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Civil servants removed from declaration Bill

Cabinet has this week moved swiftly to make and approve amendments into the contentious newly proposed declaration of assets and liabilities law. This comes at the back drop of the ongoing hotly contested debate of the contentious Bill during/in this winter session of Parliament.

MP’s whom criticised and rejected the Bill especially from the opposition Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) has raised concerns on the provision for all civil servants declaring their assets even drivers, cleaners and so forth; questioned the independence of DCEC from the Executive. They have also denounced the proposed law on the basis that it applies to office bearers who left the office less than 2 years after exit.

In addition, they query the declarations of assets bill as it makes provision for secrecy where the bill forces those whom the declarations are made to, to preserve the confidentiality of all information contained in such a declaration. The scope of the bill extends to senior government officials and parastatals chiefs, Dikgosi, Judges, magistrates, heads of private enterprises, MPs, councillors, spouses and dependent children.

Cabinet has agreed this week, pressurised by the ongoing parliament debates, to re look and amend some concerns including increasing the 2 years for those who left office to more than 5 years. Minister of Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration, Nonofo Molefhi confirmed to Weekend Post this week that as cabinet they have considered some of the inputs and will be considered before the law is passed.

He emphasised that certainly the law is work in progress. “Cabinet has already agreed on the amendments. It’s a done deal. We will now move these to the Committee stages,” Molefhi told Weekend Post on Friday. Government back steps inclusion of all public servants in the law. He further explained that the ones agreed by cabinet to amend include: to reduce scope of public servants – other than including all of them.

“We have to determine which ones we include and which ones we do not. We will robustly look at their definition. Public servants that would not be included then we will see how they will declare,” he said. Molefhi added that those with knowledge on the procurement arrangements; those who will cause risk one way or the other – will be excluded but covered by special provisions.

For example, he continued, there is an architecture or quantity surveyor who are not directly involved in tendering but are involved by virtue of where they work, so they have a knowledge of tenders and therefore can divulge such information to third parties to have an undue advantage. According to the Minister in the Office of the President (OP), cabinet has also approved to fix the definition of private enterprises with regard to Chief Executive Officers (CEO)’s as they also receive government money.

Government wants to protect privacy and confidentiality

When speaking on the secrecy of the law and why the information is not made explicitly to the media and members of the public, Molefhi said the proposed law had to balance the public interest specification and the right to confidentiality and privacy of other individuals. 
“The media or the public remain free to apply to the Director General of the DCEC on the information they want to source; why they want it and they purpose from which they will use it for,” he stated.

I ask myself, he highlighted: “will it be right for everyone to see who owes what and where, why other people’s debts should be exposed in such a manner? So we have to protect such data, as we know we have data protection Act.” According to Molefhi, the declaration of assets bill is not in isolation as it works with and complement other laws like the Financial Intelligence and Agency Act (FIA) which covers politically exposed persons; as well as laws like the Botswana Panel Code.     

Minister overseeing DCEC believes it is independent

As a minister in the Office of the President where some oversight institution like DCEC, DIS, fall, the Selibe Phikwe East maintains that such bodies are wholly and very independent. “These body are independent, they only come to me when asking for funds or annual budget. Then it ends there. That’s the end of the story. I then, do not tell them what to do in their scope of work,” he stressed. The OP Minister continued: “I never issued a directive to DCEC or DIS on how they should carry their job and I have no reason to believe the President has not done the same. All is left in the DCEC Directors hands.”

Constitutional review on the cards; will make DCEC, DIS independent

According to the law maker, a holistic constitutional review process is on the way and all people are be free to state whether they want the organisations to report to parliament other that the OP and as such that can be considered. “So, some of these views suggesting that these oversight bodies are not purely independent are just political. Politicians implanted such views on the people.”

President Masisi says the law targets politicians and senior gov’t officials

President Mokgweetsi Masisi has recently told the 15th National Business Conference that the proposed law targets politicians and senior public officials. “It aims to root out corruption and would improve investor confidence and enhance transparency and accountability,” reports indicate.  Reports further point out that the President said it was evident that some in the private sector also facilitated corruption by corrupting public officers.

Anti-corruption heads Masitara, Gaolatlhe denounces the Bill

Meanwhile former Gaborone West North, now Gaborone Bonnington North, legislator Robert Masitara has long denounced the declaration of assets and liabilities law saying “e siilwe ke nako” meaning that “it’s no longer relevant” and therefore that the Act will be a ‘useless’ tool in fighting corruption.

“Those who have declared their assets will still buy property with other people’s names in it. Then the assets will be sold and money goes back to the hands of those who previously declared,” he has always maintained.
Another lawmaker who abhors corruption, Gaborone Bonnington South law maker Ndaba Gaolatlhe has recently told his party, Alliance for Progressives (AP) annual Policy declaration that the introduction of the bill as is will not bring any change to Botswana.
“It will not cause our governance system to be cleaner. It will not discourage corruption,” the Gaborone Bonnington South highlighted.

He also hinted that the DCEC which the bill identifies as the administrator of the bill is “not independent enough” from the Executive to provide rigorous and unbiased assessments of potential wealth anomalies.
On inclusion of all civil servants he said: “office bearers should be at a minimum include Members of Parliament, Members of the Judiciary, councillors, CEOs and other executives of Parastatals, Permanent Secretaries and key officers involved in procurement,” he concluded the policy statement.

Attorney general drafted the Declaration of Assets and liabilities Bill

When asked who specifically drafted the Bill which has been a subject of public scrutiny in the media, Molefhi said it is the Attorney General’s Chambers. “There is a drafting department at the office of the Attorney General. We just give the officers the parameters of the intended law. Then they draft it in the legal language, in Botswana’s style of drafting, in terms of language and vocabulary; and that sometimes the service is outsourced,” he said. 

Ruling BDP to use MP numbers to pass the Bill with amendments

The ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) are expected to use their numbers to smoothly pass the law with amendments as adopted by cabinet. “Of course discussions are still ongoing. MP’s are still debating the Bill. I am confident that bill will pass into law. There are really no key issues that can stop this.”

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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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