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Poverty Eradication initiatives have failed – MPs

The Chairman for the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Local Governance and Social Welfare, Honest Buti Billy and his committee of four Members of Parliament (MPs) have ruled that the Government’s poverty eradication initiatives have failed.

The committee points out to the clashing of laws and policies as one of the reasons that led to the initiatives failing to transform the lives of the beneficiaries as intended. The committee which is made up of MPs who had previously served at Local Government as councillors was addressing social workers, Community Development Officers, Home Economists, Ward Development Committee members and other stakeholders in Selebi Phikwe on Wednesday morning.

The committee is made up of former mayors of the City of Francistown, Buti Billy and Ignatius Moswaane, who are now MPs for Francistown east and west respectively as well as former mayor of Gaborone, Haskins Nkaigwa, and now MP for Gaborone North. The only member of the committee who is not a former mayor is Bagalatia Aarone, the Member of Parliament for Okavango. The Parliamentary Portfolio Committee is currently on tour around the county to hold consultative meetings with relevant Local Government authorities and departments to have interaction with service providers to determine challenges in the delivery of Social services and to look into issues of governance as wells as to appreciate some of the successes.

The committee is mandated to exercise oversight over Departments under the portfolio of the Ministry of Local Government and Social Welfare. The Chairperson of the committee, Billy noted that the feedback that they get from the people at the face of the challenges will help inform the reviewing of policies and guidelines in the framework for the delivery of social services. Billy pointed out that that while the reports on the delivery of poverty eradication initiatives are very impressive on paper, the same initiatives have not transformed the lives of the beneficiaries hence the need to consult with relevant stakeholders to find out what makes the projects fail.

The chairman gave example of failed projects such as Backyard Garden, noting that the backyard garden is good but is not a project that can transform the people’s lives. He also noted that the policy that stipulates provision of allowances for Village and Ward Development Committees must be changed to introduce salaries as opposed to allowances. He emphasized the important work done by the VDC’s in the delivery of social services, saying they work 24 hours and that calls for proper remuneration.

He added that there is need to openly critique and speak the truth about the barriers that hinder the successful delivery of social services to the people. He mentioned restrictions on the guidelines used by social workers to identify the needy as well as centralisation of services as one of the bottlenecks that frustrates the service standards. Billy said that many of Government policies and laws are conflicting, rendering service delivery stagnant. The Francistown East MP remarked that some of policies do not help in empowering the people to be able to self-sustain themselves.

He described the Children’s Act as a blind act and one of the laws that needs to be revised as it seems to recognise only the mother as the parent to the child. He pointed out that there are many children who have been registered as orphans to access social services even though their fathers are alive and can take good care of them. He said such loopholes only serves to create more mouths for the Government to feed hence the Government is creating poverty. “Government is creating poverty and then spend more money on fighting poverty,” he said.

Gaborone North Member of Parliament, Haskins Nkaigwa revealed that the Public Health Act which does not allow cooking and sale of food in open public spaces collides with the Presidential directive that allows for such activities. For his part Francistown West Member of Parliament, Ignatius Moswaane added that the presidential directive also allows small businesses to sell food at all Government Departments yet this is in conflict with the Public Health Act and the bye-law regulations.
Billy however also criticised the dependency syndrome prevailing among Batswana. “Dependency syndrome is a disease worse than HIV/AIDS. If we depend on Government so much, our children will also grow up with their minds conditioned to accept the ideology of being dependents,” he said.

Recommendations from the people

The social workers and the VDC/WDC’s present at the meeting shared the challenges they encounter in the delivery of the social services in Selebi Phikwe. One of the recommendations was that beneficiaries of the poverty eradication initiatives must be allowed to present their own business ideas and be assessed instead of having to only accept the already identified initiatives on which they do not have sense of ownership.

Street Vendors were stated as the rightful people to uplift and develop as entrepreneurs as they have already showed interest in doing business. Educating more efficiently destitute first before giving them business projects have been noted as critical. It was argued that the elderly people who has never had prior training on basics of running a business is counter-productive as the projects fail to take off or fail shortly after having been established.

Monitoring and evaluation of the projects is also one of the critical aspects that was identified as tool ensure the projects grow and to unleash the intended value and purpose. It was also recommended that Government must re-look at the now ignored Sustainable Livelihoods Community Development initiative which sought to look at what the community can use within their community to create livelihoods for themselves as opposed to the current poverty eradication initiatives which seems to promote dependency on Government. Social and Community Development (S&CD) tenders for the school uniform and other clothing for needy children must be awarded to Selebi Phikwe based business for accessibility by the children to be able to fit and choose the clothes they want.

