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Drones to drop mail, medicine in Palapye

The Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST) through its Department of Computer Science and Information Systems in the process of launching drones that would assist with community service in Palapye and surrounding areas. This is part of the strategy to demonstrate the effectiveness of technology in delivering services.


Dr Dimane Mpoeleng, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Computer Science and Information Systems has told Weekend Post that BIUST is working towards getting appropriate licensing from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAAB) to ensure that the project comes to full fruition. The University has already constructed a mini-helipad where the drones will take off and land from their missions in and around Palapye. There are already about ten drones of different make to start off the project. The drones cost between P18 000 and P40 000 each depending on the make.

“We will start small with these drones dropping off mail in and around the University. But we also want them to be of use to the Palapye community and other surrounding areas. We intend to have these drones dropping off essential medicinal items in homesteads in Palapye, especially the simple doses for children and the elderly so that we deal with the issue of them having to travel to clinics to collect their Dr Mpoeleng explained that a drone, in a technological context, is an unmanned aircraft. 

He said drones are more formally known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or unmanned aircraft systems (UASes). “Essentially, a drone is a flying robot. The aircrafts may be remotely controlled or can fly autonomously through software-controlled flight plans in their  embedded systems working in conjunction with onboard sensors and GPS,” he said.

“In the recent past, UAVs were most often associated with the military, where they were used initially for anti-aircraft target practice, intelligence gathering and then, more controversially, as weapons platforms. Drones are now also used in a wide range of civilian roles ranging from search and rescue, surveillance, traffic monitoring, weather monitoring and firefighting to personal drones and business drone-based photography, as well as videography, agriculture and even delivery services,” says a BI Intelligence Report.

To emphasise BIUST’s commitment to these projects, the University Vice Chancellor, Professor Otlogetswe Totolo said, “We are a research intensive university. Research projects should be relevant. We want professors who come up with projects that talk to the challenges faced by our people. One thing about Botswana is that we must learn to be proud of our own professors because they trained at the same schools as the foreign professors. We are confident that these interventions we come up with address the challenges faced by our people in the community.”  

Professor Totolo said he wants BIUST to significantly contribute to the education system of the country. He said they must add the relevant skills to various industries, skills such as forensic scientists, metallurgists, computer technicians, telecommunications engineers, chemists, astronauts, physicians, bio technicians, electrical engineers and others. “We are confident these skills are necessary to transforming the economy of Botswana from a resource based to a knowledge based economy. BIUST is also contributing to the intellectual body of knowledge in research, science and technology,” he said.

“We started with 265 students and today we are at 1700 students in a period of four years. We are very proud because Botswana Top achievers come to this university, none of the students who come to BIUST has a grade point less than 40. By 2022 we intend to produce 6000 students. Of course we will need classrooms, hostels, lecture theatres among other things. Botswana currently has only 2000 scientists and it must be noted that they are not enough to diversify the economy, explained Professor Totolo.

A 2016 Business Insider BI Intelligence report forecasted the growth of enterprise drone use to outpace the consumer drone sector in both shipments and revenues by 2021, reaching 29 million shipments worldwide. It stated that the integration of drones and internet of things technology has created numerous enterprise use cases; drones working with on-ground IoT sensor networks can help agricultural companies monitor land and crops, energy companies survey power lines and operational equipment, and insurance companies monitor properties for claims and/or policies.

However growth in commercial and personal drones has also created numerous safety concerns, namely midair collisions and loss of control. This publication gathered that specific concerns about drones flying too close to commercial aircraft prompted calls for regulation, hence BIUST is engaging the CAAB for the licensing regime. The CAAB has implemented a set of unmanned aircraft rules, placing limits on autonomous or semi-autonomous drone operation.

OTHER INTERVENTIONS
 


In other ventures BIUST also hosts the Square kilometre array project in collaboration with South Africa, Australia and Ghana. This project is a very big project. It will see about 70 telescopes placed at the Kgalagadi. The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project is an international effort to build the world’s largest radio telescope, with eventually over a square kilometre (one million square metres) of collecting area. Dr Mpoeleng explained that the scale of the SKA represents a huge leap forward in both engineering and research & development. He said as one of the largest scientific endeavours in history, the SKA will bring together a wealth of the world’s finest scientists, engineers and policy makers to bring the project to fruition. For his part Professor Totolo said Botswana has an opportunity to invest in this area to further diversify the economy.

“The SKA will eventually use thousands of dishes and up to a million antennas that will enable astronomers to monitor the sky in unprecedented detail and survey the entire sky much faster than any system currently in existence. Its unique configuration will give the SKA unrivalled scope in observations, largely exceeding the image resolution quality of the Hubble Space Telescope.” Dr Mpoeleng further shared that BIUST is also involved in the MESA project. He explained that the Monitoring of the Environment for Security in Africa (MESA) is a follow-up initiative to the African Monitoring of the Environment for Sustainable Development (AMESD) programme.

“It contributes to the Joint Africa-EU Strategy (JAES) 6th Partnership on Climate Change and Environment and builds on the AMESD programme achievements. The initiative is focused on using Earth Observation (EO) data and information products for environment and sustainable development, specifically designed for African users at continental, regional and national levels (AUC, 5 African Regions, and 50 countries).”  The project’s reliance on proven satellite and land-based monitoring technology is also consistent with the JAES 8th Partnership on Science, Information Society and Space.

