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BITRI CEO: Botswana already a knowledge based economy

Chief Executive Officer for Botswana Institute for Technology Research and Innovation (BITRI) Professor Shedden Masupe, has said Botswana is already a knowledge based economy, but regretted that the country is yet to commercialise the available knowledge.

Prof Masupe indicated this during a media update organised BITRI last week, allaying fears that Botswana’s poor ranking in ICT adoption and innovation capability would deter Botswana from achieving its knowledge based economy status, as government has pronounced.  
Masupe was briefing the media on the projects that BITRI is embarking on, highlighting that BITRI conducted its mid- term strategy review in February 2019 with an objective to take into cognizance the changes within the political, social, economic and technological environments within which BITRI exists since the formation of its first strategy in 2016.

BTIRI has a number of projects it is pursuing, including Kgalagadi Sand Building Block/Brick technology project, which BITRI is envisaged to set up twenty-nine (29) depots across the country by the end of the rollout phase. The creative technology relating to work has been patented, according to Masupe, with Kago Phepa Pty Ltd, a local company, being licensed by BITRI to manufacture the KSBB blend and supply the depots. BITRI has come up with a technology for the manufacturing of quality and affordable blocks/bricks using Kgalagadi sand as the aggregate and KSBB-specific cement blend as a binder.

“The KSBB Technology is patented and currently being rolled out throughout Botswana. To date there are five operational KSBB depots in Maubelo, Kasane, Lehututu, Phitshane-Molopo, and Takatokwane,” Masupe said. An additional five are under construction and anticipated to be completed by end of this year at Artesia, Charles Hill, Ghanzi, Gumare and Maun. BITRI is also studying the potential of local raw materials to produce Portland cement clinker in collaboration with Botswana Geoscience Institute (BGI).  

According Masupe the prospecting, sampling, qualitative and quantitative analysis of limestone and/ or calcrete deposits is on-going, and that prototyping clinker production will be informed by the fitness for purpose of the resources investigated with respect to quality and quantity. Prof Masupe updated on the various laboratories and facilities at BITRI such as the Centre for Materials Science (CMS), the Building Materials Testing laboratory, the 3D Printing (Additive Manufacturing) laboratory still under construction, as well as the Solar Thermal Testing Facility (STTF).

In April 2019, the BMS Testing facility attained accreditation under the revised version of ISO/IEC 17025 international standard from Southern African Development Community Accreditation Services (SADCAS) in the scopes of Civil Engineering and Mechanical Engineering.
“The BITRI Building Materials Testing laboratory targets the Civil, Mechanical Engineering and Construction industries in Botswana and the SADC Region. It [the laboratory] has been accredited for two testing methods; Civil Engineering for Compressive Strength testing, and Mechanical Engineering for Tensile Strength testing. In addition, the laboratory has the competence to carry out Concrete Testing, Aggregate Testing, Cement Testing and Metal Testing,” Prof Masupe said.

“BITRI is also in the process of attaining accreditation for the CMS facilities with the SADCAS. Currently most of the testing jobs done by the mining, water distribution and built environment enterprises are done in South Africa. So, we are hopeful of benefiting from those transactions once our labs are accredited.” In partnership with Ministry of Agricultural Development and Food Security as well as United Nations Development Programme, BITRI has developed a Climate Smart Agriculture Lessons Learnt manual aimed at the use of climate smart technologies to increase productivity and farmers’ resilience.

Masupe stated that BITRI plays a leading role in the drafting of Botswana Drought Management Strategy, which will be used as the principal strategy to guide the Government of Botswana’s interventions regarding drought management. Under the Technologies broad thematic area, Masupe updated on the Sign Coach application aimed at bridging the gap between the hearing and non-hearing by teaching Batswana sign language in 3 levels from beginner to advanced level.

The application was developed in partnership with the Botswana Society for the Deaf (BSD) and serves to share information on among others; HIV/AIDS, Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), sexually transmitted diseases, drug abuse, circumcision and pregnancy. The other significant project is the Kwibi, a wildlife mobile application used for online sightings, posting location finder, and record of incidents, analysis and reporting, for which BITRI and a local company; Fox Croft Pty Ltd, entered into a Computer Software License Agreement for the application earlier in November.

BITRI is also working on Nthusa Distress Call software suite used by the public to send distress messages to police, emergency, and fire services to request for assistance. The Fleet Management System keeps track of a vehicle’s life cycle, produces reports, gate logs, trip calendar, inventory management, and accident and process requests and performs other functions such as car Tracking, Geo-fencing, Speed limit & Ignition Status.

BITRI CEO also offered the installation of the Seding Solar streetlight, with the lights functioning properly in test sites in Moshupa, Lobatse and Letlhakane. Regarding the Biogas project developed in collaboration between BITRI and UNDP, with the objective to facilitate low-carbon investments and public-private partnerships in the production and utilization of biogas from agro-waste, the CEO appraised the audience that the project is predominantly being adopted in the districts in South-eastern Botswana.

