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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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Botswana’s development agenda in jeopardy

21st September 2020
Botswana’s-development-agenda-in-jeopardy--water-construction

Stanbic Bank Botswana Quarterly Economic Review indicates that Botswana will fail to meet some of its Vision 2036 targets, particularly unemployment reduction and reaching high-income status.

The report says this is mainly due to the slow economic growth that the country is currently experiencing. This Quarterly Economic Review focuses on the 2020 Budget Speech.

The first paper reviews the entire budget with its key observations being that this budget is prepared as prescribed by the Public Finance Management Act; the priorities it seeks to address are drawn from Vision 2036 and the eleventh

The 2020 budget Speech, which was the maiden speech by the Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Dr. Thapelo Matsheka, and the first after the 2019 general elections, was delivered to Parliament on the 4th of February 2020.

It has been well received by the labour unions, business community, and the public at large as well as international organisations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

It mainly derived its support from key facets including, emphasis on changing the business-as-usual approach to development; outlining the transformation agenda; fiscal reform that minimizes the negative impact on economic development and human welfare, competiveness and the decision to implement the 2019 negotiated and agreed public sector.

The budget’s progress review shows that economic growth was consistent with the NDP 11 projections, with growth of around 4 percent. At this growth rate, the country would neither ascend to a high-income status nor reduce unemployment towards the Vision 2036 target of a single digit.

Simple calculations of this review confirm that the economy will need to grow the Vision 2036’s target of 6 percent over the next 16 years for per capita income to increase from around USD 8,000.00 to above USD 12,000.00 in current prices.

Further, the population is anticipated to grow by only 2 percent per annum.

For this reason, the focal areas for the forthcoming FY’s budget include measures to increase economic growth towards an average of 6 percent per annum.

Economic diversification is reportedly progressing fairly well. The report says, the share of the non-mining private sector in value added has risen to 66 percent in 2018 from to 63 percent in 2015.

The sectoral pattern of growth showed that the performance of services sector (particularly transport & communications, trade, hotels & restaurants, and finance & business services) has been the silver lining and that of mining sector was subdued whilst the utility sector disappointed.

The drive towards the service sector of the economy, especially to low-productivity activities (tourism, public administration, wholesaling and retailing) does not bode well for the country’s development aspirations.

In the previous versions of this Quarterly Review, it was noted that there is need for the rethinking of economic diversification. Since the country’s domestic market is small, it is inevitable that economic diversification not only focus on broadening the product mix, but also the composition of exports and markets.

This understanding of economic diversification has not been embraced by this year’s budget. Consequently, Botswana’s exports are still overwhelmingly diamonds, which means that the rest of economic sectors are still highly dependent on foreign-exchange earnings from diamonds. Thus, “the transformation programme requires a review of the country’s entire ecosystem”.

The budget review of the economic context also depicts that an economy with positive medium-term prospects, with growth expected to recover to 4.4 percent in 2020 from the expected growth of 36 percent in 2019 largely due to faster growth of services sectors and, thereafter, to slow-down to 4 percent in 2021.

These projected growth rates are comparable to those of the IMF staff’s baseline scenario of 4.2 percent in 2020 and 4 percent in 2021. Thus, the business-as-usual scenario produces growth rates that are still too low to achieve Botswana’s development objectives and create enough jobs to absorb the new entrants into the labour market.

Trade tensions between the two major markets for diamond exports, viz., the United States of America and China, is one of the factors that are cited as contributing to, indeed, undermining not only the domestic growth, but also the fiscal position.

Another notable downside risk to both global and domestic growth is outbreak of the coronavirus in China around January 2020. This has been declared as a global health emergency. In an attempt to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus pneumonia, the Chinese authorities have ordered city lockdowns and extended holidays, of course, at the expense of near- term economic growth, according to the new Stanbic Bank Botswana report.

According to Nomura Holdings Inc., fewer migrant workers returned for work than in previous years and business activities have been slow to pick up. The havoc wreaked by the virus on the world’s second largest economy is likely to spill over to the global economy. In fact, it has resulted in a glut in crude oil and, thereby placed oil markets into a contango, i.e., a market structure where near-term prices trade at a discount to future contracts.

It also presents significant risks one of Botswana’s main drivers of economic growth, diversification and foreign exchange earnings. According to the Financial Times (February 13, 2020), Chinese tourists spent $130 billion overseas in 2018. Regardless of whether the growth materializes, the projected domestic growth rate would not transform the economy to a high-income one.

Progress towards reduction of unemployment, to a target of single digit, and poverty and achieving inclusive growth has also been relatively slow, the Stanbic Bank Botswana Review says.

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OP leases Orapa House

21st September 2020
Orapa House

Ministry of Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration (MOPAGPA) has through the Office of the President (OP) proposed to avail Orapa House for use by private training institutions as well as research institutions involved in the area of technology development.

For a very long time the monumental building located in the heart of the city has been a white elephant, despite government purchasing it for nearly P80 million from De Beers in 2012.

However, government has now identified a productive use for the iconic building. “The overall vision is for the building to be transformed into a hub for digital technology research and development to be carried-out by institutions, such as; Limkokwing University, BIUST, BITRI and other relevant stakeholders.”

The decision was taken as government traverse a new path of transforming the economy from a mineral led economy to a knowledge based economy through the promotion of research and innovation. However, the facility will need major maintenance to be carried-out in order to meet the requirements of the proposed change in use.

“The work will include provision of laboratories, work stations, production areas and seminar rooms; audio visual centre, high speed internet connectivity, exhibition areas and offices,” reads the proposal note for the development.

These developments will be done through the refurbishment and maintenance of the main building, workshop, and ablution block, gate house, parking area, grounds, and access control and security service.

