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Makgonatsotlhe blasts Btv over bias

Augustine Makgonatsotlhe, a relatively new appointee who was selected by President Lt. Gen. Dr. Seretse Khama Ian Khama to be an Ombudsman just a year ago is a man on a mission.

In his endeavour to make maximum impact in his new role, he released a hard-hitting report this week “authenticating” the state broadcaster Botswana television’s complaints of “biasness”. He implied that the station is favouring the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) at the expense of opposition parties in terms of coverage. The report was a response to a complaint lodged on 15 February 2016 by a member of the public, who also happens to be Vice President of the opposition Botswana National Front (BNF) Reverend Dr. Prince Dibeela.

In his report to the accusation directed to Btv, Mokgonatsotlhe also clearly stated in his findings that indeed Btv has given the ruling party an undue advantage by their unbalanced coverage of political party activities and the documents (Btv mandate and editorial guidelines) provided by the respondents (Btv management) clearly supports the claim. He observed that it resulted in injustice to other political parties and those with an interest in Botswana’s political sphere as they were denied the opportunity to compete fairly with the ruling party.

“It is my view therefore that Btv’s coverage of political party activities does not meet the requirements of balance, equity and inclusiveness as set out under mandate and guidelines. Such needs to be corrected in order for Btv to play its role properly and effectively,” the Ombudsman lashed out in the report. He revealed that Btv availed a document titled “BDP, BCP and UDC stories aired on Btv from June 2016 to May 17, 2017” which showed the unfairness in coverage of political parties in Botswana.
The document, he said, lists a total of 90 events, out of which only 1 titled “BDP VP-BCL” of 18 October 2016, does not immediately come out as a political party activity.

“Of the 89 (eighty nine), 73 (seventy three) were for the ruling party and only 16 (sixteen) for the combined opposition parties, BCP included. In terms of percentages this accounts for 82% coverage for the BDP against 18% for the combined opposition,” he said. The Ombudsman said Btv, also specifically relied on the document in denying the allegation that it rarely covered the events of opposition parties, arguing that they regularly cover those and that nothing can be further from the truth than the accusation.

“In response to the question on what influences their decision to cover political party events and whether the identity of the party has any role in influencing such, Btv stated that they aspire to cover all newsworthy events, which was however, not always possible due to resource constraints.” As such the state broadcaster officials said they have to prioritise, a process that is influenced by factors such as newsworthiness, magnitude of the event, availability of resources, and the need for “inclusion.”
The Btv management emphasised that the leadership and top government officials are thus given priority coverage in order to inform Batswana on service delivery of government and also to get their feedback.

“In my assessment, and unless some information has been left out, the picture painted by the document cited is not one of equity, balance and inclusiveness in the coverage of political party activities,” Makgonatsotlhe maintained in the scathing report.
He continued: “it cannot be equitable, in my view, that out of the 89 political party events aired on national broadcaster who seeks ‘to ensure that the public is fully informed of the policies and programmes of all political players’ and to provide ‘equity and balance’ in their coverage of such, that one party enjoys 82% coverage compared to 18% for the rest.”

According to Makgonatsotlhe, the issue of newsworthiness as referred to by Btv, is hard to believe because out of the 89 activities, only 16 from the combined opposition were found to be newsworthy, compared to 73 from the ruling party.
In the report, the Ombudsman said that in his view the allocation of airtime slots on Btv is an administrative function of the leadership of that entity, and that he found that they have, in the performance of such, unduly favoured the ruling party over the opposition, thus giving them undue advantage in obtaining political mileage.

He said that clearly caused an injustice to the opposition parties and gave the complainant (Dibeela), being a member of the public with an interest in influencing Botswana’s political landscape, the right to raise the complaint with the Ombudsman.
“Finally, the reference to the activities of the leadership and high ranking government officials appears to be inapplicable in this case as all the events listed were clearly political in nature and have nothing to do with government policy or service delivery. The events here cited were either celebratory of the achievements of the particular political party or were meant to inform the public of its activities, or to prepare it and its members for forthcoming bye elections. A failure to achieve balance and equity in the coverage of such activities therefore gave one party an undue advantage over the others.”   