The media had the opportunity to tour the 3D laboratory which has the capacity to enable direct manufacturing of complex geometries with ease, achieving therefore, a high degree of customization. The 3D printing will be ideal for patient-specific medical device applications, as well as combining multiple parts and producing assemblies as single units.

The laboratory currently does 3D printing using plastic, and will in the near future install equipment that allows for application using metal. The manufacturing of patient-specific implants such as the printing of mangled bones which conform to the bodies of recipients. The parts manufactured using the technology, can replace the original body parts and restore the quality of life of recipients.

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Civil Service volatility: Democracy vs Bureaucracy

19th April 2021
President Masisi

Here is how one Permanent Secretary encapsulates the clear tension between democracy and bureaucracy in Botswana: “President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s Government is behaving like a state surrounded with armed forces in order to capture it or force its surrender. The situation has turned so volatile, for tomorrow is not guaranteed for us top civil servants.

These are the painful results of a personalized civil service in our view as permanent secretaries”. Although his deduction of the situation may be summed as sour grapes because he is one of the ‘victims’ of the reshuffle, he is convinced this is a perfect description of the rationale behind frequent changes and transfers characterising the current civil service.

The result of it all, he said, is that “there is too much instability at managerial and strategic levels of the civil service leading to a noticeable directionless civil service.” He continued: “Changes and transfers are inevitable in the civil service, but to a permissible scale and frequency. Think of soccer team coach who changes and transfers his entire squad every month; you know the consequences?”

The Tsunami has hit hard at critical departments and Ministries leaving a strong wave of uncertainty, many demoralised and some jobless. In traditional approaches to public administration, democracy gives the goals; and bureaucracy delivers the technical efficiency required for implementation. But the recent moves in the civil service are indicative of conflicting imperatives – the notion of separation between politicians and administrators is becoming blurred by the day.

“Look at what happened to Prisons and BDF where second in command were overlooked for outsiders, and these are the people who had sacrificially served for donkey’s years hoping for a seat at the ladder’s end. The frequency of the changes, at times affecting the same Ministry or individual also demonstrates some level of ineptitude, clumsiness and lack of foresight from those in charge,” remarked the PS who added that their view is that the transfers are not related to anything but “settling scores, creating corruption opportunities and pushing out perceived dissident and former president, Ian Khama’s alleged loyalists and most of these transfers are said to be products of intelligence detection.”

Partly blaming Khama for the mess and his unwillingness to let go, the PS dismissed Masisi for falling to the trap and failing to outgrow the destructive tiff. “Khama is here to stay and the sooner Masisi comes to terms with the fact that he (Masisi) is the state President, the better. For a President to still be making these changes and transfers signals signs of a confused man who has not yet started rolling his roadmap, if at all it was ever there. I am saying this because any roadmap comes with key players and policies,” he concluded.

The Ministry of Health and Wellness seems to be the most hard-hit by the transfers, having experienced three Permanent Secretaries changes within a year and a half. Insiders say the changes have everything to do with the Ministry being the centre of COVID-19 tenders and economic opportunities. “The buck stops with the PS and no right-thinking PS can just allow glaring corruption under his watch as an accounting officer. Technocrats are generally law abiding, the pressure comes with politically appointed leaders racing against political terms to loot,” revealed a director in the Ministry preferring anonymity.

The latest transfer of Kabelo Ebineng she says was also motivated by his firm attitude against the President’s blue-eyed Task Team boys. “The Task Team wants to own the COVID-19 pandemic and government interventions and always cry foul when the Ministry reasserts itself as mandated by law,” said the director who added that Masisi who was always caught between the crossfire decided on sacrificing Ebineng to the joy of his team as they (Task Team) were in the habit of threatening to resign citing Ebineng as the problem.

Ebineng joins the Office of the President as a deputy Coordinator (government implementation and coordination office).The incoming PS is the soft-spoken Grace Muzila, known and described by her close associates as a conformist albeit knowledgeable.

One of the losers in the grand scheme is Thato Raphaka who many had seen as the next PSP because of his experience and calm demeanour following a declaration of interest in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Secretary post by the current PSP, Elias Magosi.

But hardly ten months into his post, Raphaka has been transferred out to the National Strategy Office in what many see as a demotion of some sort. Other notable changes coming into OP are Pearl Ramokoka formerly with the Employment, Labour and Productivity Ministry coming in as a Permanent Secretary and Kgomotso Abi as director of Public Service Reforms.

