Justice Abednigo Tafa of the Lobatse High Court’s judgement has on Thursday effectively steered to a provisional close down of the Court of Appeal sittings – which is revered as the highest decision making structure of the judiciary.
Following the ground breaking judgement, it is understood that CoA President Justice Ian Kirby thereafter confirmed that indeed the Supreme Court has ceased to sit until the constitutional matter is settled. But now there remain questions of who will listen to the Appeal should there be any or what Parliament will do to normalize the situation. There are further questions as to whether the Justices of the Court of Appeal will continue serving during the period of appeal until a final decision is made.
When making the breathtaking ruling, Justice Tafa ordered that the appointment of Judges of Court of Appeal Justices; Stephen Gaongalelwe, Isaac Lesetedi, John Foxcroft, John Cameron, Arthur Hamilton and Craig Howie is “constitutionally invalid.” He also declared section 4 of the Court of Appeal Act as “constitutionally invalid and therefore struck down.” The said section states that: “the Court of Appeal shall, in addition to the judges provided for it under the Constitution, consist of such number of Justices of Appeal as the President of Botswana may consider necessary to appoint.”
The section was consequently struck down as it was seen as incompatible with the constitution section 99 (2). The section 99(2) posits that: “the judges of the Court of Appeal shall be (a) the President of the Court of Appeal; (b) such number, if any, of Justices of Appeal as may be prescribed by Parliament; and 2 of 2002, section 5. (c) the Chief Justice and the other judges of the High Court: Provided that Parliament may make provision for the office of President of the Court of Appeal to be held by the Chief Justice ex-officio.”
According to Tafa, the operation leading to stroking down section 4 of the Court of Appeal Act would be however suspended temporarily. “The operation of order (2) above is hereby suspended for a period of 6 months to allow the relevant authorities to take the necessary steps to ensure that the appointments of the Court of Appeal Judges and all other respondents who have not been re-appointed after the expiry of three year fixed term contracts are regularized,” he said in the judgement while adding that government should bear the costs of the two South African Senior Counsels who have argued the matter from both sides of the two parties in the matter.
What esteemed local attorneys make of the ruling and its impact?
Martin Dingake of Dingake Law Partners:
According to Dingake the way he interpretes Justice Tafa’s judgement, it means in essence, the Court of Appeal cannot sit while adding that everyone particularly judicial stakeholders are at fault. He started by narrating to Weekend Post that President Khama was wrong to the extent that he appointed Judges of the Court of Appeal contrary to the law. “He can’t determine the number of the Court of Appeal Judges,” he said as a matter of fact.
Dingake continued to point out that, secondly parliament too was in the wrong as they literally abdicated it constitutional responsibility of law making. Thirdly, he also lamented that JSC too blundered to the extent that it made recommendations to the appointment of Judges which contravenes the law. “They ought to have checked the law and accordingly advised themselves.”
The managing attorney at Dingake law Partners also blamed the Attorney General (AG), the then AG Athaliah Molokomme, saying she was ‘off beam’ as she failed to advise herself and as per the obligation she also failed to advise government. According to Dingake, “the statutory notice ought to have put her on guard.”
Uyapo Ndadi of Ndadi Law Partners:
“The judgement is a hallmark. It does show the significance of separation of powers at all levels of the three tier system. Most importantly, it has shown that the Constitution is supreme and triumphs over any piece of legislation. It is from the Constitution that powers are derived to enable or refuse anything.
Any provision of an Act that goes against the Constitution is vulnerable to attack and liable to be nullified by the court, as it did with Section 4 of the Court of Appeal Act. I am proud of our courts for not shying away from striking down laws that are unconstitutional, not so long ago, Judge Key Dingake struck down a law that permitted children born out of wedlock to be adopted without their fathers consent in all circumstances, even when the father was present in the life of the child.
