is being a herd boy, looking after stock, cattle of small stock. Usually the job pays around P1000 monthly. The fifth largest employer by sector in Botswana is Ipelegeng, government’s flagship employment programme. At 6.2 percent, Ipelegeng, a programme that pays a paltry P500 is counted by Majelantle as decent formal employment. It emerges that over 43 074 Batswana are employment under this employment programme. Ipelegeng employs more people than all government parastatals combined.

According to Majelantle’s figures, almost 200 000 Batswana, are employed as maids, as herd boys and piece jobs doers in farms, which to her determination are in gainful employment. It is doubtful if all these 200 000 Batswana conform to the what could be called gainful employment. In fact a decent, formal employment should guarantee one some form of living wages. These jobs that lack decency, account for 28.3 percent of total employment.

According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), decent work involves opportunities for work that are productive and deliver a fair income, security in the workplace and social protection for families, better prospects for personal development and social intergration, freedom for people to express their concerns.

In simple terms, one should under decent work afford medical aid or quality health care, and qualify to walk into a bank, acquire a finance facility for personal development, as well as ensure the family against unforeseen circumstances. However, what Majelantle qualifies as decent work, can only pay for a loaf of bread and a 2 litres of Oros, which will be devoured in a day.
Anyway, Majelantle says that employment figures are at 694, 749. It takes an extreme enthusiasm for loose definition to bring this type of figure.

Mid December last year, the same Majelantle released one of the crucial economic reports then.The formal employment statistics. In the report, which is dated June 2016, Majelantle and her team of accountants at the national accounts office placed overall formal 407,482 persons in June 2016. By then, the same Statistics Botswana (SB) reported that unemployment rate was at 19 percent.

Focusing on the June 2016 figures, the total was at 407 482, and this is a figure that included numbers of Ipelegeng workers, rather a social welfare programme as compared to an employment initiative. In this ‘formal’ employment figures, 65 000 individuals are employed by Ipelegeng. One year down the line this 407 482 number of employed people, dramatically leaped to 694, 749 people. It means according to the national accounts office that between June last year and August this year, 287 267 people found new employment and were added to the employment statistics. This would mean that employment should have grown by 70.4 percent, almost double.

Who is fooling who here. If, say in a period of one year, the number of employed people almost doubles, then the unemployment figure should also decline drastically. In this case unemployment only fell from 19 percent to 17 percent. No correlation at all. Talk of creative accounting. The cooking of numbers. The Business Weekly & Review called Majelantle’s office, asking her to clarify the methodology used to calculate this figures and to explain how she and her team came to a conclusion that almost 700 000 people in Botswana are formally employed. This publication also challenged her to produce figures of people who lost employment during the period under review, so as to establish if the lost jobs did not impact employment figures somehow. She was also asked to explain why employment figures jumped from 407 482 mid last year to almost 700 000 in a year, so she could explain where the massive employments came from. After 24 hours, Lilian Setimela, Manager-Communication, Documentation and Dissemination said that Statistics Botswana received overwhelming enquiries from various stakeholders on this Stats Brief, and that the institution will provide a consolidated response at the earliest time possible.

“While the consolidated response will provide further clarifications on the results covered in the Stats Brief, it is important to note that this is a preliminary report and as such, more information and more in- depth analysis will be provided in the comprehensive survey report which is still to come,” said Setimela.

The past three years Botswana has experienced many retrenchments under the current regime, which have surely eaten into the employment chart. The retrenchments are also in progress as we speak. Majelantle’s report which says that formal employment increased to almost 700 000 people seems to disregard 6000 BCL employees who were left in the lurch when President Ian Khama’s administration decided to shut down the largest single employer in the private sector. Statistics Botswana also does not talk about several of the job losses in the private sector, when companies continue to shut down because of a bad economy. It did not subtract almost 3000 jobs that were lost in the diamond cutting and polishing sector, the 1000+ jobs lost when the mining sector companies continue to shut down ( excluding the BCL numbers), as well as thousands of indirect job losses.

Econsult, first quarter economic review of 2016 said only 2,207 jobs were created between 2013 and 2015, a growth rate of only 0.7 percent in two years, a very gross contrast to Statistics Botswana (SB) which seem to insinuate that between Mid last year and August this year more than 200 000 people found new employment.

Majelantle also could not separate the numbers of internship students who are also counted amongst the formal employment statistics, despite theirs being a temporary employment that pays P1400 even for a Masters Degree graduate. Universities in Botswana spill over 15 000 graduates into the economy every year, most of which are just a top up onto the unemployment figures. Formal employment data does not consider that.

Whilst there is growing economic concern due to the lack of job creation, Khama’s government is worried about the over-sized civil service and its huge monthly salary cost to government. It is in recognition of the huge wage bill that government has frozen recruitment citing that “it has financial constraints” since the 2008 recession. Majelantle and her Statistics Botswana should get serious and stop treating Batswana like they are school kids. The institution is operated on a tax payer’s bill and should produce accurate information.

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In his generation Newel is one of the most recognisable names in Business journalism. A recent finalist in Media Institute of Southern Africa Media Awards, Newel has written extensively in the boardroom dynamics around public pension funds and related investment interests. His areas of interest are companies and markets, including the financial reports of major companies in the country. Currently he is pursuing the developments around the management contracts for one of Africa’s most lucrative Public Pension Fund, the Botswana Public Officers Public Funds.