A fresh study by Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA) has spotlighted some gaps in various laws, policies and frameworks which hinder prevention, treatment and care efforts while violating human rights of people living with HIV & AIDS.
A report titled ‘Assessment of legal and regulatory framework for HIV, AIDS and Tuberculosis,’ released last week is calling on the government to review a plethora of laws that trample on basic human rights. At the fore front of the study are the Public Health Act and Penal code which, according to the report, discriminate and violate the rights of HIV/AIDS patients.
The study was focused on the key and vulnerable populations including “gay men and other men who have sex with men, Lesbians Gays Bisexuals Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) people, sex workers, migrants, prisoners and remote area dwellers.” The study’s findings are concerned by the law criminalizing some aspects of sex work as it inhibits labour regulation and access to police protection, health services and legal remedies when rights violation occur.
It has been revealed that approximately 75% of sex workers are locals while 25% are immigrants, though the two groups share clients. “HIV prevalence amongst Zimbabwean female sex workers is 69.5% and 57.7% amongst Batswana female sex workers.” The report continues; “Basic rights afforded to other workers are also denied to sex workers because of criminalization as illegal work does not afford the protections that legal work requires, such as occupational health and safety standards.”
BONELA study has also punched holes on the biased penal code of Botswana which criminalizes living off the earnings of sex work, brothel keeping, idle or disorderly public conduct. This, the report argue; will lead to victimization and societal marginalization of sex workers by perpetuating stigma, violence, harassment, blackmail and discrimination.
While homosexuality is not illegal in Botswana consensual sexual conduct between adults of the same sex is a criminal offence. Section 167 of the penal code prohibits “unnatural offences” and “indecent practices”. Carnal knowledge which is against the order of nature makes one criminally liable with a possibility of serving five years in prison.
It has been suggested to legislators that they should repeal laws that criminalize consensual sexual relations between adults of the same sex. Botswana, regarded as one of free and fair countries that uphold basic human rights, has also been encouraged to “review laws and regulations including nuisance, public disorder, cross-dressing, impersonation and similar offences, which are used to target, harass, and commit human rights abuse against LGBTIs.”
The 145 paged report has also highlighted that the persons in custody are also neglected due to high levels of stigma, lack of investment and political will. “Prisoners and persons in custody are at high risk of HIV infection due to sexual violence, unsafe sexual practices and unsafe drug injection,” states the report.
BONELA has pleaded with lawmakers to amend the penal code to decriminalize consensual sex between adults of the same sex. Further it has been recommended that “regardless of the legality of consensual sex between adults of the same sex, provide protective barriers including condoms, dental dams and lubricants to all prisoners to ensure that they have the means to protect themselves from HIV and STIs.”
Persons living in remote areas in Botswana are also experiencing challenges in accessing all health services including HIV and TB related health services. The study observes that some of the challenges are accessing information on preventive strategies and intervention programmes and limited access to condoms and protective barriers. The report has indicated that Basarwa who were resettled in New Xade experienced increased HIV and TB prevalence.
“Some remote area dwellers live on private farms while others live in resettlement areas. Key informants indicated that those living on private farms may have to travel great distances to access health centers, in some cases 100km or more.” This has prompted the human rights organization to push the government to implement a specific policy framework and programmes that address the health needs of remote area dwellers. “Provide through law and policies provisions that specifically protect the rights of remote area dwellers, including the right to non-discrimination and non-discriminatory access to health services,” suggested the report.
The criminalization of sodomy, nuisance and other laws stigmatize LGBTI people and makes them vulnerable to blackmail, illegal detention and other discrimination. Botswana by criminalizing this is against the rights protected International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and impedes health-seeking behavior. Penalizing consensual sexual acts between persons of the same sex interfere with the right to privacy.
The human rights committee has specifically recommended that Botswana repeal the sodomy and other penal code provisions that criminalize consensual sexual activity between consenting adults. Findings of the study have been shared with the legislators to try to repeal some laws which discriminate the key and vulnerable populations. Failure to review some of these laws then the government’s aspiration to register zero infections remains a pie in the sky, the report warns.
Government is currently sitting on 4 400 vacant posts that remain unfilled in the civil service. This is notwithstanding the high unemployment rate in Botswana which has been exacerbated by the recent outbreak of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
Just before the burst of COVID-19, official data released by Statistics Botswana in January 2020, indicate that unemployment in Botswana has increased from 17.6 percent three years ago to 20.7 percent. “Unemployment rate went up by 3.1 percentage between the two periods, from 17.6 to 20.7 percent,” statistics point out.
