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Boko must pay P12 million to fly

After untidy skirmishes between the Botswana Unified Revenue Services (BURS) and the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) over the ‘illegal’ flying of aircrafts over Botswana skies by the leader of the main opposition party, the former has availed a checklist of temporary admission of aircraft into the Botswana skies to the party’s lawyers.

After two of the aircrafts he was using for electioneering were grounded by the BURS and his pilots interrogated and later fined P50 000 by the tax collector, UDC President Duma Boko has taken steps to distill the process. The aircrafts were landed to Boko by Waleed Helicopter Services (PTY) Ltd. Boko recently instructed the UDC, Bayford and Associates to ask for a requisite BURS checklist for purposes of temporary importation into Botswana of aircraft intended for use in election campaign.

Dick Bayford, the UDC lawyer held a meeting with BURS officials on the 8th of May 2019 attended by attorney, Aobakwe Monamo and BURS General Manager, Investigations, Compliance and Enforcement Department, Mr Kanone B Molapo. The purpose of the meeting was to push BURS officials to share a checklist with the UDC for purposes of temporarily importing aircraft for election campaign.

“We explained to your Mr Molapo that our clients are desirous of importing into the country on temporary basis a fixed wing aircraft and helicopter for election campaign purposes and none other. That upon expiry of the period of their use in Botswana, as would be advised in due course, same would be re-exported,” reads Bayford’ memo dated 9th May 2019 to BURS. Bayford further notes that “Mr Molapo has not availed us a templated checklist of the requirements sought, but has drawn our attention to relevant provisions in both the Customs Act, 2018 and the Value Added Tax Act which are applicable.”

For the avoidance of doubt and to distill a common understanding on the said provisions and the advice rendered by Mr Molapo, Bayford took liberty to share his interpretation of the two Acts in relation to temporary importation of aircrafts for purposes of an election campaign.
In terms of Section 184(1) BURS shall grant a temporary admission procedure where it is possible to ensure the identification of imported goods at the time of re-export. “In our respectful view, usage of the word “shall” denotes that once the condition precedent is met (ie assurance as to identification) it is mandatory upon BURS to grant a temporary admission procedure,” writes Bayford.

The UDC lawyer also notes that Mr Molapo had drawn their attention to section 185(1) of the Act which provides that BURS may clear goods for temporary admission without a standard customs declaration if it is satisfied that goods will be subsequently re-exported.
“Our instructions are that the aircraft intended for temporary admission would be subsequently re-exported. They will be kept at all material time, save when they are in use, at an officially designated customs airport in Botswana until exportation and by reason of this fact, their subsequent re-exportation is assured. Therefore we pray that they be exempted from standard customs declaration,” says Bayford.

When addressing Section 189 of the Act which deals with temporary admission with conditional relief, Bayford notes that the Customs Act, “means of transport” may be placed under temporary admission procedure with conditional relief of import duties and taxes. “As the above provision is not mandatory, but consider upon yourselves a discretion, Mr Molapo advised that clients could make a proposal on imposition of conditional relief of import duties and taxes.”

UDC, through its lawyers proposed that their aircrafts, as and when they arrive in Botswana, be placed under temporary admission procedure with conditional relief of import duties and taxes. “We respectfully submit that such an exercise of discretion would in the circumstances be apposite considering the fact that same are not to be used for any commercial purposes, but as a facility for advancing the democratic process of electioneering guaranteed under the national constitution,” explained Bayford in his letter to BURS.

Section 196 of the Customs Act indicates that the customs office may require that a means of transport for commercial use that is registered abroad be subject to a customs document and adequate guarantee. The UDC has pleaded with the BURS to apply its discretion as per the law and exempt from the provisions.

In itsv response BURS has noted that section 184 authorizes it to allows “a temporary admission procedure where it is possible to ensure the identification of imported goods at the time of re-export” or where “in view of the nature of the goods or nature of the operations to be carried out, the absence of identification measures is not likely to lead to abuse of the procedure.” The BURS through Mr Molapo notes that “BURS may clear goods for temporary admission without a standard customs declaration if it is satisfied that the goods will be subsequently re-exported.”  

Molapo further observes that if temporarily admitted goods are not the subject of a carnet, BURS may require the submission of a guarantee if it is satisfied that the goods will subsequently be re-exported. “Under section 189 (1) of the Act, goods, including means of transport “may be placed under the temporary admission procedure with conditional relief of import duties and taxes.” The essence of the provision is that there will be relief from, or suspension of, the otherwise chargeable duties/taxes on the affected goods/means of transport. However BURS is given latitude to impose such conditions as it deems fit to safeguard the suspended taxes. Such condition may be the guarantee requirement introduced by section 186 of the Act,” Molapo explained to UDC lawyers.

Molapo has advised UDC that they are required to submit a guarantee worth 12% of the market value of the aircraft and upon satisfying this condition the aircraft would be temporarily admitted for a period of not more than three months. “In case of conformance to all the stipulated condition, on exportation of the goods the undertaking for the payment of the otherwise payable taxes shall be discharged; in case of failure to export within the pre-stated timeframe or violation of any of the imposed conditions, then the hitherto suspended Value Added Tax (VAT) become payable, and reckoned from the date of first importation,” further explains Molapo.

The BURS General Manager also explained that the recipient of the services rendered by the owners of the aircraft (Waleed Helicopter Services Pty Ltd) should account for the VAT payable. On the full checklist, the UDC must provide a declaration concerning the aircraft; its itinerary; the goods onboard; any passengers and crew on board; the destination of such passengers’ crew and goods; and any stores on board; valuation of the aircraft. Finally the UDC must pay a temporary deposit equivalent to applicable duties and taxes.

So far Boko has used a 2017 Augusta A109SP which is valued at US$ 5 950 000 which translates to about P50 million of which 12% translates to P6 million. But depending on their age, other models could come at a bit lower prices of just under P20 million which would require the UDC to fork out about P2 million as guarantee to the BURS and further ensure that there is no violation of the preset conditions for the temporary admission of the aircraft or face penalties including paying all tax payable.

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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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