The judiciary is therefore playing an important part in ensuring that checks and balances are a reality. “I am however not entirely sure whether the court was correct on the issue of renewability of the judges contracts. I found the reasoning by the court difficult to follow and I am inclined to think that the court may be wrong on this score. I was however not involved in this case so I may have to engage further on the issue.”
Tshiamo Rantao of Rantao Kewagamang Attorneys
“The Botswana High Court (Tafa J.) delivered a groundbreaking judgment in Manual Workers Union vs The President, JSC and Others. It struck down section 4 of the Court of Appeal which gives the President the power to prescribe the number of judges of the Court of Appeal, holding that only parliament is constitutionally empowered to do so. This declaration of invalidity was suspended for 6 months to allow the relevant authority to amend accordingly.
Secondly, the High Court declared as unconstitutional the renewal of three year contracts of the other justices of the CoA. The appointing authority has no powers to renew the 3 year contracts of Justices of Appeal. Lord Abernathy, Lord Hamilton, Howie J. and Foxcroft J. have been effectively disqualified. There is no suspension of this second order. It is therefore effective forthwith. Only the CoA can set this aside.
Interestingly, section 99 (2) b of the Constitution makes the Chief Justice and the other judges of High Court members of the Court of Appeal. My interpretation is that Justices Gaongalelwe, Lesetedi, Foxcroft, Cameron, Hamilton and Howie are entitled to sit once parliament has effectively regularised by way of amendment to section 4 of Court of Appeal Act. It seems that for now only Brand would be entitled to sit.
If the respondents decide to appeal this matter, it would be interesting how the panel to hear and determine the appeal would be constituted. The appeal would require a full bench of 5 judges. The Judge President would not be entitled to sit since he is a member of the Judicial Service Commission which is the 2nd Respondent.
The Judge President may delegate one of the Judges of the High Court or Brand J to empanel a full bench with High Court judges. This means that Tafa J’s judgment is likely to be tested on appeal by his High Court peers generally. Manual Workers Union is likely to object to that, but we have to wait and see. I know of jurisdictions where the High Court’s decision would prevail if it is impossible to constitute an appeals court.
This judgment has far-reaching consequences for the other appeals. For instance, the Law Society and Omphemetse Motumise versus The President and the JSC appeal was argued before a full bench on 16 January 2017. Judgment was reserved to a date to be communicated by the Registrar of the CoA. Two of the five judges who sat have now been disqualified by the Tafa J’s judgment. We will certainly have to take instructions from clients on the implications of that.
This should be very interesting for a student of Constitutional Law and Public Law,” Rantao postulated. Other observers maintains that the case has a chilling effect on constitutionalism and the rule of law in general in Botswana.
The matter was brought to Court by Amalgamated Local Central Government and Parastatal Workers Union (Manual Workers Union) which Tafa agreed had a locus standi to bring the matter before court. They cited as respondents President Lt. Gen. Dr. Seretse Khama Ian Khama, Judicial Service Commission (JSC), the Speaker of the National Assembly Gladys Kokorwe, Attorney General, Justices Elijah Legwaila, Isaac Lesetedi, Stephen Gaongalelwe, John Foxcroft, John Cameron, Arthur Hamilton, and Craig Howie who are High Court Judges as well as that of Court of Appeal.
Manual Workers were represented by Senior Counsel Advocate, Alec Freud from South Africa, together with Mboki Chilisa and Shathani Somolekae while respondents were represented by South African’s Senior Counsel Advocate, Anwar Albertus with Advocate Grant Quixley and Neo Sharp.
Mowana Copper Mine in Dukwi will finally pay its former employees a total amount of P23, 789, 984.00 end of this month. For over three years Mowana Copper Mine has been under judicial management. Updating members, Botswana Mine Workers Union (BMWU) Executive Secretary Kitso Phiri this week said the High Court issued an order for the implementation of the compromise scheme of December 9, 2021 and this was to be done within 30 days after court order.
