Parliamentary Committee on Statutory Bodies and Enterprises Chairman, Samson Guma, has warned Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism, Tshekedi Khama, to abide by the law or face the consequences.
This follows Khama’s decision to snub the committee after being summoned to appear before it to explain various events which led to Botswana Tourism Organisation’s (BTO) CEO, being told to leave office before the initially agreed time.
“No one is above the law, and he is bound to obey the instruction of this committee,” Guma said.
“When the committee summons you to give evidence, everything else you had planned to do on that day should be cancelled.”
Tshekedi has reportedly flown out of the country ahead of his scheduled appearance before the committee despite being informed by his Permanent Secretary, Elias Magosi, about his summons.
Magosi and BTO CEO, Brian Dithebe, have however appeared before the committee to further give evidence before the panel in his absence. The duo has already appeared on more than two occasions before the committee, with the BTO scandal raging on.
At the centre of events is Minister Khama, who has refused to appoint the BTO board, contrary to the BTO Act and has in the absence of the board been calling the shots at BTO making directives beyond his powers as minister.
Khama has been acting in cohorts with Acting Board Chairperson, Lawrence Khupe, who has been issuing instructions to BTO management using his acting position. The Attorney General’s office has however since clarified to the committee that, Khupe’s instructions and decisions are invalid, since he can only derive that power from an existing board. Khupe is a former partner at Collins and Newman law firm.
Dithebe was billed to leave the organisation at the end of November this year, but a letter signed by Khupe instructed him to leave office by yesterday (21 October). The committee again learnt that Khupe did not have the powers to take such a decision in the absence of a board.
The decision to expel Dithebe was arrived at by the trio of Khama, Khupe and deputy PS, Felix Monggae. Magosi was not part of the meeting, but only learnt of the decision when it had already been taken.
Khama had earlier informed the committee that he is still looking for the “right people” to appoint to the board, but Magosi revealed to the committee that subsequent to the minister’s appearance, they are in the process of issuing a CAB memo to facilitate the process of appointment of new board members.
The committee has also learnt that Khama and a committee he selected recently completed a restructuring exercise for BTO, a structure which has since been approved by Khama himself. Khama further instructed the outgoing BTO CEO to implement the structure despite it going to cost the organisation an additional P22.3 million, which was not budgeted for in the current financial year.
According to Magosi, the BTO had planned to request for a supplementary budget from parliament in the next session, but Guma has since informed Magosi that with the manner in which they are doing things, their request before parliament will not see the light of the day.
The new structure has also raised eyebrows with regards to some of its members of the committee, with the position of Legal Officer occupied by Tswelelo Kebatlile and that of Executive Manager –Marketing occupied by Julian Blackbeard. The duo is attracting salaries higher than that of a CEO and will earn P50 000 and P49 000 respectively, while the CEO earns a basic salary of P42 000.
Another matter which has been raised before the committee by the outgoing BTO CEO is that of Sally-Anne Smith, a British national who have been working at BTO without a permit for over two years now. Smith who was brought to BTO by then chairman of the Board, Neil Fitt, had her application for work permit rejected by Immigration department, and at one point she was arrested for failing to produce a work permit.
When the panel probed further on how it was possible for the said employee to work in Botswana for a period of more than two years without a work permit, Dithebe revealed to the committee that, the said employee enjoyed the backing of Fitt, then Board Chairperson and that of minister Khama. Smith has since been using one month work permits renewed regularly at the request of the minister.
It has also emerged that Khama wants to fill BTO with people who are closely connected or related to him. Julian Nganunu is the daughter of Botswana’s High Commissioner to London, Roy Blackbeard. Blackbeard is close to the Khamas, having paved way for Ian Khama to become MP for Serowe North West in 1998 to take up a diplomatic post.
Recently, Tshekedi has instructed BTO to appoint Changu Newman, wife to former High Court Judge and co-founder of Collins and Newman law firm, as BTO tourism attaché in the United States. Her husband, David Newman is currently in US serving as ambassador after being appointed by President Ian Khama in 2015.
Dithebe further revealed that, Changu had fell short in terms of qualification to be regarded for the post of Tourism Attaché in the US but Tshekedi has insisted that she be appointed, despite that.
Both Dithebe and the PS have stated that they have been acting under massive duress in their posts, and on a number of occasions, the Minister forces them to take illegal decisions. Magosi further stated that his days could be numbered at the ministry as he could leave anytime like Dithebe.
African Scientists and Experts Call for the adoption of a Harm Reduction in approach in Public Health Strategies and Tobacco Control. Media have a critical role to play in accelerating Harm Reduction efforts by informing and sensitizing cigarette smokers on the availability and benefits of alternative, potentially lower risk products to cigarretes. Traditional cessation and smoking prevention norms are not the only ways that smokers who cannot or donâ€™tâ€™ want to quit can make healthier choices that cause less harm to themselves and those around them.
This was said during the 2nd Harm Reduction Exchange conference for African journalists held in Nairobi, Kenya on the 1st of December 2022. Speaking at the Harm Reduction Exchange Conference, Integra Africa Principal Dr. Tendai Mhizha emphasized the role that journalists and media houses should play in handling misinformation and disinformation in tobacco harm reduction discourse that is actually perpetuating the death and disease caused by people continuing to smoke combustible cigarettes. â€śThere has been a lot of disinformation surrounding the topic of nicotine and the alleged negative effects that e-cigarettes have on public health.
This has led to policies that disfavour risk reduces products and narratives that completely deny their benefits. The media have the difficult responsibility to curb the scourge of disinformation and misinformation on harm reduction just like on other socio-political stances that are prescriptive and do not uphold consumersâ€™ right to healthier lifestyle choices,â€ť Dr Mhizha said.
