Former cabinet Minister, who was at some point a leading candidate for the portfolio of Vice President in the former President Festus Mogae administration, David Magang has again took a shot at the government of Botswana for lack of sight and vision with regard to the beneficiation of her mineral resources.
Magang shared his assessment of government at a public lecture organized by the University Of Botswana Department Of History on Thursday where he was the guest speaker. As a key presenter, his particular focus was to lead discussion in interpreting and interrogating a quote “A nation without a past is a lost nation” as extracted from a speech by Botswana’s founding President Sir Seretse Khama which he delivered during the 1970 University of Botswana (UB), Lesotho and Swaziland Graduation Ceremony in Swaziland.
Magang said he has been singing the same song to government since 1978 until 2006 when government heeded and implemented the long call for diamond beneficiation. “In Botswana, the one great lesson we have learnt is the belatedness with which it dawned on us that it was time we beneficiated our mineral resources, an imperative I obsessively kept calling attention to as far back as the early 80s and to which the powers-that-be were so lackadaisically resigned,” he lashed out at the government during the deliberation to the audience who were almost full in capacity at the state of the art new UB conference facility in Gaborone.
He continued to point out that sadly, in addition to the diamond beneficiation fracas, there is still a whole host of lessons that government has chosen to simply ignore. For example, he said Botswana’s examination-based educational system has on balance been resoundingly vain owing to its archaic emphasis on rote-learning instead of spontaneous internalization of the inculcated knowledge. “It should have been discarded a long time ago, like the Scandinavian country of Finland has, but why we continue to cling to it so boggles the mind as to numb the senses altogether,” the suburban Phakalane township developer maintained.
The business mogul also revealed why there was suddenly a need for a Directorate of Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) which was later established in 1994 – in order to combat corruption and economic crimes in the country. Economic prudence and a characteristically peace-loving bent on the part of Batswana are not recently nurtured virtues, he observed. He maintained that, “of course we have over the years seen the emergence of a level of greed and self-aggrandizement in certain quarters that is eye-poppingly brazen and blatant – necessitating our putting into place graft-bursting institutions such as DCEC to provide the necessary checks and balances – but that is more of an anomaly than an all-encompassing national trait.”
The property magnate said that in terms of the education, he also points a finger at government for not having listened to the late Patrick Van Rensburg in relation to embracing education with production at an early stage. The 79 year old hailed Patrick Van Rensburg as a pioneer educationist who founded the highly efficacious Brigades movement in Botswana at a time when Batswana were desperate for the barest vocational skills. He said “if we had keenly embraced his concept of education with production, the country’s unemployment levels would not be this acute. Although a vociferous proponent and practitioner of vocational education for self-employment, Patrick van Rensburg did not advocate for marginalisation or abolition of history in the school system as seems the case currently.”
He continued to take a shot: “yet all the above fair-skinned personages are not spoken of in the same glowing terms as the equally illustrious indigenous Batswana. None of them has been put on a particularly towering pedestal by the chroniclers and savants of our national history or merited a posthumous nominal honour after a national landmark,” he pointed out in his 1 hour 30 minutes long lecture to the audience.
According to the former ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) legislator, the blame, as far as he is concerned, “lies squarely on those who devise the curricula in the history departments at both the high school and university level. I need not stress that those who perform sterling in any facet of national progress must be equally lauded and proportionally projected irrespective of skin pigmentation. Colourbar must not be allowed to factor into the appreciation and salutation of our national heroes.”
When hitting at the UB academics on equal token as he did to a large extent to the government of the day, Magang highlighted that “my own hosts today, the University of Botswana authorities, bear their share of this oversight I regret to say.” He said he is given to understand that there is a long-held tradition at the national university whereby buildings and other constituent facilities are officially known by mere numbers instead of being named after national heroes some of whom he had made mention of in his address.
“Maybe the recent re-naming of the hospital at the University of Botswana after the recently departed Sir Ketumile Masire is a signal on the part of the university authorities that they are intent on making amends in this regard.” The former Lentsweletau Member of Parliament reminisced that once he asked the late Professor Thomas Tlou also why most of the theses of Botswana’s indigenous historians were based on research conducted in other countries when ideally their own country ought to take pride of place.
“The professor laid the blame squarely on Government: he told me whereas other governments were prepared to avail funding for research to even non-citizen historians, ours didn’t seem to care an iota,” he said. Magang continued: “almost every University of Botswana lecturer I have had occasion to talk to over the years bristles at the stigmatic absence of a printing press at a university that prides itself as one of the best on the continent. An in-house printing press would make information dissemination by way of books easier and cheaper. It would open the floodgates of indigenous bibliographical output, which presently comes only in trickles as international scholarship arbiters repeatedly lament.”
Magang asserted that Africa is rich in an indispensable amount of epoch-making history and yet Caucasians, who document much of world history, typically dismiss the continent as inconsequential by any stretch of the imagination. He said this same cynicism was directed at Botswana by the colonialists, who regarded the country as far from historically worthwhile when he cross-examined Sir Khama’s appeal for Africans to break-away from the shackles of mental oppression, and become masters of their own destiny by writing their own history. Magang asked to what extent are efforts made to see to it that certain misconceptions or seeming ambiguities do not hold or are clarified.
For example, he wondered why most Batswana continue to cling to the erroneous position that The Three DiKgosi went to England to ask for British protection when the fact of the matter was that the protectorate – or a profaketorate as he calls it – had been imposed on the country, suddenly and unheralded, by the British government a decade earlier in 1885 and that the object of The Three DiKgosi’s mission was to register their revulsion at the planned handover of our country to Cecil John Rhodes. In the 1960s, he stated that Botswana was perceived as a country which was virtually without history which made the country earn a tagline: “happy is a nation that has no history. By this standard, there can be few nations happier than Bechuanaland.”
Part of the Sir Seretse’s speech reads: "we were taught, sometimes in a very positive way, to despise ourselves and our ways of life. We were made to believe that we had no past to speak of, no history to boast of. The past, so far as we were concerned, was just a blank and nothing more. Only the present mattered and we had very little control over it. It seemed we were in for a definite period of foreign tutelage, without any hope of our ever again becoming our own masters.”
“The end result of all this was that our self-pride and our self-confidence were badly undermined. It should now be our intention to try to retrieve what we can of our past. We should write our own history books to prove that we did have a past, and that it was a past that was just as worth writing and learning about as any other. We must do this for the simple reason that a nation without a past is a lost nation, and a people without a past are a people without a soul," it continued. Magang interrogated the famous speech, and how it was subsequently misread or misunderstood, in order to be able to explain Sir Seretse Khama’s vision of Botswana’s development with the country’s history as a cardinal aspect of nation-building.
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.