President Lt Gen Ian Khama delivered his valedictory remarks to Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) faithfuls yesterday, marking the beginning of an end of era of his presidency.
In less than nine months from now, Khama will be heading home after accumulative 20 years in the presidency, first tenure as Vice President and later as president. When he returns from the ongoing Tonota Congress, Khama will head into obscurity as he leaves heir to the throne, Mokgweetsi Masisi to enjoy the spotlight.
It was during the same time — 10 years ago that former President and BDP leader Festus Mogae made a boastful statement that, “Batswana now know that there is still no alternative to this Party. It represents competence, experience and an unwavering commitment to develop Botswana for the benefit of all Batswana. No amount of malicious propaganda will deflect it from this noble goal.” The remarks were made at an elective congress in Molepolole in 2009.
Two years later, to prove legitimacy of Mogae’s proclamation, BDP strolled into one of its easiest victories since the 1994 general election, increasing its popular vote to 52 percent and garnering an impressive 45 seats in the process. Perhaps the most impressive thing amidst those stats was kicking opposition Botswana National Front (BNF) out of its traditional strongholds in Gaborone. BDP then took control of Gaborone City Council (GCC) for the first time since 1984.
Juxtaposing BDP fortunes in 2009 against its main rival, BNF, the latter was going through one of its most turbulent times in recent history. Since 1998, BNF has been a party torn apart by factions and instability. Although BDP was having its own shares of infightings, its victory then proved it is a party whose end was decades away.
Fast forward to 2014, BDP’s fortunes changed with the blink of an eye. Two events, inside and outside the party led to a situation which would change the fortunes of the BDP forever — the splitting of BDP and the creation of Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC). In 2014, BDP’s popular vote fell below 50 percent for the first time in its history while the opposition on the other end gained an unprecedented 20 seats in parliament, UDC accounting 17 seats while three others belonged to Botswana Congress Party (BCP).
It was Mogae who had conceded that if the BDP popular vote was to drop below 50 percent, the party’s mandate would be undermined. “A scenario where we win the majority of seats but fail to command a comfortable majority in the popular vote is not a good one. Let us face it, it would undermine our mandate. Although in other countries it is not uncommon for a party to win elections sometimes with numbers as low as 30 percent, our opponents seem to think our 52 percent gives them some hope and even reason to celebrate,” he had said.
Khama’s legacy at stake
When President Mogae bypassed frontrunners for the second in command throne; David Magang and Ponatshego Kedikilwe, it was on the back of Professor Lawrence Schlemmer’s recommendation. The Cape Town based political consultant was engaged by the party after the 1994 general elections to offer prognosis of the party in the lead up to the 1999 general elections.
The 1994 general elections had dealt BDP a heavy blow and had leaders’ substantially bruised egos of its leadership. For the first time in years, the prospects of losing power to opposition party became real. Schlemmer’s recommendation would catapult Khama from the army to the country’s number two position. The report had recommended that BDP, which was riven with factions, bring someone with a strong personality and appeal within its fold to help unite the part. At that time the description duly fit Ian Khama.
Almost 20 years since his grand fashion arrival in politics, a lot of questions are hovering around as to whether a man who was brought in as messiah has succeeded. By the time he leaves office next year, BDP would have hit its lowest popular vote in history, and also had an offspring—something which was peculiar to the ruling party and ubiquitous within opposition parties since independence.
The BDP split resulting in the formation of Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) will remain a centre of debate in many years to come. BMD is part of the Umbrella for Democratic, a coalition of opposition parties ready to battle it out for power with BDP in the 2019 highly anticipated elections.
Khama will be looking at protecting his legacy and avoiding a situation where the party would lose power immediately after his leadership. The economy has stunted in the last few years and did not fully recover from the 2008 global economic crisis. Unemployment fuelled by job losses has added strain to Khama’s legacy and he has very limited time to reverse the situation.
