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Inside Masitara’s double bid

Former Gaborone North West legislator, Robert Masitara this week revealed his intention to take head on, incumbent Mokgweetsi Masisi and cabinet minister, Nonofo Molefhi for the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) chairmanship bid at the July Congress because he harbours a strong ambition of being the country’s next president.

The businessman-cum-philanthropist told this publication in an exclusive interview at his home this week that he has taken the decision to run for chairmanship and also the presidency of the party in order to carry on the legacy of President Ian Khama and also fight corruption in government departments and public enterprises.

He said he should be elected to the party top post because unlike Masisi and Molefhi, he is the only chairmanship candidate who does not belong to any faction because it is necessary to have a united BDP in 2019. “After what President Khama [Ian] has done for this country in terms of coming up with initiatives and internal control systems, I think I am the only person with the expertise  to take over reins to sustain his legacy,” he said.

“I will be tapping on what Khama has done and taking it further. Every country has internal control systems and there is a need to look at them. We need someone well versed with issues of corruption, maladministration, nepotism and all sorts of manifestation of corruption,” he boasted. Masitara who has been alleging that government departments and parastatals are infested with corruption has however praised Khama’s fight for corruption noting that most of the corruption did not emanate during Khama’s presidency.

“They have long been there during the previous administrations. We are starting to feel the effects of decisions which were made 10 or 15 years ago,” he argued. “I recently told a Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) workshop that most of the problems that we are facing now including those of Air Botswana, Botswana Meat Commission (BMC), Botswana Development Corporation (BDC) and others are results of decision which were made years ago before Khama became the president. We are only starting to feel the effects now.”

Masitara is of the view that most of the laws relating to institutions like DCEC, Financial Intelligence Agency, Directorate on Intelligence Security Services (DISS) need to be recalled and taken back to parliament to be strengthened. “Now we have other manifestations of corruption which are not covered by our DCEC Act. DCEC should be equipped with vast expertise and equipment. There is likelihood in any organisation that people can be corrupted. People holding investigative powers can be corrupted. We have to make sure that these people they investigative equitably and fairly without skewing investigation because of other influences of corruption.”

Masitara revealed part of his ambition to become president is motivated by desire to uproot rot within government and parastatals. “We can only solve issues of corruption if we solve greed. We should start with elements of greed because they are precipitates for corruption. As long as we have got human elements, we will always have those characters,” he noted.

“We can solve greed by having internal controls, life skills audits within government. Some people are misplaced. They are not supposed to be where they are because they have got no expertise and experience. But through nepotism, a form of corruption they have been hired. We need skills audit in all parastatals.”

He said there is nowhere government machinery can be expected to be effective if it is led by people who are not qualified for the positions they are holding. He further contended that many ascended to those posts because of nepotism ahead of deserving individuals who can do the job better. Among the proposed reforms by Masitara is establishing a BDP committee at which quasi-government institutions will be hauled before the committee to account for financial use and their operations.

“We need to do this as a party because people are there for themselves, not to serve. BDP should start debating policies that shape government. We are people who are at the helm of government and we should own these initiatives,” he said. Masitara said corruption is the biggest threat to the country’s economic and socio progress given that fact that all other factors of progress hang on the government’s ability to have a clean and effective government.

“Issue of corruption is at the nucleus. You look at government like a matrix.  Issues of unemployment will come in, issues of diversification will come. All of them hang on the ability to fight corruption,” he said
Masitara further mentioned that a perfect example is the tertiary education sector where government continue to pump money year-in-year out on unaccredited courses because there are people who are benefiting from such arrangements, but government is losing big time.

“Students are graduating from schools which do not offer quality accredited courses but government continue to pump money into these institutions. Students are being taught by teachers who are not qualified, at the end of the day graduates cannot fit within the bucket because they were not trained properly,” he said.

Policy makers must use Schools, Hospitals

Masitara said one of the injustices facing the citizenship is being given poor services by the very same people whom they have chosen to govern their affairs. He said it is necessary through a piece of legislation for policy makers to use public services like schools and hospitals.

“I once stood up in parliament, it is captured even in the hansard, and said the reason why public schools are performing badly is because our (leaders) children do not attend public schools. If the laws could be passed forcing us to take our children to these schools; forcing us to use public clinics and hospitals, we will learn that things are not right, things will change drastically,” he contended.  He said public schools are in a dire state because majority of the people who lead institutions are for themselves and are not committed to delivering quality services for the benefit of the ordinary citizens.

On parastatals and funding institutions

The biggest problem facing parastatals is placing of unqualified people at the helm, as well as greed and corruption, Masitara observed.  He insists that the mandates of these institutions are clear but people at the helm are serving their interests. “Instead of them bringing investors for the benefit of the country, people go there to position themselves.  We need to have people with the right calibre and who are qualified,” he contended.  

“When I applied funding for my forensic investigation company, I got my application rejected. Because they didn’t understand the business, they said it was not feasible. That is the problem, I had to appeal. Now the company has multi-million contracts with big organisations. South Africans are also running around establishing the same business,” Masitara stated and added that, “That is the calibre of the people who sit behind the tables. We need people who are more versed with business and versed with business evaluation. Most of youth bring good ideas; they get rejected because the officers do not understand these ideas.”

Masitara said with his background as a businessman he will lead a new generation of young entrepreneurs with sustainable ideas. He said it is necessary for government to provide proper mentoring and serious partnership with youth owned companies.

Land ownership is a time ticking bomb  

The former legislator has warned that one day, the country will go up in smoke if nothing is done to rectify land allocation in urban and semi-urban areas. “One day the young people will riot and take by force land which is possessed by certain people. We cannot afford to have one person owning 300 plots in Gaborone regardless he has the money and the resources. The system should cut him off.”

 “Free market economy or laissez faire does not preclude us from coming up with our own laws to guard against issues of exploitation. Even if free market tells if you have money you can buy, the system should cut you off. Otherwise the money which is being laundered can be brought here to capture the whole government.”

Investigation of the politically exposed

Masitara said people will be shocked about how people who are politically exposed amassed their wealth at the detriment of the ordinary people. He said while the Declaration of Assets law is a good thing, Lifestyle Audit law is more important because it can unearth all rot because people will be forced to explain how they accumulated their wealth against their income.

“With declaration of assets, people can hide behind relatives and other people you cannot suspect such as their drivers and their maids. With the lifestyle audit there is nowhere to run to,” he said.  “Politically exposed persons should be the subjects of lifestyle audit. Anyone who has political exposure can benefit wrongly from corruption activities; CEOs, ambassadors, Permanent Secretaries, Bank CEOs, MPs, Ministers and everyone who fit among that category.”

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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

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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