Government of Botswana, through its Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism is ensnared in another land relocation controversy in which residents of Khumaga, a wildlife rich area in Boteti are being forced to make way for wildlife.
The development will see residents losing part of their land, which they have occupied since pre-independence era. The imminent relocation of Khumaga residents has the hallmark of the controversial relocation of the indigenous tribe of Basarwa from Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) a decade ago, a move which was later ruled unlawful by the High Court.
In January 2002, the Government of Botswana terminated water, food and health services to the Bushmen residing in the CKGR. The service cuts were followed by relocations to adjacent areas. Access to the reserve was restricted for those who relocated, resulting in some of the Basarwa no longer being able to enter the land they had occupied or to pursue their hunter-gatherer lifestyle. This decision was taken to force Basarwa out of the CKGR.
In a court case that followed, government lost on the basis that the Basarwa were in possession of the land which they lawfully occupied in their settlements in the CKGR, and depriving them of such possession by the Government forcibly or without their consent was unlawful and unconstitutional. The court also upheld that refusal to allow the Basarwa entry into the CKGR without permit was both unlawful and unconstitutional.
In another tourism interest battle, government had sought to convince the Khumaga resident to give away part of their land for tourism interest but the consultation process reached a deadlock. The matter has been dragging on for the past five years, with the government failing to offer residents assurances that they still have a future after erection of the new fence.
The key players in the saga have been President Lt Gen Ian Khama, his brother and Minister of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism Tshekedi Khama, Member of Parliament for Boteti West Slumber Tsogwane, Former Minister of Tourism Kitso Mokaila, and other cabinet members who have visited Khumaga with the view of bringing the matter to finality.
Last year, Tshekedi appointed a task team to engage with a Khumaga delegation over the matter. The two parties reached a deadlock resulting in Government going ahead with the markings that identified where the fence would be erected. WeekendPost has established through sources close to the developments that this is despite earlier assurances by Tshekedi that the government would only go ahead after agreeing terms of erection of the new fence with the residents.
Area Member of Parliament, Slumber Tsogwane has decided to stick on the side of the government to support the relocation. Tsogwane has since 2013 tried to convince residents to cede their land to government to no avail. His decision to stand with government has seen him being unpopular in the area. The ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) again lost the Khumaga ward to opposition, Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC).
Last year Tsogwane confirmed to WeekendPost that government had started with the markings and insisted that residents were consulted though he conceded the two parties had not agreed terms yet. “Consultation does not mean agreement, but Khumaga residents know what the Government wants to do as they were consulted, and Government continues to engage them,” he had said. “Of course not all people agree with the Government’s decision, and I am not aware of their intention to go to court. If it is something that they want to do, there is nothing wrong with it,” Tsogwane had suggested.
According to sources, the residents also feel hard done by the area councillor, Thomas Kgethenyane who has decided to take sides with government on the matter. Kgethenyane reportedly told residents that he has no position in the matter and has chosen to take the middle ground. This statement is being viewed by the residents as lending support to government.
GOVERNMENT RENEGE ON PROMISE
Meanwhile, the Khumaga residents contend that Government’s decision to go ahead and make the markings has rendered the negotiation and consultation process “academic”. A committee was established for the purpose of overseeing negotiations with government over the erection of the new fence.
“What the Minister (Tshekedi Khama) is saying is not exactly what is happening on the ground. Tshekedi gives an impression that consultation with residents has led to the agreement, but they have gone ahead with the erection of the fence while negotiations are still ongoing!” exclaimed one of the delegation members. Tshekedi last year told this publication that he did not want to impose decisions on the communities but valued painstaking consultation with communities when dealing with matters involving them.
“I do not believe in imposing decisions. I try to reach consensus with people because if you impose decisions on them, you will face some sort of resistance,” he had remarked. “When things are done right, people will appreciate and there will be no criticism,” the minister had said.
Tshekedi had also asserted that the reason why it took a long time for him to resolve the matter between his ministry and people of Boteti over the erection of the new fence which separates people and wildlife is because he wanted to do things right. “People think we want to take their fields and we had to convince them that the decision is being taken in their best interest. We are about to conclude the negotiations…I also want the ministry to be as flexible as possible. If they want boreholes, we will drill them wherever they want,” he had said.
In his last meeting with the residents last year, President Khama faced resistance from members of the community who were discontent with Government’s intentions and feared that Government would default on its promises. President Khama had however given assurances that Government would deliver on its promise hence he visited the residents to resolve the matter. He said subsequent to the erection of the fence, the community will be given two camp sites and there would be job creation for residents as some would be hired to look after the fence.
One representative of the committee revealed to this publication that, while the erection of fence is underway, all of what has been promised is not being followed. He said what president Khama had promised has not materialised to date. The residents fear that they stand to lose than benefit from the relocation as the erection of new fences will see residents losing part of their land which will then be reserved specifically for wildlife and tourism purposes. Ploughing fields and cattle posts belonging to Khumaga residents and nearby villagers could be sacrificed in the near future.
It is understood that several villages in Boteti, among others, Moreomaoto and part of Rakops cattle posts, will be affected by the proposed acquisition of land for Khumaga residents. Residents have always feared that President Khama’s love for tourism and wildlife would be used to influence the decision.
ARE THE KHAMAS PURSUING PERSONAL TOURISM INTEREST?
Khumaga residents however are of the view that appointment of a task team by Tshekedi was a mere formality in view of the fact that his ministry had already designed a map which captured the envisaged demarcation of land that will be acquired from residents to be reserved for wildlife.
The Ngwande Trust, which is owned by the Khumaga community, has always believed that the decision to erect a new fence is a plan by the Tourism ministry to protect the interest of one of the leading tourism companies, Chobe Holdings which has numerous interests in tourism in Botswana, including in Boteti around Khumaga village. The Khamas have interest in Chobe Holding company with their nephew Dale Ter Haar serving as one of its directors.
Chobe Holdings, which is headquartered in Maun, is the mother company of Desert and Delta Safaris and Ker and Downey Botswana, which operates combined 19 luxury lodges and safaris in Botswana and Namibia. The lodge and safaris are sparsely located in tourism rich areas including Okavango, Maun and Boteti (where Khumaga is situated). Some of the lodges owned by Chobe Holdings’ two companies include Chobe Game Lodge, Savute Safari Lodge, Camp Moremi, Camp Okavango, Xugana Island Lodge and Leroo La Tau among others.
In 2013 Chobe Holdings challenged the ownership of Gwaraga land, a wildlife rich area owned by the Ngwande Trust. Chobe Holdings contended that Ngwande Trust’s acquisition of the land will conflict with its operations and argued that it was never consulted when the Land Board handed the land to the Trust.
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.