The suspended Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Botswana Energy Regulatory Authority (BERA) Duncan Morotsi has taken the Board of the organisation to court. On the other hand the Board has moved swiftly to seek legal advice on the prospect of success in the review of proceedings and general guidance on other issues arising.
The COO, Morotsi, was suspended in June earlier this year for dubious appointment of a consultant from Tanzania, Edwin Kidiffu who would produce regulations for the Authority. Kidiffu is a legal practitioner employed by Energy and Water Regulatory Authority in Tanzania.
The COO’s grounds that the suspension be set aside are that the commission of inquiry violated the rule against bias in taking the decision to suspend him. The argument advanced by the COO is that the members of the Commission of inquiry assumed the roles of complainant, judge and jury in respect of his suspension. He further states that there was no meeting called to set up the commission of inquiry; and that he was being unfairly targeted because the decision to appoint Mr Kidiffu was authorized by the CEO.
The matter has led to a court case and a notice of opposition has been filed on behalf of the Authority and the case has been set for a roll call on 8 October 2018 at which directions for the further conduct of the matter will be issued. In advising the BERA Board the attorneys, Mboki Chilisa and Shathani Somolekae of Collins Chilisa Consultants wrote a letter marked ‘private and confidential’ to the BERA legal and Licensing Committee Chairperson, Kelebogile Moremi indicating that most of the points raised by the COO are devoid of merit .
Chilisa and Somolokae state in the confidential letter, a copy of which the Weekend Post is in possession of, that: “the COO [Morotsi] submits that he has been unfairly singled out for implementing a decision that was authorized by the CEO as principal officer of the Authority.”
According to the esteemed attorneys, the rule of parity in employment requires that where two employees in an organisation have committed an offence, all things being equal, they ought to be subjected to the same disciplinary consequences. They continued: “Failing to do so, renders the disciplinary action taken against the employee [Morotsi] who received the stiffer disciplinary sanction unfair.” But they indicate that there has not been any disciplinary action hence this argument by Morotsi will fall off.
The parity argument, they further say that is one that ought to be raised at the disciplinary inquiry if there is going to be one while adding that this is because it is concerned with the fairness of the imposition of a disciplinary sanction. “A suspension to aid investigation is not a disciplinary action, and it is therefore most difficult to sustain argument that seeks to impeach the validity of a suspension on the basis that other senior employees have not been suspended,” the lawyers wrote in the highly classified letter to BERA legal and Licensing Committee Chairperson.
They continued to state that it is not inconceivable that following completion of the investigation the Commission of Inquiry may conclude that the COO did not commit any disciplinary offence or that disciplinary action be taken against other employees. Mboki and Somolekae advise in the confidential letter that the argument about a violation of the parity principle is premature as no disciplinary action has been taken against the COO. Should, they further posit, the disciplinary actions be instituted against the COO arising from the procurement of the services of Kidiffu— it is an argument that the Authority will have to contend with.
The highly competitive attorneys stressed that: “there must be some justification if disciplinary action is only going to be taken against the COO in respect of a procurement exercise that was authorised by the CEO.” It is in the lawyers’ contention that the Commission of Inquiry should finalise its investigations and that if it forms the view that there is a prima facie case, it should recommend to the board the charges that should be preferred against the COO.
They also pointed out that the decision to appoint a commission of inquiry was unanimous hence quashing the COO’s argument that there was no meeting that resolved to set it up. The board must then deliberate on the recommendations, the secret letter from the two Counsels states, adding that, “the recommendations need not be limited to the COO and may extend to other senior employees should it appear that they also may have committee disciplinary forces.”
WHY COO MOROTSI WAS SUSPENDED
The classified letter from Mboki and Somolekae further states that on 5 June 2018, the board resolved to conduct an inquiry on the engagement of Kidiffu to provide consultancy services to BERA. The decision to conduct an inquiry was unanimous. It is understood that the terms of reference of the Committee of Inquiry were to conduct a full inquiry and to advise the board on whether an act of misconduct has been committed, and if so, recommend disciplinary or corrective measures to be taken. The Committee of Inquiry is constituted by three board members; Jonathan Moseki, Kenneth Kerekang and Matsapa Motswetla, of which Moseki was appointed Chairperson.
The letter posits: “Following constitution of Commission of Inquiry and after commencing its work, the Commission resolved on 11 June 2018 to suspend the COO pending a full investigation. They observed that the suspension was necessary in order to preserve the integrity of investigations. A suspension letter dated 11 June 2018 was issued to the COO. The letter advised that the suspension will be on full pay and that COO should not enter the Authority’s premises.”
