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CEO faces 60 days in Jail

The Chief Executive Officer of Itekanele Medical Health Scheme, Solly Reikeletseng has decided not to go down without a fight against the Non-Bank Financial Institutions Regulatory Authority (NBFIRA), which of late is on gear five, shutting down a number of local businesses for alleged non-compliance.

Reikeletseng, whose company started attracting the attention of NBFIRA in July this year, has particularly taken aim at the Chief Executive Officer of the NBFIRA, Oaitse Ramasedi, whom he has cited for contempt in his urgent court application filed on Thursday. Through Maphakwane and Partners, Reikeletseng wants an Order granted declaring NBFIRA and Ramasedi to be liable and in contempt of the Court Order dated 14th July 2017 by refusing to authorize urgent transactions of the Applicant, Itekanele, as ordered.

He is also seeking an Order directing NBFIRA and Ramasedi to specifically authorize urgent transactions of Itekanele relating to the payment of rent, employees’ wages and service providers’ claims within 24 hours. He further wants the court to grant an order directing that should Ramasedi fail to comply within the said 24hours, he be committed to prison for at least 60 days until compliance.

The genesis of the NBFIRA/Itekanele tiff is such that on 13th July 2017, NBFIRA lodged an urgent application before court through which it sought to confirm the temporary closure of Itekanele business; they also soguht to freeze the accounts. However, NBFIRA was further instructed by the court to authorize urgent transactions of Itekanele and that the latter be entitled to conduct such business activities, which shall from time to time be authorized by NBFIRA, pending consideration of the temporary closure of the business.

The judge made it clear that “in the interim the Applicant shall authorize urgent transactions of the Respondent to allow it to maintain its financial obligations”. The Judge had also stated that Itekanele shall be entitled in the interim to conduct business activities it is already handling which shall from time to time be authorized by the NBFIRA pending the resolution of the matter. Furthermore, the Judge said the “Respondent’s existing clients shall continue to be adequately serviced by the Respondent during the period of the temporary closure.”  
In an affidavit he deposed on Thursday, Reikeletseng notes that NBFIRA has flagrantly disregarded it and inexplicably refused to comply with the Order to authorize urgent transactions of Itekanele to allow it to maintain its financial obligations.

NBFIRA has refused to pay salaries for Itekanele employees for two months; refused to pay rent for two months and the landlord wants Itekanele out of his building; NBFIRA is also refusing to pay the medical ad scheme’s service providers and on Thursday five of them terminated their relationship with the medical aid scheme. In his affidavit, Reikeletseng points out that he wrote NBFIRA a letter through which he requested that they authorize the payment of employees’ salaries from Itekanele’s BanABC account, the letter was ignored by NBFIRA. The Itekanele Chief wrote a similar letter on 1st August 2017 and it was responded to by NBFIRA attorneys on 9th August 2017 “with a lukewarm and indifferent correspondence”.

Reikeletseng further writes that on 31st July 2017, in pursuit of the said Court Order, he issued a letter to NBFIRA requesting for authorization of certain payments to service providers in the form of medical practitioners, which were due for payment. “I state further that, despite due and repeated demand, Respondents have unwarrantedly refused to authorize urgent transactions in relation to certain payments owing to service providers. Instead, Respondents have employed myriad excuses and delay tactic s, which fly directly in the face of the above mentioned Court Order. It follows, therefore, that the Applicant’s service providers have not been paid for months of July and August 2017, bringing Applicant’s business to a grinding halt.”

The situation has worsened at Itekanele, the landlord’s patience with non-payment of rent has expired. In his affidavit, Reikeletseng indicates that: “..On 31st August 2017, Itekanele received a letter from COLLINS NEWMAN & CO. indicating that –following the award of a default judgement against the Applicant for unpaid rental arrears and the amicable conclusion of a payment plan in relation thereto – Applicant’s (Itekanele) landlord’s patience had expired, owing to Applicant’s inability to honour the aforesaid payment plan, and Applicant was put to terms to make immediate payments plan, or face eviction by 14th September 2017.”  Reikeletseng argues that transactions relating to employees’ salaries, rental payments and payments to service providers – undoubtedly constitute urgent, if not essential transactions and fall well within the scope of the court order. “Therefore, the Respondent’s undue and inexplicable failure, neglect or refusal to authorize the same consequently constitutes contempt of court.”

Reikeletseng also reads an insidious agenda on the part of NBFIRA. He writes that on 5th September 2017, NBFIRA filed a replying affidavit in the main application wherein they annexed certain financial statements – and purported to rely on the same as proof of Itekanele’s non-compliance. I state that the aforesaid financial statements were erroneously submitted to NBFIRA and that on 25th August 2017, being well before NBFIRA filed its Replying Affidavit, Itekanele supplied NBFIRA with appropriate financial records and thereby substantially complied with what was required of it.”

According to Reikeletseng Itekanele accounts are liquid and is now and has been, at all relevant junctures, capable of meeting financial commitments, save for NBFIRA’s undue and unreasonable contemptuous conduct. The Itekanele Chief Executive Officer tells the court that the ongoing state of affairs is occasioning immeasurable and irreparable hardship on Applicant’s employees. “In fact, owing to Applicant’s inability to pay its employees’ salaries for two months, the said employees are facing eviction, financial distress and ruin – as monthly rentals have gone unpaid, monthly stop orders have not been honoured and various expenses have not been met, inter alia. In this respect, Itekanele employees have encapsulated their hardships in various formal complaints tendered.”

According to Reikeletseng as a result of the ongoing financial distress, one of the company’s employees – having reached a state of utter despondency – has unsuccessfully attempted suicide and is currently recovering in hospital. He further states that he has been forced to discharge the labour force and allow employees to remain home, pending the resolution of the matter instant, for a lack of a better option.

He further indicates that what NBFIRA has done has caused immeasurable and irreparable harm to the business and finances, as service providers – who Itekanele has been unable to pay – consequently refuse to service clients and this has spurred an unprecedented and catastrophic exodus of Itekanele clients, who are now terminating their membership en masse for lack of service. He states that the initial court order was meant to curtail this very situation. Reikeletseng and his lawyers want an order granted declaring NBFIRA liable and in contempt of Court Order dated 14th July 2017 by refusing to authorize transactions of Itekanele as ordered. He wants NBFIRA to comply failing which Oaitse Ramasedi must be jailed for 60 days.

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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
morupisi

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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