He pointed out that Btv should therefore ensure a proper application of the principles stated in their mandate and editorial guidelines to ensure that their reporting of political party activities is balanced, inclusive and equitable, both in terms of the content and on the number of events covered.

What prompted the investigation of Btv?

Having received the complaint the ombudsman was relying on section 3 (1) to investigate the matter. The said section states “subject to the provisions of this section, the Ombudsman may investigate any action taken by or on behalf of a government department or other authority to which this Act applies, being action in the exercise of administrative function of that department or authority, in any case where: a) a complaint is made to the Ombudsman by a member of the public who claims to have sustained injustice in consequence of mal-administration in connection with the action so taken.” Also as per section 8(1) of the Ombudsman Act No. 5 of 1995, Makgonatsotlhe said he sent the report to a concerned department, Btv, Department of Broadcasting Services (DBS) which falls directly under the Office of the President for the “injustices to be corrected”.

Ombudsman rebukes Btv while praising BBC, SABC models

According to Makgonatsotlhe, when compared to other broadcasters like Britain’s British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and South Africa’s South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), BTV is left un-wanting and leaves a lot to be desired, particularly it’s set up. Btv, unlike BBC and the SABC, he said, is an entity under the Department of Broadcasting Services of the Government of Botswana.

“It was not established or created by any law and, only operates under the two documents as already provided (Btv mandate and editorial guidelines), whereas BBC and SABC have both been created by some instruments called Charters which are laid out in their founding legislations. The documents are its foundation and provide the necessary guidance on its operations.” What Btv can learn from BBC, Makgonatsotlhe said, is that there is a Charter which provides, amongst others, the appointment of Governors.

The Governor’s duties include, amongst others, setting clear objectives and priorities for the BBC and monitoring how they have been met; ensuring that the BBC is directed and managed in the public interest; is accountable to the license fee payers and parliament and ensuring that the BBC complies with the law and maintains high standards.     
The Ombudsman continued to highlight that the SABC on the other hand, is also created by a Charter as a public broadcaster and makes provision for the appointment of a Board of Directors. He also said the Charter is laid out in Chapter IV of the Broadcasting Act and requires the SABC to provide a wide range of programmes that advance the national and public interest.
He explained that in a democratic set up like Botswana, it is therefore, imperative that institutions such as a national broadcaster should be: established by law or some instrument that will clearly spell out their mandates and governance structures; transparent in the discharge of their mandates and functions; and accountable to the nation and parliament in particular.

What model is Btv and what prompted the report?

According to documents the station’s mandate is to promote and publicise government’s programmes, projects and national events for the benefit of the citizenry. In so doing, they are guided by internal and professional standards and guidelines. The document further states that Btv observes a professional media code of conduct and ethics. It says Btv espouses high journalism ideals, including accurate, balanced, fair and equitable reporting.

The editorial guidelines provide that both employees of Radio Botswana and Btv will “ensure that during political and election broadcasts the public is fully informed about the policies and programmes of all political players”. That notwithstanding, Dibeela alleged that, although it is a public broadcaster and is sustained through the taxes paid by all citizens, whose interest it is supposed to serve, Btv is instead used to serve the interests of the ruling BDP, in that: it rarely airs programs of opposition parties and regularly bombards the public with BDP propaganda.

To expand his allegations, Dibeela highlighted the broadcasters’ failure to air the unveiling of the tombstone of one of Botswana’s former opposition leaders, Dr. Kenneth Koma in November 2015, as well as the reception of Dr. Margaret Nasha, a former BDP activist, into opposition party ranks on 14 February 2016, although the station employees were present at both events.

Dibeela as such explained that Btv’s editorial policy totally excludes coverage of opposition party events, and allow for the over editing of shots to the point where the stories were rendered incomprehensible. He also complained to the ombudsman that the station allows for the late airing of stories after the events, when people would have psychologically moved on and were no longer expecting them. Such, according to the complainant (Dibeela) amounted to abuse of a public facility and was tantamount to mal-administration.

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 Zakhem vindicated

15th September 2021
Zakhem

Botswana Football Association (BFA) leadership appears to be bowing down to Nicolas Zakhem’s football pressure. The development comes to the open roughly 24 hours after the Gaborone United director publicly labelled Maclean Letshwiti and his committee failures for deciding to chop five premier league clubs under the pretext of club licensing disqualification.

