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Parliament throws out Keorapetse’s constitution plea

The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) dominated parliament has once again rejected a motion calling for the review of the Constitution of the Republic of Botswana. There have been many unsuccessful calls from various quarters calling for the same exercise.

This time the motion was tabled last week by Member of Parliament for Selibe Phikwe West, Dithapelo Keorapetse. In an interview with Weekendpost Keorapetse emphasized that a constitutional review was appropriate considering the evolving democracy that Botswana is faced with. According to Keorapetse, Botswana is one of the few African Countries with an old constitution crafted during colonial rule.

“Most countries in Africa have reviewed their template constitutions given to them by their erstwhile colonial masters. When these African countries matured, they decided to write their own constitutions with no input by outsiders, especially their former colonizers,” he said.
The constitution of Botswana was drawn up in 1964 when Bechuanaland readied for independence.  Ever since then there hasn’t been a holistic review of the country legal blueprint.

The 1963-1964 constitutional talks, held in Lobatse were between the then colonial masters, chiefs and representatives of few political parties existing at the time. At the time most Batswana were illiterate, let alone politically developed. “The country was very poor. There was no intelligentsia and no professional bodies such as the Law Society of Botswana and other civil society organizations. There wasn’t much consultation and even if there was, very few Batswana could understand what was required of them in terms of their contribution to the constitution.”

 All these pre independence attributes, Keorapetse believes resulted in few Batswana meaningfully participating towards the development of Botswana’s constitution. He argues that today contemporary Botswana is far much better, that review for constitution is a timely call considering the existence of civil society organizations, academics, professional institutions, business interest groups, and trade unions, groups representing marginalized groups and or “minorities”, youth, women and many other stakeholders with full understanding of the subject matter.

He says compared to colonial era, today Botswana has more political parties with insightful, vibrant, intelligent politicians who are well grounded on issues of law. The Botswana Congress Party (BCP) spokesperson reiterates that there is a need to mobilize resources for a comprehensive review of the constitution. The youthful legislator told Weekendpost that it was essential to set up a constitutional review commission and call a national constitutional conference where the joint knowledge of the people can be sought regarding the development of the country’s constitution.

Globally Botswana has been showed with praises on international fora as a shining example and true epitome of democracy revered for its sustenance of liberal democratic principles since independence. Botswana has never postponed general elections and it always conducts non violent and supposedly free and fair polls. However, there are debates about the extent to which the country’s constitution enshrines democratic principles and the manner in which its strong soft autocratic state conducts the country’s affairs. Jurists have observed that Botswana’s constitutional development has been made by judges adjudicating cases in the courts. But it has been argued that judges don’t make the law as this is the responsibility of the legislature and that for this reason, “Batswana and parliament should enact a new constitution,” said Keorapetse.

The former University of Botswana Lecture shuns the ruling party‘s view that a piecemeal approach towards developing the constitution is the best method purportedly because it is cheap and that there is no urgent need for overhaul. “The exercise of constitutional review would be expensive; it is difficult to place a price tag on democratic values. We have an opportunity as a country to reclaim our rightful place in the continent and the world as a shining example of true democracy by modernizing our democracy through developing the constitution and accordingly our democratic institutions,” he says.

Critics of Botswana‘s constitution believe that Botswana has weak oversight bodies. The Opposition is of the view that watchdog institution like DCEC, Ombudsman and other are toothless and only play to the tune of government and ruling party music.  “There is a need for improvement and establishment of new key democratic institutions including watchdog institutions or institutions supporting democracy such as the Human Rights Commission, Media, Ombudsman, Auditor General,” added Keorapetse. He further said it was important that Botswana constitution be aligned to international democratic standards and that Batswana, united in their diversity, meaningfully participate towards constitutional development.

Legal experts believe that the current constitution of Botswana does not include the the recognized generation of Human Rights. Another focal point and main issues of concern with the country current constitution is the powers of the president. It is believed the President is too powerful for a democratic state, currently the constitution of Botswana provide for the Presidency‘s supervisory role over all oversight institutions and he also appoints the Directors of all the Key bodies, something which critics believe raises conflict of interest and poses threat to democracy.

Furthermore Keorapetse observed that parliament and Judiciary were not autonomous “Parliament’s powers and independence should be enhanced. The judiciary must be more independent and have integrity,” he said. For many years academics, lawyers, opposition political parties, media and other pro-democratic Batswana have been bewailing the powers of the presidency. Pierre du Toit correctly observed in 1995 that one of the distinctive traits that emerged in the democratic politics in the post-independence Botswana is that at the national level, presidential politics dominated other aspects of parliamentary process.

