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.
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.
Botswana Telecommunications Corporation Limited (BTC) has announced that its 3rd Francistown Marathon will be held on Saturday 20th April 2024 at Obed Itani Chilume Stadium in Francistown. The BTC Francistown Marathon is officially recognised by World Athletics and a Comrades Marathon Qualifier will offer race categories ranging from 42.2km, 21.1 km, 10km, 5km fun run, 5km peace run for children and has introduced a 5km and 10km categories for wheelchairs athletics.
BTC also used this opportunity to announce beneficiaries who received donations from proceeds made from the 2nd BTC Francistown Marathon that was held on April 23rd 203. BTC donated a play area, plastic chairs and wooden tables for pupils worth a total of thirty eight thousand, one hundred and three pula, fifty thebe each (P38, 103.50) to Monarch Primary School, Tatitown Primary School, Mahube Primary School and Gulubane Primary School. Ditladi and Boikhutso clinics each received a donation of benches, television sets and 10, 000 litre water tanks worth thirty seven thousan, eight hundred and ninety eight pula (P 37, 898.00). Additionally, BTC also donated seventy thousand pula (P70,000.00) to their marathon technical partner, Francistown Athletics Club (FAC) which will be used for daily operations as well as to purchase equipment for the club.
The BTC Francistown Marathon aligns seamlessly with BTC’s corporate social investment programme, administered through the BTC Foundation. This programme is a testament to BTC’s dedication to community development, focusing on key areas such as health promotion. The marathon, now in its third year, not only promotes a healthy lifestyle but also channels all proceeds to carefully chosen charities as part of BTC’s commitment to impactful and sustainable projects.
Speaking at the launch, the BTC Managing Director Mr Anthony Masunga stated that the marathon underscores BTC’s commitment to community upliftment and corporate social investment. He stated that “the annual event which has been in existence since 2016, having taken a break due to the covid and other logistical issues, is instrumental to the economic upliftment of the city of Francistown”. He congratulated all the beneficiaries for having been nominated to receive the donations, adding that “the donation of proceeds from the 2023 marathon aims to highlight BTC’s commitment and heart for Batswana and our continued impact in the different industries”.
He further stated that through this marathon, “we demonstrate our steadfast commitment to having a good influence on our communities, this event is a manifestation of our dedication to promoting education and a healthier, more active society”. He concluded by stating that “BTC looks forward to another successful marathon that will leave a lasting positive influence on the greater Francistown community and the country at large” he said.
Giving welcome remarks, the Councillor for Donga, Honourable Morulaganyi Mothowabarwa stated that “he is ecstatic that BTC is collaborating with the City of Francistown on yet another installment of the Marathon”. He continued to offer his support to BTC to enable this marathon to continue over the coming years, stating that the “CSI element is a welcome development that helps empower our communities”, he said.
The 3rd BTC Francistown Marathon is officially open for registrations and athletes may use the following platforms to register and pay; through Smega by dialling *173# and choosing opton 5, then choose Option 3 for the Francistown marathon, at any BTC store or by visiting the BTC website and clicking on the BTC Francistown Marathon and choosing the relevant options.
Thapelo Letsholo, Member of Parliament for Kanye North, delivered a moving speech at the United Nations International Anti-Corruption Day commemoration, praising President Dr. Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi’s digitalization initiative in the fight against corruption. Letsholo highlighted the importance of embracing digitalization in governance as a crucial step in curbing corrupt practices.
According to Letsholo, the implementation of digital systems in government services can significantly reduce direct interactions between citizens and officials, which often serve as fertile grounds for corruption. By minimizing these opportunities for illicit activities, the efficiency and transparency of public services can be enhanced. Letsholo pointed to Estonia’s success in digital governance as an example, where public services have become more transparent, accessible, and efficient.
The MP commended President Masisi’s commitment to digitalization and E-Governance, emphasizing that it aligns with global anti-corruption standards. He called for full support and active participation from all sectors to ensure the success of this initiative.
