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Labour movement banks on Masisi’s presidency

Botswana Federation of Public, Private and Parastatal Sectors Unions (BOFEPUSU) has said it is banking on Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi normalize relations with labour when he assumes the office of the President in April next year.

The union federation said this at a press conference on Thursday whose purpose was to summarise the year 2017 as they saw it and position them-selves for the next one which will see VP Masisi installed president in April. The Federation says it is prepared to give Masisi the benefit of the doubt.  Speaking at the press conference, BOFEPUSU Secretary General, Tobokani Rari said as an observation that Botswana is sliding way back on the issues of democracy and that’s the trade union’s conclusion this year as they await Masisi.

“We are looking forward for the incoming President Mokgweetsi Masisi on the 1st of April 2018 in terms of what his administration will do to reverse all those that the current president Lt. Gen. Seretse Khama Ian Khama did,” Rari pointed out. He waxed lyrical that Khama was a president who did not want to sit with the unions and it appears is also leaving office when he never met the trade unions despite writing to him several times asking for a meet up.

Rari continued: “so we are now looking upon the incoming president to see whether he will perpetuate what his predecessor has done that is shunning trade unions and not wanting to meet them.” On his part, BEFEPUSU deputy Secretary General Ketlhalefile Motshegwa cautions Masisi that he will inherit a rotten and arrogant civil service and therefore when he lands the highest office should start with firing Minister in the Office of the President Eric Molale, Permanent Secretary to the President (PSP) Carter Morupisi and top Permanent Secretaries and Directors if he wants to improve the performance and policies in the public service.  

On opposition cooperation

Rari said they have witnessed amazing developments in the opposition side in particular the birth of a new party Alliance for Progressives (AP) which is a splinter of the BMD following protracted disagreements. According to Rari, opposition political parties need to really have a strong mechanism of dispute resolution to avoid what led to the split of BMD.

“The issues in the BMD were left out until it was too late to an extent that at the end it was not able to be resolved. That pointed to a weakness in our opposition that while they are waiting to take over as government probably in 2019 they should also know that there are ways in which to deal with dispute resolution.”

He said the development is a set-back in the opposition political parties agenda of trying to unseat the ruling BDP. As BOFEPUSU he said they are waiting for their conference/congress which will make a pronouncement and give a way forward on opposition support since there is a split in the parties. “They will give us a word go on it and after that will make a pronouncement on it,” he emphasised. On a different note, Rari however said UDC, which they have been supporting all along, has lost track and even became distant from BOFEPUSU. On AP he said they just started and do not know yet and how it will turn out so can’t say whether they will support them or not.   

Judiciary Crisis

The BOFEPUSU Secretary General said the other issue which was of highlight this year was the crisis in the judiciary. He pointed out that the judiciary was under attack this year courtesy of the current regime of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) which did a lot of damage to the judiciary.

“It became even more glaring that the executive arm of government was encroaching into the jurisdiction of the judiciary and blaring the separation of powers when judges were suspended for flimsy reasons like on account that they failed to pay back the money (housing allowance) which they were supposed to pay back. We feel that it was deliberate as certain Judges were targeted and the excuse was used. We believe most importantly believe it doesn’t feature well in the democratic credentials of Botswana as they are slowly but surely getting eroded,” Rari insisted to the journalists.

Not only that in the judiciary but Rari also highlighted that some Judges are also facing possibility of been taken to court on the basis that they wrote and said their views about the Chief Justice and that in the event even refused to apologise, and the issue is still ongoing. “We are hearing that the Judges are under surveillance by the security apparatus of this country. This is a clear sign of interference by the executive on the operations of the judiciary,” he said.

The unionist also went on further to state that the Court of Appeal has also of recent been used as a gate keeper where cases that go against the executive are reversed or overturned at the highest court. “As if that is not enough, Khama also violated the law by refusing to appoint a certain individual in the form of Omphemetse Motumise despite the right procedures having been followed in his recruitment. The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) recommended Motumise to Khama. But Khama turned him down on the basis of reasons he could not disclose although we hear he said it’s for security reasons. The matter was before the courts and they ruled in favour of Motumise but still he has not been appointed.”

