The ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) backbench, among them former Vice President Ponatshego Kedikilwe famously joined hands with the 13 opposition legislators to oppose the intelligence security bill, which created the notorious Directorate on Intelligence Security Services, commonly known as the DIS.
When then Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration Phandu Skelemani tabled the bill, the BDP backbench went for the jugular, stating profusely that it was a bad Bill. Among the cohort of MPs who joined Kedikilwe in resiliently opposing the Bill were Botsalo Ntuane (Specially Elected) , Gaotlhaetse Matlhabaphiri (Molepolole North), Duke Lefhoko (Shoshong) and Keletso Rakhudu (Gaborone North).
The Intelligence bill came at a time when BDP was polarised in the wake of the 2003 and 2005 Congresses in which the A- Team faction took control of the party. Mogae had dropped Barataphathi kingpins; Kedikilwe and Daniel Kwelagobe from the cabinet. The decision to leave out Barataphathi faction from the cabinet after the 2004 election saw the emergence of maverick MPs who made it a habit that they scrutinised government bills with the same grit as of the opposition parties.
When debating the bill after tabling, Kedikilwe said the bill could not pass because there was a huge potential for abuse by those in power especially the president. Kedikilwe wanted incorporation of a clause making it possible for parliament to impeach a sitting State President if it is established that the President abused the intelligence law.
PHK, who had fallen out of favour with Mogae said there was no guarantee that Botswana would continue to be as fortunate as she has been over the years where there has been no free reign in the abuse of legal instruments. Kedikilwe is quoted in one of the local publications as having said: “We have been fortunate in the past and it is evident that we are likely to be fortunate in the foreseeable future. But there can be no guarantee that we shall continue to be as fortunate as we have been. Therefore we must have built-in mechanisms.”
Kedikilwe called for the Intelligence bill to be referred to the Parliament Select Committee to study and have it properly constituted to protect both the individuals from harassment by state agents as well as abuse by the executive and the sitting president. Buoyed by the backing of powerful figures such as PHK, then young legislator, Ntuane was perhaps the most vehement in opposing the bill. Ntuane told parliament then that cases involving searches on private property had to be treated with extreme caution.
"Africans must be protected from themselves," said Ntuane. Ntuane argued that history had shown that African countries had a tendency to use their intelligence units to invade the civil liberties of fellow Africans. Ntuane’s opposition to the bill was based primarily on the fear that DIS would violate people’s civil liberties.
Matlhabaphiri garnered enough support in the initial stages of the debate as the bill was suspended, after the then Molepolole North MP called for the bill to be referred to the parliament select committee. Among other MPs who supported Matlhabaphiri’s proposition to refer the bill to the committee was Botlogile Tshireletso.
MOGAE CABINET RE-SHUFFLE AND PASSING OF THE BILL
Following resistance from the backbench to pass the bill, under pressure Mogae, in a strategic reshuffled cabinet and brought in Barataphathi kingpins to cabinet. Mogae created new ministerial posts to accommodate Barataphathi factions. New ministries included Ministry of Defence, Justice and Security, Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture as well as several assistant minister portfolios. In the the resultant cabinet reshuffle, Kwelaboge (Presidential Affairs and Public Administration), Kedikilwe (Minerals, Energy and Water Resources) and Matlhabaphiri (Assistant Minister, Labour and Home Affairs).
The appointment to cabinet of key Barataphathi faction MPs impaired what initially looked like a victory for the backbench and the opposition. The trio, as members of cabinet were forced to go mum on their earlier hard stance. Even Skelemani, who had promised to support the idea of having the bill referred to the Parliament Select Committee for review of its clauses as requested by MPs, reneged on his promise and went ahead with the bill.
Rakhudu and Lefhoko joined the civil society hand in the final moments leading to the enactment of the bill, as they tried to kill the bill. Botswana Council of Non Governmental Organisation (BOCONGO) called an emergency meeting, which was also attended by the current Vice President Slumber Tsogwane, meant to find ways of influencing improvements on the bill to address issues of concern to the civil society and the public in general.
"We were of the understanding that generally the minister was not unfriendly to the idea of consultations especially having the piece of legislation put to a parliamentary committee but we were surprised when he seemed to turn against that. MPs are not averse to the bill going through; we are just concerned that this is a very sophisticated bill.