As early as Wednesday noon, the BFA emergency committee met with one agenda item to discuss the possibility of reinstating the clubs. This publication gathers that the committee saw it fit to pardon the five clubs without entertaining a second thought. The committee even invited the clubs to the meeting, sources say.

Late last month, the five teams were disqualified from playing in the premier league, pending the appeal outcome. The teams are Notwane, Extension Gunners, BR Highlanders, Mogoditshane Fighters, together with Gilport Lions. The immediate decision by BFA follows what Zakhem had said and advised that it was wrong to chop clubs given the COVID-19 situation in the country.

Unbeknownst to BFA leadership, observers stress that Zakhem exerted public pressure and influenced them to change tone without asking. At the meeting, BFA president Maclean Letshwiti, his vices, Marshlow Motlogelwa and Masego Ntshingane, Aryl Ralebala, the Botswana Football League (BFL) chairman, together with Alec Fela, an ordinary member in the now stubborn NEC.

However, the reactive move by the association to reinstate the clubs is highly welcomed in certain quarters, but it also appears to have left a permanent scar, especially at BFL. As things stand, the general feeling on the ground is to oust chairman Ralebala for failing to defend these clubs before the eyes of President Letshwiti.

This publication has intercepted an ongoing petition to unseat Ralebala and his deputies from the BFL board. Strange enough, the signed petition has thus far attracted clubs with household influence in the league itself. GU, Township Rollers, Notwane, Extension Gunners, Police XI are some clubs that have already appended their signatures to have Ralebala removed.

The big clubs are believed to fighting for principle and demand fair governance at BFL. The reality is that these clubs command a large following, and sponsors can always have a say based on their presence.

When approached for clarity, Ralebala said he could not comment on allegations or issues that lack substance. He concedes that he has heard about the rolling petition but is yet to lay his eyes on it.
“I have heard about the petition, but I don’t know where it is coming from. I think it is best you ask those who have signed it. My focus is to commence the league and make sure everything is on point,” said Ralebala.

Football observers state that Ralebala, together with Letshwiti, are now faced with a dilemma. Reports coming from Lekidi Football Centre, although yet to be fabricated, are that the big guns lead others to form a parallel structure where they will play on their league. The clubs are angry at their chairman for taking many of the instructions from the BFA boss, and already a general melee is gathering traction that the two must resign as football has lost direction.

Zakhem says, although he supported Letshwiti, he has a sense of duty to stand for the truth. “I knew I supported Letshwiti and his troops, but you see, these guys have lost direction. I have long advised them that chopping clubs like this will cause confusion and delay progress, but they cannot listen. Letshwiti gave BFL autonomy, but I do not know why he is still interfering,” Zakhem said.

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The untold brighter side of the P100bn case fall

15th September 2021
President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi

You may, by now, have heard about the dark side of the high profile P100 billion case, but wait, there is also the brighter side. Staff Writer AUBREY LUTE explores the positives accruing from the fall of the country’s biggest financial ‘scam-dal’.

A chance to fix the country’s financial record

They have not publicly been saying it, but the state agencies and the President, Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi, have been at pains to explain and rationalise how an amount almost equal to the country’s GPD left the central bank.

Many insiders attributed the country‘s troubled financial status to the case, including the grey-listing, non-compliance and identified deficiencies, some of which were hitting citizens around the globe. Botswana was in 2018 taken aback by FATF news that the country has been listed alongside countries that do not comply with (AML/CFT). The European Union Commission later flagged Botswana in March 2019 for lacking strategic deficiencies in AML/CFT regulations.

A chance to restore the dignity of the law enforcement arms

The case, without a doubt, was a distraction object on the law enforcement agencies, which spent a chunk of their time bickering and finger-pointing. A leaked audio recording exposing the explosive meeting of the law enforcement arms of government, being the Intelligence Services, Corruption and Economic Crimes agency, and the Prosecutions division summed it all.

The case presented a monumental crisis threatening the core of their being. Following these developments, the Presidency, clearly under the influence of a tripartite member, took a spine-chilling decision to disband the DCEC, a move that was saved by the organisation’s founding director- Tymon Katlholo’s bold protest.

