The office of the public protector, the Ombudsman, is having a hard time resolving cases of maladministration and abuse of office in the public service because accounting officers generally show contempt for the processes.
Parliament heard this week that there is a backlog of 949 cases, with only 48 percent of the cases having been resolved while the rest remain unresolved. In a desperate bid to resolve the impasse, Assistant Minister of Presidential Affairs Thato Kwerepe has told parliament that the Ombudsman intends on introducing several initiatives among them “closer engagement with Accounting Officers to deepen understanding of the process of complaints resolution”.
The Ombudsman Act provides that where the Ombudsman proposes to conduct an investigation the office shall afford to the principal officer of any department or authority concerned, and to any other person who is alleged to have taken or authorized the action in question, an opportunity to comment on any allegations made to the Ombudsman.
The reported failure by accounting officers to comply with the Ombudsman did not impress Specially Elected Member of Parliament Bogolo Kenewendo, who suggested that the Ombudsman should be given powers to deal decisively with the rampant corruption which has become prevalent in recent years. “I am worried by the delay and backlog that the office of Ombudsman is currently facing but I acknowledge that this is not out of their own doing but the ministries that are asked to appear before them, and fail to do so and I find it disrespectful,” she said.
“We are experiencing a lot of corruption and we should be seeing less of it. We do not need to wait for people to report [before instituting investigations], but the office should be able to take initiative.” The Ombudsman’s office which was allocated only P45 million from the national budget has been accused of being toothless, a perception which Kenewendo concurs with.
Kenewendo said the Ombudsman is required by law to report to parliament, but that has not been the case, at least in a satisfactory manner according her expectation. Kenewendo wants the Ombudsman to regularly report to parliament so that the legislative house acts on the recommendations
Section 8 (b) of the Ombudsman Act empowers the Office to take the matter to parliament if his or her recommendation are not implemented within a reasonable time. The Act states: “Where the Ombudsman has made a recommendation under subsection (1) and within a reasonable time thereafter no action has been taken which appears to him adequately to remedy the injustice: he may lay before the National Assembly a special report.”
There have been various cases in the past where the senior public servants disregarded the recommendations of the Ombudmsman. The most famous one was in 2000 when it was ruled that then Vice President Lt Gen Ian Khama should stop flying BDF aeroplanes because it constituted abuse of public resources. Festus Mogae, then president, disregarded the recommendations and further backed his deputy to continue flying the aircraft.
Recently, the new Ombudsman Augustine Makgonatsotlhe ruled in a complaint brought by Botswana National Front (BNF) Vice President Dr Rev. Prince Dibeela, that BTV was unfairly giving opposition a raw deal in news coverage. The BTV has yet to act in accordance with the recommendations.
Debating the Office of Ombudsman’s budget, Major General Pius Mokgware said the money that was allocated to the institution is too insignificant to enable to office to carry out its mandate effectively without compromising its role. He said as one of the nation’s oversight institutions, it is necessary to be well resourced to enable it to fight abuse, maladministration and corruption in the public office. “This small budget will limit the Ombudsman in investigating cases of nepotism and corruption cases that are currently affecting the country,” said the Gabane-Mankgodi legislator.
Mokgware proposed that the budget for the DIS be reduced, in favour of increasing the ombudsman’s budget three times. Legislator for Serowe South, who is also Minister of International Affairs and Cooperation, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, agreed with Mokgware on increment of the Ombudsman’s budget, arguing that if the office is allowed to do its job with enough resources it will be able to produce well informed reports.
She said this in the wake of corruption scandals that have hit the ruling party, of which Moitoi believes some are falsely being accused, and that an oversight institution like the Ombudsman will be able to clear them(falsely accused) if allowed to do its job effectively. The Ombudsman together with the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) came into being in the mid 1990s in the wake of corruption scandals that had marred the public service.
The Kgabo Commission and Christie Report, which investigated land dealings in Mogoditshane and other peri-urban, areas as well as the dealings of Botswana Housing Corporation (BHC) found unprecedented levels of maladministration, abuse of office and corruption scandals in the public service.
