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.
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.
Despite the President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi and his Namibian counterpart, Hage Geingob giving an impression that the borderline security disputes are a thing of the past and that diplomatic ties remain tight, fresh developments from Namibia suggest otherwise, following Geingod’s close confidante’s attack on Botswana and its army.
Giving a Zambezi region state of the affairs last week, a Geingob-appointed governor of Zambezi region, Colonel Lawrence Ampofu, a retired Colonel in the Namibian Defence Force, former plan combatant during the liberation struggle of Namibia, in a written speech, charged at the BDF and condemned their killings of the Namibians as unacceptable.
“The security situation within our borders remains calm. The incidence of the Botswana Defence Force shootings and wanton killings on the Nchindo Brothers on 05 November 2020 and other 37 Namibian lives lost since independence remain a serious challenge with our neighbor, Botswana.
Our residents living along the Chobe, Linyanti and Kwandu rivers are living under constant threats, harassment, fear, intimidation and killings and such activities are condemned and not acceptable,” he said under the safety and security title.
The attack suggests that Namibia has not bought Botswana’s story. Ampofu was part of the entourage that accompanied Geingob to the three Nchindo brothers and their cousin who were gunned down by the BDF, and is reported to be privy to the details of the unpublished Botswana-Namibia joint investigations report about the killings as a governor or political head of the region which has eight electoral constituencies.
The report contains the sensitive details of how the three Namibians referred as poachers by the BDF – and Fisherman by the Namibian government were gunned down on 5 November last year along the Chobe River. They were Tommy (48), Martin (40) and Wamunyima Nchindo (36), and their cousin Sinvula Muyeme (44).
His views are not really in contrast to his President’s views who also described the BDF as trigger happy in a scripted report to his cabinet.
The Zambezi region is located in the extreme north east part of Namibia and covers a total of 14,667.6 square kilometres. “We share borders with Angola, Zambia to the north, Zimbabwe to the east and Botswana to the South,” he said.
Sampofu was first appointed governor of the former Caprive Region in 2010 by the former Namibian president, Hifikepunye Pohamba and was reappointed as Zambezi governor by President Dr.Hage Geingob in 2015, a term running to 2025.
37 Namibia residents killed by Botswana army so far
Sampofu is a man who continues to insist that Botswana has killed 37 residents of his region. A video posted by the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) shows him alleging that at least 37 Namibians were killed by the BDF, after he met with the community at Impalila.
“It is true, the BDF started long ago. As we speak 37 lives have been lost here in Impalila along the Chobe river going to Linyanti and Kwado rivers up to Lizauli. All those families lost their loved ones,” Ampofu said in the video posted by NBC.
It is not known how the BDF, which has maintained their position that the Namibians were engaging in illegal activities of poaching, treats the constant attacks by the Namibian authorities, but they have repeatedly vowed to continue protecting the country’s sovereignty and natural resources.
Botswana’s premier brewer and leading distributor of beer, Kgalagadi Breweries Limited (KBL), this month dragged the government of Botswana to court after President Mokgweetsi Masisi imposed an alcohol ban with immediate effect. KBL labelled the decision as unjustifiable, irrational and that it overrides the rights that are enshrined in the constitution.
This week, Masisi through attorneys representing the government disparaged the case in his written affidavit of KBL’s application, referring to it as frivolous and that it ought to be dismissed with costs on a punitive scale.
In his court papers, Masisi reminded KBL that Botswana is a Republic whose laws find validity from the constitution, and in terms of Section 17 of the constitution the President is empowered to declare a State of Emergency and that it is a common cause that Botswana is under such state.
“It is common course that there is in existence emergency powers (Covid-19) Regulations 2020 as amended from time to time which is solely designed to regulate the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.
Masisi pointed out that he denies that the application before Court is proper such as to challenge the lawfulness and validity of a regulation made and a notice published in the exercise of a legislative function in accordance with the Emergency Powers Act which empowers the President to make regulations as appear to him to be necessary and expedient for securing public safety.
Furthermore, the President revealed that the decision to ban alcohol sales was not arrived at willy-nilly, but rather that there had been careful considerations that the risks posed by Covid-19 had increased and therefore it was expedient and necessary to suspend all liquor licenses.