Enter Mokgweetsi Masisi
Masisi will be sworn as president on the 1st of April 2018, becoming the fifth person to assume the office. His ascendance will be coupled by the desire to reverse the ill-will the party has gained since 2009 general elections. The split, as per admission of various leading figures in the party has badly hurt the party.
Masisi will try to avoid the ignominy of being the last man to be BDP state president. For the first time, BDP faces a united opposition front, with BCP having joined the UDC bandwagon. It is generally believed that if BDP could be having any advantage in the coming election, it would mostly be its financial strength, in terms of prospects, BDP would face another alternative government in UDC. Not only is UDC enjoying surging good will from the citizenry, its leadership in Duma Boko, Ndaba Gaolathe and Dumelang Saleshando proves to be equally capable.
Botswana has made improvements on preventing and ending arbitrary deprivation of liberty, but significant challenges remain in further developing and implementing a legal framework, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said at the end of a visit recently.
Head of the delegation, Elina Steinerte, appreciated the transparency of Botswana for opening her doors to them. Having had full and unimpeded access and visited 19 places of deprivation of liberty and confidentiality interviewing over 100 persons deprived of their liberty.
She mentioned “We commend Botswana for its openness in inviting the Working Group to conduct this visit which is the first visit of the Working Group to the Southern African region in over a decade. This is a further extension of the commitment to uphold international human rights obligations undertaken by Botswana through its ratification of international human rights treaties.”
Another good act Botswana has been praised for is the remission of sentences. Steinerte echoed that the Prisons Act grants remission of one third of the sentence to anyone who has been imprisoned for more than one month unless the person has been sentenced to life imprisonment or detained at the President’s Pleasure or if the remission would result in the discharge of any prisoner before serving a term of imprisonment of one month.
On the other side; The Group received testimonies about the police using excessive force, including beatings, electrocution, and suffocation of suspects to extract confessions. Of which when the suspects raised the matter with the magistrates, medical examinations would be ordered but often not carried out and the consideration of cases would proceed.
“The Group recall that any such treatment may amount to torture and ill-treatment absolutely prohibited in international law and also lead to arbitrary detention. Judicial authorities must ensure that the Government has met its obligation of demonstrating that confessions were given without coercion, including through any direct or indirect physical or undue psychological pressure. Judges should consider inadmissible any statement obtained through torture or ill-treatment and should order prompt and effective investigations into such allegations,” said Steinerte.
One of the group’s main concern was the DIS held suspects for over 48 hours for interviews. Established under the Intelligence and Security Service Act, the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) has powers to arrest with or without a warrant.
The group said the “DIS usually requests individuals to come in for an interview and has no powers to detain anyone beyond 48 hours; any overnight detention would take place in regular police stations.”
The Group was able to visit the DIS facilities in Sebele and received numerous testimonies from persons who have been taken there for interviewing, making it evident that individuals can be detained in the facility even if the detention does not last more than few hours.
Moreover, while arrest without a warrant is permissible only when there is a reasonable suspicion of a crime being committed, the evidence received indicates that arrests without a warrant are a rule rather than an exception, in contravention to article 9 of the Covenant.
Even short periods of detention constitute deprivation of liberty when a person is not free to leave at will and in all those instances when safeguards against arbitrary detention are violated, also such short periods may amount to arbitrary deprivation of liberty.
The group also learned of instances when persons were taken to DIS for interviewing without being given the possibility to notify their next of kin and that while individuals are allowed to consult their lawyers prior to being interviewed, lawyers are not allowed to be present during the interviews.
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention mentioned they will continue engaging in the constructive dialogue with the Government of Botswana over the following months while they determine their final conclusions in relation to the country visit.
Standard Chartered Bank Botswana (SCBB) has informed the government that it will not be accepting new loan applications for the Government Employees Motor Vehicle and Residential Property Advance Scheme (GEMVAS and LAMVAS) facility.
This emerges in a correspondence between Acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance Boniface Mphetlhe and some government departments. In a letter he wrote recently to government departments informing them of the decision, Mphetlhe indicated that the Ministry received a request from the Bank to consider reviewing GEMVAS and LAMVAS agreement.
