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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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BONELA speaks on same-sex decriminalization case

18th October 2021
BONELA

In June 2019, a case involving the Attorney General was brought before the High Court, in which the applicant Letsweletse Motshidiemang challenged Sections 164 (a) and 167 of the Penal Code. The applicant contended that these sections are unconstitutional because they violate the fundamental rights of liberty and privacy. 

The applicant argued that these sections violated his right and freedom to liberty as he was subject to abject ignominy. These laws subjected the LGBTIQ community to brutal and debasing treatment through social control and public morality. On the 1st of November 2017, the Botswana High Court further allowed Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana (LEGABIBO) to join the case as amicus curiae.

However, in July 2019, the respondents, in this case, i.e. the Government, filed an appeal against this iconic High Court ruling seeking re-criminalization of homosexuality. Human Rights Group has criticized this move of the Government all over the world.  The appeal was heard before five judges at the Court of Appeal on Tuesday. The State was represented by Advocate Sidney Pilane, while LEGABIBO and Letsweletse Motshidiemang were represented by Tshiamo Rantao and Gosego Rockfall Lekgowe, respectively.

Non-Governmental Organizations advocating for the LGBTIQ+ community joined the two parties at the Court of Appeal during this case. They argue that the minority group should enjoy their rights, especially the right to privacy and health. Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA) Chief Executive Officer, Cindy Kelemi says the issues being raised by LEGABIBO are that as individuals belonging to the LGBTIQ community, they have and must share equal rights, including the right to privacy, which also speaks to being able to involve in sexual activities, including anal sex.

“Those rights are framed within the constitution, and therefore a violation of any of those rights allow them to approach the courts and seek for redress. We do not need the law to be regulating what we do in the privacy of our homes. The law cannot determine how and when we can have sex and with who, so the law does not have any business in that context. What we are saying is that the law is violating the right to privacy,” she said on the sidelines of the decriminalization case in Gaborone on Tuesday.

The first case involving the homosexual act was the Utjiwa Kanane vs the State in 2003. Contrary to section 164(c) of the Penal Code, Kanane was charged with committing an unnatural offence and engaging in indecent practices between males, contrary to section 167. The conduct at issue involved Graham Norrie, a British tourist, and occurred in December 1994. (Norrie pleaded guilty, paid a fine, and left the country.)

Kanane pleaded not guilty, alleging that sections 164(c) and 167 both violated the constitution. The High Court ruled that these sections of the Penal Code did not violate the constitution. Kanane then appealed to the Court of Appeal. BONELA CEO recalls that in its judgment then, the High Court indicated, Batswana were not ready for homosexual acts. Twenty years later, the same courts are saying that Batswana are ready, she says.

“They gave the explicit example that shows that indeed Batswana are ready. There are policies and documents in place that accommodate people from marginalized communities and minority populations. The question now is that why is it hard now to recognize the full rights of an individual who is of the LGBTI community?” She further says intimacy is only an expression. The law that restricts homosexuality makes it hard for LGBTIQ members to express themselves in a way that affirms who they are.

“We want a situation where the law facilitates for the LGBTIQ community to be free and express themselves. The stigma that they face in communities is way too punitive. They are called names; some have been physically violated and raped at times. It shows that the law doesn’t not only prevent them from expressing themselves, it also exposes them to violence.” The law on its own, Kelemi submits, cannot change the status quo, adding that there is a need for more awareness and education on human rights and what it means for an individual to have rights.

“As it is now, it is very tough for some to do that because of a legal environment that is not enabling. We also want to see a situation where LGBTIQ+ people can access services and be confident that they are provided with non-discriminatory services. It is challenging now because health care providers, social workers and law enforcement officers believe that it is illegal to be homosexual. What we are saying is that if you have an enabling law, then that will facilitate for people to be able to express themselves, including accessing health services,” Kelemi said.

“As we are doing this advocacy work, one of the issues that we picked up is that there is lack of capacity, especially on the part of healthcare workers. We noted that when we provide services or mobilize Men who have sex with other men (MSM) to access health facilities, health care workers are not welcoming, forcing them to hideaway. We must put an end to this to allow these people the freedom that they equally deserve.”

