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How a BTV Producer was ‘purged’ in election year

Details indicating how a former Botswana Television (BTV) producer was trailed with transfers and redeployments after allegedly being told he “can’t be trusted in the election year” came to light this week in Court of Appeal documents.


Koketso Joshua Ntopolelang is seeking to overturn the finding of a lower court in dismissing his application for reinstatement to his job as BTV’s head of News and Current Affairs Section (NCAS). Ntopolelang was transferred vvto formerly the Ministry of Minerals Water and Energy Resources (MMEWR) in 2014 to start work as a Principal Public Relations Officer II, a move he challenged at the Industrial Court and came out on top. Ntopolelang had been employed at BTV since 2002.


A month before this happened; court papers indicate that Ntopolelang had been in a meeting with Director of Broadcasting Services, Lesole Obonye whereat the latter told him that he was not trusted as this was election year (2014). The papers indicate that Obonye further intimated that they had to find someone who they could trust to head the NCAS.


In a document that makes part of court papers, Ntopolelang writes about Obonye’s words: “Gase gore gare bone bokgoni jwa gago jaaka o bona DPS (Deputy Permanent Secretary) a kgona go go assigner high profile assignments. Re ntse re diilwe ke go bua le bagolo and we were waiting for instructions…kana ke ngwaga wa ditlhopho. Ga se gore gare bone bokgoni jwa gago…ba batla yo ba mo tshephang.” reads the document in part.


Ntopolelang further notes that Obonye mentioned the phrase ‘ke ngwaga wa ditlhopo’ three times. Immediately after this encounter, Ntopolelang e-mailed Obonye to ascertain whether he had heard him properly that he cannot be trusted especially on election year, but he never got a response via the same medium.


In the e-mail, Ntopolelang asked five questions: “Are we appointed on political trust (sic) or ability and qualifications? Since when has this been in practice and why aren’t we being told about it? How am I to interpret this (sic) statements? How have I become unreliable in the eyes of ‘bagolo’? What has the top administration done to remove my unreliability or at least show what wrong I am doing?


Instead of a rejoinder by e-mail, he received a telephone call wherein Obonye apparently made no secret of his mistrust of e-mail correspondence as “it might fall into a pair of wrong hands” It is Ntopolelang’s evidence that nearly five months later, on the 14th of August he was assigned to cover the Makgadikgadi Sky Dive.


He states in his papers that, in a strange turn of events he received a text message on the same day from the General Manager to the effect that the Deputy Permanent Secretary has instructed that he should not go on the trip because he had an assignment for him.
Ntopolelang further states that the next day he was summoned to the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration, Kebonye Moepeng’s office where she informed him that she was transferring him to MMEWR.


“I was left in shock because this was a matter that had never been discussed with me,” Ntopolelang states. He further notes that Moepeng proceeded to ask him whether he wanted to start his new job immediately or on the 1st of September. He however states that he countered by drawing Moepeng’s attention to a grievance he raised that he suspected had motivated his transfer, intimating that it be addressed first. The grievance arose from the words allegedly uttered by Obonye that there was a need for someone else who could be trusted to head the NCAS.


He says that he was made to believe that Moepeng would halt the transfer until his grievance had been dealt with and there has been meaningful discussion with respect to the motives of his transfer and the prejudice he stood to endure.
Ntopolelang however states that to his shock, on the 22nd of August he received a letter of the same date transferring him to MMEWR.


The letter, signed off by Moepeng and seen by WeekendPost curtly states: “you are hereby transferred as Principal Public Relations Officer II in the Ministry of Minerals Water and Energy Resources. The transfer above has no effect on your present salary scale and shall take effect from 1st September 2014”.


He goes on to say that he immediately notified his trade union, Botswana Public Employees Union which subsequently arranged for him to brief lawyers. The Industrial Court halted this transfer on the 5th and 12th of October. However unbeknownst to Ntopolelang, there was still much more to come from his employer.


After failing to eject him from the NCAS and the Mass Media Complex and despite a court order halting the transfer, court documents indicate that as the case dragged on at the Industrial Court before the final rule nisi was issued, the employer slapped Ntopolelang with another letter removing him from the NCAS to the Programs Section with immediate effect.


It is Ntopolelang’s evidence that after the Industrial Court order restraining his transfer was issued, he was called into the office of Acting BTV General Manager, Solly Nageng where he was told about the redeployment to work at Programs section. He states that he was told he was to function as Head of Programs and that he was to ask for work from Nageng. He also denied that there existed a staff shortage at his new section. In fact, he said that the purported acute staff shortage was at the NCAS which was witnessed by the engagement of programs staff in producing news during and after elections.


“The news section is highly short staffed. It is currently operating with about 15 staff members(permanent and pensionable) in headquarters-this includes the editors and journalists whilst in the programs section we are talking of +-18.Given the workload of the two sections and patterns of work, one can clearly see where short staffing exists.”


He further states: “stories are often turned down or delayed because of staff shortage. Staff members are complaining in the news section because of being overworked.” Ntopolelang relaunched his bid at the Court of Appeal this week after an unsuccessful round at a lower court. His appeal is marshalled by Mboki Chilisa of Collins Chilisa Consultants. Chilisa suggested that Ntopolelang was ‘ambushed’ by Moepeng and characterised the transfer as “not a light issue that could be discussed without prior notice.”


He also stated that all the events suggest Ntopolelang’s transfer was done in bad faith because he had raised a grievance against his superior’s statements. “On facts it’s clear that no meaningful conversation had taken place. The only issue that decision makers seemed keen on was whether the transfer could be immediate or on the first of September.” he argued.


Chilisa further argued that it seems that the reason for the transfer was not to genuinely fill up the MMEWR post considering the fact that the post had been vacant for quite some time. He also argued that Moepeng had violated section 8.4 of the General Rules which guides public service transfers that outlines that in cases of filling posts, priority must always be given to employees already in the ministry.


Attorney representing government in the case of Kushata Mabophiwa was constantly on the defensive on why Ntopolelang was not advised to make representations on his transfer. While Mabophiwa conceded that Ntopolelang was not advised that he could make representations, she however insisted that he had 7 days to do that. To this, Justice Lord Abernathy responded: “How would he know that he is allowed to make representations and why not 14 days?”


The three judge panel also noted that an employer has to approach issues of transfers with an open mind willing to consider the case presented by an employee. The case awaits judgement.

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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
morupisi

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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