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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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BONELA speaks on same-sex decriminalization case

18th October 2021
BONELA

In June 2019, a case involving the Attorney General was brought before the High Court, in which the applicant Letsweletse Motshidiemang challenged Sections 164 (a) and 167 of the Penal Code. The applicant contended that these sections are unconstitutional because they violate the fundamental rights of liberty and privacy. 

The applicant argued that these sections violated his right and freedom to liberty as he was subject to abject ignominy. These laws subjected the LGBTIQ community to brutal and debasing treatment through social control and public morality. On the 1st of November 2017, the Botswana High Court further allowed Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana (LEGABIBO) to join the case as amicus curiae.

However, in July 2019, the respondents, in this case, i.e. the Government, filed an appeal against this iconic High Court ruling seeking re-criminalization of homosexuality. Human Rights Group has criticized this move of the Government all over the world.  The appeal was heard before five judges at the Court of Appeal on Tuesday. The State was represented by Advocate Sidney Pilane, while LEGABIBO and Letsweletse Motshidiemang were represented by Tshiamo Rantao and Gosego Rockfall Lekgowe, respectively.

Non-Governmental Organizations advocating for the LGBTIQ+ community joined the two parties at the Court of Appeal during this case. They argue that the minority group should enjoy their rights, especially the right to privacy and health. Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA) Chief Executive Officer, Cindy Kelemi says the issues being raised by LEGABIBO are that as individuals belonging to the LGBTIQ community, they have and must share equal rights, including the right to privacy, which also speaks to being able to involve in sexual activities, including anal sex.

“Those rights are framed within the constitution, and therefore a violation of any of those rights allow them to approach the courts and seek for redress. We do not need the law to be regulating what we do in the privacy of our homes. The law cannot determine how and when we can have sex and with who, so the law does not have any business in that context. What we are saying is that the law is violating the right to privacy,” she said on the sidelines of the decriminalization case in Gaborone on Tuesday.

The first case involving the homosexual act was the Utjiwa Kanane vs the State in 2003. Contrary to section 164(c) of the Penal Code, Kanane was charged with committing an unnatural offence and engaging in indecent practices between males, contrary to section 167. The conduct at issue involved Graham Norrie, a British tourist, and occurred in December 1994. (Norrie pleaded guilty, paid a fine, and left the country.)

Kanane pleaded not guilty, alleging that sections 164(c) and 167 both violated the constitution. The High Court ruled that these sections of the Penal Code did not violate the constitution. Kanane then appealed to the Court of Appeal. BONELA CEO recalls that in its judgment then, the High Court indicated, Batswana were not ready for homosexual acts. Twenty years later, the same courts are saying that Batswana are ready, she says.

“They gave the explicit example that shows that indeed Batswana are ready. There are policies and documents in place that accommodate people from marginalized communities and minority populations. The question now is that why is it hard now to recognize the full rights of an individual who is of the LGBTI community?” She further says intimacy is only an expression. The law that restricts homosexuality makes it hard for LGBTIQ members to express themselves in a way that affirms who they are.

“We want a situation where the law facilitates for the LGBTIQ community to be free and express themselves. The stigma that they face in communities is way too punitive. They are called names; some have been physically violated and raped at times. It shows that the law doesn’t not only prevent them from expressing themselves, it also exposes them to violence.” The law on its own, Kelemi submits, cannot change the status quo, adding that there is a need for more awareness and education on human rights and what it means for an individual to have rights.

“As it is now, it is very tough for some to do that because of a legal environment that is not enabling. We also want to see a situation where LGBTIQ+ people can access services and be confident that they are provided with non-discriminatory services. It is challenging now because health care providers, social workers and law enforcement officers believe that it is illegal to be homosexual. What we are saying is that if you have an enabling law, then that will facilitate for people to be able to express themselves, including accessing health services,” Kelemi said.

“As we are doing this advocacy work, one of the issues that we picked up is that there is lack of capacity, especially on the part of healthcare workers. We noted that when we provide services or mobilize Men who have sex with other men (MSM) to access health facilities, health care workers are not welcoming, forcing them to hideaway. We must put an end to this to allow these people the freedom that they equally deserve.”

