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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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Mowana Mine to open, pay employees millions

18th January 2022
Mowana Mine

Mowana Copper Mine in Dukwi will finally pay its former employees a total amount of P23, 789, 984.00 end of this month. For over three years Mowana Copper Mine has been under judicial management. Updating members, Botswana Mine Workers Union (BMWU) Executive Secretary Kitso Phiri this week said the High Court issued an order for the implementation of the compromise scheme of December 9, 2021 and this was to be done within 30 days after court order.

“Therefore payment of benefits under the scheme including those owed to Messina Copper Botswana employees should be effected sometime in January latest end of January 2022,” Kitso said. Kitso also explained that cash settlement will be 30 percent of the total Messina Copper Botswana estate and negotiated estate is $3,233,000 (about P35, 563,000).

Messina Copper was placed under liquidation and was thereafter acquired by Leboam Holdings to operate Mowana Mine. Leboam Holdings struck a deal with the Messina Copper’s liquidator who became a shareholder of Leboam Holdings. Leboam Holdings could not service its debts and its creditors placed it under provisional judicial management on December 18, 2018 and in judicial management on February 28, 2019.

A new company Max Power expressed interest to acquire the mining operations. It offered to take over the Mowana Mine from Leboam Holdings, however, the company had to pay the debts of Leboam including monies owed to Messina Copper, being employees benefits and other debts owed to other creditors.

The monies, were agreed to be paid through a scheme of compromise proposed by Max Power, being a negotiated payment schedule, which was subject to the financial ability of the new owners. “On December 9, 2021, Messina Copper liquidator, called a meeting of creditors, which the BMWU on behalf of its members (former Messina Copper employees) attended, to seek mandate from creditors to proceed with a proposed settlement for Messina Copper on the scheme of compromise. It is important to note that employee benefits are regarded as preferential credit, meaning once a scheme is approved they are paid first.”

Negotiated estate is P35, 563,000

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Councilors’ benefits debacle-savingram reveals detail

18th January 2022

A savingram the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development sent to Town Clerks and Council Secretaries explaining why councilors across the country should not have access to their terminal benefits before end of their term has been revealed.

The contents of the savingram came out in the wake of a war of words between counselors and the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development. The councilors through the Botswana Association of Local Authorities (BALA) accuse the Ministry of refusing to allow them to have access to their terminal benefits before end of their term.

This has since been denied by the Ministry.  In the savingram to town councils and council secretaries across the country, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development Molefi Keaja states that, “Kindly be advised that the terminal benefits budget is made during the final year of term of office for Honorable Councilors.”  Keaja reminded town clerks and council secretaries that, “The nominal budget Councils make each and every financial year is to cater for events where a Councilor’s term of office ends before the statutory time due to death, resignation or any other reason.”

The savingram also goes into detail about why the government had in the past allowed councilors to have access to their terminal benefits before the end of their term.  “Regarding the special dispensation made in the 2014-2019, it should be noted that the advance was granted because at that time there was an approved budget for terminal benefits during the financial year,” explained Keaja.  He added that, “Town Clerks/Council Secretaries made discretions depending on the liquidity position of Councils which attracted a lot of audit queries.”

Keaja also revealed that councils across the country were struggling financially and therefore if they were to grant councilors access to their terminal benefits, this could leave their in a dire financial situation.  Given the fact that Local Authorities currently have cash flow problems and budgetary constraints, it is not advisable to grant terminal benefits advance as it would only serve to compound the liquidity problems of councils.

It is understood that the Ministry was inundated with calls from some Councils as they sought clarification regarding access to their terminal benefits. The Ministry fears that should councils pay out the terminal benefits this would affect their coffers as the government spends a lot on councilors salaries.

Reports show that apart from elected councilors, the government spends at least P6, 577, 746, 00 on nominated councilors across the country as their monthly salaries. Former Assistant Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Botlogile Tshireletso once told Parliament that in total there are 113 nominated councilors and their salaries per a year add up to P78, 933,16.00. She added that their projected gratuity is P9, 866,646.00.

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Households spending to drive economic recovery

17th January 2022

A surge in consumer spending is expected to be a key driver of Botswana’s economic recovery, according to recent projections by Fitch Solutions. Fitch Solutions said it forecasts household spending in Botswana to grow by a real rate of 5.9% in 2022.