The office of the Ombudsman is often compared with that of the neighbouring South Africa’s equivalent, known as the Public Protector. Under the leadership of immediate former head, Thuli Mandosela, the institution showed its resilience against all forces, taking to task government ministries, including then president, Jacob Zuma.
The public protector in South Africa, like other Chapter 9 institutions, is independent and subject only to the constitution and reports only to parliament. The Public Protector is given the power to investigate any conduct in state affairs, or in the public administration in any sphere of government, that is alleged or suspected to be improper or to result in any impropriety or prejudice. As part of its mandate the Public Protector is also empowered to report on that conduct as well as taking appropriate remedial action.
The institution of the ombudsman, was first created in Sweden more than 200 years ago, and designed to provide protection for the individuals where there is a substantial imbalance of power.
Lebang Mpotokwane, one of the conveners who presided over the opposition cooperation talks that resulted in the formation of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), has advised against changing the current umbrella model in favour of a merger as proposed by others.
The Botswana Congress Party (BCP) leader, Dumelang Saleshando recently went public to propose that UDC should consider merging of all opposition parties, including Alliance for Progressives (AP) and Botswana Patriotic Front (BNF).
Saleshando has been vehemently opposed by Botswana National Front (BNF), which is in favour of maintaining the current model. BNF’s position has been favoured by the founding father of UDC, who warned that it will be too early to ditch the current model.
“UDC should be well developed to promote the spirit of togetherness on members and the members should be taught so that the merger is developed gradually. They should approach it cautiously. If they feel they are ready, they can, but it would not be a good idea,” Mpotokwane told WeekendPost this week.
Mpotokwane and Emang Maphanyane are the two men who have since 2003 began a long journey of uniting opposition parties in a bid to dethrone the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BCP) as they felt it needed a strong opposition to avoid complacency.
Tonota born Mpotokwane is however disappointed on how they have been ejected from participating in the last edition of talks ahead of the 2019 general elections in which BCP was brought on board. However, despite the ejection, Mpotokwane is not resentful to the opposition collective.
He said the vision of opposition unity was to ultimately merge the opposition parties but he believes time has not arrived yet to pursue that path. “The bigger picture was a total merger and we agreed that with three independent parties, members might be against merger eventuality so the current model should be used until a point where they are now together for as long as possible,” he said.
“UDC should gradually perform better in elections and gain confidence. They should not rush the merger. We have been meeting since 2003, but if they rush it might cause endless problems. If they are ready they can anyway,” he advised. For now the constituent parties of the umbrella have been exchanging salvos with others (BCP and BNF).
“There are good reasons for and against merging the parties. Personally, I am in favour of merging the parties (including AP and BPF) into a single formation but I know it’s a complex mission that will have its own challenges,” Saleshando said when he made his position known a week ago.
“Good luck to those advocating for a merger, it will be interesting to observe the tactics they will use to lure the BPF into a merger,” former BNF councillor for Borakalalo Ward and former BNF Youth League Secretary General, Arafat Khan, opined in relation to BCP’s proposed position.
Mpotokwane, who is currently out in the cold from the UDC since he was ejected from the party’s NEC in 2017, said the current bickering and the expected negotiations with other parties need the presence of conveners.
“We did not belong to any party as conveners so we were objective in our submissions. If party propose any progressive idea we will support, if it is not we will not, so I would agree that even now conveners might be key for neutrality to avoid biasness,” he observed. Despite being abandoned, Mpotokwane said he will always be around to assist if at all he is needed.
“If they want help I will be there, I have always been clear about it, but surely I will ask few questions before accepting that role,” he said. UDC is expected to begin cooperation talks with both AP and BPF either this week or next weekend for both upcoming bye-elections (halted by Covid-19) and 2024 general elections and it is revealed that there will be no conveners this time around.
The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) moved through its lawyers to attach the property of Umbrella for Democratic (UDC) President Duma Boko and other former parliamentary contestants who failed in their court bid to overturn the 2019 general elections in 14 constituencies.