“There will be minimal modifications to the structure as it stands. The project is estimated to cost approximately P50, 000, 000,” says the report. In this regard, it is said, the initial scope of the OP facility will be modified to accommodate the envisaged digital technology research and development hub.

With funds needed to improve the building, OP has requested that; “the 2020/21 annual budget provision for Orapa House will need to be increased by P37,500,000 from P2,500,000 to P40,000,000 to kick start the maintenance works.” Funds will be sourced from the projects that have been delayed due to Covid-19 protocols during the 2020/21 financial year.

The building has been a thorny issue for government for years. Initially, OP was expected to move there but the move never materialised. At one point it was a question of whether the Office of the President and the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development were planning to override a decision by Parliament which rejected the proposal to buy Orapa House under the belief that government may be buying its own property. The building was to be bought at a negotiated cost of P79 million.

Again in 2012, Government had wanted to buy Orapa House for a negotiated P79m but the Finance and Estimates Committee of Parliament had rejected the request because of the inconsistencies realised in the supporting documents of the proposed procurement. The valuation of the building was put at P74 million.

The Ministry of Lands and Housing had initially offered De Beers P73, 000,000 as the purchase price. However, De Beers countered with P85, 000,000. On negotiation and converging of the minds, the selling price was finally agreed at P79, 000,000.

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Sad state of Brigades: dumped and ignored!

21st September 2020
Brigades

Auditor General, Pulane Letebele, has expressed discontentment at the worrying and deteriorating state of brigades in the country.

In an audit inspection which was carried out at Tshwaragano Brigade in Gabane, a number of observations showed weaknesses and shortcomings in the conduct of the financial affairs of the institution.

According to Letebele’s report, former students of the brigade had been engaged to carry out maintenance works on the school premises, comprising of painting, tiling, plumbing and electrical works, which covered the period from July 2017 to June 2018.

Although the agreed maintenance period had elapsed, the works had not been completed because of unavailability of funds and this situation had persisted up till the time of inspection in November 2019.

Auditor General says arrangements should have been made in time for funds to be available to complete these relatively minor works even before the works commenced.

Various contractors had been engaged for clearing the bush and for the supply of concrete stones, pit and river sand and hiring equipment for digging the trench towards the construction of an auto mechanics workshop, the report said.

It stated that the cost of services and supplies provided totalled P117 949.80. However, despite the services and the supplies having been paid for, the construction works had not commenced for a long period afterwards, resulting in the trench filling back in.

The audit inquiries had not elicited satisfactory responses as both the institution and the Ministry had not accepted the responsibility for the project, although orders for the provision for the supplies had been made. For their part, the Ministry had stated that they had sub warranted funds for the purchase of porta cabins.

Letebele indicated that it is therefore confusing that a project which is critical to the functioning of an institution such as this one would commence without a well-defined plan.

Furthermore, the accounting and maintenance of records for the supplies items were not of the standard prescribed by the Supplies Regulations and Procedures in that the supplies ledger cards, the main accounting records for Government assets, were not properly maintained for the recording of receipts and issues.

This had resulted in significant discrepancies between physical and ledger balances, while in other instances the supplies items had not been recorded at all.

The report says 24 of the 91 new computers found in the computer laboratory at Kumakwane ABC campus were not recorded anywhere, as were the other computers in the storeroom which could not be counted due to the disorderly storage conditions.

The institution had entered into a contract agreement with a security company for the provision of security services at Tshwaragano Brigade, ABC and Horticulture campuses at Kumakwane for a 2-year period which ended in June 2018, WeekendPost learnt.

After the contract expired in June 2018, an extension was granted till the 30th September 2018. Since then, there has been no security service coverage for the institution to-date. According to Auditor General, in the face of prevailing crimes, it is of paramount importance that government properties be protected by provision of security services at all times.

At Tlokweng Brigade, it was noted that the kitchen staff were working under difficult conditions as the kitchen facilities and equipment, such as the cold room, tilting pot, food warmers and solar power for hot water were dysfunctional. The kitchen roof was leaking and men’s restrooms was not working. All these need to be brought to a reasonable and functional state of repair.

The kitchen staff should use a purpose-designed Rations Ledger for the recording of receipts and issues of foodstuffs to reflect the usage of those items. As far back as 2014 the Department of Buildings and Engineering Services had found that the house occupied by the bursar was uninhabitable on account of structural defects, the report said.

A site visit during the audit had established that the house was indeed unfit for occupation as there were cracks on the walls, power switches were not working and the roof was leaking. On a sadder note, there were a number of finished items of clothing, such as dresses, shirts, and jackets from students’ practical exercises from the Fashion Design Textiles Workshop.

Auditor General shared her take on this, saying: “I have not been able to ascertain the policy on the disposal of products from these practicals. A trace of 103 green acid-proof overalls which had been purchased in August 2018 had indicated that there was no record of these items having been recorded or issued, nor were they available in stock. I was not able to obtain any explanation for this situation.”

Kgatleng brigade was also audited and inspected by Auditor General who observed that the brigade has 26 institutional houses at Bokaa, both old campus and new campus. Some of these houses are very old and dilapidated, with two declared uninhabitable. The condition of the houses is a clear indication of lack of care and maintenance of these properties.

At the time of the audit, there was no contractor engaged for the provision of security guard services at the new campus, after expiry of the previous one in July 2019.  It is hoped that steps would be taken to safeguard the security of the premises and government properties against any acts of hooliganism.

In August 2019, there was a break-in at the electrical and at the plumbing maintenance workshops and a number of high value items, such as drilling machines, bolt cutters, spanners and cables, were stolen. The break-in and theft were reported to the police.

“However, at the time of writing this report I was not aware of the outcome of the police investigation, nor of any loss report submitted in terms of the Supplies Regulations and Procedures,” Letebele said.

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