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Land Board, Ex BDP chief in conflict of interest row

Ngwato Land board members are caught up in a conflict of interest row with a key Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) member. The row stems from a tender invitation for ranches in the Ngwato tribal territory.

The axed BDP Executive Secretary Thabiso Masalila has accordingly dragged the Land board to court for flouting basic procedures in tendering for ranches. This follows Ngwato land board’s decision in May 2015 to float an invitation to tender for the allocation of commercial ranches in the Sandveld, Kaka, Xere and other areas in the Ngwato tribal territory. The case is before Justice Omphemetse Motumise.

The conflict of interest arises from the understanding that the officials who crafted the requirements of the tender for the commercial cattle ranches then proceeded to apply and compete for the same ranches as they knew what to expect. “It is highly conceivable that the Ngwato Land Board officials had access to the exact details of the area and as such completed their application forms while others like Masalila were prejudiced,” the court papers indicate.

According to an attorney representing Masalila in the matter, Kabo Motswagole of Motswagole and Companies: “the record is clear that: the Ngwato Land Board was compromised of conflicted and interested persons, those ‘conflicted persons’ before they recused themselves crafted the rules and the qualifications criteria of the tender in the commercial ranches, appointed a Technical team to evaluate the submissions (including those of the conflicted board), received a report of the evaluation and then decided to excuse themselves.”

The Board members recommending the requirements for the tender and applying for the same made it fairly seamless for the Technical team to recommend candidates possessing their personal attributes in that regard, Motswagole argued. The well regarded attorney also indicated that the Ad Hoc board was appointed some 5 months later only to allocate while stressing that “appellant (Masalila) submits that this is a non procedural issue as it goes to the substance of who considered eligible. The proceeds were irregular and ought to be set aside.”

In light of this, he observed that the mere fact that the process of tendering, scoring and short listing of the interviewees was done under the auspices of members of the board which were replaced with an ad-hoc board proves to pose a sensible possibility of conflict of interest given that after setting the requirements and rules of the tendering process they went on to participate in it and compete with the public.

“Bias is widespread and is a problem even for well-meaning professionals while adding that the human reasoning is easily pressed into the service of one’s own interests,” the distinguished lawyer pointed out. Consequently he requested the court to direct that the Land board Tribunal erred and misdirected itself in holding that the decision of the Ngwato Land board (respondent) to exclude the appellants (Masalila) from the shortlist of people to be interviewed for the Advertised Commercial ranches was lawful even though it was made by a Board comprised of members who were conflicted and interested parties in the ranch allocations.

Furthermore he asked the court to order that the judge in the court a quo erred in holding that the decision of the Ngwato Land board to exclude Masalila and not call him for an interview is set aside as being irrational, illegal, unlawful and ultra vires. According to Masalila’s attorney, the tendering process in relation to category 3.1.2 (farmers’ category) should be done afresh. “We submit that the decision of the Ngwato land Board was irrational and promoted a miscarriage of justice, fairness and equality,” he emphasised.

Applicants asked to provide list of neighbours at the ranches

Meanwhile Motswagole said it was shocking that the land board asked applicants to provide a list of neighbours at the ranches being applied for and therefore emphasised that it was unreasonable and irrational. “The Land Board had a duty to distribute a representation for the location of the ranches and most importantly for applicants, where each bidder is likely to be placed” adding that “this was done in part and as such the appellant could not have been able to identify the neighbors.”


He argued: “it is therefore becomes an irrational decision to disqualify the appellant for not listing neighbours to the farm applied when there were none. Disqualifying a bidder in a tender on the basis of neglecting to fill in a paragraph that the Land Board ought to have furnished particulars on and neglected to do so is an unreasonable and/or irrational decision.”

He complained that the Land board clearly acted in constructive contempt as while the matter was still resolved they proceeded to grant and allocate the ranches in issue which the Land Tribunal had not made its decision in an appeal filed only days after the alleged completion.
“The Ngwato land board has undermined the authority of the Land Tribunal which is an authority of a court of law by proceeding to allocate the commercial livestock ranches in question despite ongoing legal proceedings and impeded the appellant’s right to access court. Thus ridiculing the fundamental principle of the rule of law in its supremacy,” he said.

Landboard attorney explains why the BDP cadre was disqualified

Meanwhile Gosego Lekgowe of Dinokopila Lekgowe Attorneys told court in his oral arguments that there is no evidence of prejudice or favour to those allocated stressing that there was a proper tendering process that took place. He said “the evaluation process was to be done in 3 stages. Stage 1 – the assessment team was to assess and screen all the applications for compliance with the requirements of paragraph 2.12 of the tender and any application not in compliance was to be disqualified.”


He highlighted that Masalila bid for the tender and the assessment team found that Masalila’s submission not to be responsive and he was disqualified. Masalila then filed an application to interdict the short listing process and for review of the Land board’s decision but was also dismissed in December 2015. Lekgowe said, in light of the fact that the successful applicants were not joined in the proceedings this court cannot cancel the contracts that already have been concluded without them being parties to these proceedings.

“Accordingly, we submit that the appeal is ill-conceived and falls to be dismissed with costs.” In any event, he maintained that the tender has been substantially performed in the sense that allocations have been made and those to whom the allocations were made hold personal rights to such ranches.

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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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