"How do we get government to listen?"

Last week I was in Gaborone at a meeting of representative of the Botswana business community. I have been commissioned by the Botswana Confederation of Commerce, Industry and Manpower (BOCCIM) to help them prepare a Business Advocacy Agenda and Strategy.

While we began prioritising the advocacy items that BOCCIM wanted to take to government, the conversation quickly moved to the problem of how to get government’s attention. “How to we get government to listen to us?” asked a BOCCIM council member, a well-established business owner and manager. He went on to say that “government shouts at us” and “tells us what to do”.

Botswana has many structures for public-private dialogue. These include:

  • National Business Conference
  • High-Level Consultative Council (HLCC)
  • Various HLCC Sector Consultative Councils
  • Various HLCC Local Consultative Councils
  • National Doing Business Committee and its subcommittees
  • National Committee on Trade Policy Negotiations

The problem is, many of these structures focus on government’s need for comments by the business community. Business is brought in to comment, but has little opportunity to define the discussion. A broader problem is that there are sometime too many PPD structures. BOCCIM staff and council members go from one meeting to another, without a sense that they are being listened to or that the “voice of business” is having an impact.

In addition, many of the agreements made by government and business through these processes are not implemented. There is no regular monitoring of agreements and the progress made in implementation is generally poor.

Everyone agrees to the need for PPD these days, but not enough attention is given to the quality and effectiveness of these engagements. Often, only lip service is paid to PPD — it’s something governments have to show they are doing.

The challenge for the business community is to find ways where their practical concerns can be brought to government in a manner that ensures government pays attention and responds. In the case of BOCCIM, consideration is being given to:

  • Working with government to review and streamline PPD mechanisms;
  • Building a constituency by creating a broad business community that supports advocacy efforts;
  • Monitoring government reforms more closely – a monitoring mechanism would identify and track a selection of key government decisions and agreements with the aim of publicly reporting on progress in the implementation of these agreements;
  • Preparing case studies that present the human face of the businessperson and how government policies, laws and regulations affect business in Botswana;
  • Using social media;
  • Communicating the advocacy agenda within the business community and to the public in general; and
  • Establishing a policy research and advocacy fund to support research into various public policy issues affecting the business community.

These challenges are not unique to Botswana. Business membership organisations around the world struggle to get governments to listen to their concerns. Success appears to be based on the credibility of the organisation that represents the business sector and the extent to which practical business concerns expressed in the advocacy agenda.