The DPP, the Police, and the DCEC staff were used in the process to carry out bizarre instructions, some of which left the state with an egg on its face. Mistrust and backstabbing were the order of the day within the law enforcement agencies, and the P100 billion case was to blame. “Some badly wanted the plot executed while the other side badly wanted it to end to restore sanity,” an insider says.

The source further adds that “if the case did not end soon, it was going to end a lot of people’s relationships and careers because those who refused to carry the insane instructions were seen as sympathisers to former President Ian Khama.” With the case having fallen, these agencies can reflect, reconcile and go back to work.

A chance to fix diplomatic relations…

It was not only South Africa that was accused of Sabotaging Botswana’s prosecutorial goal. The state also accused several countries of refusing or delaying to assist in the process. Of all the nations, only South Africa has decided to take Botswana to task, perhaps on its proximity to Botswana. Others long ignored Botswana’s requests for assistance to the frustration of former DPP deputy director who repeatedly told the courts that they were struggling to get responses from the international community. With the case having fallen, Botswana may get a chance to face her actions, apologise and rectify the promise that lessons have been learnt.

Pressure off the shoulders of those who have to account…

The case did not only affect the law enforcement agencies. All the stakeholders were put in the spotlight to provide answers. The first to bolt out of the circle was the central bank, Moses Pelaelo, who, like DCEC director-general, long declared the case a scam. He told the world that his books were in order and that no money was missing risking his high-paying job.

According to insiders, his superiors, the then Minister of Finance and Development Planning – Dr Matsheka and his subordinate, Dr Wildfred Mandlebe, were only whispering, without success, to the Gods that there is no money missing.

So concerned and under pressure was Dr Sethibe- then the head of the Financial Intelligence Agency- who, like his Ministry supervisors, was engaging in silent screams to warn the powers that be, all in vain. He later jumped the ship to his former employer, the University of Botswana, allegedly to protect his name and career.

At the time of the fall of the case, the DIS and the DPP were at advanced plans to higher American to come and probe the Bank of Botswana’s servers in a move that bankers feared could compromise them further.

The case was bleeding the country’s coffers…

Had it not ended, the case was likely to end up ‘genuinely’ costing the country P100 billion Pula duo to its complexity and challenges. Insiders say sources who had sold the law enforcement agencies some falsified documents were paid handsomely.

Moreover, investigations were costly as they involved the international community and frequent travelling. “We are told there was also motivation for some officers to act abysmally and out of their way,” an insider said.

Lessons leant for public officers…

Public officers are often duty-bound to obey superiors instructions, no matter how irrational. The case was an eye-opener to many public officers that principle pays in the discharge of one’s duty at all times. The professional careers of the P100 billion case conspirators are currently in shambles. And as expected, the influencers, if at all there any, are nowhere to be seen.

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Botswana could exit FATF “greylisting” in October 

15th September 2021
President Dr Masisi & Minister of Finance and Economic Development Peggy Serame

Botswana remains on the grey list of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and the “black list” of the European Union, a status quo that highlights the country as one of the high-risk jurisdictions to deal with money.

The far-reaching implications of these listings is a compromised Foreign Direct Investment drive for Botswana. In particular, these listings mean investors now have to exercise some caution and restrain when thinking about putting their money in Botswana. On Tuesday, Minister of Finance and Economic Development Peggy Serame said that Botswana could see itself out of the “undesirable listing” by October this year.

Serame called for united and concerted efforts towards liberating Botswana out of this financial noncompliance tag. She said the delisting could be archived by concerted efforts from all stakeholders: players in the financial services sector, non-financial services businesses, regulators, and every individual who deals with transactions.

Botswana is a founding member of the Eastern and Southern Africa Anti-Money Laundering Group (ESAAMLG). This regional body subscribes to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to combat money laundering and financing of terrorism and proliferation.

One of the membership obligations to ESAAMLG is for Botswana to be peer-reviewed by the other Member States and other international bodies like the World Bank, IMF or FATF.
The most recent assessment for Botswana to gauge compliance with the FATF standards was conducted by ESAAMLG in 2016 and culminated with publishing the Mutual Evaluation Report (MER) in 2017.

Following the discussion and adoption by the Task Force and approval of the MER by the Council of Ministers, the country was placed under enhanced follow-up.  This led to a one (1) year observation period in which the country was expected to improve its technical compliance (legislative framework) by correcting the deficiencies identified in the MER.