Another project which was a conception by one of the BIUST students, he has come up with a protype for a farm yard. According to his supervisors this will allow a farmer to monitor his or her farm and the livestock while away. The project will allow the farm to monitor movements of his livestock, its condition and further know whether there is missing livestock or not. The mechanism or technology is linked to the cattle tags and some LED lights that senses the livestock movement.

Meanwhile BIUST laboratories are now ready to start assisting the Botswana Police Service with Forensic tests including DNA tests, blood spatter analysis, crime scene analysis, ballistic tests and many other crime related tests. The Botswana Police Service is currently heavily reliant on South Africa. Professor Totolo explained that for some of their projects BIUST will be partnering with other Government departments and parastatals to ensure their success. He said they intend to patent some of the students’ projects, incubate them and find a way to release them for mass production.

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DIS blasted for cruelty – UN report

26th July 2022
DIS BOSS: Magosi

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.

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Stan Chart halts civil servants property loan facility

26th July 2022
Stan-Chart

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.

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Botswana ranked 129 in female MPs representation

26th July 2022
Minister of Finance & Economic Development Peggy Serame

The Global Gender Gap Index, a report published by the World Economic Forum annually, has indicated that Botswana is among countries that fare badly when it comes to representation of women in legislative bodies.

The latest Global Gender Gap Index, published last week, benchmarks the current state and evolution of gender parity across four key dimensions (Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment). It is the longest-standing index which tracks progress towards closing these gaps over time since its inception in 2006.

This year, the Global Gender Gap Index benchmarked 146 countries. Of these, a subset of 102 countries have been represented in every edition of the index since 2006, further providing a large constant sample for time series analysis.

Botswana ranks number 66 overall (out of 146 countries), with good rankings in most of the pillars. Botswana ranks 1st in Health and Survival, 7th in the Economic Participation and Opportunity, 22nd in Educational Attainment, and 129th in Political Empowerment.

The Global Gender Gap Index measures scores on a 0 to 100 scale and scores can be interpreted as the distance covered towards parity (i.e. the percentage of the gender gap that has been closed). The cross-country comparisons aim to support the identification of the most effective policies to close gender gaps.

The Economic Participation and Opportunity sub-index contains three concepts: the participation gap, the remuneration gap and the advancement gap. The participation gap is captured using the difference between women and men in labour-force participation rates. The remuneration gap is captured through a hard data indicator (ratio of estimated female-to-male earned income) and a qualitative indicator gathered through the World Economic Forum’s annual Executive Opinion Survey (wage equality for similar work).

Finally, the gap between the advancement of women and men is captured through two hard data statistics (the ratio of women to men among legislators, senior officials and managers, and the ratio of women to men among technical and professional workers).

The Educational Attainment sub-index captures the gap between women’s and men’s current access to education through the enrolment ratios of women to men in primary-, secondary- and tertiary-level education. A longer-term view of the country’s ability to educate women and men in equal numbers is captured through the ratio of women’s literacy rate to men’s literacy rate.

Health and Survival sub-index provides an overview of the differences between women’s and men’s health using two indicators. The first is the sex ratio at birth, which aims specifically to capture the phenomenon of “missing women”, prevalent in countries with a strong son preference. Second, the index uses the gap between women’s and men’s healthy life expectancy.

This measure provides an estimate of the number of years that women and men can expect to live in good health by accounting for the years lost to violence, disease, malnutrition and other factors.
Political Empowerment sub-index measures the gap between men and women at the highest level of political decision-making through the ratio of women to men in ministerial positions and the ratio of women to men in parliamentary positions. In addition, the reported included the ratio of women to men in terms of years in executive office (prime minister or president) for the last 50 years.

In the last general elections, only three women won elections, compared to 54 males. The three women are; Nnaniki Makwinja (Lentsweletau-Mmopane), Talita Monnakgotla (Kgalagadi North), and Anna Mokgethi (Gaborone Bonnington North). Four women were elected through Specially Elected dispensation; Peggy Serame, Dr Unity Dow, Phildah Kereng and Beauty Manake. All female MPs — save Dow, who resigned — are members of the executive.

Overall, Botswana has 63 seats, all 57 elected by the electorates, and six elected by parliament. Early this year, Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) secretary general and Gaborone North MP, Mpho Balopi, successfully moved a motion in parliament calling for increment of elective seats from 57 to 61. Balopi contented that population growth demands the country respond by increasing the number of MPs.

In Africa, Botswana play second fiddle to countries like Rwanda, Namibia, South Africa, Burundi, and Zimbabwe who have better representation of women, with Rwanda being the only country with more than 50 percent of women in parliament.

The low number of women in parliament is attributed to Botswana’s current, electoral system, First-Past-the-Post. During the 9th parliament, then MP for Mahalapye East tabled a motion in parliament in which she sort to increase the number of Specially Elected MPs in parliament to augment female representation in the National Assembly.

The motion was opposed famously, by then Specially Elected MP, Botsalo Ntuane, who said the citizens were not in favour of such a move since it dilute democracy, instead suggesting the Botswana should switch to Proportional-Representation-System. Botswana is currently undergoing Constitutional Review process, with the commission, appointed in December, expected to deliver the report to President Mokgweetsi Masisi by September this year.

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