Moreover, Masisi denied that the decision to reinstate the ban should be made by the Director of Health Services as indicated by KBL in their nature of the application, “the Director is to cause the notice to be published in the Gazette after consultation with the President.”
Masisi indicated that the role of the Director of Health Services is to publish a regulation made by the President.
He further, reminded KBL that the power to make regulations in a State of Public Emergency in accordance with the EPA lies with the President, “such power includes the amendment of any enactment, suspending the operation of any enactment or modification of an enactment.”
According to Masisi, his decision to ban alcohol sales was based on evidence provided by the Director of Health Services who indicated to him that there was a sudden spike in the transmission of the Covid-19 virus following the reinstatement of liquor licenses.
Another piece of advice tendered by the Director of Health to Masisi was that bars and other liquor outlets were some of the major hotspots in the sense of such being high-risk areas at which the virus spread rapidly.
“Alcohol was one of the major causes of non-compliance with the health protocols that were put in place to control the spread of the Covid-19 virus. Further, there was an indication that more arrests were made on people failing to adhere to Covid-19 protocols more particularly at places where there were gatherings,” he contended.
He pointed out that therefore, it was expedient and or necessary to preserve lives and to reduce the risks of transmissions of the virus to reinstate the suspension of liquor licenses.
Moreover, the President says that it must be noted that he avers that the Director of Health Services is a credible source on matters of public health of which he also accordingly gave due weight to the Director’s advice on deciding to reinstate the ban through the impugned notice.
“I am aware and was always aware at the time of promulgating the regulation complained of that it shall negatively affect some sectors of the economy. However, after due consideration and receipt of advice, I decided to give priority to the safety and health of the nation,” Masisi said.
He presaged KBL that it would not be prudent and in the best interest of the nation to ignore a health emergency such as Covid-19 and gave preference to trading and making of profits by the applicant. “The results would only be catastrophic to the extent that when we emerge from the scourge we would be left with a depleted and ailing nation from Covid-19 and its side effects.”
Furthermore, his written affidavit further pointed out that the decision to reinstate the ban on alcohol was taken notwithstanding understanding and appreciation of the economic hardships that would befall the country.
However, he said he deliberately made the decision based on the evidence provided to him by the Director of Health, whose evidence he believes to be credible to give public/safety and health priority over economic considerations in some sectors.
In making the decision, Masisi states that he was and considered different options including allowing for sale of alcohol consumption off premises, however the evidence he had been provided with suggested that such other alternatives would not achieve the overall objective of securing public safety and health by reducing the risk of the spread of the virus.
“By the time I imposed the ban, alcohol was already being sold for consumption off-premises. This did not work. The information provided to me by the Director and the Presidential Task-Force team demonstrated that consumers purchased alcohol and then loitered and consumed it within the peripheries of bars and other liquor outlets,” he said.
Attached to the affidavit as emphasis, were photographs and videos of Gaborone West, Phase 4 in mid-June 2021, which he explains circulated on social media and was brought to his attention.
“I need not say much about the photos as they depict a crowd exceeding 50 gathered at the parking area of a bar. There is little or no regard to Covid-19 protocols. It was clear to me and my advisors, including the Director of Health Services and members of the Presidential Task-Force team that the total ban of alcohol was necessary to manage the risk of increase in infections, to understand what seems to have led to an increase in the risk of infection when alcohol is present I was advised by the Presidential Task-Force team that scientifically there has been evidence that alcohol narrows physical distance,” he argued.
Masisi says that allegations made by KBL are serious allegations of infringement of fundamental rights yet they fail to state how imposition and reinstatement of the suspension of liquor licenses out of necessity and expediency of the health of the nation infringes on the rights as alleged.
In an embarrassing turn of events that depicts disintegration in government communication on the fight against COVID-19, President Mokgweetsi Masisi and Assistant Minister of Health & Wellness, Sethomo Lelatisitswe gave two conflicting statements on the same matter, same day, just minutes apart.
The Commander-in-Chef told health practitioners and residents in Ramotswa that the COVAX facility has scammed African countries after billions were paid in a crowd funding effort to procure COVID-19 vaccines in bulk.
