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Poaching aside, elephants destroy lives

London: Two of my elder sisters have established their homes in the New Stands Kazungula. Paved roads and basic amenities like electricity and water have turned the thick Chobe forest into a residential hamlet.
 

But New Stands Kazungula is not habitable, even after twenty years down.  Still, the residents have devised all assortments of warding off wildlife especially elephants and buffaloes from invading their homes: they parry hands, rev engines until fuel runs out; they encircle homesteads with chili-pepper and keep the flames burning throughout the nights.

Over time, the big five became accustomed to all these techniques, and in a calculated move of revenge, the beasts have bullishly adapted where their invasion is the surest way to visit destruction on human life, livestock, crops, and property.
Just this past weekend, my sister returned from attending a burial of a church colleague and her exasperated voice, shrieked out:

“Yet another person has been killed by an elephant,” she cried out. It is the excruciating fear in her voice as she counts the losses of human life that refuses to vanish from my mind as I ponder the animal-human conflict amidst the raging campaign of massive elephant poaching that dimmed Botswana’s conservation lights last month.

“We hardly ever get any news on Botswana. But recently, we saw that your government has disarmed the wildlife rangers. As a result, poachers have killed close to 90 elephants,” Lorna Henkel, a friend in Secaucus, New Jersey greeted me during my recent visit.

Clearly, elephants have set the sun on residents who live in pristine areas of wildlife conservation such as the Chobe, Okavango, Mashatu, and Kgalagadi. The Monday incident adds to five the telling tragedies of people that I personally knew, whose demise happened in the last three years only. About a decade ago, I was among the mourners at Kananga-Kazungula, whereupon my great uncle was stomped by an elephant in broad-daylight while tracking down his cattle.

However, the truth is that residents in places where animals freely reign in the range have become prisoners in their habitat against the backdrop of an imposed conservation strategy that lacks a basis of scientific research, or social dialogue with the communities to ban hunting of dangerous animals. By the time the wildlife rangers arrive to put the animal down, always, it is at the cost of human life – more like compensation to the grieving family. But in Botswana, human life is priceless and the respect for its sanctity cannot be comparable to any species, no matter how its ivory or tusk can sell.

As the economy saw the need to diversify, tourism has arguably made a persuasive case as an alternative engine for growth, given the unpolluted wildlife resources across Botswana’s main game reserves. Tourists with the dollars and pounds buying-power continue to supply oxygen to the bloodstream of our economy.

If the answers are hard to come by, we need to go back to the drawing board and strategize on how the increased population of elephants can be brought under control to avoid the constant conflict between animals and people in which the mightier species always destroys the weaker vessel. My sister tells me that the lady who got stomped in the head by the elephant’s gigantic foot this week was simply crossing the road in a residential area, albeit at dusk when the beast that enjoys the limitless freedoms cut her life short.

President Mokgweetsi Masisi aptly captured the sentiments of those who live in these elephant-infested areas, that is, while supporters of conservation chant from a safe distance without feeling the after-effects of interacting with the biggest land animal; they need to start borrowing the lenses of those who on a daily basis are burdened by the free movement of wildlife. These losses of human life come with trauma and far-reaching effects for families.

“When I assumed office, immediately I made a pronouncement that I shall uphold the governance ideal of respect for the rule of law as a republican democracy. I did just that by disarming the anti-poaching unit of the wildlife department. The rule of law obtains where there is respect for human life. I find it laughable that we would profess to be a stickler to the rule of law, and yet enable our anti-poaching officers to carry dangerous weapons that they could use to fire at alleged poachers.

If they killed such people, as the government, we would not have a leg to stand on because they were using weapons they shouldn’t be in possession of. The arms and ammunition act prescribes who should have what weapons, when and how to use such weapons. It was authoritatively reported to me that they were in possession of weapons they shouldn’t be using in their patrols.

I did not hesitate to order that they be confiscated and deposited into the armoury. In correcting the anomaly, I instructed the commissioner of police, who by virtue of this act is the custodian of all ammunition, and has access to the inventory, to lock them up in safe custody and redeploy the army where the wildlife rangers encounter sophisticated poaching techniques.

If the wildlife department should need to use these weapons, they should document such requests by following due process – do not defile the law. This administration will not permit any officer to be in possession of ammunition that he should not. This decision I took to safeguard our officers and indeed the government from the probable, but unnecessary pitfall.