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Masisi warns Gov’t officials

18th October 2021
President Masisi

The President, Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi, has declared as an act of corruption the attitude and practice by government officials and contractors to deliver projects outside time and budget, adding that such a practice should end as it eats away from the public coffers.

For a very long time, management problems and vast cost overruns have been the order of the day in Botswana, resulting in public frustrations. Speaking at the commissioning of the Masama/Mmamashia 100 Kilometres project this week, Masisi said: “There is a tendency in government to leave projects to drag outside their allocated completion time and budget. I want to stress that this will not be tolerated. It is an act of corruption, and I will be engaging offices on this issue,” Masisi said.

In an interview with this publication over the issue, the Director-General of the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC), Tymon Katholo, says, “any project that goes beyond its scope and budget raises red flags.” He continued that: “Corruption on these issues can be administrative and criminal. It may be because government officials have been negligent or been paid to be negligent by ignoring certain obligations or procedures. “This, as you may be aware has serious implications on not only of the economy but even the citizens who use these facilities or projects,” Katlholo said, adding that his agency is equally concerned.

According to the DCEC director, the selection, planning and delivery of infrastructure or projects is critical. In most cases, this is where the corruption would have occurred, leading to a troubled project. A public finance expert at the University of Botswana (UB), Emmanuel Botlhale, attributes poor project implementation to declining public accountability, lack of commitment to reforming the public sector, a decline in the commitment by state authorities and lack of a culture of professional project management.

In his research paper titled, ‘Enhancing public project implementation in Botswana during the NDP 11 period,’ Botlhale stated that successful implementation is critical in development planning. If there is poor project implementation, economic development will be stalled.
Corruption is particularly relevant for large and uncommon projects where the public sector acts as a client, and experts say Megaprojects are very likely to be affected by corruption. Corruption worsens both cost and time performance and the benefits expected from such projects.

Speaking during this week’s Masama/Mmamashia pipeline commissioning, Khato Civils chairman said Africans deserve a chance because they are capable, further adding that the Africans do not have to think that only Whites and Chinese people can do mega projects.  During his rule, former president Ian Khama went public to attack Chinese contractors for costing the government a move that ended up fuelling tensions between China and Botswana after Khama dispatched the then Minister of Foreign Affairs, Pelonomi Venson Moitoi, to China to register Botswana’s complaints with Chinese government-owned construction companies.  Botswana had approached the Chinese government for help in its marathon battle with Chinese companies contracted to build, among others, the failed controversial Morupule B power plant and refurbishment of Sir Seretse Khama International Airport (SSIK).

 

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Guma’s battle for millions of Pula give Court headache

18th October 2021
Guma Moyo

A legal battle between former Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) legislator Samson Moyo Guma and First National Bank (FNB) over a multimillion oil refinery project intensified this week with Justice Zein Kebonang referring the matter to Court of Appeal for determination.  The project belongs to Moyo Guma’s company called United Refineries which he has since placed under judicial management.

The war of words between Moyo Guma and FNB escalated after the company’s property worth millions of Pula were put up for sale in execution by the bank and scheduled to take place on 8th October. It emerges from Court papers that the bank had secured an order from the High Court to place the company’s property under the hammer.

Moyo Guma then also approached the High Court seeking among others that the public auction scheduled for 8th October 2021 be stayed. He contended that the assets that were to be sold belonged in reality to United Refineries and that as the company had been under judicial management at the time of the attachment, the intended sale in execution was unlawful.

He also sought the Court to declare that the writs of execution against the properties of guarantors and sureties of United Refineries Botswana Holdings Propriety Limited (the company) are unlawful.  Moyo Guma also sought a stay of the execution against the property known as Plot 43556 in Francistown, that is, the land buildings, plant and machinery which make up the property and any all immovable or movable property belonging to the guarantors and sureties of the company pending finalization of the winding up of United Refineries.

