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New BERA given vast powers over licence holders

The Botswana Energy Regulatory Authority (BERA) has been given more powers in line with the new law to crack the whip on license defaulters.

The parastatal was formed two months ago subsequent to the passing of the Botswana Energy Regulatory Act of 2016 by parliament. BERA is responsible for the economic regulation of the energy sector being; electricity, petroleum products, coal, natural gas, solar energy and other forms of renewable energies. The parastatal is tasked with issuance of licences to the five (5) multinational oil companies (Botswana Oil Ltd., Vivo Energy, Puma Energy, Engen Oil Marketing, Chevron Botswana and Total Oil Botswana) including a number of citizen based companies (Excess Petroleum, Stol, Afritech, Tswana Petroleum).

This extends also to a number of international and local Gas Supply and Distribution Companies (Total, Afrox Botswana, Easigas Botswana, Pula Energy, Airliquide, and Simsagas). BERA Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Rose Seretse told the press this week in the inaugural media pitso since the instigation of the organisation that “the parastatal may amend, suspend or revoke a licence and impose such fines as it may consider appropriate at the end of the investigations – if the Authority is satisfied that there is a contravention of the Act.”

She emphasized that in terms of Section 53 (1) of the Act, the Authority is conferred with powers to initiate or receive and investigate any complaint from any person against a licensee.  She said the investigation should be based on the existence of reasonable grounds that a contravention of any of the provisions of the Act has occurred or that the conditions of a licence are not adhered to.
    

According to the ex-Director of Directorate of Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) the Authority has the power to enter and search the premises of any licensee it intends to investigate (give a licensee four (4) days’ notice of the intended search and reasons for searching the premises). She stated that however if the Authority decides to investigate it shall inform the licensee or affected person in writing of its intention to investigate. “Before the search, the Authority shall obtain a search warrant from the Magistrate Court. Notwithstanding, the Authority may enter and search any premises, other than a private dwelling, without a warrant (followed by an ex post notice),” Seretse pointed out to the pack of journalists at the briefing.

The BERA CEO warned that the authority has power to require information from any person that it considers necessary to enable it to carry out its functions under the Act, and it is an offence to unreasonably refuse to furnish the Authority with information when required to do so under Section 66 of the Act. According to Seretse, it is important to note that an application for a licence may if the authority considers necessary be done through a tendering method determined by the authority.

“Additionally, it is worth noting that licences will be issued at a fee which includes application fees and annual licence fees among others.  However, these fees should be reasonable, justifiable and appropriate for the type of activity. The annual licence fees in aggregate should not exceed one and half percent of the combined gross turnover of the licence or regulated entity,” she said.  

BERA is also mandated to ensure that there is competition in the energy sector and that there is energy security in Botswana. Nonetheless, Seretse highlighted that in terms of Section 62, the Authority shall refer all issues relating to competition to the Competition Authority.
In terms of their responsibilities on the tariffs, Seretse said the authority may review a tariff where it considers it necessary to do so in the interest of customers, consumers and other users and where the tariff is due for periodic review as determined by the authority from time to time.

“The Authority shall, from time to time and by notice in the gazette publish the tariff review methodology and considerations that the Authority apply when reviewing a tariff. The Authority shall, when reviewing tariffs, take into account any direct subsidies by government to support energy or cross subsidies between different consumer classes.” Already it was reported that BERA is inundated with reports on mishandling and smuggling of fuel out of the country. It is said that consumers and other informal fuel resellers purchase fuel from various fuel filling points with containers not recommended for safe handling and transportation of fuel.

“Containers used include, 20 litres and 25 litres plastic containers, 200/210 litres drums and in certain instances; worn out jerry cans. It has been observed that this practice is particularly rife in the northern part of the country; Francistown, Kasane and the surrounding areas.” It has also been noted that the fuel being smuggled outside the country is for re-sale in the neighbouring countries to the northern part of Botswana, and that BERA will continue to put such unwanted conduct on line. The Ministry of Minerals Resources, Green Technology and Energy Security (MMGE) through the Department of Energy is responsible for the formulation, development and coordination of the National Energy Policy.

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UDC founder warns against merger

19th October 2020
Ex UDC Convener: Mpotokwane

Lebang Mpotokwane, one of the conveners who presided over the opposition cooperation talks that resulted in the formation of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), has advised against changing the current umbrella model in favour of a merger as proposed by others.

The Botswana Congress Party (BCP) leader, Dumelang Saleshando recently went public to propose that UDC should consider merging of all opposition parties, including Alliance for Progressives (AP) and Botswana Patriotic Front (BNF).

Saleshando has been vehemently opposed by Botswana National Front (BNF), which is in favour of maintaining the current model.  BNF’s position has been favoured by the founding father of UDC, who warned that it will be too early to ditch the current model.

“UDC should be well developed to promote the spirit of togetherness on members and the members should be taught so that the merger is developed gradually. They should approach it cautiously. If they feel they are ready, they can, but it would not be a good idea,” Mpotokwane told WeekendPost this week.

Mpotokwane and Emang Maphanyane are the two men who have since 2003 began a long journey of uniting opposition parties in a bid to dethrone the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BCP) as they felt it needed a strong opposition to avoid complacency.

Tonota born Mpotokwane is however disappointed on how they have been ejected from participating in the last edition of talks ahead of the 2019 general elections in which BCP was brought on board.  However, despite the ejection, Mpotokwane is not resentful to the opposition collective.

He said the vision of opposition unity was to ultimately merge the opposition parties but he believes time has not arrived yet to pursue that path. “The bigger picture was a total merger and we agreed that with three independent parties, members might be against merger eventuality so the current model should be used until a point where they are now together for as long as possible,” he said.