He said: “In summary SCBB requested the following; Government should consider reviewing GEMVAS and LAMVAS interest rate from prime plus 0.5% to prime plus 2%.” The Bank indicated that the review should be both for existing GEMVAS and LAMVAS clients and potential customers going forward.
Mphetlhe said the Bank informed the Ministry that the current GEMVAS and LAMVAS interest rate structure results into them making losses, “as the cost of loa disbursements is higher that their end collections.”
He said it also requested that the loan tenure for the residential property loans to be increased from 20 to 25 years and the loan tenure for new motor vehicles loans to be increased from 60 months to 72 months.
Mphetlhe indicated that the Bank’s request has been duly forwarded to the Directorate of Public Service Management for consideration, since GEMVAS and LAMVAS is a Condition of Service Scheme. He saidthe Bank did also inform the Ministry that if the matter is not resolved by the 6th June, 2022, they would cease receipt of new GEMVAS and LAMVAS loan applications.
“A follow up virtual meeting was held to discuss their resolution and SCB did confirm that they will not be accepting any new loans from GEMVAS and LAMVAS. The decision includes top-up advances,” said Mphetlhe. He advised civil servants to consider applying for loans from other banks.
In a letter addressed to the Ministry, SCBB Chief Executive Officer Mpho Masupe informed theministry that, “Reference is made to your letter dated 18th March 2022 wherein the Ministry had indicated that feedback to our proposal on the above subject is being sought.”
In thesame letter dated 10 May 2022, Masupe stated that the Bank was requesting for an update on the Ministry’s engagements with the relevant stakeholder (Directorate of Public Service Management) and provide an indicative timeline for conclusion.
He said the “SCBB informs the Ministry of its intention to cease issuance of new loans to applicants from 6th June 2022 in absence of any feedback on the matter and closure of the discussions between the two parties.” Previously, Masupe had also had requested the Ministry to consider a review of clause 3 of the agreement which speaks to the interest rate charged on the facilities.
Masupe indicated in the letter dated 21 December 2021 that although all the Banks in the market had signed a similar agreement, subject to amendments that each may have requested. “We would like to suggest that our review be considered individually as opposed to being an industry position as we are cognisant of the requirements of section 25 of the Competition Act of 2018 which discourages fixing of pricing set for consumers,” he said.
He added that,“In this way,clients would still have the opportunity to shop around for more favourable pricing and the other Banks, may if they wish to, similarly, individually approach your office for a review of their pricing to the extent that they deem suitable for their respective organisations.”
Masupe also stated that: “On the issue of our request for the revision of the Interest Rate, we kindly request for an increase from the current rate of prime plus 0.5% to prime plus 2%, with no other increases during the loan period.” The Bank CEO said the rationale for the request to review pricing is due to the current construct of the GEMVAS scheme which is currently structured in a way that is resulting in the Bank making a loss.
“The greater part of the GEMVAS portfolio is the mortgage boo which constitutes 40% of the Bank’s total mortgage portfolio,” said Masupe. He saidthe losses that the Bank is incurring are as a result of the legacy pricing of prime plus 0% as the 1995 agreement which a slight increase in the August 2018 agreement to prime plus 0.5%.
“With this pricing, the GEMVAS portfolio has not been profitable to the Bank, causing distress and impeding its ability to continue to support government employees to buy houses and cars. The portfolio is currently priced at 5.25%,” he said. Masupe said the performance of both the GEMVAS home loan and auto loan portfolios in terms of profitability have become unsustainable for the Bank.
Healso said, when the agreement was signed in August 2018, the prime lending rate was 6.75% which made the pricing in effect at the time sufficient from a profitable perspective. “It has since dropped by a total 1.5%. The funds that are loaned to customers are sourced at a high rate, which now leaves the Bank with marginal profits on the portfolio before factoring in other operational expenses associated with administration of the scheme and after sales care of the portfolio,” said the CEO.