But FNB disputed Moyo Guma’s assertions and submitted that the properties in question belonged to TEC (Pty) Ltd and not United Refiners. TEC Pty Ltd which is one of the shareholders in United Refineries is one of the sureties and co-principal debtors of a debt amounting to P24 million owed by United Refineries to FNB.  FNB argued in papers that the properties belonged to TEC because it was TEC which had passed a covering mortgage bond in its favour over the property it now sought to execute.

Moyo Guma submitted that the covering mortgage bond passed in favour of FNB did not tell the full story as the property in question was in truth and fact owned by United Refineries and not TEC Pty Ltd. He maintained that the shares had been had been passed by the company in exchange for the properties in question and that the parties had always been guided by the spirt of the share agreement in dealing with each other despite delays in the change or transfer of ownership of plots 43556 and plot 43557 in Francistown.

Kebonang said it was clear to him that the two plots (43556 and 435570 belonged to United Refineries notwithstanding that TEC (Pty) Ltd had passed a mortgage bond over them in favour of FNB.  “For this reason the properties were immune from attachment or sale in execution so long as the judicial management order was in place,” he said.

The background of the case is that Moyo Guma together with five other investors, namely Elffel Flats (Pty) Ltd; Mmoloki Tibe; TEC (Pty) Ltd; Profidensico (Pty) Ltd and Tiedze Bob Chapi, each bound themselves as sureties and co-principal debtors in respect of a debt owed by a company called United Refineries Botswana Holdings (Proprietary) Limited (the Company), to First National Bank Botswana (FNBB) (1st Respondent).

FNB had extended banking facilities to the company in the amount of P24 million which was then secured through the suretyship of Moyo Guma and other shareholders.  Court records show that Moyo had on the 11th February obtained a temporary order for the appointment of a provisional judicial manager in respect of United Refineries and it was confirmed by the High Court on 24th September 2019.

In terms of the final court order by the High Court issued by Justice Tshepho Motswagole all judicial proceedings against the company, execution of all writs, summons and process were stayed and could only proceed with leave of Court. Court documents also show that First National Bank had sued the company and the sureties for the recovery of the debt owed to it and through a consent order, the bank withdrew its lawsuit against the company.

But FNB later instituted fresh proceedings against Moyo Guma and did not cite the company in its proceedings.  “There is no explanation in the record as to why the Applicant was now reflected as the 1st Defendant and why the company had suddenly been removed as the 1st Defendant. There was no application either for amendment or substitution by the bank,” said Justice Kebonang.

FNB had also argued that it sought to proceed to execute against Moyo Guma and other sureties on the basis of the suretyship they signed and that by signing the suretyship agreement, Moyo and other sureties had renounced all defence available to them and could therefore be sued without first proceedings against the principal debtor (United Refineries).  The question, Kebonang said, was that can FNB proceed to execute against Moyo Guma and other sureties on the basis of the suretyship contracts they signed?

“The starting point is that the Applicant (Moyo Guma) and others by binding themselves as sureties became liable for debts of the principal debtor and such liability is joint and several. He said the consequences of placing the company under judicial management means that every benefit extended to it should also extend to sureties.

“If the company is afforded more time to pay or its debt is discharged, reduced or compromised or suspended the obligation of sureties is to be likewise treated. It follows in my view that where judicial proceedings are suspended or stayed against the company, then any recourse against the sureties is similarly stayed or suspended,’ said Kebonang.

He added that “In the circumstances of this case, it seems to me that so long as the company is under judicial management, the moratorium that applies to it must also apply to its sureties/guarantors and no execution of the writs should be permitted against them. Any execution would be invalid.”

“Mindful that there is judicial precedent on this point in Botswana, at least none that I am aware of, and given its significance, I consider it prudent that the Court of Appeal must provide a determinative answer to the question whether a creditor can proceed against sureties where a company is under judicial management,” said Kebonang.

Pending the determination of the Court of Appeal, he issued the following order; the execution of writs issued in favour of FNB against Moyo and other sureties/guarantors of United Refinery are hereby stayed pending the determination of the legal question referred to the Court of Appeal.

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