In addition to judiciary concerns for the year Rari said they also took to court a matter to say they cannot deal with Judges of the Court of Appeal that have not been appointed legally or not legally constituted through legal process. He continued: “we took it upon ourselves as role players in the democratic space of this country that we need to protect the judiciary and the case came in our favour and later on a bill was taken to parliament to legitimize what has always been the case.”

More Labour laws amendments concern

The BOFEPUSU leader asserted that they are also worried by manner in which government hurried the amendments of the labour statutes as almost all are under review and in some cases these are done at a supersonic speed that make them wonder whether they are really in good faith.

For example he explained that the statutes which regulate the labour are all under review or have already being reviewed like the Trade Dispute Act (TDA), Employment Act, Public Service Act, Trade Unions and Employers Organisations. TDA, he said they amended it not to allow certain cadres to undertake industrial action in the country. That’s why we saw Botswana making it to the top 40 countries at the International Labour Conference that are regarded as violators of the core conventions of the ILO, he pointed out.

He emphasised that ILO has got a list of conventions and there are those that are regarded as core and fundamental and one of them is convention 87 and the ILO does not take lightly if it’s violated. Botswana, he added that was charged in that they violated it because they have amended the TDA and in amending it they made employees who are not within the framework definition of ILO regarded as essential services but were made essential services.

“Botswana for the first time appeared before ILO disciplinary conference to answer to the charges before the committee of applications of standards before the ILO and they were grilled, they answered by their answered proved to be unsatisfactory and conclusions were made. Their conclusion was that Botswana should go and assemble a team of tripartite and with the expert from ILO, should then start to do amendments to reverse the amendments that they have done to the TDA to comply with convention 87.”

According to Rari, this is a dent on the democratic credentials of a country and a major highlight for this year. He stressed that it happened under the watch of the BDP government and the outgoing President Khama and therefore if there is anything that he will get out of office feeling guilty of it is one of them because he allowed it to happen under his nose.

Collapse of the Bargaining Council

The BOFEPUSU Secretary General insisted that under President Festus Mogae, President Sir Ketumile Masire, Botswana did quite ok in terms of ratification of conventions and then moving towards implementing the ratified conventions because they went further in allowing legislation being amended to go hand in hand with the ratified conventions.

He continued: “but then came in Khama, we moved about 10 steps back because he made sure that conditions for trade unions became very difficult and it even became evident this year when he bypassed the PSBC and did all they could to take the trade union to court so that the PSBC does not operate to an extent that at the end the unions become frustrated and could not operate until BOFEPUSU pulled out of the PSBC.”

He also this also applied to Commissioner of Labour who following dis-affiliation of BOFEPUSU in the PSBC, last week said now that since there are no trade union parties at the PSBC, it cannot sit and therefore said to the effect that the entity should be de-registered. “So we smell ulterior motives in the conduct of government and the Commissioner of Labour in that regard,” Rari said.

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Botswana confirms new COVID-19 variant

17th May 2021
covid19

Botswana health officials have confirmed the new COVOD-19 variant, which was first found in India. The Ministry of Health and Wellness has through a press statement informed members of the public that a new COVID-19 variant (B.1.617), first discovered in India. The Indian variant was confirmed in Botswana on 13 May 2021.

According to Christopher Nyanga, spokesperson at the Ministry, this followed a case investigation within Greater Gaborone, involving people of Indian origin who arrived in the country on the 24th April 2021.

“As at 16 May 2021, the B. 1. 617 variant was confirmed in two (2) people. The clients are currently receiving medical care and remain stable with no life-threatening symptoms. The two (2) cases were part of 383 people (both Batswana and some Indian nationals) who were tested for COVID-19. From this number, 43 tested positive, with two (2) showing the B. 1. 617 variant as already alluded to. Contact tracing has been expanded in line with COVID-19 protocols. All contacts and confirmed cases have been evacuated to facility based quarantine and isolation respectively, for close monitoring,” Nyanga narrated.