The two lawyers said the Committee of Inquiry sought to ratify the suspension through a resolution adopted through the process of round robin, adding that a majority of the board members supported the decision to suspend the COO and that the resolution was ratified through a majority vote.
The preliminary Investigation report by the Commission of Inquiry however notes that “the only time the engagement of Kidiffu was discussed was in respect of logistics to host him in Botswana, at a management meeting at which the CEO, COO, Chief Finance Officer (CFO) and Human Resource Director (HRD) were present.”
THE CONTROVERSIAL PROCUREMENT OF KIDDIFU
The two well-regarded lawyers narrated that according to the CEO, at a management meeting held on 19 March 2018, at which the CEO; the COO; the Human Resource Director; the Chief Financial Officer were present, the COO tabled a request for the engagement of Kidiffu, to prepare draft regulations for promulgation in terms of the Act.
“Thereafter Kiddifu concluded a written agreement with BERA in respect of provision of the services. The agreement is date signed 18 April 2018 by Kidiffu, but there is no indication as to the date when the COO, who represented BERA, signed it. For purposes of completeness, we note that discussions on the engagement of Kidiffu had started in February 2018 and these were conducted through email exchanges between the COO and Kidiffu. The first invoice for work done is dated 9 March 2018.”
In terms of the agreement, it further says that Kidiffu was to be paid the amount of USD15 000 (about P 160 000.) payable in three installments and that the Authority was required to meet all Kidiffu’s travel and accommodation costs during such times as he may be needed in Botswana, and the assignment was required to be completed by 31 July 2018.
Despite the President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi and his Namibian counterpart, Hage Geingob giving an impression that the borderline security disputes are a thing of the past and that diplomatic ties remain tight, fresh developments from Namibia suggest otherwise, following Geingod’s close confidante’s attack on Botswana and its army.
Giving a Zambezi region state of the affairs last week, a Geingob-appointed governor of Zambezi region, Colonel Lawrence Ampofu, a retired Colonel in the Namibian Defence Force, former plan combatant during the liberation struggle of Namibia, in a written speech, charged at the BDF and condemned their killings of the Namibians as unacceptable.
“The security situation within our borders remains calm. The incidence of the Botswana Defence Force shootings and wanton killings on the Nchindo Brothers on 05 November 2020 and other 37 Namibian lives lost since independence remain a serious challenge with our neighbor, Botswana.
Our residents living along the Chobe, Linyanti and Kwandu rivers are living under constant threats, harassment, fear, intimidation and killings and such activities are condemned and not acceptable,” he said under the safety and security title.
The attack suggests that Namibia has not bought Botswana’s story. Ampofu was part of the entourage that accompanied Geingob to the three Nchindo brothers and their cousin who were gunned down by the BDF, and is reported to be privy to the details of the unpublished Botswana-Namibia joint investigations report about the killings as a governor or political head of the region which has eight electoral constituencies.
The report contains the sensitive details of how the three Namibians referred as poachers by the BDF – and Fisherman by the Namibian government were gunned down on 5 November last year along the Chobe River. They were Tommy (48), Martin (40) and Wamunyima Nchindo (36), and their cousin Sinvula Muyeme (44).
His views are not really in contrast to his President’s views who also described the BDF as trigger happy in a scripted report to his cabinet.
The Zambezi region is located in the extreme north east part of Namibia and covers a total of 14,667.6 square kilometres. “We share borders with Angola, Zambia to the north, Zimbabwe to the east and Botswana to the South,” he said.
Sampofu was first appointed governor of the former Caprive Region in 2010 by the former Namibian president, Hifikepunye Pohamba and was reappointed as Zambezi governor by President Dr.Hage Geingob in 2015, a term running to 2025.
37 Namibia residents killed by Botswana army so far
Sampofu is a man who continues to insist that Botswana has killed 37 residents of his region. A video posted by the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) shows him alleging that at least 37 Namibians were killed by the BDF, after he met with the community at Impalila.
“It is true, the BDF started long ago. As we speak 37 lives have been lost here in Impalila along the Chobe river going to Linyanti and Kwado rivers up to Lizauli. All those families lost their loved ones,” Ampofu said in the video posted by NBC.
It is not known how the BDF, which has maintained their position that the Namibians were engaging in illegal activities of poaching, treats the constant attacks by the Namibian authorities, but they have repeatedly vowed to continue protecting the country’s sovereignty and natural resources.
Botswana’s premier brewer and leading distributor of beer, Kgalagadi Breweries Limited (KBL), this month dragged the government of Botswana to court after President Mokgweetsi Masisi imposed an alcohol ban with immediate effect. KBL labelled the decision as unjustifiable, irrational and that it overrides the rights that are enshrined in the constitution.