After one year, in October 2018, the Task Force decided that the country was not taking sufficient steps to implement the recommendations made by the assessors in the MER.  The Task Force recommended that Botswana be referred to the International Cooperation Review Group (ICRG) for monitoring and potential listing often referred to as the ‘FATF greylisting”.

Following the FATF greylisting, the EU placed Botswana on its list of high-risk third countries, often referred to as the ‘black list.’ In 2018, Botswana and FATF agreed to an Action Plan that had six items with several timelines. In terms of Risk and coordination, Botswana was told to develop and implement a risk-based comprehensive national AML/CFT strategy, assess the risks associated with legal persons, legal arrangements, and NPOs, and operationalize the modernized company registry to obtain and maintain essential information and Ultimate Beneficial Ownership information.

Botswana was further advised to enhance the capacity of the supervisory staff, including by developing risk-based supervision manuals and providing adequate training, implement risk-based AML/CFT supervision and impose sanctions against violations.

Furthermore, Botswana was instructed to improve analysis and dissemination of financial intelligence by the Financial Intelligence Unit, including operationalizing an online Suspicious Transactions Report filing platform and prioritizing high-risk predicate crimes, and enhancing the use of financial intelligence among the relevant law enforcement agencies.

Regarding terrorism financing investigation, Botswana was instructed to develop and implement a Counter Financing of Terrorism Strategy, operationalize the Counter-Terrorism Analysis and Fusion Centre, and ensure the Terrorism Financing investigation capacity of the law enforcement agencies.

In 2018, the 11th Parliament passed 25 pieces and, later, six others related to AML/CFT/CFP. At the just ended Parliamentary session of the 12th Parliament, lawmakers passed the Financial Intelligence (Amendment) Act to address the definition of beneficial ownership.

Cabinet approved the National AML/CFT/CFP Strategy of 2019-2024 in October 2019. At the June 2021 FATF Plenary meetings, the FATF made the initial determination that Botswana had substantially addressed the Action Plan and that this warranted an on-site assessment to verify that the implementation of Botswana’s AML/CFT/CFP reforms is in place and is being sustained.
Furthermore, an assessment was to be instituted to check if the necessary political commitment remains to sustain implementation in the future.

Serame said in a televised press briefing that Botswana’s exit from the FATF grey list and the EU black list would be determined by the outcome of the on-site assessment, which will be discussed at the FATF Plenary in October 2021.

She revealed that the Botswana delegation attended the Eastern and Southern Africa Anti-Money Laundering Group 42nd Task Force of Senior Officials meeting from the 26th August to the 6th September 2021, followed by the Council of Ministers on the 7th September 2021.

She told the media that at these meetings, Botswana was commended for making progress in complying with the FATF standards by addressing deficiencies in her AML/CFT/CFP framework.
“We are making all these efforts of complying with the FATF standards so that we guard against our financial system being used for money laundering, terrorism financing and proliferation financing,” she said.

“We are hopeful that at the October 2021 FATF Plenary meetings, the outcome of the on-site visit undertaken by the FATF in August 2021 will bear positive results, leading to Botswana being delisted from the FATF greylisting,” she said. However, Minister Serame called on all stakeholders to support the government to remove Botswana from the greylisting.

“As Government continues its efforts of putting in place the necessary legislative and institutional framework, due diligence must be exercised by all institutions, including the ordinary Motswana, so that no one is found dealing with financiers whose credibility is wanting,” she said.

The minister reiterated that all players in the financial services sector had a role to play: “It is important that where unsolicited funds are offered, the individual or entity so receiving the offer must ensure that the funds being offered are not associated with unlawful acts. If we are not diligent, criminals may use unsuspecting people and entities to launder proceeds of crime.”

She reiterated that the government is committed to doing all within its power to remove the country from the FATF “grey list” and the EU “black list”. However, she noted that to achieve that requires the cooperation and assistance of financial institutions, designated non-financial businesses and professions and individuals to ensure full compliance with AML/CFT/CFP rules and regulations.

“These efforts will not only assist us to be removed from these mentioned lists but are for the benefit of our country to maintain a high standard of financial prudence and an economy which genuine investors can have the confidence to invest in,” Serame explained.

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