The executive power of the republic vests in the president (Section 47(1) of the Constitution of Botswana) and he shall act in his own deliberate judgment and he is not obliged to take or follow any advice tendered to him by any person or authority (Section 47(2).
Key Dingake argued, in his 1999 book-Key Aspects of the Constitutional Law of Botswana, that this effectively authorizes the president to rule single handedly and/or authorizes dictatorship and that it is difficult to comprehend the wisdom behind this provision considering that in Botswana the president is not directly elected. Dingake further cautions about section 41of the constitution in the same book that the president is effectively above the law as long as he holds office.

Keorapetse argues that the status quo in which parliament has no authority whatsoever to remove the president even on account of serious misconduct, serious crime or misdemeanor or breach of the constitution or any law is serious threat to democracy and justice.
“The constitution does not provide for impeachment of the president but provides for motion of no confidence on the government, it must be reviewed in part to provide for impeachment of the president by parliament for felonies, misdemeanors, misconduct and breach of the law,” he said.

The Selibe Phikwe West lawmaker further states that the constitution must provide that the president can be sued for civil or criminal wrongs. “Botswana doesn’t need strongmen to lead it; it needs strong democratic institutions and liberal democratic constitution reflecting the aspirations of the people,” he said. When contributing to the debate in parliament Gaborone Boningnton North legislator and leader of opposition, Duma Boko affirmed necessity for a constitutional review saying it would enshrine all voices of Batswana, hence nourishing the country’s democracy.

Boko observed that oversight bodies which he labels toothless and just a waste of taxpayers’ money as they are captured by the executive and the President. Member of Parliament for Bobonong, Shaw Kgathi quashed the need to have a constitution review, noting that the current constitution has the interest of Batswana at heart and has served the country well since independence. Dithapelo Keorapetse who is unmoved on his call for a constitution review cautions against constitutional reform spearheaded by the executive incase parliament considers his motion in future saying it may further strengthen executive power over the judicature and parliament.

”Calls for constitutional review emanate from excessive constitutional and other discretionary powers of the president vis-à-vis other democratic institutions. Constitutional reform advocates are calling for more powers and independence of parliament and the courts so that these institutions can provide effective checks and balances on the government. If the executive proposes a constitution that would entrench more dictatorship like the current document, Batswana must reject it outright,” said Keorapetse.

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Botswana’s development agenda in jeopardy

21st September 2020
Botswana’s-development-agenda-in-jeopardy--water-construction

Stanbic Bank Botswana Quarterly Economic Review indicates that Botswana will fail to meet some of its Vision 2036 targets, particularly unemployment reduction and reaching high-income status.

The report says this is mainly due to the slow economic growth that the country is currently experiencing. This Quarterly Economic Review focuses on the 2020 Budget Speech.

The first paper reviews the entire budget with its key observations being that this budget is prepared as prescribed by the Public Finance Management Act; the priorities it seeks to address are drawn from Vision 2036 and the eleventh

The 2020 budget Speech, which was the maiden speech by the Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Dr. Thapelo Matsheka, and the first after the 2019 general elections, was delivered to Parliament on the 4th of February 2020.

It has been well received by the labour unions, business community, and the public at large as well as international organisations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

It mainly derived its support from key facets including, emphasis on changing the business-as-usual approach to development; outlining the transformation agenda; fiscal reform that minimizes the negative impact on economic development and human welfare, competiveness and the decision to implement the 2019 negotiated and agreed public sector.

The budget’s progress review shows that economic growth was consistent with the NDP 11 projections, with growth of around 4 percent. At this growth rate, the country would neither ascend to a high-income status nor reduce unemployment towards the Vision 2036 target of a single digit.

Simple calculations of this review confirm that the economy will need to grow the Vision 2036’s target of 6 percent over the next 16 years for per capita income to increase from around USD 8,000.00 to above USD 12,000.00 in current prices.

Further, the population is anticipated to grow by only 2 percent per annum.

For this reason, the focal areas for the forthcoming FY’s budget include measures to increase economic growth towards an average of 6 percent per annum.

Economic diversification is reportedly progressing fairly well. The report says, the share of the non-mining private sector in value added has risen to 66 percent in 2018 from to 63 percent in 2015.

The sectoral pattern of growth showed that the performance of services sector (particularly transport & communications, trade, hotels & restaurants, and finance & business services) has been the silver lining and that of mining sector was subdued whilst the utility sector disappointed.

The drive towards the service sector of the economy, especially to low-productivity activities (tourism, public administration, wholesaling and retailing) does not bode well for the country’s development aspirations.

