States are very interesting entities. Traditional as they may be, they like a sense of freshness; some new idea or some development. Such an occasion gives leaders a sense of progress and change. It says, “We are progressing. We are moving forward and achieving things which have not been achieved by those who came before us.” In most African states most private companies make money from government. They build roads, hospitals, schools, clinics and hospitals. They provide schools and government departments with a plethora of consumables such as food, stationery, furniture, cleaning materials and many other such goods. Now what happens in an environment when the economy is sluggish, when governments are not building roads, hospitals and clinics; when states are cutting down on budgets? What happens when the business environment is sluggish?
The answer is that business people get creative. They come with fresh ways of making money; many of them being untrodden paths. One of the ways that they get creative is to build bogus institutions and use them to milk government to its last coin. They do that because they are aware that though government may be cutting in its expenditure elsewhere, it rarely cuts its education and defence budget. One must say the looting of government is usually done in concert with those in government. So the government officials are not just fooled by a clever business man or woman; they participate in the looting of government resources. In the lingo of now: they get a cut. They are not stewards of government resources; they are like the infamous nngale and suck the life out of government from the inside. However for swindling to succeed and be sustained, one needs to weave a convincing story. And indeed a most probable story was woven.
The first argument was against government sending students to institutions outside the country and instead for government to redirect them to local institutions. The argument was rather basic, that sending students outside to study was expensive. Therefore the government would save more money if it sent students to local institutions. The idea of training locally was presented as something that was in the best interest of government and not so much to the benefit of local private institutions. Nobody interrogated what cheap meant because though government could train cheaply, if the education quality was inferior, then the consequences of such training would be sinfully expensive for government in the long run. At around the same time when this argument was being developed, the government faced increasing unemployment, especially unemployment of graduates.
Again the business men and women developed an answer that was consistent with their grand scale of deceit. They argued that the reason that unemployment was so high was not so much because business was not creating jobs which could absorb graduates. They blamed unemployment squarely on education. They argued that the current crop of graduates was unemployable because it didn’t possess essential skills which could make them contribute meaningfully to a changing economy. They were talking about graduates from good universities in South Africa, America, England, Malaysia, Singapore and of course the University of Botswana. They argued that actually there were loads of jobs all around, the unfortunate reality, they said, was that the graduates were ill prepared and unable to grab these jobs with both hands. That was a lie for they could not point to a single field which was lacking trained personnel. The remedy they proposed therefore was that new institutions, new courses, new programmes were needed which would respond to the demands of the world of work. They argued that the current training in traditional institutions was ancient. It lacked creativity and spunk. New terms which excited Members of Parliament were thrown around in excitement: information super highway, knowledge economy etc. The government was fooled. It was sold a dummy.
So these business men and women built institutions in corners of malls or above fast food chicken outlets and then developed funky sounding courses which led a generation of students nowhere. They promoted the courses and institutions. They erected billboards, bought space in newspapers and airtime on radio. They visited schools, trade fairs, shopping malls and night clubs. They went into churches, mosques and synagogues. They sponsored some events and put up their boards everywhere. They had a singular goal: to milk government to its last penny. They made friends with Members of Parliament and members of bodies that approve institutions and programmes. They made donations and gave gifts and bought them Indian curry and such meals that parliamentarians would wish for. They had them wrapped around their little fingers. They admitted students in their hundreds, then thousands. They made thousands, then millions. They were careful though. They didn’t want to lose the money they were making from government. Therefore they employed poorly qualified instructors, especially those coming from unstable countries, who in most cases were prepared, in fact thankful, to accept the little salary that was offered. The bogus institutions lacked experts of any field. They lacked good libraries, fast internet, modern and classrooms. Their staff did no research, they did not publish or write books. They produced substandard students. The students joined a host of other unemployed students. Worse for them they were from institutions whose credibility didn’t stretch beyond the boundaries of their country. The students’ futures became ruined forever. That is how a modern state was swindled of millions through bogus institutions.