With just a year into the office, Ombudsman Augustine Makgonatsotlhe is already firing shots at his office and calling for rigorous transformation.
In an exclusive interview with WeekendPost this week the Ombudsman fired from the hip, saying that the office was in dire need of transformation; has to be given more powers; more resources and most importantly it should be given space to be totally independent.
“In an ideal situation, an institution of this nature (Ombudsman) should be completely independent; and that means legally independent, operationally independent, and even in terms of budgets, it should be divorced from the executive; so that at the end of the day they get the budget from parliament and also report directly to parliament with no connections to the executive,” Makgonatsotlhe pointed out.
He continued: “you know at the moment we are not completely independent. We are only independent in as far as operations or investigations of cases are concerned. Otherwise we rely on public service for everything including personnel, resources so to the extent that in other peoples’ eyes we are completely not independent,” the Ombudsman told WeekendPost. He also pointed out that the country is still confined to the “classical ombudsman” model which only makes recommendations which are not binding.
“I make recommendations in terms of our Ombudsman Act and that is not binding unlike in other countries like South Africa where it is very clear in their constitution that the decisions of the Public Protector are binding.” He added that in that case you cannot ignore them; it is either you comply or when you are dissatisfied with the decision you have to go to court and ask for judicial review. “That’s why in Botswana people say the ombudsman is a toothless bulldog,” he lashed out.
The distinguished qualified legal practitioner also highlighted that the office of the Ombudsman being directly linked with the executive takes away its credibility. He said the office can therefore not be accredited to other international respected bodies like the United Nations body for human rights. A number of countries he said have adopted the modern model of the office of Ombudsman being South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Kenya, Tanzania, and Ghana.
The modern model gives the ombudsman more powers and multiple mandates that are not only confined to maladministration like it is in Botswana. “Personally, my belief is that we should go that route. But I am not the one to change the law. It is parliament with its wisdom to decide to change the law. They can move to that.”
Makgonatsotlhe met Thuli Madonsela to benchmark
Makgonatsotlhe is left with only three years of the four year contract awarded him by President Lt. Gen. Seretse Khama Ian Khama. He says he is still settling in the office and part of that being him visiting South Africa’s ex Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela. “I had the opportunity to go to her office and see how they do their investigations. They are not terribly different from the way we are doing our investigations because the Ombudsman and the Public Protector are similar in a way, even though in South Africa they have a bigger mandate than we have in Botswana.”
He said he also managed to see how they interact with other governance institutions like human rights commission as all these institutions are established under chapter 9 of South African constitution. The institutions, he said, are specifically mandated to strengthen the constitutional democracy of South Africa. Makgonatsotlhe said that in South Africa, the Public Protector just investigate maladministration but also investigates corruption and issues of unethical conduct of leadership under the Executive Members Ethics Act which empowers him/her to investigate any unethical conduct done by any member of the executive.
“The thing with them is that they don’t have a Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) like we have in Botswana; they only deal with a Public Protector.” While he said Botswana has a human rights commission housed under the office of the ombudsman, Makgonatsotlhe cautioned that in an ideal situation a human rights commission has to be a standalone, like in South Africa. “This has created problems in many countries because if you have many mandates its highly likely that one will suffer.”
The issue of his recommendation of Btv biasness
In relation to the report he recently released after carrying out investigations on behalf of Botswana National Front Vice President Prince Dibeela, he says he believes he carried the matter fairly and professionally in terms of the law. He justified his recommendation which stated that Btv was biased against opposition parties in favour of ruling Botswana Democratic Party saying his office investigates all complaints as long as the ombudsman has a jurisdiction on them. “And we do that with no fear or favour. That is the job. I mean it must be done appropriately as we have been assigned to do.”
When asked if it is not likely that the political leadership may feel hard done by his recommendations, and maybe have a problem with it he said “then it is not our problem. It doesn’t bother me at all. For as long as my conscience is clear on the matter. I would have done what I was supposed to do.” The long serving Public Servants also emphasized that it gives logic that decisions or recommendations of the ombudsman should be binding so that the body is taken seriously.
“We should ensure that when it has taken the decision, those decisions are complied with; if it doesn’t it will be as if those decisions were never made. The office should be strengthened to have more meaning to Batswana and make an impact in the governance and administration of the country.”
He added: “The authorities can decide to comply or not as it stands. Like what I said before that’s where really the problem is, they are not forced to comply by the law.”
However he still believes that the ombudsman has moral authority. So for the fact that they have created the office, it is logical also that whatever the decision it comes with should be complied with or else that will have a negative effect on the governance of the country. He continued: “Notwithstanding, if there is no compliance, what should happen is that, the ombudsman should do a special report on that same matter which he has to submit to parliament to tell them I have done this, I came to this conclusion and I made this recommendations but there has been no compliance. Then it will be up to parliament to see what to do.”
Makgonatsotlhe on DCEC, IEC, Auditor General, Parliament
Makgonatsotlhe also says he wants to see the strengthening of all governance institutions particularly Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC), Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), the Auditor General and Parliament. He said these are institutions that to him are very critical to strengthening democracy and governance. “When we have those institutions in a way that spill off when things are not running properly the economy will grow because investors will come and they will be sure of their investments. The rule of law will flourish when proper governance is there. The investors want to go to a place which is very safe and properly run and they are sure that they are protected and their investments are also protected that is my parting shot,” he said.
Meanwhile Leader of opposition and Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) President Duma Boko has repeatedly criticized the Ombudsman together with DCEC, IEC, Directorate on Intelligence and Security Services (DISS) saying in their current form they are useless and therefore call for totally disbanding and overhauling that may be effected when his party takes office.
The office of the Ombudsman came into existence around December 1997 after the law establishing the office was promulgated in 1995 and later assented by the then President Sir Ketumile Masire who is now late. The late Lethebe Amos Maine was the country’s first ombudsman and the second was Ofentse Lepodise (also late) while the third was Festinah Bakwena, being the incumbent, Makgonatsotlhe is the fourth.
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.
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.
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.”