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Botswana, UK clash on key human rights issues

The United Kingdom (UK) and Botswana’s divergence on key elements of human rights may expose the vulnerability of the countries in as far as straining relations between the two is concerned, this publication can reveal.


Botswana is a former protectorate of Britain and does not only enjoy shared bilateral relations and values to date, but are also both members of the commonwealth. WeekendPost understands that the UK and most of the western countries have deep reservations about some countries’, Botswana included, reluctance to abolish death penalty and de-criminalise homosexual acts. In Botswana homosexuality is illegal as espoused in the country’s significant legal instrument, the Penal Code.


Penal Code section 164 states that “any person who (a) has carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature; (b) has carnal knowledge of an animal; or (c) permits any other person to have carnal knowledge of him or her against the order of nature, is guilty of an offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding seven years.”


In an interview with WeekendPost this week in Gaborone, the British High Commissioner in Botswana, Kate Ransome stated firmly that homosexuality should not be discriminated against in the legislations and laws of Botswana. “The penal code criminalises homosexual acts, and being a homosexual itself is not a crime in Botswana. That’s a very important distinction. So for somebody to be homosexual and discriminated against is, under the law of the country, illegal,” she pointed out as the interview slowly took pace.   


She said in the UK homosexuality was decriminalised in the 60’s. She explained that the not so long ago Court of Appeal judgement has made it very unambiguous in a case between Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana (LEGABIBO) and the government of Botswana on what the law says and making the gay organisation eligible for registration as per the law. This, the British High Commissioner believes was a milestone for minority human rights in Botswana.


“It says everyone has human rights. It doesn’t differentiate. In other sense everybody have human rights. And it’s about looking at those human rights and making sure that people don’t violate and discriminate those with various differences,” she further pointed out.  
She said the rule of law is being upheld for them and that she thinks it’s the same thing for this country adding that they want to make sure that those rights are being respected and not discriminated against and that there is no violence on the basis of someone’s sexual orientation.


“Working with LEGABIBO was about helping people understand their own lives, and making sure that they are not discriminated against in their own constitution. They have rights as citizens of this country and we want to make sure that their rights are respected, not discriminated against or suffering violence. We contribute to promoting rights of all individuals as the constitution of the country maintains.”


The constitution of the country points out in section 3 that “whereas every person in Botswana is entitled to the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual, that is to say, the right, whatever his race, place of origin, political opinions, colour, creed or sex, but subject to respect for the rights and freedoms of others and for the public interest to each and all of the following, namely— (a) life, liberty, security of the person and the protection of the law; (b) freedom of conscience, of expression and of assembly and association; and (c) protection for the privacy of his home and other property and from deprivation of property without compensation.


The section continues: “the provisions of this Chapter shall have effect for the purpose of affording protection to those rights and freedoms subject to such limitations of that protection as are contained in those provisions, being limitations designed to ensure that the enjoyment of the said rights and freedoms by any individual does not prejudice the rights and freedoms of others or the public interest.”

Every country can choose whether to maintain death penalty but…


The UK British High Commissioner said that her country, the UK abolished the death penalty some time ago. “We did that because we didn’t feel that it actually served us any real purpose anymore, and it didn’t act as a deterrent or necessarily fulfil the justice I suppose in it, so for us in the UK we abolished the death penalty.” She however highlighted that it’s obviously for each country to decide for themselves on whether it wants to maintain the death penalty or not.


Ideally, she insisted that she would want to live in a world where the death penalty is not being practised. “I think it needs to be clear about the death penalty, so I think each country has to make a decision in line with their justice system but obviously we do encourage countries to question if they need the death penalty anymore and to look into having more moratoriums when carrying out executions.”


On Khama having being born in the UK..