Our wildlife officers are armed-to-the-tooth, despite the widely circulated media report of 87 killed elephants. Over and above, all our security forces are involved in the protection of the wildlife species including the prisons, the police, the army, and the DIS and they are armed, legitimately and within the law. It is true that we are a leader in the conservation of wildlife, and have been in the longest time. I am not a leader of a fake government that oversteps its bounds,” Masisi explained last month during a public address in Maun.

His thrust is the respect for the rule of law in a democracy. Masisi in defining the wildlife conservation strategy is of the belief that it cannot exist outside the observance of the prescribed law. But then there is also the unwritten, yet the integral rule that has borne the bedrock for our democracy – consultation with the people. This reason is why it is important to ask the question about the ban on elephant hunting; was there any scientific research carried out, and what were its findings? If no scientific research was ever done, could there have been engagements with the communities and what did they voice out that informed the ban on elephant hunting in the previous years?

In the absence of answers, the policy was ill-conceived and therefore, Masisi is right in postulating that whoever banned hunting together with animal rights activists from the West might have something to explain in the grand scheme of things, should they be probed further as to their stake to link the alleged disarmament of the anti-poaching unit and the carcasses of elephants whose tusks have been cruelly removed.

Straight up, the fact that Mike Chase, a Botswana-born wildlife conservationist salaried by the taxpayers could circulate a damning report about his country behind the back of his employer smacks of dishonesty, and should not surprise anyone as to the ulterior motive to be in cahoots with the enemies of the state. If this liaison with external partners to turn the spotlight on Botswana cannot pass for treason under the sedition law that saw Outsa Mokone prosecuted, Masisi with all his presidential prerogatives would go into the history books as a unique pedigree. This is outright subversion!

Indeed, illegal wildlife trade involves the very conservationists and rather than view poaching as a conservation issue, Botswana’s strategy that marshals all her security apparatus to clamp down on the illicit transaction as an act of crime remains the solution. The conservationists themselves are the gatekeepers and intermediaries with logistics-type businesses at their disposal. They kill for profit. These networks are highly organized.

Illegal wildlife trade must squarely be treated for what it is – a crime and assigned to the police, detectives, spies, border protection officials, rangers and money laundering experts in the place of conservationists and animal rights activists. There is no place for people like Mike Chase who has his interests vested somewhere else. John Sellar tells The New York Times; “Governments in poor countries often do not share information or effectively collaborate. If the genie in the bottle were to grant me just one wish to combat international wildlife crime, I would ask that everyone work more collaboratively.”

As the president candidly cast it for his audience in Maun, our sovereignty should not be treated lightly by outsiders who have vested economic interests in the photographic tourism hatched out from a liaison with sons of the soil who aren’t bothered to mortgage our land to the highest bidder, so long they benefit monetarily, while the masses of Batswana live under the cloud of despair and grief from the swarming elephants that understand too well that human beings don’t have any rights and freedoms.

“As I draw to a close, I will attend the illegal wildlife trade summit in London where I am informed they will be waiting to face off with me. I am bold in my decision and I will not hesitate to make our position clear to the West. It is high time they understood that we are a sovereign nation whose agenda is to manage our affairs, and that includes management of our wildlife, which by the way, we have done with magnanimity over these decades.

I will tell them that Botswana prides itself in upholding the rule of law. AK47 guns belong to the army and not even our police officers carry them. I will tell them that in Botswana, we don’t protect animals at the expense of human life; citizens come first in my administration, and I will not leave my people behind and talk animal rights. I will consult with the communities where these animals coexist with the view to address the animal-human conflict.

I will listen to your concerns and appropriate measures will be taken. I will tell them that while they promote wildlife conservation at the expense of human life, you are living under constant fear and suffering, that your poverty is worsened daily by the destruction caused by these elephants, whose population boom is out of control.

If we have come up with methods to control human birth rates, what is impossible to bring down the birth rate of these animals so they don’t come into repeated conflict with the people? We are a democracy that is built on consultation from time immemorial, and that won’t change under my charge,” he emphasized. Twelve thousand kilometres away from home, Masisi told the American public that the recently circulated media report was, but a smear campaign.