“UDC should gradually perform better in elections and gain confidence. They should not rush the merger. We have been meeting since 2003, but if they rush it might cause endless problems. If they are ready they can anyway,” he advised. For now the constituent parties of the umbrella have been exchanging salvos with others (BCP and BNF).

“There are good reasons for and against merging the parties. Personally, I am in favour of merging the parties (including AP and BPF) into a single formation but I know it’s a complex mission that will have its own challenges,” Saleshando said when he made his position known a week ago.

“Good luck to those advocating for a merger, it will be interesting to observe the tactics they will use to lure the BPF into a merger,” former BNF councillor for Borakalalo Ward and former BNF Youth League Secretary General, Arafat Khan, opined in relation to BCP’s proposed position.

Mpotokwane, who is currently out in the cold from the UDC since he was ejected from the party’s NEC in 2017, said the current bickering and the expected negotiations with other parties need the presence of conveners.

“We did not belong to any party as conveners so we were objective in our submissions. If party propose any progressive idea we will support, if it is not we will not, so I would agree that even now conveners might be key for neutrality to avoid biasness,” he observed. Despite being abandoned, Mpotokwane said he will always be around to assist if at all he is needed.

“If they want help I will be there, I have always been clear about it, but surely I will ask few questions before accepting that role,” he said. UDC is expected to begin cooperation talks with both AP and BPF either this week or next weekend for both upcoming bye-elections (halted by Covid-19) and 2024 general elections and it is revealed that there will be no conveners this time around.

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BDP attaches Boko’s property

19th October 2020
DUMA BOKO

The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) moved through its lawyers to attach the property of Umbrella for Democratic (UDC) President Duma Boko and other former parliamentary contestants who failed in their court bid to overturn the 2019 general elections in 14 constituencies.

WeekendPost has established that this week, Deputy Sheriffs were commissioned by Bogopa Manewe Tobedza and Company who represented the BDP, to attach the properties of UDC elections contents in a bid to recover costs.  High Court has issued a writ of execution against all petitioners, a process that has set in motion the cost recovery measures.

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COVID-19 exposes decay in the education system

19th October 2020
Education Systm

Botswana Sectors of Teachers Union (BOSETU) says COVID-19 as a pandemic has negatively affected the education sector by deeply disrupting the education system. The intermittent lockdowns have resulted in the halting of teaching and learning in schools.

The union indicated that the education system was caught napping and badly exposed when it came to the use of Information System (IT), technological platforms and issues of digitalisation.

“COVID-19 exposed glaring inefficiencies and deficiencies when it came to the use of ITC in schools. In view of the foregoing, we challenge government as BOSETU to invest in school ITC, technology and digitalization,” says BOSETU President Kinston Radikolo during a press conference on Tuesday.

As a consequence, the union is calling on government to prioritise education in her budgeting to provide technological infrastructure and equipment including provision of tablets to students and teachers.

“Government should invest vigorously in internet connectivity in schools and teacher’s residences if the concept of flexi-hours and virtual learning were to be achieved and have desired results,” Radikolo said.

Radikolo told journalists that COVID-19 is likely to negatively affect final year results saying that the students would sit for the final examinations having not covered enough ground in terms of curriculum coverage.

“This is so because there wasn’t any catch up plan that was put in place to recover the lost time by students. We warn that this year’s final examination results would dwindle,” he said.

The Union, which is an affiliate of Botswana Federation of Public, Private and Parastatal Union (BOFEPUSU), also indicated that COVID-19’s presence as a pandemic has complicated the role of a teacher in a school environment, saying a teacher’s role has not only transcended beyond just facilitating teaching and learning, but rather, a teacher in this COVID-19 era, is also called upon to enforce the COVID-19 preventative protocols in the school environment.

“This is an additional role in the duty of a teacher that needs to be recognized by the employers. Teachers by virtue of working in a congested school environment have become highly exposed and vulnerable to COVID-19, hence the reason why BOSETU would like teachers to be regarded as the frontline workers with respect to COVID-19,” says Radikolo.

BOSETU noted that the pandemic has in large scales found its way into most of the school environments, as in thus far more than 50 schools have been affected by COVID-19. The Union says this is quite a worrying phenomenon.

“As we indicated before when we queried that schools were not ready for re-opening, it has now come to pass that our fears were not far-fetched. This goes out to tell that there is deficiency in our schools when it comes to putting in place preventative protocols. In our schools, hygiene is compromised by mere absence of sanitizers, few hand-washing stations, absence of social distancing in classes,” the Union leader said.

Furthermore, Radikolo stressed that the shifting system drastically increased the workload for teachers especially in secondary schools. He says teachers in these schools experience very high loads to an extent that some of them end up teaching up to sixty four periods per week, adding that this has not only fatigued teachers, but has also negatively affected their performance and the quality of teaching.

In what the Union sees as failure to uphold and honour collective agreements by government, owing to the shift system introduced at primary schools, government is still in some instances refusing to honour an agreement with the Unions to hire more teachers to take up the extra classes.

“BOSETU notes with disgruntlement the use of pre-school teachers to teach in the mainstream schools with due regard for their specific areas of training and their job descriptions. This in our view is a variation of the terms of employment of the said teachers,” says Radikolo.

The Union has called on government to forthwith remedy this situation and hire more teachers to alleviate this otherwise unhealthy situation. BOSETU also expressed concerns of some school administrators who continuously run institutions with iron fists and in a totalitarian way.

“We have a few such hot spot schools which the Union has brought to attention the Ministry officials such as Maoka JSS, Artesia JSS, and Dukwi JSS. We are worried that the Ministry becomes sluggish in taking action against such errant school administration. In instances where action is taken, such school administrators are transferred and rotated around schools.”

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