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Civil Service volatility: Democracy vs Bureaucracy

19th April 2021
President Masisi

Here is how one Permanent Secretary encapsulates the clear tension between democracy and bureaucracy in Botswana: “President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s Government is behaving like a state surrounded with armed forces in order to capture it or force its surrender. The situation has turned so volatile, for tomorrow is not guaranteed for us top civil servants.

These are the painful results of a personalized civil service in our view as permanent secretaries”. Although his deduction of the situation may be summed as sour grapes because he is one of the ‘victims’ of the reshuffle, he is convinced this is a perfect description of the rationale behind frequent changes and transfers characterising the current civil service.

The result of it all, he said, is that “there is too much instability at managerial and strategic levels of the civil service leading to a noticeable directionless civil service.” He continued: “Changes and transfers are inevitable in the civil service, but to a permissible scale and frequency. Think of soccer team coach who changes and transfers his entire squad every month; you know the consequences?”

The Tsunami has hit hard at critical departments and Ministries leaving a strong wave of uncertainty, many demoralised and some jobless. In traditional approaches to public administration, democracy gives the goals; and bureaucracy delivers the technical efficiency required for implementation. But the recent moves in the civil service are indicative of conflicting imperatives – the notion of separation between politicians and administrators is becoming blurred by the day.

“Look at what happened to Prisons and BDF where second in command were overlooked for outsiders, and these are the people who had sacrificially served for donkey’s years hoping for a seat at the ladder’s end. The frequency of the changes, at times affecting the same Ministry or individual also demonstrates some level of ineptitude, clumsiness and lack of foresight from those in charge,” remarked the PS who added that their view is that the transfers are not related to anything but “settling scores, creating corruption opportunities and pushing out perceived dissident and former president, Ian Khama’s alleged loyalists and most of these transfers are said to be products of intelligence detection.”

Partly blaming Khama for the mess and his unwillingness to let go, the PS dismissed Masisi for falling to the trap and failing to outgrow the destructive tiff. “Khama is here to stay and the sooner Masisi comes to terms with the fact that he (Masisi) is the state President, the better. For a President to still be making these changes and transfers signals signs of a confused man who has not yet started rolling his roadmap, if at all it was ever there. I am saying this because any roadmap comes with key players and policies,” he concluded.

The Ministry of Health and Wellness seems to be the most hard-hit by the transfers, having experienced three Permanent Secretaries changes within a year and a half. Insiders say the changes have everything to do with the Ministry being the centre of COVID-19 tenders and economic opportunities. “The buck stops with the PS and no right-thinking PS can just allow glaring corruption under his watch as an accounting officer. Technocrats are generally law abiding, the pressure comes with politically appointed leaders racing against political terms to loot,” revealed a director in the Ministry preferring anonymity.

The latest transfer of Kabelo Ebineng she says was also motivated by his firm attitude against the President’s blue-eyed Task Team boys. “The Task Team wants to own the COVID-19 pandemic and government interventions and always cry foul when the Ministry reasserts itself as mandated by law,” said the director who added that Masisi who was always caught between the crossfire decided on sacrificing Ebineng to the joy of his team as they (Task Team) were in the habit of threatening to resign citing Ebineng as the problem.

Ebineng joins the Office of the President as a deputy Coordinator (government implementation and coordination office).The incoming PS is the soft-spoken Grace Muzila, known and described by her close associates as a conformist albeit knowledgeable.

One of the losers in the grand scheme is Thato Raphaka who many had seen as the next PSP because of his experience and calm demeanour following a declaration of interest in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Secretary post by the current PSP, Elias Magosi.

But hardly ten months into his post, Raphaka has been transferred out to the National Strategy Office in what many see as a demotion of some sort. Other notable changes coming into OP are Pearl Ramokoka formerly with the Employment, Labour and Productivity Ministry coming in as a Permanent Secretary and Kgomotso Abi as director of Public Service Reforms.

One of the ousted senior officers in the Office of the President warned that there are no signs that the changes and transfers will stop anytime soon: “If you are observant you would have long noticed that the changes don’t only affect senior officers but government decisions as well. A decision is made today and the government backtracks on it within a week. Not only that, the President says this today, and his deputy denies it the following day in Parliament,” he warned.