Leading commercial bank, First National Bank Botswana (FNBB), expects the central bank to sharpen its monetary policy knife and cut the Bank Rate twice in the last quarter of 2020.
The bank expects a 25 basis point (bps) in the beginning of the last quarter, which is next month, and another shed by the same bps in December, making a total of 50 bps cut in the last quarter. According to the bank’s researchers, the central bank is now holding on to 4.25 percent for the time being pending for more informed data on the economic climate.
An audit of the accounts and records for the supply of food rations to the institutions in the Northern Region for the financial year-ended 31 March 2019 was carried out. According to Auditor General’s report and observations, there are weaknesses and shortcomings that were somehow addressed to the Accounting Officer for comments.
Auditor General, Pulane Letebele indicated on the report that, across all depots in the region that there had been instances where food items were short for periods ranging from 1 to 7 months in the institutions for a variety of reasons, including absence of regular contracts and supplier failures. The success of this programme is dependent on regular and reliable availability of the supplies to achieve its objective, the report said.
There would be instances where food items were returned from the feeding centers to the depots for reasons of spoilage or any other cause. In these cases, instances had been noted where these returns were not supported by any documentation, which could lead to these items being lost without trace.
The report further stressed that large quantities of various food items valued at over P772 thousand from different depots were damaged by rodents, and written off.Included in the write off were 13 538 (340ml) cartons of milk valued at P75 745. In this connection, the Auditor General says it is important that the warehouses be maintained to a standard where they would not be infested by rodents and other pests.
Still in the Northern region, the report noted that there is an outstanding matter relating to the supply of stewed steak (283×3.1kg cans) to the Maun depot which was allegedly defective. The steak had been supplied by Botswana Meat Commission to the depot in November 2016.
In March 2017 part of the consignment was reported to the supplier as defective, and was to be replaced. Even as there was no agreement reached between the parties regarding replacement, in 51 October 2018 the items in question were disposed of by destruction. This disposal represented a loss as the whole consignment had been paid for, according to the report.
“In my view, the loss resulted directly from failure by the depot managers to deal with the matter immediately upon receipt of the consignment and detection of the defects. Audit inspections during visits to Selibe Phikwe, Maun, Shakawe, Ghanzi and Francistown depots had raised a number of observations on points of detail related to the maintenance of records, reconciliations of stocks and related matters, which I drew to the attention of the Accounting Officer for comments,” Letebele said in her report.
In the Southern region, a scrutiny of the records for the control of stocks of food items in the Southern Region had indicated intermittent shortages of the various items, principally Tsabana, Malutu, Sunflower Oil and Milk which was mainly due to absence of subsisting contracts for the supply of these items.
“The contract for the supply of Tsabana to all depots expired in September 2018 and was not replaced by a substantive contract. The supplier contracts for these stocks should be so managed that the expiry of one contract is immediately followed by the commencement of the next.”
Suppliers who had been contracted to supply foodstuffs had failed to do so and no timely action had been taken to redress the situation to ensure continuity of supply of the food items, the report noted.
In one case, the report highlighted that the supplier was to manufacture and supply 1 136 metric tonnes of Malutu for a 4-months period from March 2019 to June 2019, but had been unable to honour the obligation. The situation was relieved by inter-depot transfers, at additional cost in transportation and subsistence expenses.
In another case, the contract was for the supply of Sunflower Oil to Mabutsane, where the supplier had also failed to deliver. Examination of the Molepolole depot Food Issues Register had indicated a number of instances where food items consigned to the various feeding centres had been returned for a variety of reasons, including food item available; no storage space; and in other cases the whole consignments were returned, and reasons not stated.
This is an indication of lack of proper management and monitoring of the affairs of the depot, which could result in losses from frequent movements of the food items concerned.The maintenance of accounting records in the region, typically in Letlhakeng, Tsabong, and Mabutsane was less than satisfactory, according to Auditor General’s report.
In these depots a number of instances had been noted where receipts and issues had not been recorded over long periods, resulting in incorrect balances reflected in the accounting records. This is a serious weakness which could lead to or result in losses without trace or detection, and is a contravention of Supplies Regulations and Procedures, Letebele said.
Similarly, consignments of a total of 892 bags of Malutu and 3 bags of beans from Tsabong depot to different feeding centres had not been received in those centres, and are considered lost. These are also not reflected in the Statement of Losses in the Annual Statements of Accounts for the same periods.