For ten years now, it’s been the local governments in Botswana – not the federal government -- that have managed the millions of dollars earned from wildlife and other natural resources. The arrangement has given Tswana communities a renewed sense of control over their lands. But these communities often lack the expertise as to how best to invest profits from such lucrative locally managed programs as eco-tourism and licensed hunting. As a result, millions of dollars worth of Botswana’s currency, pulas, are lying idle in trust accounts.
There are other problems as well. Many communities lack formal training in bookkeeping. And, government officials say the rural elites who sit on community trust boards are taking advantage of the situation. The government says they are now – in its words -- ‘milking’ the community trust funds by paying themselves 120 U.S. dollars each time they hold a board meeting – far beyond the amount stipulated by their local constitutions.
The Botswana Local Government Ministry recently responded to the misuse of community trust funds by directing that all revenues earned by rural communities be handed over to the Ministry’s local government offices. This action was heavily criticized by conservation agencies and by the independent group, the Botswana Community Based Organizations Network. They fear that taking the profits out of the hands of the local community will remove the incentives to conserve natural resources.
As a compromise, the government drafted a new policy allowing rural communities to continue to manage their finances -- but within set guidelines. The draft policy will take effect in June.
Mrs. Onalenna Gkati is the acting director of the Community Outreach Division of the Botswana Department of Wildlife and National Parks. Mrs. Gkati says the policy seeks to promote the proper management of the trust funds and ensure responsible, accountable and transparent decision-making. Over 90 percent of these communities’ revenues come from sports-related hunting, so they’re expected to follow the policy guidelines. She says the federal government stressed that unless the communities can meet the requirements, they would not be issued hunting permits.
Mrs. Gati says the new policy requires communities to spend no more than 25 per cent of their revenue on administrative costs, so more can be used for conservation and development projects. Community trusts now spend more than 75 per cent of their revenue on administrative costs. The government is also working to ensure that community members are offered training in planning, marketing and monitoring of all projects. It will encourage the private sector to help teach some of these skills – for example, by training tourism guides. All business contracted out will include the provision that the companies must participate. The new policy does not mention fines or punishments for the embezzlement of funds, but once people are trained in bookkeeping, it’s thought they will be able to detect fraud and report it to the police. Mrs. Gkati says despite these problems, a few rural communities are doing a good job managing their revenues. For example, the Kwaai community has built toilets for each household in order to improve sanitation. The Kalemba community has bought a community vehicle. And others have built cooperative supermarkets.
These rural communities are promoting efforts to conserve natural resources, including wildlife. They hire trained game guards to protect wildlife from poachers. The guards are fully equipped with rifles and radio communication equipment and uniforms.
Mrs. Gkati says she hopes all of Botswana’s communities will use the Kwaai community as a model for success. She says they will succeed with better management and accountability. And that, she says, is the goal of the government’s new guidelines.