Speaker of the National Assembly, Gladys Kokorwe has said Duma Boko’s statement on Botswana China relations in 2016 that was expunged from the parliamentary minutes contained untruths, offensive and insulting language about members of the Assembly and in particular President Lt. Ian Khama.
This has come to the fore following Boko’s decision to challenge parliament’s decision to expunge from the Hansard his statement made on Febraury 26 2016 regarding Botswana/China relations, a decision he said infringed on his freedom of expression rights. The case will be heard by Justice Godfrey Radijeng at the Gaborone High Court on March 22.
In the case, Boko is suing both the speaker of the national assembly and the Attorney General, Abraham Keetshabe. The Leader of Opposition is seeking leave of the court to call upon Kokorwe to show cause why her decision to expunge his statements from the Hansard should not be reviewed and set aside; and also for the court to declare Kokorwe’s decision to expunge his views from the Hansard to be an unconstitutional infringement of his right to freedom of expression.
During his speech in the National Assembly on February 26, 2016, Boko had said: “We hear of alleged closure of the embassy of China. This closure temporary as it may have been, carried a potent and ominous message for our country and its people. It was ascribed to the bruing diplomatic tensions between the Botswana and Chinese governments. The government of Botswana had in one of its many instances of thoughtless enthusiasm issued a condemnatory statement against The People’s Republic of China in respect of certain unresolved issues and territorial claims to the South China Sea.” The aforesaid statement is untrue and offensive to the President.
“We observed in fairness to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Relations, that the statement could not have been crafted by mature, measured and able Honorable Venson Moitoi or her circle of professional diplomats. We have it on good authority that it is yet another Act by the over-zealous and immature Office of the President which continues to govern and operate on unbridled emotion and astonishing lack of foresight. We pray and hope that this callous mismanagement of our foreign policy does not plunge our country into an abyss from which we may not be able to extricate ourselves.”
In her replying affidavit, Kokorwe also stated that it “shall be out of order” to use offensive and insulting language about members of the assembly. “Boko was not only highly critical and uncomplimentary to the Botswana government, but offensive and insulting in the use of language to members of the Assembly and sought to impute improper motives to the President,” she noted.
She urged the court to show its displeasure regarding the applicant’s language by making a special costs order against him. However, Kokorwe said that she did not take the decision to remove Boko’s statement, saying instead, “The decision was taken by the National Assembly as a collective.” She further challenged the BNF president to cite the National Assembly as a respondent in the case as “failure to do so renders the application fatally flawed”.
“At no stage did I decide to expunge or allow to be expunged from the Hansard any statement by the applicant. On contrary, a motion was duly adopted by the National Assembly by majority vote to expunge the applicant’s statement on the basis that it contained untruths and plead with offensive and insulting language about members of the Assembly and in particular the President .”
Kokorwe further argued that at the heart of the application lay the right of the National Assembly to regulate its own procedures and conduct of the members thereof. She said in terms of the doctrine of separation of powers, the court has no jurisdiction to rule on matters falling within the exclusive domain of the legislature. According to Kokorwe, a motion to rescind and expunge from the minutes is a well-known exceptional motion by which the entire membership of the National Assembly expresses its strongest disapproval about the conduct of a member. The motion, she stated, requires a majority vote.
“There simply was no shutdown temporarily or otherwise of the Chinese Embassy in Botswana and the reference by the applicant to allegations that abounded does not make it true,” she noted. According to Kokorwe, immediately after the statement was made, a Member of Parliament for Francistown West, Ignatius Moswaane submitted a written notification to her that he wished to introduce a motion in respect of a definite matter of urgent public importance in order to expunge the applicant’s statement from the minutes on the basis that the facts stated therein were untrue.
On April 8, 2016 Moswaane requested her to extend the daily order paper to include a motion to the effect “that this speaker adopt a motion calling for the speaker to expunge from records of parliament the statement made by Boko regarding the claims that the Chinese Embassy was closed and that our government was irresponsible to make statements that affects international matters.”
She said having allowed a debate on a point of order; she allowed the motion to be debated. “The debate was, however, short-lived and chaotic. I adjourned the Assembly. On July 7, 2016 I allowed Moswaane to speak to the aforesaid motion and allowed a debate about the motion,” she stated. “I regarded the matter urgent because I deemed it necessary that the debate should take place in the presence of the applicant in order for him to participate freely in the debate. The applicant however, did not regularly attend meetings of the National Assembly.”
Kokorwe said while she admits that no official institution may be transformed into an instrument of political party propaganda, she denies the removal from the minutes of the applicant’s speech has that effect. The Minister of Foreign Affairs Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi corroborated Kokorwe’s speech, adding that during the time when Boko made a speech the Embassy of China was not closed and “neither was closure threatened by the Chinese government”
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.