Parliamentary Committee on Works, Transport and Communications heard this week that state broadcaster Botswana Television (BTV) has rejected recommendations from Botswana Communications Regulatory Authority (BOCRA) to share its idle infrastructure with the private sector and other players.
The recommendation came as an effort to catapult the broadcasting industry especially; film and television to another level, given its potential in creating jobs and bringing diversity in news. However, MPs heard that the idea has not been welcomed by the mass media leadership despite most of their infrastructure lying idle without use. BOCRA has stated in the past that sharing infrastructure has the potential to create favourable conditions for attracting investment that leads to growth and a competitive sector. From the regulatory perspective, sharing enables operators to survive and compete; opportunity for equal access to all is being created which in a way encourages entry into the market without unnecessary duplication of networks.
The committee was also told that RB2 which is a commercial wing of Radio Botswana is not regulated by BOCRA because the new Regulatory Act does not provide for regulation of state owned entities. BOCRA was established through the Communications Regulatory Authority Act, 2012 (CRA Act) on the 1st of April 2013 to regulate the communications sector in Botswana, comprising telecommunications, Internet and Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs), radio communications, broadcasting, postal services and related matters.
The CRA Act replaced the Broadcasting Act [Cap 72:04], the Telecommunications Act [Cap 72:03], and caused the amendment of the Postal Services Act to create a converged or an integrated regulatory authority for the communications industry. Infrastructure sharing is becoming common worldwide both in telecommunication and broadcasting. Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRIA), an equivalent of Botswana’s BOCRA, recently issued a recommendation to government to encourage infrastructure sharing in the country’s television broadcasting distribution centre.
Infrastructure sharing is encouraged as long as it is technically permissible. In this arrangement the responsibility of compliance lies with each distributor of TV channels independently. Currently there are two television stations operating with four other companies having been given licences this year. Botswana television was launched in 2000 as the first major television service in the country. The station broadcasts on both satellite and terrestrial infrastructure while e-Botswana provides a limited television service around Gaborone on a terrestrial free to air service.
In 2007, three new nationwide radio broadcasting licenses were issued resulting in Yarona and GABZ FM extending their services outside Gaborone and the introduction of a new radio station, being DUMA FM. Previously, Yarona FM and Gabz FM were licensed to broadcast in a radius of 50km around Gaborone. In an effort to minimise the cost of infrastructure development, the three services formed a transmission company, known as Kemonokeng, which is responsible for providing transmission for all of them. This thus formed the basis for infrastructure sharing on a limited basis.
Dr Phenyo Butale, a committee member and former Mass Media employee expressed concern with unfair practices by Mass Media as far as broadcasting is concerned. He said while BTV and RB2 are not regulated by BOCRA because they are state broadcasters the two entities still engage in commercial activities to compete with private players. He said this is worrisome because the same Mass Media is not willing to share its infrastructure as per recommendation by BOCRA but wants to enjoy the commercial benefits without being regulated.
BOCRA Acting Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Tshoganetso Kepaletswe who appeared before the committee with Acting Deputy Chief Executive, Martin Mokgware conceded the verity that RB2 is a commercial entity under state media and that restricts them from regulating it. “Until such a time the Act is changed by parliament, we are compelled to implement what is in the current Act,” he said. Kepaletswe also agreed that the new Act only recognises commercial and state broadcasters, leaving out community radio stations which were provided for in the repealed Botswana Telecommunication Authority (BOTA).
Recently it surfaced that Mass Media top hierarchy had clashed with the proposed BTV2 over usage of its infrastructure. The proposed youthful TV station was to be run by Ministry of Youth Empowerment, Culture Development and Sport but its launch has since been delayed amid further engagement with Mass Media officials.
The Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP)’s decision to reject and appeal the High Court’s verdict on a case involving High Court Judge, Dr Zein Kebonang has frustrated the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) and Judge Kebonang’s back to work discussions.
JSC and Kebonang have been in constant discussions over the latter’s return to work following a ruling by a High Court panel of judges clearing him of any wrong doing in the National Petroleum Fund criminal case filed by the DPP. However the finalization of the matter has been hanged on whether the DPP will appeal the matter or not – the prosecution body has since appealed.
Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) top brass has declined a request by Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) to negotiate the legal fees occasioned by 2019 general elections petition in which the latter disputed in court the outcome of the elections.
This publication is made aware that UDC Vice President Dumelang Saleshando was left with an egg on his face after the BDP big wigs, comprising of party Chairman Slumber Tsogwane and Secretary General Mpho Balopi rejected his plea.
“He was told that this is a legal matter and therefore their (UDC) lawyer should engage ours (BDP) for negotiations because it is way far from our jurisdiction,” BDP Head of Communications, Kagelelo Kentse, told this publication.
This spelt doom for the main opposition party and Saleshando who seems not to have confidence and that the UDC lawyers have the dexterity to negotiate these kind of matters. It is not clear whether Saleshando requested UDC lawyer Boingotlo Toteng to sit at the table with Bogopa Manewe, Tobedza and Co, who are representing the BDP to strike a deal as per the BDP top echelons suggested.
“From my understanding, the matter is dealt with politically as the two parties are negotiating how to resolve it, but by far nothing has come to me on the matter. So I believe they are still substantively engaging each other,” Toteng said briefly in an interview on Thursday.
UDC petitioners saddled with costs after mounting an unprecedented legal suit before the court to try and overturn BDP’s October 2019 victory. The participants in the legal matter involves 15 parliamentary candidates’ and nine councillors. The UDC petitioned the court and contested the outcome of the elections citing “irregularities in some of the constituencies”.
In a brief ruling in January 2020, Judge President Ian Kirby on behalf of a five-member panel said: “We have no jurisdiction to entertain these appeals. These appeals must be struck out each with costs including costs of counsel”. This was a second blow to the UDC in about a month after their 2019 appeals were dismissed by the High Court a day before Christmas Day.
This week BDP attorneys decided to attach UDC petitioners’ property in a bid to settle the debts. UDC President Duma Boko is among those that will see their property being attached with 14 of his party members. “We have attached some and we are on course. So far, Dr. Mpho Pheko (who contested Gaborone Central) and that of Dr, Micus Chimbombi (who contested Kgalagadi South) will have their assets being sold on the 5th of February 2021,” BDP attorney Basimane Bogopa said.
Asked whether they met with UDC lawyers to try solve the matter, Bogopa said no and added. “Remember we are trying to raise the client’s funds, so after these two others will follow. Right now we are just prioritising those from Court of Appeal, as soon as the high court is done with taxation we will attach.”
Saleshando, when contacted about the outcomes of the meeting with the BDP, told WeekendPost that: “It would not be proper and procedural for me to tell you about the meeting outcomes before I share with UDC National Executive Committee (NEC), so I will have to brief them first.”
UDC NEC will meet on the 20th of next month to deal with a number of thorny issues including settling the legal fees. Negotiations with other opposition parties- Alliance for Progressives and Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) are also on the agenda.
Currently, UDC has raised P44 238 of the P565 000 needed to cover bills from the Court of Appeal (CoA). This is the amount in a UDC trust account which is paltry funds equating 7.8 per cent of the overall required money. In the past despite the petitioners maintaining that there was promise to assist them to settle legal fees, UDC Spokesperson, Moeti Mohwasa then said the party has never agreed in no way to help them.
“We have just been put in debt by someone,” one of the petitioners told this publication in the past. “President’s (Duma Boko) message was clear at the beginning that money has been sourced somewhere to help with the whole process but now we are here there is nothing and we are just running around trying to make ends meet and pay,” added the petitioner in an interview UDC NEC has in December last year directed all the 57 constituencies to each raise a minimum of P10, 000. The funds will be used to settle debts that are currently engulfing the petitioners with Sheriffs, who are already hovering around ready to attach their assets.
The petitioners, despite the party intervention, have every right to worry. “This is so because ‘the deadline for this initiative (P10, 000 per constituency) is the end of the first quarter of this year (2021),” a period in which the sheriffs would have long auctioned the properties.
President of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) Duma Boko’s alliance with former President Lt Gen Ian Khama continues to unsettle some quarters within the opposition collective, who believe the duo, if not managed, will once again result in an unsuccessful bid for government in 2024.
While Khama has denied that he has undeclared preference to have Boko remaining as leader of UDC, many believe that the two have a common programme, while other opposition leaders remain on the side-lines.