We want certain aspects of it to be changed and we worry that any mishandling of such legislation may have major repercussions for our society in the future,” Rakhudu was quoted as saying by the media. This was after his motion to have the motion referred to the Parliament Select Committee was defeated.
DID OPPOSITION MPS ABDICATE THEIR RESPONSIBILITY?
The 13 members of the opposition, among them Botswana Congress Party (BCP) leader Dumelang Saleshando received criticism from the then BOCONGO Executive Secretary Baboloki Tlale who said while he understood their grievances in Parliament, it was important for them to join the debate in order to have an input on the bill.
“The walkout has had its time. I think the opposition should move back into the House and tough it out. They have the responsibility to represent their voters and they should get back and make their numbers count by having their amendments adopted. The boycott is not helping,” Baboloki was quoted as saying by Mmegi.
Ntuane, who was part of the brigade which fought the bill until the end, also expressed his disappointment in parliament. "By playing to the gallery the opposition is letting not only this House down but the nation at large," he said. "It would have made more sense that the fellow MPs sit through this process, get their amendments debated and fight for them so they can have an influence on the events rather than boycott.
They are missing out on an opportunity to have their views on this Bill heard," said Ntuane. The former Gaborone West South legislator said the opposition had abdicated its responsibility, warning that despite their boycott "they are going to live under this creature".
Botswana has made improvements on preventing and ending arbitrary deprivation of liberty, but significant challenges remain in further developing and implementing a legal framework, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said at the end of a visit recently.
Head of the delegation, Elina Steinerte, appreciated the transparency of Botswana for opening her doors to them. Having had full and unimpeded access and visited 19 places of deprivation of liberty and confidentiality interviewing over 100 persons deprived of their liberty.
She mentioned “We commend Botswana for its openness in inviting the Working Group to conduct this visit which is the first visit of the Working Group to the Southern African region in over a decade. This is a further extension of the commitment to uphold international human rights obligations undertaken by Botswana through its ratification of international human rights treaties.”
Another good act Botswana has been praised for is the remission of sentences. Steinerte echoed that the Prisons Act grants remission of one third of the sentence to anyone who has been imprisoned for more than one month unless the person has been sentenced to life imprisonment or detained at the President’s Pleasure or if the remission would result in the discharge of any prisoner before serving a term of imprisonment of one month.
On the other side; The Group received testimonies about the police using excessive force, including beatings, electrocution, and suffocation of suspects to extract confessions. Of which when the suspects raised the matter with the magistrates, medical examinations would be ordered but often not carried out and the consideration of cases would proceed.
“The Group recall that any such treatment may amount to torture and ill-treatment absolutely prohibited in international law and also lead to arbitrary detention. Judicial authorities must ensure that the Government has met its obligation of demonstrating that confessions were given without coercion, including through any direct or indirect physical or undue psychological pressure. Judges should consider inadmissible any statement obtained through torture or ill-treatment and should order prompt and effective investigations into such allegations,” said Steinerte.
One of the group’s main concern was the DIS held suspects for over 48 hours for interviews. Established under the Intelligence and Security Service Act, the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) has powers to arrest with or without a warrant.
The group said the “DIS usually requests individuals to come in for an interview and has no powers to detain anyone beyond 48 hours; any overnight detention would take place in regular police stations.”
The Group was able to visit the DIS facilities in Sebele and received numerous testimonies from persons who have been taken there for interviewing, making it evident that individuals can be detained in the facility even if the detention does not last more than few hours.
Moreover, while arrest without a warrant is permissible only when there is a reasonable suspicion of a crime being committed, the evidence received indicates that arrests without a warrant are a rule rather than an exception, in contravention to article 9 of the Covenant.
Even short periods of detention constitute deprivation of liberty when a person is not free to leave at will and in all those instances when safeguards against arbitrary detention are violated, also such short periods may amount to arbitrary deprivation of liberty.
The group also learned of instances when persons were taken to DIS for interviewing without being given the possibility to notify their next of kin and that while individuals are allowed to consult their lawyers prior to being interviewed, lawyers are not allowed to be present during the interviews.
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention mentioned they will continue engaging in the constructive dialogue with the Government of Botswana over the following months while they determine their final conclusions in relation to the country visit.
