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GUS Matlhabaphiri: His final days

Gus Matlhapbaphiri certainly left without saying goodbye. It has been a dreadful week for the man in-charge of ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP)’s election machinery.  With the much anticipated Bulela Ditswe in the vicinity, Matlhabaphiri’s schedule could not have been busier. Staff Writer ALFRED MASOKOLA traces the last moments of the BDP stalwart. 

The Political Educations and Elections Committee (PEEC) is definitely one of the ruling party’s most important sub-committees. It handles the thin-skinned duty of running the party primary elections, known commonly as Bulela Ditswe. Due assiduousness is prerequisite in every stage, lest things go wrong and the party is thrown into turmoil.

Since 2015, subsequent to Mmadinare Congress, Matlhabaphiri had been mandated with leading the PEEC sub-committee by the party decision making organ, the Central Committee. Matlhabaphiri was a befitting candidate, having been part and parcel of the BDP furniture for over five decades; his presence in the committee was immeasurable.    

Not only did Gus know the BDP machinery, he also knew the culture and the values of the party. Gus had been retained as PEEC chairperson, following the 2017 Tonota Congress. His schedule had been busy. Almost every morning and afternoon, Gus commuted to Gaborone from his village of Molepolole for committee meetings and elections preparations.

Gus could have easily stayed in Gaborone for convenience, but he was also running for a parliamentary seat back home, hence he had to divide his time to serve the party and as well as his constituents. Having lost the constituency to Mohammed Khan of Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) in 2014, keeping in touch with constituents was of paramount importance.

Ever his people’s servant, the week he met his untimely demise, a family belonging to the constituency he was eyeing had been befallen by tragedy. In a shocking incident, three of the family members, the father, mother and youngest son were killed by unknown assailants. Gus ran helter-skelter to organise resources for the family; from food hampers to anything that would be of help. 

Thursday 28 June was an ordinary day. There was no reason to suspect that it was not―, Gus, as routine, left Molepolole for Gaborone the same way he always did. But this time, he was not to return home to Molepolole alive. This was probably one of his busiest days of the week. His first stop was the African Mall, where he was going for a business meeting, in preparation for an application of Botswana Qualification Authority (BQA) accreditation process for one of burgeoning schools, where he happened to be a shareholder.

Next, he would be at a PEEC meeting scheduled for 11:00 am at Tsholetsa House. This would be followed by collection of donations from different charitable individuals who had pledged. His last stop at Gaborone would be at the party Treasurer, Satar Dada’s office at Fairgrounds Mall. Later at 15:00, he was to meet the Molepolole family, together with party secretary general, Mpho Balopi, who was to stand in for President Mokgweetsi Masisi.

All the above followed the script to the letter, except the Molepolole setting. A few minutes after parting ways with Dada, Gus’s health condition changed, all within the blink of an eye. As they prepared to leave Fairgrounds Mall to depart for Molepolole, GUS orders his aide, Joseph Kgarebe, known mostly as ‘Satara’ to democrats, to refuel their vehicle.

He further orders ‘Satara’ to purchase mineral water as well as tissue paper; since the previous day, Gus had been complaining of flu. He had visited a pharmacy at African Mall the previous day to try arrest the problem but it seemed the medication had not been effective. This time around, Gus’ opted for different medication in hopes that it would do better. As ‘Satara’ leaves for Choppies, to purchase water, Matlhabaphiri headed to the pharmacy in the Fairgorunds Mall. The two men had agreed to meet at the pharmacy after ‘Satara’ had completed all errands.  

‘Satara’ has been Gus’ aide for some time now. He accompanied him almost everywhere and helps Gus in discharging his duties as chair of the PEEC. ‘Satara’ was essentially, GUS’ new protégé. On his return from Choppies, to meet Gus at the Pharmacy, ‘Satara’ finds his mentor not yet done.  GUS sends him back to Choppies, this time around to buy a lemon, which he initially forgot to include on the earlier list.

As ‘Satara’ approaches the pharmacy from Choppies, this time around he is met by a desperate plea from the pharmacy assistant, who had just veered  off the door, urging him to hurry, as Gus was not well. From a distance, ‘Satara’ sees a picture of his mentor, heavily leaning against the counter. He rushed and calls with desperation … “MP…MP… MP…what’s wrong?” Gus explains in low voice the pain he is going through. He guides him to a seat, but Gus is experiencing extreme pain.

Immediately, Satara calls 997, informing them that ‘a former minister has just collapsed’. ‘Satara’ who has experience working with medics, tried to apply the little knowledge he had to try save his mentor, but nothing he tried worked. Within a short period of time, Gus’ voice began to fade, so did his breath. Within a short period of time, he was quiet, unable to explain what he was experiencing any longer.

By the time the ambulance arrived, only some minutes after ‘Satara’ had called, it was too late. The medics tried to resuscitate him hoping their last ditch would work. As the ambulance left the Fairground Mall, ‘Satara’ exercised another option, calling Gus’ doctor based at Marina, informing him to rush to the emergency section, and to be the one assessing him.

This particular doctor had known Gus’ medical history, a heart problem to be precise. Shortly after the doctor had assessed Gus, the doctor delivered the worst news. Gus did not make it. Receiving the bad news was ‘Satara’ in the presence of of Balopi as well as Dada, who had been called in during the commotion. Gus had left without warning, not even a goodbye!

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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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