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.
Lebang Mpotokwane, one of the conveners who presided over the opposition cooperation talks that resulted in the formation of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), has advised against changing the current umbrella model in favour of a merger as proposed by others.
The Botswana Congress Party (BCP) leader, Dumelang Saleshando recently went public to propose that UDC should consider merging of all opposition parties, including Alliance for Progressives (AP) and Botswana Patriotic Front (BNF).
Saleshando has been vehemently opposed by Botswana National Front (BNF), which is in favour of maintaining the current model. BNF’s position has been favoured by the founding father of UDC, who warned that it will be too early to ditch the current model.
“UDC should be well developed to promote the spirit of togetherness on members and the members should be taught so that the merger is developed gradually. They should approach it cautiously. If they feel they are ready, they can, but it would not be a good idea,” Mpotokwane told WeekendPost this week.
Mpotokwane and Emang Maphanyane are the two men who have since 2003 began a long journey of uniting opposition parties in a bid to dethrone the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BCP) as they felt it needed a strong opposition to avoid complacency.
Tonota born Mpotokwane is however disappointed on how they have been ejected from participating in the last edition of talks ahead of the 2019 general elections in which BCP was brought on board. However, despite the ejection, Mpotokwane is not resentful to the opposition collective.
He said the vision of opposition unity was to ultimately merge the opposition parties but he believes time has not arrived yet to pursue that path. “The bigger picture was a total merger and we agreed that with three independent parties, members might be against merger eventuality so the current model should be used until a point where they are now together for as long as possible,” he said.
“UDC should gradually perform better in elections and gain confidence. They should not rush the merger. We have been meeting since 2003, but if they rush it might cause endless problems. If they are ready they can anyway,” he advised. For now the constituent parties of the umbrella have been exchanging salvos with others (BCP and BNF).
“There are good reasons for and against merging the parties. Personally, I am in favour of merging the parties (including AP and BPF) into a single formation but I know it’s a complex mission that will have its own challenges,” Saleshando said when he made his position known a week ago.
“Good luck to those advocating for a merger, it will be interesting to observe the tactics they will use to lure the BPF into a merger,” former BNF councillor for Borakalalo Ward and former BNF Youth League Secretary General, Arafat Khan, opined in relation to BCP’s proposed position.
Mpotokwane, who is currently out in the cold from the UDC since he was ejected from the party’s NEC in 2017, said the current bickering and the expected negotiations with other parties need the presence of conveners.
“We did not belong to any party as conveners so we were objective in our submissions. If party propose any progressive idea we will support, if it is not we will not, so I would agree that even now conveners might be key for neutrality to avoid biasness,” he observed. Despite being abandoned, Mpotokwane said he will always be around to assist if at all he is needed.
“If they want help I will be there, I have always been clear about it, but surely I will ask few questions before accepting that role,” he said. UDC is expected to begin cooperation talks with both AP and BPF either this week or next weekend for both upcoming bye-elections (halted by Covid-19) and 2024 general elections and it is revealed that there will be no conveners this time around.
The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) moved through its lawyers to attach the property of Umbrella for Democratic (UDC) President Duma Boko and other former parliamentary contestants who failed in their court bid to overturn the 2019 general elections in 14 constituencies.
WeekendPost has established that this week, Deputy Sheriffs were commissioned by Bogopa Manewe Tobedza and Company who represented the BDP, to attach the properties of UDC elections contents in a bid to recover costs. High Court has issued a writ of execution against all petitioners, a process that has set in motion the cost recovery measures.
Botswana Sectors of Teachers Union (BOSETU) says COVID-19 as a pandemic has negatively affected the education sector by deeply disrupting the education system. The intermittent lockdowns have resulted in the halting of teaching and learning in schools.
The union indicated that the education system was caught napping and badly exposed when it came to the use of Information System (IT), technological platforms and issues of digitalisation.
“COVID-19 exposed glaring inefficiencies and deficiencies when it came to the use of ITC in schools. In view of the foregoing, we challenge government as BOSETU to invest in school ITC, technology and digitalization,” says BOSETU President Kinston Radikolo during a press conference on Tuesday.
As a consequence, the union is calling on government to prioritise education in her budgeting to provide technological infrastructure and equipment including provision of tablets to students and teachers.
“Government should invest vigorously in internet connectivity in schools and teacher’s residences if the concept of flexi-hours and virtual learning were to be achieved and have desired results,” Radikolo said.
Radikolo told journalists that COVID-19 is likely to negatively affect final year results saying that the students would sit for the final examinations having not covered enough ground in terms of curriculum coverage.
“This is so because there wasn’t any catch up plan that was put in place to recover the lost time by students. We warn that this year’s final examination results would dwindle,” he said.
The Union, which is an affiliate of Botswana Federation of Public, Private and Parastatal Union (BOFEPUSU), also indicated that COVID-19’s presence as a pandemic has complicated the role of a teacher in a school environment, saying a teacher’s role has not only transcended beyond just facilitating teaching and learning, but rather, a teacher in this COVID-19 era, is also called upon to enforce the COVID-19 preventative protocols in the school environment.
“This is an additional role in the duty of a teacher that needs to be recognized by the employers. Teachers by virtue of working in a congested school environment have become highly exposed and vulnerable to COVID-19, hence the reason why BOSETU would like teachers to be regarded as the frontline workers with respect to COVID-19,” says Radikolo.
BOSETU noted that the pandemic has in large scales found its way into most of the school environments, as in thus far more than 50 schools have been affected by COVID-19. The Union says this is quite a worrying phenomenon.
“As we indicated before when we queried that schools were not ready for re-opening, it has now come to pass that our fears were not far-fetched. This goes out to tell that there is deficiency in our schools when it comes to putting in place preventative protocols. In our schools, hygiene is compromised by mere absence of sanitizers, few hand-washing stations, absence of social distancing in classes,” the Union leader said.
Furthermore, Radikolo stressed that the shifting system drastically increased the workload for teachers especially in secondary schools. He says teachers in these schools experience very high loads to an extent that some of them end up teaching up to sixty four periods per week, adding that this has not only fatigued teachers, but has also negatively affected their performance and the quality of teaching.
In what the Union sees as failure to uphold and honour collective agreements by government, owing to the shift system introduced at primary schools, government is still in some instances refusing to honour an agreement with the Unions to hire more teachers to take up the extra classes.
“BOSETU notes with disgruntlement the use of pre-school teachers to teach in the mainstream schools with due regard for their specific areas of training and their job descriptions. This in our view is a variation of the terms of employment of the said teachers,” says Radikolo.
The Union has called on government to forthwith remedy this situation and hire more teachers to alleviate this otherwise unhealthy situation. BOSETU also expressed concerns of some school administrators who continuously run institutions with iron fists and in a totalitarian way.
“We have a few such hot spot schools which the Union has brought to attention the Ministry officials such as Maoka JSS, Artesia JSS, and Dukwi JSS. We are worried that the Ministry becomes sluggish in taking action against such errant school administration. In instances where action is taken, such school administrators are transferred and rotated around schools.”