The World Health Organization recently announced that the Indian Covid-19 variant was a global concern, with some data suggesting the variant has “increased transmissibility” compared with other strains.

Meanwhile in the wake of Botswana’s confirmation of the Indian variant, Nyanga reminded the public of the government intervention to control the introduction of new variants of public health concern into the country. He stated that all those who have travelled or transited through areas of high risk as previously communicated on 3rd May 2021 upon return shall immediately quarantine in a central area to be identified by the Ministry of Health and Wellness for a period not exceeding ten (10) days; Repeat Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test after seven (7) days of quarantine and be discharged as per the outcome of the results.

He said the requirements are complementary to the mandatory requirements of producing on arrival a negative PCR test not older than 72hrs from the time the sample was collected

“The public is advised to remain vigilant and minimize the spread of COVID-19 by following the already outlined preventative measures such as washing of hands with soap or use of a hand sanitizer, wearing of face masks, avoiding crowded places/social distancing and avoiding non-essential movement,” Nyanga said.

The India variant – officially called B.1.617.2 – is one of four mutated versions of coronavirus which have been designated as being “of concern” by transitional public health bodies, with others first being identified in Kent, South Africa and Brazil.

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Khama lawyers dismiss BDP’s MacD

17th May 2021
former President Lt Gen Ian Khama

The lawyers representing former President Lt Gen Ian Khama, Ramalepa Attorneys have come forth dismissing a response letter penned down by Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) activist MacDonald Peloetletse after he was slapped with a P1.5 million lawsuit for defamation of their client.

Tebogo Tladi, an attorney at Ramalepa, said last week Thursday Peloetletse took to social media to publish a substantively false, wrongful and unlawful statement about Khama. MacDonald Peloetletse’s commentary which was posted on Gabz FM News page reads, “I am a former soldier. Everything former President SKI Khama said here is a LIE. In fact, soldiers suffered more under Khama than under his predecessors.

He actually stole money that the UN had paid to the soldiers who went for the operations and paid them less than a quarter of what was actually due to them.  “Unhappy soldiers took the BDF to court and won, the BDF is still struggling to pay the debts! Khama can fool some people, but not all the people and not all the time.

“In fact many soldiers, serving, retired and those that resigned and were in the operations during Khama’s time get even more annoyed to such disrespectful statements by Ian Khama.” Khama’s lawyer says the impugned statement was published with the intention to injure his client (Khama) in his personality rights, good name and dignity, further indicating that the statement has damaged his good reputation.

“We have therefore been instructed by Client to demand, as we hereby do, that you publish on the same forum a retraction and a full and unconditional apology to Client within three days of receipt of this letter- and that you deliver such apology in a formal letter to the Office of the Former President, Dr Khama. In the event that you have not compiled with this demand by close of business on Monday 10th May 2021, our Client will assume that you have refused to comply with this demand.”

To top it all off, Khama demands that Peloetletse pay him P1.5 million in damages for defamation. “Furthermore, we hold instructions to demand as we hereby do, that you pay our Client damages for defamation in the sum of P1, 500,000.00 within seven days of receipt of this letter.” In the event that Peloetletse fails to pay the amount of damages demanded by Khama, Tladi says they will institute legal proceedings for the recovery of the aforesaid damages.

In his response letter addressed to Ramalepa Attorneys, Peloetletse said that he requests enlightenment and clarification that he be provided with proof that the allegations and comments which they attribute to him were indeed authored by him and that the platform which the comments were placed was not hacked.

“Please also advise if whether your clients has been endowed with a “special particular privilege status” that restricts the citizens of this country from commenting or responding to public statements made by your client in the course of political discourse especially when made on public forum and relate to matters of general public concern. (I trust that your brilliant legal mind is well informed with respect to the jurisprudence in such matters)”.

Peloetletse also said he would like to share with the attorneys a video which was posted on a public forum. “Please listen carefully to the conversations and discussion herein and advice if possibly such discussions form a reasonable basis for a justifiably rebuttal by any Motswana Citizen to the public pronouncements and defamatory statements made by your client about our government (bearing in mind of course a citizens constitutional right to freedom of speech and freedom of expression).’’