Some observers have blamed the turmoil in the civil service partly to lack of accountable presidential advisers or kitchen cabinet properly schooled on matters of statecraft. They point out that politicians or those peripheral to them should refrain from hampering the technical and organizational activities of public managers – or else the party (reshuffling) won’t stop.

In the view expressed by some Permanent Secretaries, Elias Magosi, has not really been himself since joining the civil service; and has cut a picture of indifference in most critical engagements; the most notable been a permanent secretaries platform which he chairs. As things stand there is need to reconcile the imperatives of democracy and democracy in Botswana. Peace will rein only when public value should stand astride the fault that runs between politicians and public managers.

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Morupisi fights for freedom in court

19th April 2021

Former Permanent Secretary to the President, Carter Morupisi, is fighting for survival in a matter in which the State has charged him and his wife, Pinnie Morupisi, with corruption and money laundering.

Morupisi has joined a list of prominent figures that served in the previous administration and who have been accused of corruption during their tenure in office. While others have been emerging victorious, Morupisi is yet to find that luck. The High Court recently dismissed his no case to answer application.

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Pressure mounts on Biden to suspend Covid-19 vaccine patents

19th April 2021
Joe Biden

United States President, Joe Biden, is faced with a decision to make relating to the Covid-19 vaccine intellectual property after 175 former world leaders and Nobel laurates joined the campaign urging the US to take “urgent action” to suspend intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines to help boost global inoculation rates.

According to the world leaders, doing so would allow developing countries to make their own copies of the vaccines that have been developed by pharmaceutical companies without fear of being sued for intellectual property infringements.

“A WTO waiver is a vital and necessary step to bringing an end to this pandemic. It must be combined with ensuring vaccine know-how and technology is shared openly,” the signatories, comprising more than 100 Nobel prize-winners and over 70 former world leaders, wrote in a letter to US President Joe Biden, according to Financial Times.

A measure to allow countries to temporarily override patent rights for Covid related medical products was proposed at the World Trade Organization by India and South Africa in October, and has since been backed by nearly 60 countries.

Former leaders who signed the letter included Gordon Brown, former UK Prime Minister; François Hollande, former French President; Mikhail Gorbachev, former President of the USSR; and Yves Leterme, former Belgian Prime Minister.

In their official communication, South Africa and India said: “As new diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines for Covid-19 are developed, there are significant concerns [about] how these will be made available promptly, in sufficient quantities and at affordable prices to meet global demand.”

While developed countries have been able to secure enough vaccine to inoculate their citizens, developing countries such as Botswana are struggling to source enough to swiftly vaccine their citizens, something which world leaders believe it would work against global recovery therefore proving counter-productive.

Since the availability of vaccines, Botswana has been able to secure only 60 000 doses of vaccines, 30 000 as donation as from the Indian government, while the other 30 000 was sourced through COVAX facility.  Canada, has pre-ordered vaccines in surplus and it will be able to vaccinate each of its citizens six times over. In the UK and US, it is four vaccines per person; and two each in the EU and Australia.

For vaccines produced in Europe, developing countries are forced to pay double what European countries are paying, making it more expensive for already financially struggling economies.  European countries however justify the price of vaccines and that they deserve to buy them cheap since they contributed in their development.

It is evident that vaccines cannot be made available immediately to all countries worldwide with wealthy economies being the only success story in that regard, something that has been referred to as a “catastrophic moral failure”, head of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The challenge facing developing countries is not only the price, but also the capacity of vaccine manufactures to be able to do so to meet global demand within a short time. The proposal for a patent waiver by India and South Africa has been rejected by developed countries, known for hosting the world leading pharmaceutical companies such US, European Union, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland.

According to the Financial Times, US business groups including pharmaceutical industry representatives, have urged Biden to resist supporting a waiver to IP rules at the WTO, arguing that the proposal led by India and South Africa was too “vague” and “broad”.

The individuals who signed the letter, including Nobel laureates in economics as well as from across the arts and sciences, warned that inequitable vaccine access would impact the global economy and prevent it from recovering.

“The world saw unprecedented development of safe and effective vaccines, in major part thanks to US public investment,” the group wrote. “We all welcome that vaccination rollout in the US and many wealthier countries is bringing hope to their citizens.”

“Yet for the majority of the world that same hope is yet to be seen. New waves of suffering are now rising across the globe. Our global economy cannot rebuild if it remains vulnerable to this virus.”
The group warned that fully enforcing IP was “self-defeating for the US” as it hindered global vaccination efforts. “Given artificial global supply shortages, the US economy already risks losing $1.3tn in gross domestic product this year.”

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