In the previous versions of this Quarterly Review, it was noted that there is need for the rethinking of economic diversification. Since the country’s domestic market is small, it is inevitable that economic diversification not only focus on broadening the product mix, but also the composition of exports and markets.

This understanding of economic diversification has not been embraced by this year’s budget. Consequently, Botswana’s exports are still overwhelmingly diamonds, which means that the rest of economic sectors are still highly dependent on foreign-exchange earnings from diamonds. Thus, “the transformation programme requires a review of the country’s entire ecosystem”.

The budget review of the economic context also depicts that an economy with positive medium-term prospects, with growth expected to recover to 4.4 percent in 2020 from the expected growth of 36 percent in 2019 largely due to faster growth of services sectors and, thereafter, to slow-down to 4 percent in 2021.

These projected growth rates are comparable to those of the IMF staff’s baseline scenario of 4.2 percent in 2020 and 4 percent in 2021. Thus, the business-as-usual scenario produces growth rates that are still too low to achieve Botswana’s development objectives and create enough jobs to absorb the new entrants into the labour market.

Trade tensions between the two major markets for diamond exports, viz., the United States of America and China, is one of the factors that are cited as contributing to, indeed, undermining not only the domestic growth, but also the fiscal position.

Another notable downside risk to both global and domestic growth is outbreak of the coronavirus in China around January 2020. This has been declared as a global health emergency. In an attempt to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus pneumonia, the Chinese authorities have ordered city lockdowns and extended holidays, of course, at the expense of near- term economic growth, according to the new Stanbic Bank Botswana report.

According to Nomura Holdings Inc., fewer migrant workers returned for work than in previous years and business activities have been slow to pick up. The havoc wreaked by the virus on the world’s second largest economy is likely to spill over to the global economy. In fact, it has resulted in a glut in crude oil and, thereby placed oil markets into a contango, i.e., a market structure where near-term prices trade at a discount to future contracts.

It also presents significant risks one of Botswana’s main drivers of economic growth, diversification and foreign exchange earnings. According to the Financial Times (February 13, 2020), Chinese tourists spent $130 billion overseas in 2018. Regardless of whether the growth materializes, the projected domestic growth rate would not transform the economy to a high-income one.

Progress towards reduction of unemployment, to a target of single digit, and poverty and achieving inclusive growth has also been relatively slow, the Stanbic Bank Botswana Review says.

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OP leases Orapa House

21st September 2020
Orapa House

Ministry of Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration (MOPAGPA) has through the Office of the President (OP) proposed to avail Orapa House for use by private training institutions as well as research institutions involved in the area of technology development.

For a very long time the monumental building located in the heart of the city has been a white elephant, despite government purchasing it for nearly P80 million from De Beers in 2012.

However, government has now identified a productive use for the iconic building. “The overall vision is for the building to be transformed into a hub for digital technology research and development to be carried-out by institutions, such as; Limkokwing University, BIUST, BITRI and other relevant stakeholders.”

The decision was taken as government traverse a new path of transforming the economy from a mineral led economy to a knowledge based economy through the promotion of research and innovation. However, the facility will need major maintenance to be carried-out in order to meet the requirements of the proposed change in use.

“The work will include provision of laboratories, work stations, production areas and seminar rooms; audio visual centre, high speed internet connectivity, exhibition areas and offices,” reads the proposal note for the development.

These developments will be done through the refurbishment and maintenance of the main building, workshop, and ablution block, gate house, parking area, grounds, and access control and security service.

“There will be minimal modifications to the structure as it stands. The project is estimated to cost approximately P50, 000, 000,” says the report. In this regard, it is said, the initial scope of the OP facility will be modified to accommodate the envisaged digital technology research and development hub.

With funds needed to improve the building, OP has requested that; “the 2020/21 annual budget provision for Orapa House will need to be increased by P37,500,000 from P2,500,000 to P40,000,000 to kick start the maintenance works.” Funds will be sourced from the projects that have been delayed due to Covid-19 protocols during the 2020/21 financial year.

The building has been a thorny issue for government for years. Initially, OP was expected to move there but the move never materialised. At one point it was a question of whether the Office of the President and the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development were planning to override a decision by Parliament which rejected the proposal to buy Orapa House under the belief that government may be buying its own property. The building was to be bought at a negotiated cost of P79 million.

Again in 2012, Government had wanted to buy Orapa House for a negotiated P79m but the Finance and Estimates Committee of Parliament had rejected the request because of the inconsistencies realised in the supporting documents of the proposed procurement. The valuation of the building was put at P74 million.

The Ministry of Lands and Housing had initially offered De Beers P73, 000,000 as the purchase price. However, De Beers countered with P85, 000,000. On negotiation and converging of the minds, the selling price was finally agreed at P79, 000,000.