“Like every campaign, this one was not different – the truth was the first casualty. When the news broke about 90 poached elephants linked to the disarmament of the anti-poaching unit, we were shocked. This was a shocker – the biggest hoax of the 21st century. Rest assured that not in Botswana will poachers have a field day; they may not come back, please warn them. Our anti-poaching officers are armed legitimately, and so are other security personnel including the army – all redeployed to patrol our game reserves and national parks,” he explained.

While heads of government and conservation enthusiasts started deliberating in London yesterday and today (11-12 October) on how the world’s fauna and flora can be preserved for future generations; forget poaching as a conservation topic in the ugly campaign against Botswana – the reality that those speaking animal rights need to reckon with is that ordinary citizens get killed by these animals regularly.

Masisi must drill in their minds that unlike the elite class that takes an aerial view of these dangerous animals or zooming in on them from the secure comfort of safari vehicles; in Botswana, innocent children walking back from school, mothers, and fathers going about their daily errands die from unprovoked attacks. Ordinary farmers cannot raise livestock and graze them in a free range without counting losses.

A subsistence farmer watches in defeat as her crops are destroyed.  The barbed fence, reed homesteads and mud huts are brought down by the mighty elephant. We are under siege because of the wildlife that we love and have coexisted with for ages. Can someone care enough to host a summit on Africans’ rights, or must we appeal to the #BlackLivesMatter movement to be heard?

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Botswana’s development agenda in jeopardy

21st September 2020
Botswana’s-development-agenda-in-jeopardy--water-construction

Stanbic Bank Botswana Quarterly Economic Review indicates that Botswana will fail to meet some of its Vision 2036 targets, particularly unemployment reduction and reaching high-income status.

The report says this is mainly due to the slow economic growth that the country is currently experiencing. This Quarterly Economic Review focuses on the 2020 Budget Speech.

The first paper reviews the entire budget with its key observations being that this budget is prepared as prescribed by the Public Finance Management Act; the priorities it seeks to address are drawn from Vision 2036 and the eleventh

The 2020 budget Speech, which was the maiden speech by the Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Dr. Thapelo Matsheka, and the first after the 2019 general elections, was delivered to Parliament on the 4th of February 2020.

It has been well received by the labour unions, business community, and the public at large as well as international organisations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

It mainly derived its support from key facets including, emphasis on changing the business-as-usual approach to development; outlining the transformation agenda; fiscal reform that minimizes the negative impact on economic development and human welfare, competiveness and the decision to implement the 2019 negotiated and agreed public sector.

The budget’s progress review shows that economic growth was consistent with the NDP 11 projections, with growth of around 4 percent. At this growth rate, the country would neither ascend to a high-income status nor reduce unemployment towards the Vision 2036 target of a single digit.

Simple calculations of this review confirm that the economy will need to grow the Vision 2036’s target of 6 percent over the next 16 years for per capita income to increase from around USD 8,000.00 to above USD 12,000.00 in current prices.

Further, the population is anticipated to grow by only 2 percent per annum.

For this reason, the focal areas for the forthcoming FY’s budget include measures to increase economic growth towards an average of 6 percent per annum.

Economic diversification is reportedly progressing fairly well. The report says, the share of the non-mining private sector in value added has risen to 66 percent in 2018 from to 63 percent in 2015.

The sectoral pattern of growth showed that the performance of services sector (particularly transport & communications, trade, hotels & restaurants, and finance & business services) has been the silver lining and that of mining sector was subdued whilst the utility sector disappointed.

The drive towards the service sector of the economy, especially to low-productivity activities (tourism, public administration, wholesaling and retailing) does not bode well for the country’s development aspirations.

In the previous versions of this Quarterly Review, it was noted that there is need for the rethinking of economic diversification. Since the country’s domestic market is small, it is inevitable that economic diversification not only focus on broadening the product mix, but also the composition of exports and markets.

This understanding of economic diversification has not been embraced by this year’s budget. Consequently, Botswana’s exports are still overwhelmingly diamonds, which means that the rest of economic sectors are still highly dependent on foreign-exchange earnings from diamonds. Thus, “the transformation programme requires a review of the country’s entire ecosystem”.

The budget review of the economic context also depicts that an economy with positive medium-term prospects, with growth expected to recover to 4.4 percent in 2020 from the expected growth of 36 percent in 2019 largely due to faster growth of services sectors and, thereafter, to slow-down to 4 percent in 2021.

