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Reviving Civic Voice

Botswana Forum for Action and Reform (B-FAR), is a group of well-meaning Batswana, from different walks of lives, were concerned at the state of affairs in this country. There are many things to be concerned about but I will mention just a few of the things which made us to talk amongst ourselves, agree that something should be done, and sacrificed our time to do it. These are some of those problems:

Economy: Failed economic diversification, citizen economic exclusion and marginalization of local private enterprise;
Society: High and growing levels of unemployment, income inequality, poverty, poor education, health and public services;
Politics: Erosion of democracy, increase in opportunistic politics, tribalistic undertones and political ingenuity;
Governance: High levels of corruption and economic crime, and compromised systems of accountability;
 
In the middle of such problems, the civic voice has been silenced. There is not enough voice of reason, voice of caution, voice of sanity, voice of balance, voice of dissent, voice of persuasion.
 

The theme for this event is in three parts: Reviving Civic Voice; Demanding Reform; and Calling for Action. We want that voice back. This is our country and we should not just watch as spectators when things are not going well. We are here to resuscitate that voice, and we are here to demand reform to address the problems I mentioned earlier, and we are here to call for consistent action for them to be addressed to move Botswana forward. Our call will be to everyone: individuals, institutions, companies, government departments, political parties and leaders.

That group of concerned Batswana decided there is need to establish an entity that will promote the acceleration of the socio-economic transformation of Botswana, and its refocus towards three areas: sustainable development; citizen engagement; and inclusive growth. They are in the process of establishing an entity to be called the Botswana Forum for Action and Reform (B-FAR). The intention was to have completed the process before the elections so that we hit the road running immediately after the elections and get to work with the incoming government. The process is highly advanced and will be completed within days.

B-FAR is being established as a Trust, or in the form of a Trust, based on the instrument we all know as the Notarial Deed of Trust. In terms of function B-FAR is a mix of a lobby group, and advocacy group, a special interest group and a think-tank. B-FAR will be independent and non-party. It is intended to lobby for, advocate for, and represent the interests of an accelerated and radical structural and socio-economic transformation agenda for Botswana with an aim to enhance sustainable development, widen citizen engagement and achieve inclusive growth. We will demand political, institutional, socio-economic and structural reform and call for urgent and determined action in these 3 broad areas.

This will be done through: public policy debate; political education; community mobilization; citizen engagement; leadership development; and action-oriented programmes. We will use various tools to achieve the above, including: opinion polls; media campaigns; publicity stunts; networking sessions; meetings and workshops; exhibitions; newsletters and reports; social media and other communication channels.

Limitations and exclusions. There are two areas we will not deal with: religion and morality. The reason for this is that religion is naturally a divided area that not anyone can bring together, and we believe morality is covered adequately by law unless it is purely of a religious nature. We will be careful in dealing with issues of culture. We love our culture and we will not ordinarily come against it unless it is deliberately misused to obstruct progress.

Strategic focus. We will be deliberately and emphatically pro-citizen and pro-Botswana. We will be for progress and against what stalls progress, regardless of the source. We will commend, applaud, celebrate and be friends with that which is good for Botswana. Whether it is a person, an institution, an organized group, a political party, a stated policy, a pronounced strategy, an action or lack thereof. If it is good for Botswana we will respond positively to it.

On the other hand, we will condemn, denounce, become enemies to and speak against that which is bad for Botswana and Batswana. Our friend is progress and proponents of progress and our enemy is the stalling or reversal of progress and those who do it. Our beneficiary is the citizen of Botswana and our trophy is a prosperous and all-inclusive Botswana.

Our Slogan. We have selected the first four words in the national anthem as our 2-part slogan. “Fatshe Leno … La Rona”. The slogan speaks about the country and about you. It is meant to bring you to the reality that in deed Botswana belongs to you. It belongs to you as much as it belongs to any other Motswana regardless of position and power.

You are like an equal shareholder to a company. You carry one vote as everyone else. No one carries two votes. This should make you feel confidently assured and appeal to your patriotic conscience to do and seek what is right for your Botswana and for you as a Motswana. We intend to prioritize our work. Between now some time after the election, we have selected four areas that we will focus on. These are: Politics; Corruption; Inequality; Unemployment.

