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Tshekedi fights to access P50 billion Levy

The Tourism Development Levy is destined to be the cash cow of the Ministry Of Environment, Natural Resources, Conservation and Tourism. After years of complaining about a small budget compared to other Ministries and a faltering levies such as the plastic levy, Mr Tshekedi Khama is determined to harvest from the newly introduced Tourism Development Levy.

But there is a small glitch, his attempt to squeeze through a Bill that would allow his Ministry to use funds from the Tourism Development Levy through a certificate of urgency hit a snag this week in Parliament as Members of Parliament from across the political divide prayed for time and understanding. The Levy is not without its fair share of controversy because in some quarters it has been branded ‘a quick money spinning’ scheme with the potential to scare away tourists.

Khama had wanted to move in terms of Standing Order 72.3 that the Bill and its stages be proceeded with, as a matter of urgency. He said the reason for his approach is that his Ministry has been afforded the opportunity to introduce a Tourism Development Levy, but up until now, they have not been able to use any funding other than which they had got from tourism other than for the Training Levy.

The Minister said it has become quite apparent in recent times that some of the ministry’s facilities have seen their conditions degrading, “but we have also wanted to develop some of our monuments and our heritage sites. We believe that as we have commitments coming towards the end of the year, we would therefore like that we be allowed to present this and proceed forthwith so that we can at least begin for now to start collecting the funding, and then we can start to develop each tourism site for local tourism as well as international tourism to better facilitate for those visitors that we have in the country.”

Minister Khama has in the past decried his Ministry’s inadequate budget and at some point opposed a supplementary budget from the Directorate on Intelligence Security (DISS) saying the money could be going to more deserving projects at his Ministry. The Tourism Development Levy could be the answer hence Khama and his troops want to speedily access it after it came into effect in June this year.

Khama’s Ministry introduced a $30 (about P330) tax on all tourists entering the country in an effort to raise money to support conservation in the safari hotspot. The Tourism Development Levy was on the nib of being introduced last year but stalled after opposition from the Hospitality and Tourism Association (HATAB). But as usual, Khama and his team got their way. The Botswana Tourism Organisation (BTO) is of the view that the fee will be owed by any visitor to Botswana’s airports and border posts from June 1, payable at the point of entry. Residents of countries within the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which counts 15 members, will be exempt from the charge.

"The levy is purposed to support the growth of the industry and broaden the tourism base, resultantly improving the lives of the people of Botswana,” the BTO has said. “The objective of the levy is to raise funds for conservation and national tourism development in order to support the growth of the industry and broaden the tourism base.”  HATAB had complained last year that it nor other stakeholders had been consulted on the potential tax. Botswana, estimated to welcome some 1.6million visitors a year, stands to make around £34.1million a year from the tax, taking into account the 190,000 SADC visitors.

Gaborone South Member of parliament, Kagiso Molatlhegi was quick to reject Khama’s request, “I do not agree with the certificate of urgency my main reason being that we have never met before to discuss and correct where there should be corrections in this Bill. Still on that the Honourable Minister has never met us to explain to us the impacts that this levy will have on our tourism? My request is just for this Bill to be taken to General Assembly where the Minister would be able to explain its benefits and how we should be able help him sell it to the nation,” he said.

Pius Mokgware, Member of Parliament for Gabane-Mankgodi also had his reasons as to why the Minister’s plea should be rejected. He said as members of the Statutory Bodies committee “they have met with the Minister’s committee before and there were lots of pending issues which need to be addressed. We were not given the opportunity to go through this Bill, so it cannot just be tabled before this House as matter of urgency. Furthermore the Minister has never explained this Bill outside this House, my suggestion is just for him to take this Bill back to the general assembly where we would be able to discuss it and agree with him after his explanation.”

Francistown South legislator, Wynter Mmolotsi also denied the minister’s request. He said he is a Member of the Wildlife, Environment and Natural Resources Committee of Parliament. “This is where I was expecting to have come across a Bill like this, but it is unfortunate that the Minister or even his staff never bothered to come and consult us on a Bill that is likely to have very serious implications on the lives and businesses of our people,” he said. Mmolotsi told the Minister knows that in his ministry, there is yet another fund which was established many years ago called the Plastic Ley Fund, but even up to now businesses collect that particular fund, but the Government is not making any effort to recoup that money in anyway.

“That is not the only levy in that ministry, there are other levies that are there which are not understood, some of which have caused havoc within the ministry. We cannot allow yet another levy to be imposed before we are thoroughly consulted. That is why I am in agreement with those who are saying, “let us go to the General Assembly and discuss this matter.””

For his part, Selibe Phikwe West Member of Parliament, Dithapelo Keorapetse made an observation: “I have been looking at the Bill before us here, I do not think it is introducing any new levy, but what it seeks to do, I think is to expand the usage of the levy as is currently provided for. I think it is appropriate that the Minister goes to the General Assembly so that we discuss the matter further, so that he can unpack it for us, probably even bring his technocrats to also expand and help us understand.”  Like other legislators Keorapetse observed that he was not consulted and those who advise them on Bills of this nature must also be consulted.

“I find it very difficult for me to support the certificate of urgency. I must say that I do not think this is a bad Bill, but we need to discuss it more,” he said. Botswana is popular with European tourists who come here seeking to spot the Big Five on safari, as well as for visits to the Okavango Delta, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa. Botswana also boasts as one of the best safaris in Africa.

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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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