“We have pumped money as developing countries of the African continent into the COVAX Facility but the returns were not satisfactory, they cheated us,” the President said in Ramotswa.
According to President Masisi, the COVAX facility Vaccine only came in bits and pieces, frustrating the continent ‘s head immunity targets amid rapidly spreading Delta Variant which is currently reversing all progress made by Africa in containing the contagious virus.
“What we are getting is very small portions of the vaccine, they keep telling us that there is shortage of supply, this is not fair, but we have paid in advance, however what can we do, we have no choice but to spend more money and look for other avenues of securing other available vaccines,” he said.
Meanwhile in Gaborone, Assistant Minister of Health and Wellness told Parliament that vaccine from COVAX facility is anchoring Botswana’s vaccination program.
“I am not aware of such information that COVAX facility is not delivering as expected, we are actually bolstered by COVAX facility in this country,” he said responding to a question from Mahalapye West Member of Parliament David Tshere who is also Chairman of Parliament Committee On Health and HIV/AIDS.
“We have received doses as ordered from the COVAX facility, and we are still receiving more, I have not seen that information which is purported to have been revealed by the President, unless its new information, we as the Ministry we are not aware of any frustrations by the COVAX facility,” he said.
COVAX is co-led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi and the World Health Organization (WHO), alongside key delivery partner UNICEF.
Its aim is to accelerate the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines, and to guarantee fair and equitable access for every country in the world.
The facility is a global coalition that works to ensure fair and equitable access of COVID-19 vaccines around the world. So far, 190 countries have joined the COVAX initiative, including all 22 countries in the Eastern Mediterranean Region.
The COVAX Facility aims to have 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines available for distribution across the globe by the end of 2021, targeting those most at risk (e.g. frontline health workers) and most vulnerable severe diseases and death (e.g. elderly and people with co-morbidities).
On other vaccination issues President Masisi revealed, still in Greater Gaborone vaccination centre visits, that Botswana has placed orders with Pfizer, a United States vaccine producer noting that they have promised to deliver next year.
Meanwhile, government kick-started phase two of the Covid-19 vaccination program this week, opening up for ages between 30 and 54.
President Masisi revealed that this was done because some elderly were reluctant to be inculcated.
“We can’t take forever trying to convince people to take vaccine, we moved to the next age segments because we cannot afford to have vaccines-which are already in shortage supply to just lie there,” he said.
On Friday, Ministry of Health revealed that it was receiving large numbers of people below the age of 55 lining up to be vaccinated.
In a statement the Ministry of Health said it, “acknowledges the huge turnout that marked the commencement of the Phase two COVID-19 vaccination program”.
Given this high turnout, especially in the Greater Gaborone region, the ministry announced an extension of operation hours in order to serve the huge crowds that had come for vaccination.
Of the nearly 85 000 doses that were being doled across the country as first doses, the majority of the Greater Gaborone vaccination sites were already getting depleted by 1800hrs on 22 July 2021.
As a result of this development, the ministry took a decision to discontinue the extended hours of operation announced yesterday for vaccination sites in Gaborone.
This means that vaccination sites in Gaborone and elsewhere in the country which still have some vaccines, will offer them in the normal working hours and days of the week.
The Ministry says it appreciates the great desire to be vaccinated shown by thousands of citizens and residents of this country and wishes to assure them that it will continue to expedite their vaccination every time vaccines become available. As has been communicated in various fora, more vaccines are expected in August 2021.
As at July 2021, Botswana has so far received 62, 400 doses of AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD bought through the Covax facility, 30,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine donated by the Republic of India, 19, 890 doses of the Pfizer vaccine bought through the COVAX facility, 200, 000 doses of the Sinovac vaccine, donated by the Peoples Republic of China and another 200, 000 doses of the Sinovac vaccine bought through bilateral negotiations with Sinovac company in China.
“We encourage Batswana to remain hopeful that although it’s taking longer than anticipated, enough COVID-19 vaccines will eventually arrive in our country. We urge them to always strictly abide by all COVID-19 protocols so that they protect themselves and others from this deadly virus,” the ministry said.