This week, Masisi through attorneys representing the government disparaged the case in his written affidavit of KBL’s application, referring to it as frivolous and that it ought to be dismissed with costs on a punitive scale.
In his court papers, Masisi reminded KBL that Botswana is a Republic whose laws find validity from the constitution, and in terms of Section 17 of the constitution the President is empowered to declare a State of Emergency and that it is a common cause that Botswana is under such state.
“It is common course that there is in existence emergency powers (Covid-19) Regulations 2020 as amended from time to time which is solely designed to regulate the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.
Masisi pointed out that he denies that the application before Court is proper such as to challenge the lawfulness and validity of a regulation made and a notice published in the exercise of a legislative function in accordance with the Emergency Powers Act which empowers the President to make regulations as appear to him to be necessary and expedient for securing public safety.
Furthermore, the President revealed that the decision to ban alcohol sales was not arrived at willy-nilly, but rather that there had been careful considerations that the risks posed by Covid-19 had increased and therefore it was expedient and necessary to suspend all liquor licenses.
Moreover, Masisi denied that the decision to reinstate the ban should be made by the Director of Health Services as indicated by KBL in their nature of the application, “the Director is to cause the notice to be published in the Gazette after consultation with the President.”
Masisi indicated that the role of the Director of Health Services is to publish a regulation made by the President.
He further, reminded KBL that the power to make regulations in a State of Public Emergency in accordance with the EPA lies with the President, “such power includes the amendment of any enactment, suspending the operation of any enactment or modification of an enactment.”
According to Masisi, his decision to ban alcohol sales was based on evidence provided by the Director of Health Services who indicated to him that there was a sudden spike in the transmission of the Covid-19 virus following the reinstatement of liquor licenses.
Another piece of advice tendered by the Director of Health to Masisi was that bars and other liquor outlets were some of the major hotspots in the sense of such being high-risk areas at which the virus spread rapidly.
“Alcohol was one of the major causes of non-compliance with the health protocols that were put in place to control the spread of the Covid-19 virus. Further, there was an indication that more arrests were made on people failing to adhere to Covid-19 protocols more particularly at places where there were gatherings,” he contended.
He pointed out that therefore, it was expedient and or necessary to preserve lives and to reduce the risks of transmissions of the virus to reinstate the suspension of liquor licenses.
Moreover, the President says that it must be noted that he avers that the Director of Health Services is a credible source on matters of public health of which he also accordingly gave due weight to the Director’s advice on deciding to reinstate the ban through the impugned notice.
“I am aware and was always aware at the time of promulgating the regulation complained of that it shall negatively affect some sectors of the economy. However, after due consideration and receipt of advice, I decided to give priority to the safety and health of the nation,” Masisi said.
He presaged KBL that it would not be prudent and in the best interest of the nation to ignore a health emergency such as Covid-19 and gave preference to trading and making of profits by the applicant. “The results would only be catastrophic to the extent that when we emerge from the scourge we would be left with a depleted and ailing nation from Covid-19 and its side effects.”
Furthermore, his written affidavit further pointed out that the decision to reinstate the ban on alcohol was taken notwithstanding understanding and appreciation of the economic hardships that would befall the country.
However, he said he deliberately made the decision based on the evidence provided to him by the Director of Health, whose evidence he believes to be credible to give public/safety and health priority over economic considerations in some sectors.
In making the decision, Masisi states that he was and considered different options including allowing for sale of alcohol consumption off premises, however the evidence he had been provided with suggested that such other alternatives would not achieve the overall objective of securing public safety and health by reducing the risk of the spread of the virus.
“By the time I imposed the ban, alcohol was already being sold for consumption off-premises. This did not work. The information provided to me by the Director and the Presidential Task-Force team demonstrated that consumers purchased alcohol and then loitered and consumed it within the peripheries of bars and other liquor outlets,” he said.
Attached to the affidavit as emphasis, were photographs and videos of Gaborone West, Phase 4 in mid-June 2021, which he explains circulated on social media and was brought to his attention.
“I need not say much about the photos as they depict a crowd exceeding 50 gathered at the parking area of a bar. There is little or no regard to Covid-19 protocols. It was clear to me and my advisors, including the Director of Health Services and members of the Presidential Task-Force team that the total ban of alcohol was necessary to manage the risk of increase in infections, to understand what seems to have led to an increase in the risk of infection when alcohol is present I was advised by the Presidential Task-Force team that scientifically there has been evidence that alcohol narrows physical distance,” he argued.
Masisi says that allegations made by KBL are serious allegations of infringement of fundamental rights yet they fail to state how imposition and reinstatement of the suspension of liquor licenses out of necessity and expediency of the health of the nation infringes on the rights as alleged.