One of the ousted senior officers in the Office of the President warned that there are no signs that the changes and transfers will stop anytime soon: “If you are observant you would have long noticed that the changes don’t only affect senior officers but government decisions as well. A decision is made today and the government backtracks on it within a week. Not only that, the President says this today, and his deputy denies it the following day in Parliament,” he warned.

Some observers have blamed the turmoil in the civil service partly to lack of accountable presidential advisers or kitchen cabinet properly schooled on matters of statecraft. They point out that politicians or those peripheral to them should refrain from hampering the technical and organizational activities of public managers – or else the party (reshuffling) won’t stop.

In the view expressed by some Permanent Secretaries, Elias Magosi, has not really been himself since joining the civil service; and has cut a picture of indifference in most critical engagements; the most notable been a permanent secretaries platform which he chairs. As things stand there is need to reconcile the imperatives of democracy and democracy in Botswana. Peace will rein only when public value should stand astride the fault that runs between politicians and public managers.

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Morupisi fights for freedom in court

19th April 2021
morupisi

Former Permanent Secretary to the President, Carter Morupisi, is fighting for survival in a matter in which the State has charged him and his wife, Pinnie Morupisi, with corruption and money laundering.

Morupisi has joined a list of prominent figures that served in the previous administration and who have been accused of corruption during their tenure in office. While others have been emerging victorious, Morupisi is yet to find that luck. The High Court recently dismissed his no case to answer application.

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Pressure mounts on Biden to suspend Covid-19 vaccine patents

19th April 2021
Joe Biden

United States President, Joe Biden, is faced with a decision to make relating to the Covid-19 vaccine intellectual property after 175 former world leaders and Nobel laurates joined the campaign urging the US to take “urgent action” to suspend intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines to help boost global inoculation rates.

According to the world leaders, doing so would allow developing countries to make their own copies of the vaccines that have been developed by pharmaceutical companies without fear of being sued for intellectual property infringements.

“A WTO waiver is a vital and necessary step to bringing an end to this pandemic. It must be combined with ensuring vaccine know-how and technology is shared openly,” the signatories, comprising more than 100 Nobel prize-winners and over 70 former world leaders, wrote in a letter to US President Joe Biden, according to Financial Times.

A measure to allow countries to temporarily override patent rights for Covid related medical products was proposed at the World Trade Organization by India and South Africa in October, and has since been backed by nearly 60 countries.

Former leaders who signed the letter included Gordon Brown, former UK Prime Minister; François Hollande, former French President; Mikhail Gorbachev, former President of the USSR; and Yves Leterme, former Belgian Prime Minister.

In their official communication, South Africa and India said: “As new diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines for Covid-19 are developed, there are significant concerns [about] how these will be made available promptly, in sufficient quantities and at affordable prices to meet global demand.”

While developed countries have been able to secure enough vaccine to inoculate their citizens, developing countries such as Botswana are struggling to source enough to swiftly vaccine their citizens, something which world leaders believe it would work against global recovery therefore proving counter-productive.

Since the availability of vaccines, Botswana has been able to secure only 60 000 doses of vaccines, 30 000 as donation as from the Indian government, while the other 30 000 was sourced through COVAX facility.  Canada, has pre-ordered vaccines in surplus and it will be able to vaccinate each of its citizens six times over. In the UK and US, it is four vaccines per person; and two each in the EU and Australia.

For vaccines produced in Europe, developing countries are forced to pay double what European countries are paying, making it more expensive for already financially struggling economies.  European countries however justify the price of vaccines and that they deserve to buy them cheap since they contributed in their development.

It is evident that vaccines cannot be made available immediately to all countries worldwide with wealthy economies being the only success story in that regard, something that has been referred to as a “catastrophic moral failure”, head of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The challenge facing developing countries is not only the price, but also the capacity of vaccine manufactures to be able to do so to meet global demand within a short time. The proposal for a patent waiver by India and South Africa has been rejected by developed countries, known for hosting the world leading pharmaceutical companies such US, European Union, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland.

According to the Financial Times, US business groups including pharmaceutical industry representatives, have urged Biden to resist supporting a waiver to IP rules at the WTO, arguing that the proposal led by India and South Africa was too “vague” and “broad”.

The individuals who signed the letter, including Nobel laureates in economics as well as from across the arts and sciences, warned that inequitable vaccine access would impact the global economy and prevent it from recovering.

“The world saw unprecedented development of safe and effective vaccines, in major part thanks to US public investment,” the group wrote. “We all welcome that vaccination rollout in the US and many wealthier countries is bringing hope to their citizens.”

“Yet for the majority of the world that same hope is yet to be seen. New waves of suffering are now rising across the globe. Our global economy cannot rebuild if it remains vulnerable to this virus.”
The group warned that fully enforcing IP was “self-defeating for the US” as it hindered global vaccination efforts. “Given artificial global supply shortages, the US economy already risks losing $1.3tn in gross domestic product this year.”

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