WeekendPost has established that this week, Deputy Sheriffs were commissioned by Bogopa Manewe Tobedza and Company who represented the BDP, to attach the properties of UDC elections contents in a bid to recover costs. High Court has issued a writ of execution against all petitioners, a process that has set in motion the cost recovery measures.
Botswana Sectors of Teachers Union (BOSETU) says COVID-19 as a pandemic has negatively affected the education sector by deeply disrupting the education system. The intermittent lockdowns have resulted in the halting of teaching and learning in schools.
The union indicated that the education system was caught napping and badly exposed when it came to the use of Information System (IT), technological platforms and issues of digitalisation.
“COVID-19 exposed glaring inefficiencies and deficiencies when it came to the use of ITC in schools. In view of the foregoing, we challenge government as BOSETU to invest in school ITC, technology and digitalization,” says BOSETU President Kinston Radikolo during a press conference on Tuesday.
As a consequence, the union is calling on government to prioritise education in her budgeting to provide technological infrastructure and equipment including provision of tablets to students and teachers.
“Government should invest vigorously in internet connectivity in schools and teacher’s residences if the concept of flexi-hours and virtual learning were to be achieved and have desired results,” Radikolo said.
Radikolo told journalists that COVID-19 is likely to negatively affect final year results saying that the students would sit for the final examinations having not covered enough ground in terms of curriculum coverage.
“This is so because there wasn’t any catch up plan that was put in place to recover the lost time by students. We warn that this year’s final examination results would dwindle,” he said.
The Union, which is an affiliate of Botswana Federation of Public, Private and Parastatal Union (BOFEPUSU), also indicated that COVID-19’s presence as a pandemic has complicated the role of a teacher in a school environment, saying a teacher’s role has not only transcended beyond just facilitating teaching and learning, but rather, a teacher in this COVID-19 era, is also called upon to enforce the COVID-19 preventative protocols in the school environment.
“This is an additional role in the duty of a teacher that needs to be recognized by the employers. Teachers by virtue of working in a congested school environment have become highly exposed and vulnerable to COVID-19, hence the reason why BOSETU would like teachers to be regarded as the frontline workers with respect to COVID-19,” says Radikolo.
BOSETU noted that the pandemic has in large scales found its way into most of the school environments, as in thus far more than 50 schools have been affected by COVID-19. The Union says this is quite a worrying phenomenon.
“As we indicated before when we queried that schools were not ready for re-opening, it has now come to pass that our fears were not far-fetched. This goes out to tell that there is deficiency in our schools when it comes to putting in place preventative protocols. In our schools, hygiene is compromised by mere absence of sanitizers, few hand-washing stations, absence of social distancing in classes,” the Union leader said.
Furthermore, Radikolo stressed that the shifting system drastically increased the workload for teachers especially in secondary schools. He says teachers in these schools experience very high loads to an extent that some of them end up teaching up to sixty four periods per week, adding that this has not only fatigued teachers, but has also negatively affected their performance and the quality of teaching.
In what the Union sees as failure to uphold and honour collective agreements by government, owing to the shift system introduced at primary schools, government is still in some instances refusing to honour an agreement with the Unions to hire more teachers to take up the extra classes.
“BOSETU notes with disgruntlement the use of pre-school teachers to teach in the mainstream schools with due regard for their specific areas of training and their job descriptions. This in our view is a variation of the terms of employment of the said teachers,” says Radikolo.
The Union has called on government to forthwith remedy this situation and hire more teachers to alleviate this otherwise unhealthy situation. BOSETU also expressed concerns of some school administrators who continuously run institutions with iron fists and in a totalitarian way.
“We have a few such hot spot schools which the Union has brought to attention the Ministry officials such as Maoka JSS, Artesia JSS, and Dukwi JSS. We are worried that the Ministry becomes sluggish in taking action against such errant school administration. In instances where action is taken, such school administrators are transferred and rotated around schools.”