In an embarrassing turn of events that depicts disintegration in government communication on the fight against COVID-19, President Mokgweetsi Masisi and Assistant Minister of Health & Wellness, Sethomo Lelatisitswe gave two conflicting statements on the same matter, same day, just minutes apart.
The Commander-in-Chef told health practitioners and residents in Ramotswa that the COVAX facility has scammed African countries after billions were paid in a crowd funding effort to procure COVID-19 vaccines in bulk.
“We have pumped money as developing countries of the African continent into the COVAX Facility but the returns were not satisfactory, they cheated us,” the President said in Ramotswa.
According to President Masisi, the COVAX facility Vaccine only came in bits and pieces, frustrating the continent ‘s head immunity targets amid rapidly spreading Delta Variant which is currently reversing all progress made by Africa in containing the contagious virus.
“What we are getting is very small portions of the vaccine, they keep telling us that there is shortage of supply, this is not fair, but we have paid in advance, however what can we do, we have no choice but to spend more money and look for other avenues of securing other available vaccines,” he said.
Meanwhile in Gaborone, Assistant Minister of Health and Wellness told Parliament that vaccine from COVAX facility is anchoring Botswana’s vaccination program.
“I am not aware of such information that COVAX facility is not delivering as expected, we are actually bolstered by COVAX facility in this country,” he said responding to a question from Mahalapye West Member of Parliament David Tshere who is also Chairman of Parliament Committee On Health and HIV/AIDS.
“We have received doses as ordered from the COVAX facility, and we are still receiving more, I have not seen that information which is purported to have been revealed by the President, unless its new information, we as the Ministry we are not aware of any frustrations by the COVAX facility,” he said.
COVAX is co-led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi and the World Health Organization (WHO), alongside key delivery partner UNICEF.
Its aim is to accelerate the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines, and to guarantee fair and equitable access for every country in the world.
The facility is a global coalition that works to ensure fair and equitable access of COVID-19 vaccines around the world. So far, 190 countries have joined the COVAX initiative, including all 22 countries in the Eastern Mediterranean Region.
The COVAX Facility aims to have 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines available for distribution across the globe by the end of 2021, targeting those most at risk (e.g. frontline health workers) and most vulnerable severe diseases and death (e.g. elderly and people with co-morbidities).
On other vaccination issues President Masisi revealed, still in Greater Gaborone vaccination centre visits, that Botswana has placed orders with Pfizer, a United States vaccine producer noting that they have promised to deliver next year.
Meanwhile, government kick-started phase two of the Covid-19 vaccination program this week, opening up for ages between 30 and 54.
President Masisi revealed that this was done because some elderly were reluctant to be inculcated.
“We can’t take forever trying to convince people to take vaccine, we moved to the next age segments because we cannot afford to have vaccines-which are already in shortage supply to just lie there,” he said.
On Friday, Ministry of Health revealed that it was receiving large numbers of people below the age of 55 lining up to be vaccinated.
In a statement the Ministry of Health said it, “acknowledges the huge turnout that marked the commencement of the Phase two COVID-19 vaccination program”.
Given this high turnout, especially in the Greater Gaborone region, the ministry announced an extension of operation hours in order to serve the huge crowds that had come for vaccination.
Of the nearly 85 000 doses that were being doled across the country as first doses, the majority of the Greater Gaborone vaccination sites were already getting depleted by 1800hrs on 22 July 2021.
As a result of this development, the ministry took a decision to discontinue the extended hours of operation announced yesterday for vaccination sites in Gaborone.
This means that vaccination sites in Gaborone and elsewhere in the country which still have some vaccines, will offer them in the normal working hours and days of the week.
The Ministry says it appreciates the great desire to be vaccinated shown by thousands of citizens and residents of this country and wishes to assure them that it will continue to expedite their vaccination every time vaccines become available. As has been communicated in various fora, more vaccines are expected in August 2021.
As at July 2021, Botswana has so far received 62, 400 doses of AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD bought through the Covax facility, 30,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine donated by the Republic of India, 19, 890 doses of the Pfizer vaccine bought through the COVAX facility, 200, 000 doses of the Sinovac vaccine, donated by the Peoples Republic of China and another 200, 000 doses of the Sinovac vaccine bought through bilateral negotiations with Sinovac company in China.
“We encourage Batswana to remain hopeful that although it’s taking longer than anticipated, enough COVID-19 vaccines will eventually arrive in our country. We urge them to always strictly abide by all COVID-19 protocols so that they protect themselves and others from this deadly virus,” the ministry said.