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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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UDC founder warns against merger

19th October 2020
Ex UDC Convener: Mpotokwane

Lebang Mpotokwane, one of the conveners who presided over the opposition cooperation talks that resulted in the formation of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), has advised against changing the current umbrella model in favour of a merger as proposed by others.

The Botswana Congress Party (BCP) leader, Dumelang Saleshando recently went public to propose that UDC should consider merging of all opposition parties, including Alliance for Progressives (AP) and Botswana Patriotic Front (BNF).

Saleshando has been vehemently opposed by Botswana National Front (BNF), which is in favour of maintaining the current model.  BNF’s position has been favoured by the founding father of UDC, who warned that it will be too early to ditch the current model.

“UDC should be well developed to promote the spirit of togetherness on members and the members should be taught so that the merger is developed gradually. They should approach it cautiously. If they feel they are ready, they can, but it would not be a good idea,” Mpotokwane told WeekendPost this week.

Mpotokwane and Emang Maphanyane are the two men who have since 2003 began a long journey of uniting opposition parties in a bid to dethrone the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BCP) as they felt it needed a strong opposition to avoid complacency.

Tonota born Mpotokwane is however disappointed on how they have been ejected from participating in the last edition of talks ahead of the 2019 general elections in which BCP was brought on board.  However, despite the ejection, Mpotokwane is not resentful to the opposition collective.

He said the vision of opposition unity was to ultimately merge the opposition parties but he believes time has not arrived yet to pursue that path. “The bigger picture was a total merger and we agreed that with three independent parties, members might be against merger eventuality so the current model should be used until a point where they are now together for as long as possible,” he said.

“UDC should gradually perform better in elections and gain confidence. They should not rush the merger. We have been meeting since 2003, but if they rush it might cause endless problems. If they are ready they can anyway,” he advised. For now the constituent parties of the umbrella have been exchanging salvos with others (BCP and BNF).

“There are good reasons for and against merging the parties. Personally, I am in favour of merging the parties (including AP and BPF) into a single formation but I know it’s a complex mission that will have its own challenges,” Saleshando said when he made his position known a week ago.

“Good luck to those advocating for a merger, it will be interesting to observe the tactics they will use to lure the BPF into a merger,” former BNF councillor for Borakalalo Ward and former BNF Youth League Secretary General, Arafat Khan, opined in relation to BCP’s proposed position.

Mpotokwane, who is currently out in the cold from the UDC since he was ejected from the party’s NEC in 2017, said the current bickering and the expected negotiations with other parties need the presence of conveners.

“We did not belong to any party as conveners so we were objective in our submissions. If party propose any progressive idea we will support, if it is not we will not, so I would agree that even now conveners might be key for neutrality to avoid biasness,” he observed. Despite being abandoned, Mpotokwane said he will always be around to assist if at all he is needed.

“If they want help I will be there, I have always been clear about it, but surely I will ask few questions before accepting that role,” he said. UDC is expected to begin cooperation talks with both AP and BPF either this week or next weekend for both upcoming bye-elections (halted by Covid-19) and 2024 general elections and it is revealed that there will be no conveners this time around.

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BDP attaches Boko’s property

19th October 2020
DUMA BOKO

The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) moved through its lawyers to attach the property of Umbrella for Democratic (UDC) President Duma Boko and other former parliamentary contestants who failed in their court bid to overturn the 2019 general elections in 14 constituencies.

WeekendPost has established that this week, Deputy Sheriffs were commissioned by Bogopa Manewe Tobedza and Company who represented the BDP, to attach the properties of UDC elections contents in a bid to recover costs.  High Court has issued a writ of execution against all petitioners, a process that has set in motion the cost recovery measures.

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COVID-19 exposes decay in the education system

19th October 2020
Education Systm

Botswana Sectors of Teachers Union (BOSETU) says COVID-19 as a pandemic has negatively affected the education sector by deeply disrupting the education system. The intermittent lockdowns have resulted in the halting of teaching and learning in schools.

The union indicated that the education system was caught napping and badly exposed when it came to the use of Information System (IT), technological platforms and issues of digitalisation.

“COVID-19 exposed glaring inefficiencies and deficiencies when it came to the use of ITC in schools. In view of the foregoing, we challenge government as BOSETU to invest in school ITC, technology and digitalization,” says BOSETU President Kinston Radikolo during a press conference on Tuesday.

As a consequence, the union is calling on government to prioritise education in her budgeting to provide technological infrastructure and equipment including provision of tablets to students and teachers.

“Government should invest vigorously in internet connectivity in schools and teacher’s residences if the concept of flexi-hours and virtual learning were to be achieved and have desired results,” Radikolo said.

Radikolo told journalists that COVID-19 is likely to negatively affect final year results saying that the students would sit for the final examinations having not covered enough ground in terms of curriculum coverage.

“This is so because there wasn’t any catch up plan that was put in place to recover the lost time by students. We warn that this year’s final examination results would dwindle,” he said.

The Union, which is an affiliate of Botswana Federation of Public, Private and Parastatal Union (BOFEPUSU), also indicated that COVID-19’s presence as a pandemic has complicated the role of a teacher in a school environment, saying a teacher’s role has not only transcended beyond just facilitating teaching and learning, but rather, a teacher in this COVID-19 era, is also called upon to enforce the COVID-19 preventative protocols in the school environment.

“This is an additional role in the duty of a teacher that needs to be recognized by the employers. Teachers by virtue of working in a congested school environment have become highly exposed and vulnerable to COVID-19, hence the reason why BOSETU would like teachers to be regarded as the frontline workers with respect to COVID-19,” says Radikolo.

BOSETU noted that the pandemic has in large scales found its way into most of the school environments, as in thus far more than 50 schools have been affected by COVID-19. The Union says this is quite a worrying phenomenon.

“As we indicated before when we queried that schools were not ready for re-opening, it has now come to pass that our fears were not far-fetched. This goes out to tell that there is deficiency in our schools when it comes to putting in place preventative protocols. In our schools, hygiene is compromised by mere absence of sanitizers, few hand-washing stations, absence of social distancing in classes,” the Union leader said.

Furthermore, Radikolo stressed that the shifting system drastically increased the workload for teachers especially in secondary schools. He says teachers in these schools experience very high loads to an extent that some of them end up teaching up to sixty four periods per week, adding that this has not only fatigued teachers, but has also negatively affected their performance and the quality of teaching.

In what the Union sees as failure to uphold and honour collective agreements by government, owing to the shift system introduced at primary schools, government is still in some instances refusing to honour an agreement with the Unions to hire more teachers to take up the extra classes.

“BOSETU notes with disgruntlement the use of pre-school teachers to teach in the mainstream schools with due regard for their specific areas of training and their job descriptions. This in our view is a variation of the terms of employment of the said teachers,” says Radikolo.

The Union has called on government to forthwith remedy this situation and hire more teachers to alleviate this otherwise unhealthy situation. BOSETU also expressed concerns of some school administrators who continuously run institutions with iron fists and in a totalitarian way.

“We have a few such hot spot schools which the Union has brought to attention the Ministry officials such as Maoka JSS, Artesia JSS, and Dukwi JSS. We are worried that the Ministry becomes sluggish in taking action against such errant school administration. In instances where action is taken, such school administrators are transferred and rotated around schools.”

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