“Therefore payment of benefits under the scheme including those owed to Messina Copper Botswana employees should be effected sometime in January latest end of January 2022,” Kitso said. Kitso also explained that cash settlement will be 30 percent of the total Messina Copper Botswana estate and negotiated estate is $3,233,000 (about P35, 563,000).
Messina Copper was placed under liquidation and was thereafter acquired by Leboam Holdings to operate Mowana Mine. Leboam Holdings struck a deal with the Messina Copper’s liquidator who became a shareholder of Leboam Holdings. Leboam Holdings could not service its debts and its creditors placed it under provisional judicial management on December 18, 2018 and in judicial management on February 28, 2019.
A new company Max Power expressed interest to acquire the mining operations. It offered to take over the Mowana Mine from Leboam Holdings, however, the company had to pay the debts of Leboam including monies owed to Messina Copper, being employees benefits and other debts owed to other creditors.
The monies, were agreed to be paid through a scheme of compromise proposed by Max Power, being a negotiated payment schedule, which was subject to the financial ability of the new owners. “On December 9, 2021, Messina Copper liquidator, called a meeting of creditors, which the BMWU on behalf of its members (former Messina Copper employees) attended, to seek mandate from creditors to proceed with a proposed settlement for Messina Copper on the scheme of compromise. It is important to note that employee benefits are regarded as preferential credit, meaning once a scheme is approved they are paid first.”
A savingram the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development sent to Town Clerks and Council Secretaries explaining why councilors across the country should not have access to their terminal benefits before end of their term has been revealed.
The contents of the savingram came out in the wake of a war of words between counselors and the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development. The councilors through the Botswana Association of Local Authorities (BALA) accuse the Ministry of refusing to allow them to have access to their terminal benefits before end of their term.
This has since been denied by the Ministry. In the savingram to town councils and council secretaries across the country, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development Molefi Keaja states that, “Kindly be advised that the terminal benefits budget is made during the final year of term of office for Honorable Councilors.” Keaja reminded town clerks and council secretaries that, “The nominal budget Councils make each and every financial year is to cater for events where a Councilor’s term of office ends before the statutory time due to death, resignation or any other reason.”
The savingram also goes into detail about why the government had in the past allowed councilors to have access to their terminal benefits before the end of their term. “Regarding the special dispensation made in the 2014-2019, it should be noted that the advance was granted because at that time there was an approved budget for terminal benefits during the financial year,” explained Keaja. He added that, “Town Clerks/Council Secretaries made discretions depending on the liquidity position of Councils which attracted a lot of audit queries.”
Keaja also revealed that councils across the country were struggling financially and therefore if they were to grant councilors access to their terminal benefits, this could leave their in a dire financial situation. Given the fact that Local Authorities currently have cash flow problems and budgetary constraints, it is not advisable to grant terminal benefits advance as it would only serve to compound the liquidity problems of councils.
It is understood that the Ministry was inundated with calls from some Councils as they sought clarification regarding access to their terminal benefits. The Ministry fears that should councils pay out the terminal benefits this would affect their coffers as the government spends a lot on councilors salaries.
Reports show that apart from elected councilors, the government spends at least P6, 577, 746, 00 on nominated councilors across the country as their monthly salaries. Former Assistant Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Botlogile Tshireletso once told Parliament that in total there are 113 nominated councilors and their salaries per a year add up to P78, 933,16.00. She added that their projected gratuity is P9, 866,646.00.
A surge in consumer spending is expected to be a key driver of Botswana’s economic recovery, according to recent projections by Fitch Solutions. Fitch Solutions said it forecasts household spending in Botswana to grow by a real rate of 5.9% in 2022.
The bullish Fitch Solutions noted that “This is a considerable deceleration from 9.4% growth estimated in 2021, it comes mainly from the base effects of the contraction of 2.5% recorded in 2020,” adding that, “We project total household spending (in real terms) to reach BWP59.9bn (USD8.8bn) in 2022, increasing from BWP56.5bn (USD8.3bn) in 2021.” According to Fitch Solutions, this is higher than the pre-Covid-19 total household spending (in real terms) of P53.0 billion (USD7.8bn) in 2019 and it indicates a full recovery in consumer spending.