Politics. It is an election time and the little time left before elections gives us an opportunity to comment, where helpful to do so, on what we perceive as wrong and what we perceive as right. We are already witnessing self-serving opportunistic politics, a lot of deception and propaganda and the electorate being taken advantage of.  There is a lot to speak about.

Our first message is to advice Batswana to vote wisely. We are at the crossroads where good leadership is particularly critical for Botswana to go forward. It is simple: leaders can make or break a country; they can pull all of us up or down. You only have to look at our neighbours for examples of how leaders can take the country back: South Africa under Jacob Zuma and Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe. Similarly, for those that are doing well, the top 2 countries with the highest GDP growth in the world are African.

These are Ethiopia followed by Rwanda. It is not because of ideology, or parties, or manifestos but their leaders. At this point in time, we want voters, especially those that still have to make up their minds, even after listening and referring to the manifestos, to scrutinize the top leaders and vote for a President that will bring the desired change.

Corruption. They don’t call it cancer for no reason. Just as a person who does not deal with cancer dies, a country which does not deal with corruption collapses. Our situation is terrible. According to the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) reported by Transparency International in 2018, Botswana recorded 61 out of 100 and was ranked the 34th least corrupt country out of 175 countries. In Africa, we lost the top spot to Seychelles. All of a sudden, we have become a corrupt nation. We should never forget that we have been corruption averse since time immemorial; we were the best in Africa but not anymore. We have caught the dangerous disease that we desperately should heal from.

Our first call for action in this regard will be to motivate for the outgoing MPs to account for the Constituency Funds that were under their charge in the past electoral period. Going forward, the Constituency Community Projects (CCP) expenditures should be transparent and fully accounted for through a public accounts disclosure system to be developed and followed across the country. This will be followed by the pursuit of accounting for and the retrieval of the huge sums of money that has been stolen from the people of Botswana. We will add our voice for this scourge to be brought to an end.

Inequality. Our view is that after corruption, the next evil Botswana faces is inequality. With an HDI growth rate that is 5th in Africa and an extremely high GDP per capita, the country can be said to be rich, but its people are poor. The previous government has done well to raise the economy but the problem is that it does not reach an ordinary Motswana. The Gini Coefficient is a measure of the extent the distribution of income among individuals and households deviates from a perfectly equal distribution.

According to UNDP, the Gini Coefficient for Botswana measured in 2009 is stated at 60.50 (there is an unofficial mention of 53.30 which apparently was measured in 2017).  This places Botswana as the third (3th) most unequal country in Africa, after only South Africa and Namibia. The question we have is, if the minority white people dominate the South African and Namibian economies to the extent that it has caused so much inequality it can be likened to ownership of those countries, who owns Botswana? Why and how would anybody else other than Batswana own Botswana? This is the message that needed to be told or debated but there was no one to tell it strongly enough even in manifestos and political rallies.

Our first call to action is to interrogate pro-citizen programmes of the political parties and point the electorate to any promises made. We should emphasise life-changing programmes not promises of free gifts of items or money meant to lure voters, but programmes intended to directly target citizens and improve their lives in a meaningful and lasting way. Those programmes should come to life after the elections.

Unemployment. Botswana’s unemployment rate is not only high but growing. Officially it increased from 17.6% in 2016 to 18.1% in 2017. Some people argue that the figures are low because we have deliberately excluded what is classified as Frictional Unemployment, Structural Unemployment, and Seasonal Unemployment.  Despite this exclusion, Botswana’s unemployment rate is the 11th worst in Africa. To make matters worse, the high inequality situation is such that unemployment affects certain sections of the society more than others, and it happens to be the women and youth.

Our first call for action regarding unemployment is not to the politicians but to the institutions. We are going to probe 3 institutions (Ministry of Investment, Trade & Industry (MITI), Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) and the Botswana University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (BUAN)), and demand their commitment in relation to large scale commercial production of industrial hemp and medicinal marijuana, initially exclusively for export.