The current President Lt. Gen. Seretse Khama Ian Khama was born in 1953 at  HYPERLINK "https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chertsey" o "Chertsey" Chertsey, Surrey, UK during the period in which his father Sir Seretse Khama (first President of Botswana) was in exile due to the antagonism by the colonial government in Botswana and the emergent apartheid regime in   South Africa to his marriage to a white woman, Ruth Williams who was a British national.


Ransome commented that she was not sure if the president being born in her country of origin would make any difference in how they interact. “I mean his role is to lead Botswana and represent Botswana, and I think it is what he does just like any head of State do for their countries. So I think where he is born and grew up is irrelevant in that respect for us,” she said about Khama.  


On the long serving Botswana High Commissioner to the UK Roy Blackbeard..


Prior to his long diplomatic position, Roy Warren Blackbeard had worked for De Beers and Price Waterhouse Coopers before he became a Member of the National Assembly of Botswana in 1989, representing the then Serowe North under the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) banner.


He later served as the Assistant Minister for Agriculture in 1992 and the Minister in 1994, which he held until 1997; in 1998, he abruptly left parliament paving way for Bangwato paramount Chief Ian Khama who has just been recruited from the Botswana Defence Force where he served as Commander, to represent the constituency at his royal home village Serowe.


Blackbeard was subsequently appointed the High Commissioner in London, the position he served since 1998 to date. This has subsequently sparked debate on why he has served that long, unlike other ambassadors and High Commisioners. Observers believe Blackbeard is likely to come home after the end of term for Khama as president. The British Commissioner treaded carefully when asked of the developments, instead pointing out that it’s not really for her to say whether how long a High Commissioner should be sent to other countries.


“Different countries do it differently. There are many High Commissioners and ambassadors at the UK, some serve for a short time and some serve many years. We welcome all of them and we enjoy working with all of them,” she said cautiously. However, when pressed further she added “I am here worrying about my work and I am sure he (Blackbeard) takes instructions from his Ministry and the President and he delivers what they want; that’s his role, that’s the role of a Head of a Mission, you follow instructions from governments and Head of State of the day and to deliver them on behalf of their country.”  


On BREXIT and impact on Botswana…


Following a referendum last year in June in which the Britons voted in a closely contested referendum to leave EU, last week the UK Prime Minister Theresa May triggered Article 50. An official British government website indicates that a White Paper on the Great Repeal Bill was published, setting out the Government’s approach to converting existing EU law into domestic law on the day UK leaves the EU. It is said that the paper aims to give maximum legal certainty for businesses, workers and investors and sets out how the Great Repeal Bill will deliver a smooth and orderly exit.


This process is said will ensure that the same rules and laws will apply after the UK leaves the EU as they did before, from the moment UK leaves. After the UK has left the EU and sovereignty has returned to the UK Parliament, it will be able to decide which elements of law to keep change or repeal.


Ransome said last week that “today is quite a momentous time because it’s the day that Prime Minister triggered the treaties that allow UK to leave EU. So that’s what has been going on today in Bruxels.” She said as per UK Prime Minister’s statement, leaving EU is about being more global, being more open to the world. “Our future impacts in future relations with the UK do not affect relations with countries outside the EU as she spoke with that we will reinvigorate and build relations with countries even inside Europe. We want to engage more globally.”


According to her, the UK is hosting the commonwealth, next year in 2018 (in Britain), she said they want to see relations being invigorated, delivering for the members or the people of the commonwealth nations. “And that will include looking at the range of issues including skills development and it’s the kind of change that would benefit Botswana,” she said.

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DIS blasted for cruelty – UN report

26th July 2022
DIS BOSS: Magosi

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.

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Stan Chart halts civil servants property loan facility

26th July 2022
Stan-Chart

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.

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Botswana ranked 129 in female MPs representation

26th July 2022
Minister of Finance & Economic Development Peggy Serame

The Global Gender Gap Index, a report published by the World Economic Forum annually, has indicated that Botswana is among countries that fare badly when it comes to representation of women in legislative bodies.

