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.
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.
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.