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Masisi warns Gov’t officials

18th October 2021
President Masisi

The President, Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi, has declared as an act of corruption the attitude and practice by government officials and contractors to deliver projects outside time and budget, adding that such a practice should end as it eats away from the public coffers.

For a very long time, management problems and vast cost overruns have been the order of the day in Botswana, resulting in public frustrations. Speaking at the commissioning of the Masama/Mmamashia 100 Kilometres project this week, Masisi said: “There is a tendency in government to leave projects to drag outside their allocated completion time and budget. I want to stress that this will not be tolerated. It is an act of corruption, and I will be engaging offices on this issue,” Masisi said.

In an interview with this publication over the issue, the Director-General of the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC), Tymon Katholo, says, “any project that goes beyond its scope and budget raises red flags.” He continued that: “Corruption on these issues can be administrative and criminal. It may be because government officials have been negligent or been paid to be negligent by ignoring certain obligations or procedures. “This, as you may be aware has serious implications on not only of the economy but even the citizens who use these facilities or projects,” Katlholo said, adding that his agency is equally concerned.

According to the DCEC director, the selection, planning and delivery of infrastructure or projects is critical. In most cases, this is where the corruption would have occurred, leading to a troubled project. A public finance expert at the University of Botswana (UB), Emmanuel Botlhale, attributes poor project implementation to declining public accountability, lack of commitment to reforming the public sector, a decline in the commitment by state authorities and lack of a culture of professional project management.

In his research paper titled, ‘Enhancing public project implementation in Botswana during the NDP 11 period,’ Botlhale stated that successful implementation is critical in development planning. If there is poor project implementation, economic development will be stalled.
Corruption is particularly relevant for large and uncommon projects where the public sector acts as a client, and experts say Megaprojects are very likely to be affected by corruption. Corruption worsens both cost and time performance and the benefits expected from such projects.

Speaking during this week’s Masama/Mmamashia pipeline commissioning, Khato Civils chairman said Africans deserve a chance because they are capable, further adding that the Africans do not have to think that only Whites and Chinese people can do mega projects.  During his rule, former president Ian Khama went public to attack Chinese contractors for costing the government a move that ended up fuelling tensions between China and Botswana after Khama dispatched the then Minister of Foreign Affairs, Pelonomi Venson Moitoi, to China to register Botswana’s complaints with Chinese government-owned construction companies.  Botswana had approached the Chinese government for help in its marathon battle with Chinese companies contracted to build, among others, the failed controversial Morupule B power plant and refurbishment of Sir Seretse Khama International Airport (SSIK).

 

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Guma’s battle for millions of Pula give Court headache

18th October 2021
Guma Moyo

A legal battle between former Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) legislator Samson Moyo Guma and First National Bank (FNB) over a multimillion oil refinery project intensified this week with Justice Zein Kebonang referring the matter to Court of Appeal for determination.  The project belongs to Moyo Guma’s company called United Refineries which he has since placed under judicial management.

The war of words between Moyo Guma and FNB escalated after the company’s property worth millions of Pula were put up for sale in execution by the bank and scheduled to take place on 8th October. It emerges from Court papers that the bank had secured an order from the High Court to place the company’s property under the hammer.

Moyo Guma then also approached the High Court seeking among others that the public auction scheduled for 8th October 2021 be stayed. He contended that the assets that were to be sold belonged in reality to United Refineries and that as the company had been under judicial management at the time of the attachment, the intended sale in execution was unlawful.

He also sought the Court to declare that the writs of execution against the properties of guarantors and sureties of United Refineries Botswana Holdings Propriety Limited (the company) are unlawful.  Moyo Guma also sought a stay of the execution against the property known as Plot 43556 in Francistown, that is, the land buildings, plant and machinery which make up the property and any all immovable or movable property belonging to the guarantors and sureties of the company pending finalization of the winding up of United Refineries.