The latest Global Gender Gap Index, published last week, benchmarks the current state and evolution of gender parity across four key dimensions (Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment). It is the longest-standing index which tracks progress towards closing these gaps over time since its inception in 2006.

This year, the Global Gender Gap Index benchmarked 146 countries. Of these, a subset of 102 countries have been represented in every edition of the index since 2006, further providing a large constant sample for time series analysis.

Botswana ranks number 66 overall (out of 146 countries), with good rankings in most of the pillars. Botswana ranks 1st in Health and Survival, 7th in the Economic Participation and Opportunity, 22nd in Educational Attainment, and 129th in Political Empowerment.

The Global Gender Gap Index measures scores on a 0 to 100 scale and scores can be interpreted as the distance covered towards parity (i.e. the percentage of the gender gap that has been closed). The cross-country comparisons aim to support the identification of the most effective policies to close gender gaps.

The Economic Participation and Opportunity sub-index contains three concepts: the participation gap, the remuneration gap and the advancement gap. The participation gap is captured using the difference between women and men in labour-force participation rates. The remuneration gap is captured through a hard data indicator (ratio of estimated female-to-male earned income) and a qualitative indicator gathered through the World Economic Forum’s annual Executive Opinion Survey (wage equality for similar work).

Finally, the gap between the advancement of women and men is captured through two hard data statistics (the ratio of women to men among legislators, senior officials and managers, and the ratio of women to men among technical and professional workers).

The Educational Attainment sub-index captures the gap between women’s and men’s current access to education through the enrolment ratios of women to men in primary-, secondary- and tertiary-level education. A longer-term view of the country’s ability to educate women and men in equal numbers is captured through the ratio of women’s literacy rate to men’s literacy rate.

Health and Survival sub-index provides an overview of the differences between women’s and men’s health using two indicators. The first is the sex ratio at birth, which aims specifically to capture the phenomenon of “missing women”, prevalent in countries with a strong son preference. Second, the index uses the gap between women’s and men’s healthy life expectancy.

This measure provides an estimate of the number of years that women and men can expect to live in good health by accounting for the years lost to violence, disease, malnutrition and other factors.
Political Empowerment sub-index measures the gap between men and women at the highest level of political decision-making through the ratio of women to men in ministerial positions and the ratio of women to men in parliamentary positions. In addition, the reported included the ratio of women to men in terms of years in executive office (prime minister or president) for the last 50 years.

In the last general elections, only three women won elections, compared to 54 males. The three women are; Nnaniki Makwinja (Lentsweletau-Mmopane), Talita Monnakgotla (Kgalagadi North), and Anna Mokgethi (Gaborone Bonnington North). Four women were elected through Specially Elected dispensation; Peggy Serame, Dr Unity Dow, Phildah Kereng and Beauty Manake. All female MPs — save Dow, who resigned — are members of the executive.

Overall, Botswana has 63 seats, all 57 elected by the electorates, and six elected by parliament. Early this year, Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) secretary general and Gaborone North MP, Mpho Balopi, successfully moved a motion in parliament calling for increment of elective seats from 57 to 61. Balopi contented that population growth demands the country respond by increasing the number of MPs.

In Africa, Botswana play second fiddle to countries like Rwanda, Namibia, South Africa, Burundi, and Zimbabwe who have better representation of women, with Rwanda being the only country with more than 50 percent of women in parliament.

The low number of women in parliament is attributed to Botswana’s current, electoral system, First-Past-the-Post. During the 9th parliament, then MP for Mahalapye East tabled a motion in parliament in which she sort to increase the number of Specially Elected MPs in parliament to augment female representation in the National Assembly.

The motion was opposed famously, by then Specially Elected MP, Botsalo Ntuane, who said the citizens were not in favour of such a move since it dilute democracy, instead suggesting the Botswana should switch to Proportional-Representation-System. Botswana is currently undergoing Constitutional Review process, with the commission, appointed in December, expected to deliver the report to President Mokgweetsi Masisi by September this year.

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