“We forecast real household spending to grow by 5.9% in 2022, decelerating from the estimated growth of 9.4% in 2021. We note that the Covid-19 pandemic and the related restrictions on economic activity resulted in real household spending contracting by 2.5% in 2020, creating a lower base for spending to grow from in 2021 and 2022,” Fitch Solutions says.
Total household spending (in real terms), the agency says, will increase in 2022 when compared to 2021. In 2021 and 2022, total household spending (in real terms) will be above the pre-Covid-19 levels in 2019, indicating a full recovery in consumer spending, says Fitch Solutions. It says as of December 6 2021 (latest data available), 38.4% of people in Botswana have received at least one vaccine dose, while this is relatively low it is higher than Africa average of 11.3%.
“The emergence of new Covid-19 variants such as Omicron, which was first detected in the country in November 2021, poses a downside risk to our outlook for consumer spending, particularly as a large proportion of the country’s population is unvaccinated and this could result in stricter measures being implemented once again,” says Fitch Solutions.
Growth will ease in 2022, Fitch Solution says. “Our forecast for an improvement in consumer spending in Botswana in 2022 is in line with our Country Risk team’s forecast that the economy will grow by a real rate of 5.3% over 2022, from an estimated 12.5% growth in 2021 as the low base effects from 2020 dissipate,” it says.
Fitch Solutions notes that “Our Country Risk team expects private consumption to be the main driver of Botswana’s economic growth in 2022, as disposable incomes and the labour market continue to recover from the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.” It says Botswana’s tourism sector has been negatively impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and the related travel restrictions.
According to Fitch Solutions, “The emergence of the Omicron variant, which was first detected in November 2021, has resulted in travel bans being implemented on Southern African countries such as South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Eswatini. This will further delay the recovery of Botswana’s tourism sector in 2021 and early 2022.” Fitch Solutions, therefore, forecasts Botswana’s tourist arrivals to grow by 81.2% in 2022, from an estimated contraction of 40.3% in 2021.
It notes that the 72.4% contraction in 2020 has created a low base for tourist arrivals to grow from. “The rollout of vaccines in South Africa and its key source markets will aid the recovery of the tourism sector over the coming months and this bodes well for the employment and incomes of people employed in the hospitality industry, particularly restaurants and hotels as well as recreation and culture businesses,” the report says.
Fitch Solutions further notes that with economies reopening, consumers are demanding products that they had little access to over the previous year. However, manufacturers are facing several problems. It says supply chain issues and bottlenecks are resulting in consumer goods shortages, feeding through into supply-side inflation. Fitch Solutions believes the global semiconductor shortage will continue into 2022, putting the pressure on the supply of several consumer goods.
It says the spread of the Delta variant is upending factory production in Asia, disrupting shipping and posing more shocks to the world economy. Similarly, manufacturers are facing shortages of key components and higher raw materials costs, the report says adding that while this is somewhat restricted to consumer goods, there is a high risk that this feeds through into more consumer services over the 2022 year.
“Our global view for a notable recovery in consumer spending relies on the ability of authorities to vaccinate a large enough proportion of their populations and thereby experience a notable drop in Covid-19 infections and a decline in hospitalisation rates,” says Fitch Solutions. Both these factors, it says, will lead to governments gradually lifting restrictions, which will boost consumer confidence and retail sales.
“As of December 6 2021, 38.4% of people in Botswana have received at least one vaccine dose. While this is low, it is higher than the Africa average of 11.3%. The vaccines being administered in Botswana include Pfizer-BioNTech, Sinovac and Johnson & Johnson. We believe that a successful vaccine rollout will aid the country’s consumer spending recovery,” says Fitch Solutions. Therefore, the agency says, “Our forecasts account for risks that are highly likely to play out in 2022, including the easing of government support. However, if other risks start to play out, this may lead to forecast revisions.”