The bullish Fitch Solutions noted that “This is a considerable deceleration from 9.4% growth estimated in 2021, it comes mainly from the base effects of the contraction of 2.5% recorded in 2020,” adding that, “We project total household spending (in real terms) to reach BWP59.9bn (USD8.8bn) in 2022, increasing from BWP56.5bn (USD8.3bn) in 2021.”  According to Fitch Solutions, this is higher than the pre-Covid-19 total household spending (in real terms) of P53.0 billion (USD7.8bn) in 2019 and it indicates a full recovery in consumer spending.

“We forecast real household spending to grow by 5.9% in 2022, decelerating from the estimated growth of 9.4% in 2021. We note that the Covid-19 pandemic and the related restrictions on economic activity resulted in real household spending contracting by 2.5% in 2020, creating a lower base for spending to grow from in 2021 and 2022,” Fitch Solutions says.

Total household spending (in real terms), the agency says, will increase in 2022 when compared to 2021. In 2021 and 2022, total household spending (in real terms) will be above the pre-Covid-19 levels in 2019, indicating a full recovery in consumer spending, says Fitch Solutions.  It says as of December 6 2021 (latest data available), 38.4% of people in Botswana have received at least one vaccine dose, while this is relatively low it is higher than Africa average of 11.3%.

“The emergence of new Covid-19 variants such as Omicron, which was first detected in the country in November 2021, poses a downside risk to our outlook for consumer spending, particularly as a large proportion of the country’s population is unvaccinated and this could result in stricter measures being implemented once again,” says Fitch Solutions.

Growth will ease in 2022, Fitch Solution says. “Our forecast for an improvement in consumer spending in Botswana in 2022 is in line with our Country Risk team’s forecast that the economy will grow by a real rate of 5.3% over 2022, from an estimated 12.5% growth in 2021 as the low base effects from 2020 dissipate,” it says.

Fitch Solutions notes that “Our Country Risk team expects private consumption to be the main driver of Botswana’s economic growth in 2022, as disposable incomes and the labour market continue to recover from the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.”
It says Botswana’s tourism sector has been negatively impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and the related travel restrictions.

According to Fitch Solutions, “The emergence of the Omicron variant, which was first detected in November 2021, has resulted in travel bans being implemented on Southern African countries such as South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Eswatini. This will further delay the recovery of Botswana’s tourism sector in 2021 and early 2022.”  Fitch Solutions, therefore, forecasts Botswana’s tourist arrivals to grow by 81.2% in 2022, from an estimated contraction of 40.3% in 2021.

It notes that the 72.4% contraction in 2020 has created a low base for tourist arrivals to grow from.  “The rollout of vaccines in South Africa and its key source markets will aid the recovery of the tourism sector over the coming months and this bodes well for the employment and incomes of people employed in the hospitality industry, particularly restaurants and hotels as well as recreation and culture businesses,” the report says.

Fitch Solutions further notes that with economies reopening, consumers are demanding products that they had little access to over the previous year. However, manufacturers are facing several problems.  It says supply chain issues and bottlenecks are resulting in consumer goods shortages, feeding through into supply-side inflation.  Fitch Solutions believes the global semiconductor shortage will continue into 2022, putting the pressure on the supply of several consumer goods.

It says the spread of the Delta variant is upending factory production in Asia, disrupting shipping and posing more shocks to the world economy. Similarly, manufacturers are facing shortages of key components and higher raw materials costs, the report says adding that while this is somewhat restricted to consumer goods, there is a high risk that this feeds through into more consumer services over the 2022 year.

“Our global view for a notable recovery in consumer spending relies on the ability of authorities to vaccinate a large enough proportion of their populations and thereby experience a notable drop in Covid-19 infections and a decline in hospitalisation rates,” says Fitch Solutions.
Both these factors, it says, will lead to governments gradually lifting restrictions, which will boost consumer confidence and retail sales.

“As of December 6 2021, 38.4% of people in Botswana have received at least one vaccine dose. While this is low, it is higher than the Africa average of 11.3%. The vaccines being administered in Botswana include Pfizer-BioNTech, Sinovac and Johnson & Johnson. We believe that a successful vaccine rollout will aid the country’s consumer spending recovery,” says Fitch Solutions.  Therefore, the agency says, “Our forecasts account for risks that are highly likely to play out in 2022, including the easing of government support. However, if other risks start to play out, this may lead to forecast revisions.”

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