The Law Society of Botswana (LSB) wants all stakeholders in the justice system to settle the incessant divisions and wars within the judiciary itself, and smoke a peace pipe.
Independents have been observing that the judiciary is in crisis following the contentious issues of alleged forum shopping, suspension of the four judges of the High Court, rejection to appoint a recommended candidate to the high court by President Lt. Gen. Seretse Khama Ian Khama, despite the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) advice among other issues.
When he took to the podium on Thursday during the opening of the legal year, Chairman of LSB, Kgalalelo Monthe, called on all the judicial stakeholders to bury the hatchet and turn a new page in the entire judiciary. “All of us individually and collectively, are not bigger than the nation that we all strive to serve and any failure to settle, the nation will require a full explanation as to what has accrued to it by reason of what has been reduced to a chess game. Surely, any ruffled feathers must have been soothed because time is a great healer,” Monthe told the audience in which Vice President, Mokgweetsi Masisi was present, sitting in for President Khama.
At the time, Khama was meeting his Zambian counterpart, Edgar Lungu in Kazungula. Monthe pointed out that it is crucial that the judicial partners reconcile while emphasizing that at the end there will be no heroes and villains nor victors and vanquished as all will be scarred and in instances permanently. While pointing out to a road of reconciliation he nonetheless explained what he termed has been the crisis engulfing the judiciary.
He gave an example with the matter of all the Judges, including those suspended, which he emphasised must be settled with each party retaining its integrity so that the judiciary can return to conditions of normalcy. He stated that: “the past two years can best be described as annus horribilis for the Botswana judiciary. Four judges of the High Court remain on suspension and fight to vindicate their rights in the High Court. We are now seven months shy of two years since the suspension.”
Appointment of judges is flawed
The LSB has always maintained that the appointment of judges is unsound. Monthe said over the years, the Society has called for a change in the manner in which Judges are appointed. He also mentioned that the Society has ongoing litigation with the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) on issues relating to its mandate.
“We have expressed concern that in such cases, it is either the Honourable Chief Justice Maruping Dibotelo, who is Chairman of the Commission, who empanels the bench to decide a matter in which he is a party. This practice is wholly unsatisfactory as it creates a perception of conflict of interest.”
Similarly, Monthe stated that the Society notes that in appeals, in which the Judicial Services Commission is a party, the Judge President who is a member of JSC, empanels the court to hear a matter despite being a party to it, which he said creates a perception of conflict of interest.
“However, the Society believes that Judges should be appointed on merit as well as integrity and suitability of character and temperament. Knowledge of the law, the balance of mind, the ability to brush aside the inessential and drive to the heart of a case are crucial,” Monthe pointed out.
LSB response to Ian Kirby on Separation of Powers
The LSB further took a swipe at Court of Appeal Judge President Ian Kirby, saying that the society suspected sinister motives of his comments made at the opening of the just ended session of the Court of Appeal. Kirby had at that time reflected his views on separation of powers and the role of the CoA.
“What value these comments, which did not seem to have any relevance brought, is anybody’s guess, but we do have our own suspicions. It is our ardent hope that whatever the intention was has not been achieved.” He noted that if the credibility of the Judiciary in Botswana is to be ensured, such episodes need to be avoided at all costs.
According to Monthe, the role of the CoA is to interpret the law in order to ensure clarity and certainty and not to provide a “stabilizing factor” as stated by Kirby. “This role as envisaged by the JP sends a somewhat chilling and sinister message to those who litigate against the Executive and Judges who preside over the matters,” he added.
Localization of the Court of Appeal bench
Monthe recalled that at the opening of the legal year in 2016, the Society made a point that in the dispensation of justice, the presiding officers of court must reflect the demographics of the society that they serve. Further, he said, the society noted and still notes that this remains a challenge not so much in the High Court as in the Court of Appeal; in that court, gender, race and age are disproportionate to the demographics of the country.
He said the Society was in making that statement, hauled over coals, and shamed as outcasts who were ill-mannered, racist and xenophobic. He added that the Executive was so agitated that a statement was immediately issued expressing the above sentiments and notifying the Society of an immediate embargo in relations.
Out of 10 Court of Appeal judges, native Justices are Isaac Lesetedi, Monametsi Gaongalelwe, and Michael Leburu. The remaining six are all white including one of Indian extraction (Appeal’s Justice Singh Walia) who has announced his retirement due in June. The other one is an Afrikaner being Appeal’s Justice Brand. The remaining ones are of Saxon extraction (Lord Abernathy, J.A Foxcroft, Lord Hamilton, J.A Howie and Kirby).
The chairman explained that the Society however still believes that it is only right and proper and in keeping with international standards, “that our Court of Appeal should reflect who we are and in so saying, it can hardly be said to be xenophobic and or racist in any manner”.
He said it is no longer in doubt that Judges make law and that Law is not an abstract science to the extent that Judges are influenced by their own values to reach a decision. “In that regard, the Court of Appeal judgments must necessarily reflect our hopes, aspirations and more. The jurisprudence coming from there must carry our desires as encapsulated in Vision 2016.”
He also said the current procedure for appointment of Justices of Appeal is one of secrecy and therefore not transparent. The secrecy, he said, leaves the society uniformed on the process and the qualities considered that makes a person suited to be a Judge of the Appeal.
Monthe stressed: “as a public institution, the Court of Appeal should not be immune from our vision of an enlightened, open, informed and transparent nation. The appointment of the Judges of the Appeal therefore ought to follow the established procedure for calling for the advertisement and for anyone interested, including and especially serving Judges of the High Court to apply.”
Delayed delivery of judgments
As over the years, the LSB said the Society has noted with concern delayed delivery of judgments. Despite assurance that all is well provided by the AOJ through statistics, he added that many legal practitioners, litigants and accused persons have a different story to tell.
“Matters under Certificate of Urgency and Summary Judgments sometimes have a judgment delivered more than a year after the proceedings were launched and arguments completed,” he asserted adding that this therefore defeats the purpose of both procedures to the detriment of litigants.
“The Society has therefore resolved to create measures to name Judges whose judgments are delayed beyond the 90 days from the time that the matter is concluded. The 90 days is a measure that the High Court has set for itself for delivery of judgments. The Society will publish details of the cases indicating dates when the matter was concluded as well as the name of the concerned Judge,” he further warned.
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.”