This is an industry that has raised ailing economies elsewhere and has even entered the stock market in places like the USA. This is in addition to it having substantial beneficial and sustainable employment creation potential. Going forward, we are going to interrogate our pre-occupation with Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) as opposed to Domestic Direct Investment (DDI) and the impact of existing citizen economic empowerment programmes.

B-FAR will follow a 4-stage internal process of consensus building and effective targeted delivery. The four stages are: 1. Selection and prioritization of issues; 2. Fact-finding around the selected issues; 3. Agreement on how to deal with the issues; and 4. Acting on what has been agreed. We will not present individual opinions or decisions but those of the Forum. We will endevour to ascertain that when you come across something being said or done by anyone of us under the name of the Forum, you should understand it to be the position of the Forum.

As I wind up, allow me to state the obvious. You are the media. You carry and transmit and deliver messages. You have heard about the planned B-FAR, our immediate calls for action upon its registration and we invite you to work with us in making sure that the messages reach the intended audiences. I thank you once again, for being here and listening to our story. We pray that we become friends with you.

As I said earlier, our friend is anyone who does what is good for Botswana. We trust that you always do, and naturally we should be friends. But we also ask that we be partners. As an industry you have the interest to promote what is good. But you are also Batswana. It is your country too. “Fatshe Leno … La Rona”. You have to help us to make it better.

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Opinions

Elected officials should guard against personal interest

23rd September 2020

Parliament was this week once again seized with matters that concern them and borders on conflict of interest and abuse of privilege.

The two matters are; review of MPs benefits as well as President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s participation in the bidding for Banyana Farms. For the latter, it should not come as a surprise that President Masisi succeeded in bid.

The President’s business interests have also been in the forefront. While President Masisi is entitled as a citizen to participate in a various businesses in the country or abroad, it is morally deficient for him to participate in a bidding process that is handled by the government he leads. By the virtue of his presidency, Masisi is the head of government and head of State.

Not long ago, former President Festus Mogae suggested that elected officials should consider using blind trust to manage their business interests once they are elected to public office. Though blind trusts are expensive, they are the best way of ensuring confidence in those that serve in public office.

A blind trust is a trust established by the owner (or trustor) giving another party (the trustee) full control of the trust. Blind trusts are often established in situations where individuals want to avoid conflicts of interest between their employment and investments.

The trustee has full discretion over the assets and investments while being charged with managing the assets and any income generated in the trust.

The trustor can terminate the trust, but otherwise exercises no control over the actions taken within the trust and receives no reports from the trustees while the blind trust is in force.

Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) Secretary General, Mpho Balopi, has defended President Masisi’s participation in business and in the Banyana Farms bidding. His contention is that, the practise even obtained during the administration of previous presidents.

The President is the most influential figure in the country. His role is representative and he enjoys a plethora of privileges. He is not an ordinary citizen. The President should therefore be mindful of this fact.

We should as a nation continue to thrive for improvement of our laws with the viewing of enhancing good governance. We should accept perpetuation of certain practices on the bases that they are a norm. MPs are custodians of good governance and they should measure up to the demands of their responsibility.

Parliament should not be spared for its role in countenancing these developments. Parliament is charged with the mandate of making laws and providing oversight, but for them to make laws that are meant solely for their benefits as MPs is unethical and from a governance point of view, wrong.

There have been debates in parliament, some dating from past years, about the benefits of MPs including pension benefits. It is of course self-serving for MPs to be deliberating on their compensation and other benefits.

In the past, we have also contended that MPs are not the right people to discuss their own compensation and there has to be Special Committee set for the purpose. This is a practice in advanced democracies.

By suggesting this, we are not suggesting that MP benefits are in anyway lucrative, but we are saying, an independent body may figure out the best way of handling such issues, and even offer MPs better benefits.

In the United Kingdom for example; since 2009 following a scandal relating to abuse of office, set-up Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA)

IPSA is responsible for: setting the level of and paying MPs’ annual salaries; paying the salaries of MPs’ staff; drawing up, reviewing, and administering an MP’s allowance scheme; providing MPs with publicly available and information relating to taxation issues; and determining the procedures for investigations and complaints relating to MPs.

Owing to what has happened in the Parliament of Botswana recently, we now need to have a way of limiting what MPs can do especially when it comes to laws that concern them. We cannot be too trusting as a nation.