But FNB disputed Moyo Guma’s assertions and submitted that the properties in question belonged to TEC (Pty) Ltd and not United Refiners. TEC Pty Ltd which is one of the shareholders in United Refineries is one of the sureties and co-principal debtors of a debt amounting to P24 million owed by United Refineries to FNB.  FNB argued in papers that the properties belonged to TEC because it was TEC which had passed a covering mortgage bond in its favour over the property it now sought to execute.

Moyo Guma submitted that the covering mortgage bond passed in favour of FNB did not tell the full story as the property in question was in truth and fact owned by United Refineries and not TEC Pty Ltd. He maintained that the shares had been had been passed by the company in exchange for the properties in question and that the parties had always been guided by the spirt of the share agreement in dealing with each other despite delays in the change or transfer of ownership of plots 43556 and plot 43557 in Francistown.

Kebonang said it was clear to him that the two plots (43556 and 435570 belonged to United Refineries notwithstanding that TEC (Pty) Ltd had passed a mortgage bond over them in favour of FNB.  “For this reason the properties were immune from attachment or sale in execution so long as the judicial management order was in place,” he said.

The background of the case is that Moyo Guma together with five other investors, namely Elffel Flats (Pty) Ltd; Mmoloki Tibe; TEC (Pty) Ltd; Profidensico (Pty) Ltd and Tiedze Bob Chapi, each bound themselves as sureties and co-principal debtors in respect of a debt owed by a company called United Refineries Botswana Holdings (Proprietary) Limited (the Company), to First National Bank Botswana (FNBB) (1st Respondent).

FNB had extended banking facilities to the company in the amount of P24 million which was then secured through the suretyship of Moyo Guma and other shareholders.  Court records show that Moyo had on the 11th February obtained a temporary order for the appointment of a provisional judicial manager in respect of United Refineries and it was confirmed by the High Court on 24th September 2019.

In terms of the final court order by the High Court issued by Justice Tshepho Motswagole all judicial proceedings against the company, execution of all writs, summons and process were stayed and could only proceed with leave of Court. Court documents also show that First National Bank had sued the company and the sureties for the recovery of the debt owed to it and through a consent order, the bank withdrew its lawsuit against the company.

But FNB later instituted fresh proceedings against Moyo Guma and did not cite the company in its proceedings.  “There is no explanation in the record as to why the Applicant was now reflected as the 1st Defendant and why the company had suddenly been removed as the 1st Defendant. There was no application either for amendment or substitution by the bank,” said Justice Kebonang.

FNB had also argued that it sought to proceed to execute against Moyo Guma and other sureties on the basis of the suretyship they signed and that by signing the suretyship agreement, Moyo and other sureties had renounced all defence available to them and could therefore be sued without first proceedings against the principal debtor (United Refineries).  The question, Kebonang said, was that can FNB proceed to execute against Moyo Guma and other sureties on the basis of the suretyship contracts they signed?

“The starting point is that the Applicant (Moyo Guma) and others by binding themselves as sureties became liable for debts of the principal debtor and such liability is joint and several. He said the consequences of placing the company under judicial management means that every benefit extended to it should also extend to sureties.

“If the company is afforded more time to pay or its debt is discharged, reduced or compromised or suspended the obligation of sureties is to be likewise treated. It follows in my view that where judicial proceedings are suspended or stayed against the company, then any recourse against the sureties is similarly stayed or suspended,’ said Kebonang.

He added that “In the circumstances of this case, it seems to me that so long as the company is under judicial management, the moratorium that applies to it must also apply to its sureties/guarantors and no execution of the writs should be permitted against them. Any execution would be invalid.”

“Mindful that there is judicial precedent on this point in Botswana, at least none that I am aware of, and given its significance, I consider it prudent that the Court of Appeal must provide a determinative answer to the question whether a creditor can proceed against sureties where a company is under judicial management,” said Kebonang.

Pending the determination of the Court of Appeal, he issued the following order; the execution of writs issued in favour of FNB against Moyo and other sureties/guarantors of United Refinery are hereby stayed pending the determination of the legal question referred to the Court of Appeal.

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