These projected growth rates are comparable to those of the IMF staff’s baseline scenario of 4.2 percent in 2020 and 4 percent in 2021. Thus, the business-as-usual scenario produces growth rates that are still too low to achieve Botswana’s development objectives and create enough jobs to absorb the new entrants into the labour market.

Trade tensions between the two major markets for diamond exports, viz., the United States of America and China, is one of the factors that are cited as contributing to, indeed, undermining not only the domestic growth, but also the fiscal position.

Another notable downside risk to both global and domestic growth is outbreak of the coronavirus in China around January 2020. This has been declared as a global health emergency. In an attempt to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus pneumonia, the Chinese authorities have ordered city lockdowns and extended holidays, of course, at the expense of near- term economic growth, according to the new Stanbic Bank Botswana report.

According to Nomura Holdings Inc., fewer migrant workers returned for work than in previous years and business activities have been slow to pick up. The havoc wreaked by the virus on the world’s second largest economy is likely to spill over to the global economy. In fact, it has resulted in a glut in crude oil and, thereby placed oil markets into a contango, i.e., a market structure where near-term prices trade at a discount to future contracts.

It also presents significant risks one of Botswana’s main drivers of economic growth, diversification and foreign exchange earnings. According to the Financial Times (February 13, 2020), Chinese tourists spent $130 billion overseas in 2018. Regardless of whether the growth materializes, the projected domestic growth rate would not transform the economy to a high-income one.

Progress towards reduction of unemployment, to a target of single digit, and poverty and achieving inclusive growth has also been relatively slow, the Stanbic Bank Botswana Review says.

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OP leases Orapa House

21st September 2020
Orapa House

Ministry of Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration (MOPAGPA) has through the Office of the President (OP) proposed to avail Orapa House for use by private training institutions as well as research institutions involved in the area of technology development.

For a very long time the monumental building located in the heart of the city has been a white elephant, despite government purchasing it for nearly P80 million from De Beers in 2012.

However, government has now identified a productive use for the iconic building. “The overall vision is for the building to be transformed into a hub for digital technology research and development to be carried-out by institutions, such as; Limkokwing University, BIUST, BITRI and other relevant stakeholders.”

The decision was taken as government traverse a new path of transforming the economy from a mineral led economy to a knowledge based economy through the promotion of research and innovation. However, the facility will need major maintenance to be carried-out in order to meet the requirements of the proposed change in use.

“The work will include provision of laboratories, work stations, production areas and seminar rooms; audio visual centre, high speed internet connectivity, exhibition areas and offices,” reads the proposal note for the development.

These developments will be done through the refurbishment and maintenance of the main building, workshop, and ablution block, gate house, parking area, grounds, and access control and security service.

“There will be minimal modifications to the structure as it stands. The project is estimated to cost approximately P50, 000, 000,” says the report. In this regard, it is said, the initial scope of the OP facility will be modified to accommodate the envisaged digital technology research and development hub.

With funds needed to improve the building, OP has requested that; “the 2020/21 annual budget provision for Orapa House will need to be increased by P37,500,000 from P2,500,000 to P40,000,000 to kick start the maintenance works.” Funds will be sourced from the projects that have been delayed due to Covid-19 protocols during the 2020/21 financial year.

The building has been a thorny issue for government for years. Initially, OP was expected to move there but the move never materialised. At one point it was a question of whether the Office of the President and the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development were planning to override a decision by Parliament which rejected the proposal to buy Orapa House under the belief that government may be buying its own property. The building was to be bought at a negotiated cost of P79 million.

Again in 2012, Government had wanted to buy Orapa House for a negotiated P79m but the Finance and Estimates Committee of Parliament had rejected the request because of the inconsistencies realised in the supporting documents of the proposed procurement. The valuation of the building was put at P74 million.

The Ministry of Lands and Housing had initially offered De Beers P73, 000,000 as the purchase price. However, De Beers countered with P85, 000,000. On negotiation and converging of the minds, the selling price was finally agreed at P79, 000,000.

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Sad state of Brigades: dumped and ignored!

21st September 2020
Brigades

Auditor General, Pulane Letebele, has expressed discontentment at the worrying and deteriorating state of brigades in the country.