The Harm Reduction Exchange cast a spotlight on alternative ways to reduce harm among tobacco smokers. Held under the theme Harm Reduction: Making a difference in Africa, the conference focused on the progress being made through harm reduction strategies in all fields related to public health such as drug and alcohol abuse, excessive sugar consumption, skin lightening and other addictive and behavioral practices. A wide array of harm reduction strategies and initiatives that are deployed towards reducing unnecessary deaths through non-communicable diseases were presented and discussed.
It applies to areas where there is a need to reduce the harm associated with a practice or consumption of a substance that is overused in society leading to increased morbidity and mortality. â€śInnovative Harm Reduction initiatives will help to keep more Africans alive. Tobacco Harm Reduction initiatives, including the use of popular e-cigarettes, nicotine patches and chewing gums, have continued to generate a lot of misunderstanding in both the public health community and in the media. However, there is evidence that the use of potentially less harmful alternatives than cigarettes for those who are not willing or cannot give up smoking with currently approved methods may be a solution, not necessarily the best for everyone but by far better than continuous smoking.
Tobacco Harm Reduction was introduced to mitigate the damage caused by cigarette smokingâ€”the most dangerous form of tobacco use, and the leading cause of preventable diseases, including cardiovascular disease, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. â€śNicotine has an addictive potential but plays a minor role in smoking-related morbidity and mortality. Across the world, there is growing interest among experts in novel approaches towards tobacco control and there is an ongoing discussion that reducing the negative effects of smoking can be also achieved by tobacco harm reduction,â€ť Dr. Kgosi Letlape, an ophthalmologist and President of Africa Medical Association and the president of the Association of Medical Councils of Africa, said.
Tobacco cessation is a key factor in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases and cancer. Abstinence from tobacco smoking is one of the primary goals for health promotion and management globally but it is unachievable in a huge amount of cases. This task remains unaccomplished despite extensive public campaigns on the health dangers of tobacco smoking. Thus, the development of novel strategies to reduce smoking is imperative. Moreover, the use of innovations in smoking products has been currently adopted by several smokers to reduce the health risks of smoking.
â€śThe Harm Reduction approach prevents drug-related deaths and overdose fatalities and is the only way out for addicts. In the same way these alternative technologies can reduce tobacco harm and accelerate the journey to a smoke-free world as they reduce exposure to toxicants,â€ť Bernice Apondi, A Policy Manager at Voices of Community Action and Leadership Kenya (VOCAL-Kenya), said.
During the Harm Reduction Exchange, journalists drawn from Southern, West and East African countries, including: Nigeria, Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Eswatini, Tanzania, Uganda, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe debated and set forth several resolutions in regards to the present and future as well as the challenges and progress made in Harm Reduction,and science-led regulation.
The Harm Reduction Exchange brought together high-level policy makers, physicians, scientists and health policy experts with media stakeholders from Africa in a lively mix of speeches, presentations, and panel discussions. The key note speakers included Prof Abdoul Aziz Kasse, Ms Bernice Opondi, Joseph Magero, Jonathan Fell, Chimwemwe Ngoma, Clive Bates, Dr. Kgosi Letlape, Dr. Vivian Manyeki and Dr. Tendai Mhizha.
Over 2,000 civil servants in the public sector have been interdicted for a variety of reasons, the majority of which are criminal in nature.
According to reports, some officers have been under interdiction for more than two years because such matters are still being investigated. Information reachingÂ WeekendPostÂ shows that local government, particularly councils, has the highest number of suspended officers.
In its annual report, the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) revealed that councils lead in corrupt activities throughout the country, and dozens of council employees are being investigated for alleged corrupt activities. It is also reported that disciplined forces, including the Botswana Defence Force (BDF), police, and prisons, and the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) have suspended a significant number of officers.
The Ministry of Education and Skills Development has also recorded a good number of teachers who have implicated in love relationships with students, while some are accused of impregnating students both in primary and secondary school. Regional education officers have been tasked to investigate such matters and are believed to be far from completion as some students are dragging their feet in assisting the investigations to be completed.
This year, Mmadinare Senior Secondary reportedly had the highest number of pregnancies, especially among form five students who were later forcibly expelled from school. Responding to this publicationâ€™s queries, Permanent Secretary to the Office of the President Emma Peloetletse said, â€śas you might be aware, I am currently addressing public servants across the length and breadth of our beautiful republic. Due to your detailed enquiry, I am not able to respond within your schedule,â€ť she said.
She said some of the issues raised need verification of facts, some are still under investigation while some are still before the courts of law.
Meanwhile, it is close to six months since the Police Commissioner Keabetwe Makgophe, Director General of the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) Tymon Katlholo and the Deputy Director of the DIS Tefo Kgothane were suspended from their official duties on various charges.
Efforts to solicit comment from trade unions were futile at the time of going to press.
Some suspended officers who opted for anonymity claimed that they have close to two years while on suspension. One stated that the investigations that led him to be suspended have not been completed.
â€śIt is heartbreaking that at this time the investigations have not been completed,â€ť he toldÂ WeekendPost, adding that â€śwhen a person is suspended, they get their salary fully without fail until the matter is resolvedâ€ť.
Makgophe, Katlholo and Kgothane are the three most high-ranking government officials that are under interdiction.
Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) and some senior government officials are abuzz with reports that President Mokgweetsi Masisi has requested his Vice President, Slumber Tsogwane not to contest the next general elections in 2024.