MPs can abuse office for their own agendas. There is need to act swiftly to deal with the inherent conflict of interest that arise as a result of our legislative setup. A voice of reason should emerge from Parliament to address this unpleasant situation. This cannot be business as usual.

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Opinions

The Corona Coronation (Part 10)

9th July 2020

Ever heard of a 666-type beast known as Fort Detrick?

Located in the US state of Maryland, about 80 km removed from Washington DC, Fort Detrick houses the US army’s top virus research laboratory. It has been identified as “home to the US Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, with its bio-defense agency, the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, and  also hosts the National Cancer Institute-Frederick and the National Interagency Confederation for Biological Research and National Interagency Biodefense Campus”.

The 490-hectare campus researches the world’s deadliest pathogens, including Anthrax (in 1944, the Roosevelt administration ordered 1 million anthrax bombs from Fort Detrick), Ebola, smallpox, and … you guessed right: coronaviruses.  The facility, which carries out paid research projects for government agencies (including the CIA), universities and drug companies most of whom owned by the highly sinister military-industrial complex, employs 900 people.

Between 1945 and 1969, the sprawling complex (which has since become the US’s ”bio-defence centre” to put it mildly) was the hub of the US biological weapons programme. It was at Fort Detrick that Project MK Ultra, a top-secret CIA quest to subject   the human mind to routine robotic manipulation, a monstrosity the CIA openly owned up to in a congressional inquisition in 1975, was carried out.  In the consequent experiments, the guinea pigs comprised not only of people of the forgotten corner of America – inmates, prostitutes and the homeless but also prisoners of war and even regular US servicemen.

These unwitting participants underwent up to a 20-year-long ordeal of barbarous experiments involving psychoactive drugs (such as LSD), forced electroshocks, physical and sexual abuses, as well as a myriad of other torments. The experiments not only violated international law, but also the CIA’s own charter which forbids domestic activities. Over 180 doctors and researchers took part in these horrendous experiments and this in a country which touts itself as the most civilised on the globe!

Was the coronavirus actually manufactured at Fort Detrick (like HIV as I shall demonstrate at the appropriate time) and simply tactfully patented to other equally cacodemonic places such as the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China?

THE FORT DETRICK SCIENTISTS’ PROPHECY WAS WELL-INFORMED

 

About two years before the term novel coronavirus became a familiar feature in day-to-day banter, two scientist cryptically served advance warning of its imminence. They were Allison Totura and Sina Bavari, both researchers at Fort Detrick.

The two scientists talked of “novel highly pathogenic coronaviruses that may emerge from animal reservoir hosts”, adding, “These coronaviruses may have the potential to cause devastating pandemics due to unique features in virus biology including rapid viral replication, broad host range, cross-species transmission, person-to-person transmission, and lack of herd immunity in human populations  Associated with novel respiratory syndromes, they move from person-to-person via close contact and can result in high morbidity and mortality caused by the progression to acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).”

All the above constitute some of the documented attributes and characteristics of the virus presently on the loose – the propagator of Covid-19. A recent clinical review of Covid-19 in The Economist seemed to bear out this prognostication when it said, “It is ARDS that sees people rushed to intensive-care units and put on ventilators”. As if sounding forth a veritable prophecy, the two scientists besought governments to start working on counter-measures there and then that could be “effective against such a virus”.

Well, it was not by sheer happenstance that Tortura and Bavari turned out to have been so incredibly and ominously prescient. They had it on good authority, having witnessed at ringside what the virus was capable of in the context of their own laboratory.  The gory scenario they painted for us came not from secondary sources but from the proverbial horse’s mouth folks.

CDC’S RECKLESS ADMISSION

In March this year, Robert Redfield, the US  Director for the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),  told the House of Representatives’ Oversight Committee that it had transpired that some members of the American populace  who were certified as having died of influenza  turned out to have harboured the novel coronavirus per posthumous analysis of their tissue.

Redfield was not pressed to elaborate but the message was loud and clear – Covid-19 had been doing the rounds in the US much earlier than it was generally supposed and that the extent to which it was mistaken for flu was by far much more commonplace than was openly admitted. An outspoken Chinese diplomat, Zhao Lijian, seized on this rather casual revelation and insisted that the US disclose further information, exercise transparency on coronavirus cases and provide an explanation to the public.