In an audit inspection which was carried out at Tshwaragano Brigade in Gabane, a number of observations showed weaknesses and shortcomings in the conduct of the financial affairs of the institution.

According to Letebele’s report, former students of the brigade had been engaged to carry out maintenance works on the school premises, comprising of painting, tiling, plumbing and electrical works, which covered the period from July 2017 to June 2018.

Although the agreed maintenance period had elapsed, the works had not been completed because of unavailability of funds and this situation had persisted up till the time of inspection in November 2019.

Auditor General says arrangements should have been made in time for funds to be available to complete these relatively minor works even before the works commenced.

Various contractors had been engaged for clearing the bush and for the supply of concrete stones, pit and river sand and hiring equipment for digging the trench towards the construction of an auto mechanics workshop, the report said.

It stated that the cost of services and supplies provided totalled P117 949.80. However, despite the services and the supplies having been paid for, the construction works had not commenced for a long period afterwards, resulting in the trench filling back in.

The audit inquiries had not elicited satisfactory responses as both the institution and the Ministry had not accepted the responsibility for the project, although orders for the provision for the supplies had been made. For their part, the Ministry had stated that they had sub warranted funds for the purchase of porta cabins.

Letebele indicated that it is therefore confusing that a project which is critical to the functioning of an institution such as this one would commence without a well-defined plan.

Furthermore, the accounting and maintenance of records for the supplies items were not of the standard prescribed by the Supplies Regulations and Procedures in that the supplies ledger cards, the main accounting records for Government assets, were not properly maintained for the recording of receipts and issues.

This had resulted in significant discrepancies between physical and ledger balances, while in other instances the supplies items had not been recorded at all.

The report says 24 of the 91 new computers found in the computer laboratory at Kumakwane ABC campus were not recorded anywhere, as were the other computers in the storeroom which could not be counted due to the disorderly storage conditions.

The institution had entered into a contract agreement with a security company for the provision of security services at Tshwaragano Brigade, ABC and Horticulture campuses at Kumakwane for a 2-year period which ended in June 2018, WeekendPost learnt.

After the contract expired in June 2018, an extension was granted till the 30th September 2018. Since then, there has been no security service coverage for the institution to-date. According to Auditor General, in the face of prevailing crimes, it is of paramount importance that government properties be protected by provision of security services at all times.

At Tlokweng Brigade, it was noted that the kitchen staff were working under difficult conditions as the kitchen facilities and equipment, such as the cold room, tilting pot, food warmers and solar power for hot water were dysfunctional. The kitchen roof was leaking and men’s restrooms was not working. All these need to be brought to a reasonable and functional state of repair.

The kitchen staff should use a purpose-designed Rations Ledger for the recording of receipts and issues of foodstuffs to reflect the usage of those items. As far back as 2014 the Department of Buildings and Engineering Services had found that the house occupied by the bursar was uninhabitable on account of structural defects, the report said.

A site visit during the audit had established that the house was indeed unfit for occupation as there were cracks on the walls, power switches were not working and the roof was leaking. On a sadder note, there were a number of finished items of clothing, such as dresses, shirts, and jackets from students’ practical exercises from the Fashion Design Textiles Workshop.

Auditor General shared her take on this, saying: “I have not been able to ascertain the policy on the disposal of products from these practicals. A trace of 103 green acid-proof overalls which had been purchased in August 2018 had indicated that there was no record of these items having been recorded or issued, nor were they available in stock. I was not able to obtain any explanation for this situation.”

Kgatleng brigade was also audited and inspected by Auditor General who observed that the brigade has 26 institutional houses at Bokaa, both old campus and new campus. Some of these houses are very old and dilapidated, with two declared uninhabitable. The condition of the houses is a clear indication of lack of care and maintenance of these properties.

At the time of the audit, there was no contractor engaged for the provision of security guard services at the new campus, after expiry of the previous one in July 2019.  It is hoped that steps would be taken to safeguard the security of the premises and government properties against any acts of hooliganism.

In August 2019, there was a break-in at the electrical and at the plumbing maintenance workshops and a number of high value items, such as drilling machines, bolt cutters, spanners and cables, were stolen. The break-in and theft were reported to the police.

“However, at the time of writing this report I was not aware of the outcome of the police investigation, nor of any loss report submitted in terms of the Supplies Regulations and Procedures,” Letebele said.

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