Letsholo also stressed the importance of improving detection methods and refining whistleblower laws to effectively combat corruption. He highlighted the unseen and unspoken facets of corruption as its lifelines, emphasizing the need for robust detection mechanisms and a system that encourages and protects whistleblowers.
Addressing the societal role in fighting corruption, Letsholo focused on the crucial role of everyday citizens and civil servants who often witness corrupt practices firsthand. He acknowledged the existing reluctance to report corruption due to the perceived risks of repercussions. To change this narrative, Letsholo advocated for creating an environment where staying silent is deemed more detrimental than speaking out. He called for a cultural shift where the potential benefits of exposing corruption outweigh the risks, ensuring that whistleblowers are protected and feel secure in coming forward.
Letsholo called for collective responsibility and action in creating a system that not only detects and reports corruption but also supports those who stand against it. He expressed hope that under President Masisi’s digitalization initiatives, the future of governance in Botswana will be characterized by integrity, transparency, and accountability. Letsholo’s speech resonated with the sentiments of hope and determination that permeated the commemoration, emphasizing the need for unity in the fight against corruption.
In summary, Letsholo lauded President Masisi’s digitalization initiative in the fight against corruption, highlighting its potential to curb corrupt practices, enhance efficiency and transparency in public services, and align with global anti-corruption standards. He emphasized the importance of improving detection methods, refining whistleblower laws, and creating an environment where speaking out against corruption is encouraged and protected. Letsholo called for collective responsibility and action in creating a future characterized by integrity, transparency, and accountability in governance.
FaR Property Company (FPC) Limited, a property investment company listed on the Botswana Stock Exchange, has recently announced its exceptional financial results for the year 2023. The company’s property asset value has risen to P1.47 billion, up from P1.42 billion in the previous year.
FPC has a diverse portfolio of properties, including retail, commercial, industrial, and residential properties in Botswana, South Africa, and Zambia. The company owns a total of 186 properties, generating rental revenues from various sectors. In 2023, the company recorded rental revenues of P11 million from residential properties, P62 million from industrial properties, and P89 million from commercial properties. Overall, the company’s total revenues increased by 9% to P153 million, while profit before tax increased by 22% to P136 million, and operating profit increased by 11% to P139 million.
One notable achievement for FPC is the low vacancy rate across its properties, which stands at only 6%. This is particularly impressive considering the challenging trading environment. The company attributes this success to effective lease management and the leasing of previously vacant properties in South Africa. FPC’s management expressed satisfaction with the results, highlighting the resilience of the company in the face of ongoing macroeconomic challenges.
The increase in profit before tax can be attributed to both an increase in income and effective control of operating expenses. FPC managed to achieve these results with fewer employees, demonstrating the company’s efficiency. The headline earnings per linked unit also saw an improvement, reaching 26.92 thebe, higher than the previous year.
Looking ahead, FPC remains confident in its competitiveness and growth prospects. The company possesses a substantial land bank, which it plans to develop strategically as opportunities arise. FPC aims for managed growth, focusing on consumer-driven developments and ensuring the presence of supportive tenants. By maintaining this approach, the company believes it can sustainably grow its property portfolio and remain competitive in the market.
In terms of the macroeconomic environment, FPC noted that inflation rates are decreasing towards the 3% to 6% range approved by the Bank of Botswana. This is positive news for the company, as it hopes for further decreases in interest rates. However, the fluctuating fuel prices, influenced by global events such as the war in Ukraine and oil output reductions by Russia and other Middle Eastern countries, continue to impact businesses, including some of FPC’s tenants.
FPC’s property portfolio includes notable assets such as a shopping mall in Francistown with Choppies Hyper as the anchor tenant, Borogo Mall located on the A33 main road near the Kazungula ferry crossing, and various industrial and commercial properties in Gaborone leased to Choppies, Senn Foods, and Clover Botswana. The company also owns a shopping mall in Mafikeng and Rustenburg in South Africa.
The majority of FPC’s properties, 85%, are located in Botswana, followed by 12% in South Africa and 3% in Zambia. With its strong financial performance, competitive position, and strategic land bank, FPC is well-positioned for continued growth and success in the property market.