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The polarising debate on Electoral reforms

In the aftermath of the American presidential election on 2 November 2004, electronic voting machines were again in the news – computerised machines had lost votes, subtracted votes, and doubled some votes too. And because many of these machines had no paper audit trails, a large number of votes were lost for good and could not be counted.

Fast forward, and closer to home, Namibia, a neighbour with the same population as Botswana, same geographical spread, same literacy rate, and a similar political system dominated by one party, has in the recent past introduced electronic voting machines. So far there have been no qualms with this reform in Namibia.

The most technologically advanced democracy in the world is arguably America, and India is probably the biggest democracy because it has a large voting population. These two massive nations use the electronic voting machines, and America has been the benchmark of democracy to many young democracies. Namibia officials had globe trotted to have an understanding of the electronic voting machines and they are confident in their system.

Botswana has been using the ballot paper since 1965 when Sir Seretse Khama won the first election and became the Republican President. Other tweaks and manoeuvres have been occasioned over time on a piece meal approach, with the opposition preferring an overhaul of the country’s constitution. The biggest argument in Botswana has always been that policy and law is only influenced by the executive.

Today Botswana is pursuing the American dream and P150 million is on the table to actualise it.

 The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) Secretary, Gabriel Seeletso told the media this week that the changes to the Electoral Law were instigated by the Executive and they are ready to implement the law. He says the blame should not be directed at the IEC but rather Parliament which was given an opportunity to debate and pass the law.

With Namibia having set the trend within SADC, Botswana is following suit after an Electoral Act amendment was hastily passed by the last sitting of Parliament. President Lt Gen Ian Khama has quickly signed it into law, which means in 2019, Botswana will use electronic voting machines for the first time after 53 years of democracy.

The opposition is not amused; the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) and the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) want to throw the spanner into the works by challenging President Khama’s decision in court over the Electoral Act amendment. Through various statements, the opposition politicians have made it abundantly clear that they are not in support of the electronic voting machines and other sweeping changes in the Electoral Act amendment law.

Most seriously, they are threatening to boycott the national elections in 2019, with the Umbrella partner, Botswana National Front (BNF) being the most vociferous when it comes to this pronouncement. But in his usual defiance mode, President Khama signed the amendments into law at the peak of opposition voices against the law, “it is an ‘I do not care what you think’ attitude,” quips Dithapelo Keorapetse, BCP spokesperson.

He says even the most sophisticated democracies have had problems with the voting machines. There is need for proper consultation and benchmarking, “we are worried as to why the rush,” he says pointing out the problems encountered by America in 2004 and before. “We are serious about litigation.”

MISTRUST AND CONSPIRACY THEORIES

A sharp emphasis by the opposition is also on the scrapping off of the supplementary registration exercise which was designed to address voter apathy by encouraging more people to register to vote. This time around, it will just be one round of registration. Interestingly this change was first mooted at a ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) gathering by President Khama. The opposition is concerned that this move will disenfranchise many voters come 2019. They are of the view that there was no consultation when these far reaching changes were made, and they are probably self-serving to the BDP. Moeti Mohwasa of the UDC is of the view that the BDP’s authoritarian approach to this issue has the potential to destabilise the peace of the country, “when you disenfranchise people, you are inviting trouble,” he said.

The Opposition says in the rush to improve speed and scalability, accuracy could be sacrificed. Dithapelo emphasises that accuracy is not how well the ballots are counted by, say, a punch-card reader but it is how well the process translates voter intent into appropriately counted votes. As expected, the opposition says another issue is that the software for the electronic voting machine can be ‘hacked’. That is, someone can deliberately introduce an error that modifies the result in favour of his preferred candidate. The UDC and the BCP have never trusted the country’s intelligence agency, the Directorate in Intelligence and Security Services (DISS), especially its Director General, Isaac Kgosi, because of his close association with President Khama. To advance their antagonism to the debate they roped in the DIS into the Electoral reforms debate.

Experts in this EVM technology continue to argue in favour of EVMs. “This doesn’t mean that these machines should be abandoned, but they need to be designed to increase both their accuracy, and peoples’ trust in their accuracy.” Some Members of Parliament were recently sent out on a benchmarking tour to learn more about EVMs, these included Ngaka Ngaka of the BDP, Dithapelo Keorapetse of the BCP and Ndaba Gaolathe of the UDC. It remains to be seen where this debate is heading but the writing is on the wall, Khama will not retract his signature and seems determined to go ahead with the amendments.  

The IEC at the press conference on Wednesday promised a thorough voter education exercise to sell the story of how the machine they intend to procure will allow for a process that is auditable, transparent and secure. Seeletso and his team take a leaf from other countries, particularly large ones like Brazil, India and the Philippines, where electronic voting and electronic counting means that people can get official election results within hours, instead of weeks. They are of the view that this builds trust.

But the IEC has always struggled to reach a 75 percent target of registered voters. It remains to be seen if the EVMs would invite more voters, or turn them away. The general view is that electronic voting is very good at making voting more accessible, meaning it’s easier for people with disability to vote independently.

THE BDP HYPOTHESIS: The BOFEPUSU factor  

Meanwhile a soul searching probe by this publication has revealed that the ruling BDP has a theory that the opposition is afraid of losing control over the voting process. The BDP hypothesis is that the opposition was confident that with the civil servants at the heart of the electoral process at voter registration, counting centres and other streams, they had an advantage over the ruling party which has agitated the working class in the recent. “They fear that the voting machines are taking the power away from the hands of the civil servants who could be party to some potentially manipulative antics when it comes to ballot voting especially when it comes to ballot bundling at counting period.” It is clear that there are counter accusations and those in the driving seat will push their agenda anyway. The law is such that when an electoral officer declares a winner at the counting centre a court of law can reverse it, and it is not an overnight exercise, it takes months. And surely the likelihood of events overtaking the court process is very high.

LEGITIMATE RESULTS

The IEC has a theory that the Electronic voting machines should be built to order and they have specifications for their choice of machine which they intend to sell to political parties and the public. They believe that every country has different needs. That’s why every electronic voting solution is designed different. IEC says the system should be designed to meet your country’s laws and requirements, we can guarantee one thing – that it will lead to fast, legitimate results. 

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Mowana Mine to open, pay employees millions

18th January 2022
Mowana Mine

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.”

Negotiated estate is P35, 563,000

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Councilors’ benefits debacle-savingram reveals detail

18th January 2022

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.

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Households spending to drive economic recovery

17th January 2022

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.”

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