But that was not all the beef Zhao had with the US. He further charged that the coronavirus was possibly transplanted to China by the US: whether inadvertently or by deliberate design he did not say.  Zhao pointed to the Military World Games of October 2019, in which US army representatives took part, as the context in which the coronavirus irrupted into China. Did the allegation ring hollow or there was a ring of truth to it?

THE BENASSIE FACTOR

The Military World Games, an Olympic-style spectrum of competitive action, are held every four years. The 2019 episode took place in Wuhan, China. The 7th such, the games ran from October 18 to October 27.  The US contingent comprised of 17 teams of over 280 athletes, plus an innumerable other staff members. Altogether, over 9000 athletes from 110 countries were on hand to showcase their athletic mettle in more than 27 sports. All NATO countries were present, with Africa on its part represented by 30 countries who included Botswana, Egypt, Kenya, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

Besides the singular number of participants, the event notched up a whole array of firsts. One report spelt them out thus: “The first time the games were staged outside of military bases, the first time the games were all held in the same city, the first time an Athletes’ Village was constructed, the first time TV and VR systems were powered by 5G telecom technology, and the first use of all-round volunteer services for each delegation.”

Now, here is the clincher: the location of the guest house for the US team was located in the immediate neighbourhood of the Wuhan Seafood Market, the place the Chinese authorities to this day contend was the diffusion point of the coronavirus. But there is more: according to some reports, the person who allegedly but unwittingly transmitted the virus to the people milling about the market – Patient Zero of Covid-19 – was one Maatie Benassie.

Benassie, 52, is a security officer of Sergeant First Class rank at the Fort Belvoir military base in Virginia and took part in the 50-mile cycling road race in the same competitions. In the final lap, she was accidentally knocked down by a fellow contestant and sustained a fractured rib and a concussion though she soldiered on and completed the race with the agonising adversity.  Inevitably, she saw a bit of time in a local health facility.   According to information dug up by George Webb, an investigative journalist based in Washington DC,     Benassie would later test positive for Covid-19 at the Fort Belvoir Community Hospital.

Incidentally, Benassie apparently passed on the virus to other US soldiers at the games, who were hospitalised right there in China before they were airlifted back to the US. The US government straightaway prohibited the publicising of details on the matter under the time-honoured excuse of “national security interests”, which raised eyebrows as a matter-of-course. As if that was not fishy enough, the US out of the blue tightened Chinese visas to the US at the conclusion of the games.

The rest, as they say, is history: two months later, Covid-19 had taken hold on China territory.  “From that date onwards,” said one report, “one to five new cases were reported each day. By December 15, the total number of infections stood at 27 — the first double-digit daily rise was reported on December 17 — and by December 20, the total number of confirmed cases had reached 60.”

TWO CURIOUS RESEARCH HALTINGS

Is it a coincidence that all the US soldiers who fell ill at the Wuhan games did their preparatory training at the Fort Belvoir military base, only a 15-minutes’  drive from Fort Detrick?

That Fort Detrick is a plain-sight perpetrator of pathogenic evils is evidenced by a number of highly suspicious happenings concerning it. Remember the 2001 anthrax mailing attacks on government and media houses which killed five people right on US territory? The two principal suspects who puzzlingly were never charged, worked as microbiologists at Fort Detrick. Of the two, Bruce Ivins, who was the more culpable, died in 2008 of “suicide”. For “suicide”, read “elimination”, probably because he was in the process of spilling the beans and therefore cast the US government in a stigmatically diabolical light. Indeed, the following year, all research projects at Fort Detrick were suspended on grounds that the institute was “storing pathogens not listed   in its database”. The real truth was likely much more reprehensible.

In 2014, there was a mini local pandemic in the US which killed thousands of people and which the mainstream media were not gutsy enough to report. It arose following the weaponisation at Fort Detrick of the H7N9 virus, prompting the Obama administration to at once declare a moratorium on the research and withdraw funding.