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Sad state of Brigades: dumped and ignored!

21st September 2020
Brigades

Auditor General, Pulane Letebele, has expressed discontentment at the worrying and deteriorating state of brigades in the country.

In an audit inspection which was carried out at Tshwaragano Brigade in Gabane, a number of observations showed weaknesses and shortcomings in the conduct of the financial affairs of the institution.

According to Letebele’s report, former students of the brigade had been engaged to carry out maintenance works on the school premises, comprising of painting, tiling, plumbing and electrical works, which covered the period from July 2017 to June 2018.

Although the agreed maintenance period had elapsed, the works had not been completed because of unavailability of funds and this situation had persisted up till the time of inspection in November 2019.

Auditor General says arrangements should have been made in time for funds to be available to complete these relatively minor works even before the works commenced.

Various contractors had been engaged for clearing the bush and for the supply of concrete stones, pit and river sand and hiring equipment for digging the trench towards the construction of an auto mechanics workshop, the report said.

It stated that the cost of services and supplies provided totalled P117 949.80. However, despite the services and the supplies having been paid for, the construction works had not commenced for a long period afterwards, resulting in the trench filling back in.

The audit inquiries had not elicited satisfactory responses as both the institution and the Ministry had not accepted the responsibility for the project, although orders for the provision for the supplies had been made. For their part, the Ministry had stated that they had sub warranted funds for the purchase of porta cabins.

Letebele indicated that it is therefore confusing that a project which is critical to the functioning of an institution such as this one would commence without a well-defined plan.

Furthermore, the accounting and maintenance of records for the supplies items were not of the standard prescribed by the Supplies Regulations and Procedures in that the supplies ledger cards, the main accounting records for Government assets, were not properly maintained for the recording of receipts and issues.

This had resulted in significant discrepancies between physical and ledger balances, while in other instances the supplies items had not been recorded at all.

The report says 24 of the 91 new computers found in the computer laboratory at Kumakwane ABC campus were not recorded anywhere, as were the other computers in the storeroom which could not be counted due to the disorderly storage conditions.

The institution had entered into a contract agreement with a security company for the provision of security services at Tshwaragano Brigade, ABC and Horticulture campuses at Kumakwane for a 2-year period which ended in June 2018, WeekendPost learnt.

After the contract expired in June 2018, an extension was granted till the 30th September 2018. Since then, there has been no security service coverage for the institution to-date. According to Auditor General, in the face of prevailing crimes, it is of paramount importance that government properties be protected by provision of security services at all times.

At Tlokweng Brigade, it was noted that the kitchen staff were working under difficult conditions as the kitchen facilities and equipment, such as the cold room, tilting pot, food warmers and solar power for hot water were dysfunctional. The kitchen roof was leaking and men’s restrooms was not working. All these need to be brought to a reasonable and functional state of repair.

The kitchen staff should use a purpose-designed Rations Ledger for the recording of receipts and issues of foodstuffs to reflect the usage of those items. As far back as 2014 the Department of Buildings and Engineering Services had found that the house occupied by the bursar was uninhabitable on account of structural defects, the report said.

A site visit during the audit had established that the house was indeed unfit for occupation as there were cracks on the walls, power switches were not working and the roof was leaking. On a sadder note, there were a number of finished items of clothing, such as dresses, shirts, and jackets from students’ practical exercises from the Fashion Design Textiles Workshop.

Auditor General shared her take on this, saying: “I have not been able to ascertain the policy on the disposal of products from these practicals. A trace of 103 green acid-proof overalls which had been purchased in August 2018 had indicated that there was no record of these items having been recorded or issued, nor were they available in stock. I was not able to obtain any explanation for this situation.”

Kgatleng brigade was also audited and inspected by Auditor General who observed that the brigade has 26 institutional houses at Bokaa, both old campus and new campus. Some of these houses are very old and dilapidated, with two declared uninhabitable. The condition of the houses is a clear indication of lack of care and maintenance of these properties.

At the time of the audit, there was no contractor engaged for the provision of security guard services at the new campus, after expiry of the previous one in July 2019.  It is hoped that steps would be taken to safeguard the security of the premises and government properties against any acts of hooliganism.

In August 2019, there was a break-in at the electrical and at the plumbing maintenance workshops and a number of high value items, such as drilling machines, bolt cutters, spanners and cables, were stolen. The break-in and theft were reported to the police.

“However, at the time of writing this report I was not aware of the outcome of the police investigation, nor of any loss report submitted in terms of the Supplies Regulations and Procedures,” Letebele said.

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