Consulted for further comment on the matter on Thursday after receiving Peloetletse’s response, Khama’s attorney Tebogo Tladi said the letter doesn’t hold any water. “The only way out for him is to prove the truth of the allegations on his comment or deny publication. He does not answer substantively to the defamation and does not respond to the demand of an apology or payment of damages.

So his letter really contains largely matters irrelevant to the substance of the letter of demand. His response in fact presents no legally cognizable defence at all- it would appear he responded without the benefit of legal advice, which would not be prudent for such an important case. So we will proceed to issue summons and wait to see what defences he will plead in court.’’

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Inside the multi-million Dollar Kazungula Bridge business

17th May 2021
kazungula bridge

Botswana and Zambia this week celebrated the opening of a multi-million Dollar infrastructural project, the Kazungula Bridge, projected to contribute around P100 million annually for Botswana. This project comes after the signing of the 2012 Agreement between the two countries to construct a bridge that would ease movement of goods.

President Mokgweetsi Masisi said the Kazungula Bridge will open avenues for improved trade, job creation and economic diversification in both countries. Further, the Bridge will significantly accelerate Southern African Development Committee (SADC) regional integration agenda which Botswana and Zambia are vigorously pursuing.

“By growing our strategic partnerships through this project, we have improved the development and competitiveness of our economies to attract more private sector investment, thereby, supporting our efforts to create employment, especially for the burgeoning youth,” Masisi said at the opening ceremony in Kazungula on Monday.

The Kazungula Bridge comprises a road and rail bridge over the Zambezi River, directly linking Botswana and Zambia. It has One-Stop-Border Post facilities on both sides, which will enhance the operational efficiency at entry points, replicated on both sides of the boarder.

The Bridge was originally conceived as a critical link in the African North-South Corridor under the African Union’s New Partnership (NEPAD) for Africa’s Development programme. It has since evolved to encompass a multimodal transport plan under the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA).

The PIDA programme, which encompasses liberalisation of air travel, rail links, road, water and all other modes of transport has only one objective: to unite the States of Africa in order to foster trade on the continent

“Connectivity of our nations will in no small measure, promote people to people interactions and uplifts their standard of living. I am pleased to state that the completion of this project is a clear demonstration of our commitment to PIDA.”

The 260 million US Dollar Kazungula Bridge was commissioned by Zambian President, Edgar Lungu and President Masisi. President Lungu said the bridge was a monumental effort linking Zambia internally and externally to ease the movement of goods and services.

“I have held talks with my counterpart in Botswana that this project must run daily up to 22 hours as soon as possible and you the technocrats must not play ping-pong with us after making these public procurements,” Lungu said at the official opening in Kazungula.

For his part, DRC President Felix Tshisekedi said the project was tandem with the Africa Union (AU) goals and priority areas for Agenda 2063 which called for a prosperous Africa, based on inclusive growth and sustainable development.

KAZUNGULA FERRY

The new Kazungula Bridge replaces the Kazungula Ferry, a pontoon ferry across the 400-metre-wide Zambezi River between Botswana and Zambia. It was one of the largest ferries in South-Central Africa, having a capacity of 70 tonnes.

In 2003 the ferry was the site of a disaster when a severely overloaded Zambian truck capsized one of the pontoons and 18 people drowned. The accident was blamed on the lack of weighbridges in Zambia to check the weight of trucks.

In August 2007, the governments of Zambia and Botswana announced a deal to construct a bridge at the site to replace the ferry. The existence of a short boundary of about 150 meters between Zambia and Botswana was apparently agreed to during various meetings involving Heads of State and officials from all four States in the 2006-2010 period.

The route for this new bridge crosses the boundary without entering Zimbabwe and Namibia. Zimbabwe already has a bridge into Zambia at Victoria Falls, 70KM from Kazungula. Namibia on the other hand has a bridge into Zambia at Katima Mulilo about 150KM upriver.

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