Standard Chartered Bank Botswana (SCBB) has informed the government that it will not be accepting new loan applications for the Government Employees Motor Vehicle and Residential Property Advance Scheme (GEMVAS and LAMVAS) facility.
This emerges in a correspondence between Acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance Boniface Mphetlhe and some government departments. In a letter he wrote recently to government departments informing them of the decision, Mphetlhe indicated that the Ministry received a request from the Bank to consider reviewing GEMVAS and LAMVAS agreement.
He said: “In summary SCBB requested the following; Government should consider reviewing GEMVAS and LAMVAS interest rate from prime plus 0.5% to prime plus 2%.” The Bank indicated that the review should be both for existing GEMVAS and LAMVAS clients and potential customers going forward.
Mphetlhe said the Bank informed the Ministry that the current GEMVAS and LAMVAS interest rate structure results into them making losses, “as the cost of loa disbursements is higher that their end collections.”
He said it also requested that the loan tenure for the residential property loans to be increased from 20 to 25 years and the loan tenure for new motor vehicles loans to be increased from 60 months to 72 months.
Mphetlhe indicated that the Bank’s request has been duly forwarded to the Directorate of Public Service Management for consideration, since GEMVAS and LAMVAS is a Condition of Service Scheme. He saidthe Bank did also inform the Ministry that if the matter is not resolved by the 6th June, 2022, they would cease receipt of new GEMVAS and LAMVAS loan applications.
“A follow up virtual meeting was held to discuss their resolution and SCB did confirm that they will not be accepting any new loans from GEMVAS and LAMVAS. The decision includes top-up advances,” said Mphetlhe. He advised civil servants to consider applying for loans from other banks.
In a letter addressed to the Ministry, SCBB Chief Executive Officer Mpho Masupe informed theministry that, “Reference is made to your letter dated 18th March 2022 wherein the Ministry had indicated that feedback to our proposal on the above subject is being sought.”
In thesame letter dated 10 May 2022, Masupe stated that the Bank was requesting for an update on the Ministry’s engagements with the relevant stakeholder (Directorate of Public Service Management) and provide an indicative timeline for conclusion.
He said the “SCBB informs the Ministry of its intention to cease issuance of new loans to applicants from 6th June 2022 in absence of any feedback on the matter and closure of the discussions between the two parties.” Previously, Masupe had also had requested the Ministry to consider a review of clause 3 of the agreement which speaks to the interest rate charged on the facilities.
Masupe indicated in the letter dated 21 December 2021 that although all the Banks in the market had signed a similar agreement, subject to amendments that each may have requested. “We would like to suggest that our review be considered individually as opposed to being an industry position as we are cognisant of the requirements of section 25 of the Competition Act of 2018 which discourages fixing of pricing set for consumers,” he said.
He added that,“In this way,clients would still have the opportunity to shop around for more favourable pricing and the other Banks, may if they wish to, similarly, individually approach your office for a review of their pricing to the extent that they deem suitable for their respective organisations.”
Masupe also stated that: “On the issue of our request for the revision of the Interest Rate, we kindly request for an increase from the current rate of prime plus 0.5% to prime plus 2%, with no other increases during the loan period.” The Bank CEO said the rationale for the request to review pricing is due to the current construct of the GEMVAS scheme which is currently structured in a way that is resulting in the Bank making a loss.
“The greater part of the GEMVAS portfolio is the mortgage boo which constitutes 40% of the Bank’s total mortgage portfolio,” said Masupe. He saidthe losses that the Bank is incurring are as a result of the legacy pricing of prime plus 0% as the 1995 agreement which a slight increase in the August 2018 agreement to prime plus 0.5%.
“With this pricing, the GEMVAS portfolio has not been profitable to the Bank, causing distress and impeding its ability to continue to support government employees to buy houses and cars. The portfolio is currently priced at 5.25%,” he said. Masupe said the performance of both the GEMVAS home loan and auto loan portfolios in terms of profitability have become unsustainable for the Bank.
Healso said, when the agreement was signed in August 2018, the prime lending rate was 6.75% which made the pricing in effect at the time sufficient from a profitable perspective. “It has since dropped by a total 1.5%. The funds that are loaned to customers are sourced at a high rate, which now leaves the Bank with marginal profits on the portfolio before factoring in other operational expenses associated with administration of the scheme and after sales care of the portfolio,” said the CEO.