The Trump administration, however, which has a pathological fixation on undoing practically all the good Obama did, reinstated the research under new rigorous guidelines in 2017. But since old habits die hard, the new guidelines were flouted at will, leading to another shutdown of the whole research gamut at the institute in August 2019.  This, nonetheless, was not wholesale as other areas of research, such as experiments to make bird flu more transmissible and which had begun in 2012, proceeded apace. As one commentator pointedly wondered aloud, was it really necessary to study how to make H5N1, which causes a type of bird flu with an eye-popping mortality rate, more transmissible?

Consistent with its character, the CDC was not prepared to furnish particulars upon issuing the cease and desist order, citing “national security reasons”. Could the real reason have been the manufacture of the novel coronavirus courtesy of a tip-off by the more scrupulous scientists?

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Opinions

Masisi faces ultimate test of his presidency

9th July 2020

President Mokgweetsi Masisi may have breathed a huge sigh of relief when he emerged victorious in last year’s 2019 general elections, but the ultimate test of his presidency has only just begun.

From COVID-19 pandemic effects; disenchanted unemployed youth, deteriorating diplomatic relations with neighbouring South Africa as well as emerging instability within the ruling party — Masisi has a lot to resolve in the next few years.

Last week we started an unwanted cold war with Botswana’s main trade partner, South Africa, in what we consider an ill-conceived move. Never, in the history of this country has Botswana shown South Africa a cold shoulder – particularly since the fall of the apartheid regime.

It is without a doubt that our country’s survival depends on having good relations with South Africa. As the Chairperson of African National Congress (ANC), Gwede Mantashe once said, a good relationship between Botswana and South Africa is not optional but necessary.

No matter how aggrieved we feel, we should never engage in a diplomatic war — with due respect to other neighbours— with South Africa. We will never gain anything from starting a diplomatic war with South Africa.

In fact, doing so will imperil our economy, given that majority of businesses in the retail sector and services sector are South African companies.

Former cabinet minister and Phakalane Estates proprietor, David Magang once opined that Botswana’s poor manufacturing sector and importation of more than 80 percent of the foodstuffs from South Africa, effectively renders Botswana a neo-colony of the former.

Magang’s statement may look demeaning, but that is the truth, and all sorts of examples can be produced to support that. Perhaps it is time to realise that as a nation, we are not independent enough to behave the way we do. And for God’s sake, we are a landlocked country!

Recently, the effects of COVID-19 have exposed the fragility of our economy; the devastating pleas of the unemployed and the uncertainty of the future. Botswana’s two mainstay source of income; diamonds and tourism have been hit hard. Going forward, there is a need to chart a new pathway, and surely it is not an easy task.

The ground is becoming fertile for uprisings that are not desirable in any country. That the government has not responded positively to the rising unemployment challenge is the truth, and very soon as a nation we will wake up to this reality.

The magnitude of the problem is so serious that citizens are running out of patience. The government on the other hand has not done much to instil confidence by assuring the populace that there is a plan.

The general feeling is that, not much will change, hence some sections of the society, will try to use other means to ensure that their demands are taken into consideration. Botswana might have enjoyed peace and stability in the past, but there is guarantee that, under the current circumstances, the status quo will be maintained.

It is evident that, increasingly, indigenous citizens are becoming resentful of naturalised and other foreign nationals. Many believe naturalised citizens, especially those of Indian origin, are the major beneficiaries in the economy, while the rest of the society is side-lined.

The resentfulness is likely to intensify going forward. We needed not to be heading in this direction. We needed not to be racist in our approach but when the pleas of the large section of the society are ignored, this is bound to happen.

It is should be the intention of every government that seeks to strive on non-racialism to ensure that there is shared prosperity. Share prosperity is the only way to make people of different races in one society to embrace each other, however, we have failed in this respect.

Masisi’s task goes beyond just delivering jobs and building a nation that we all desire, but he also has an immediate task of achieving stability within his own party. The matter is so serious that, there are threats of defection by a number of MPs, and if he does not arrest this, his government may collapse before completing the five year mandate.

The problems extend to the party itself, where Masisi found himself at war with his Secretary General, Mpho Balopi. The war is not just the fight for Central Committee position, but forms part of the succession plan.

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