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Insurrection looms at BDP

Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) backbenchers in parliament appear to have usurped the role of the opposition in the left of the political spectrum, going against both the grain of BDP tradition and desires of the establishment, by tabling a salvo of left leaning motions.

When parliament resumes for the third session in November, it will debate motions left behind from the previous session. Most of them, from BDP legislators such as the likes of Member of Parliament (MP) for Nata-Gweta, Polson Majaga are poised to rattle BDP establishment to the core. Majaga has tabled a motion calling for government to carry out a referendum for the direct election of the president.

Botswana uses the first-past-the-post electoral system and the sitting Vice President automatically succeeds to Presidency once the presidential seat is vacant. Majaga explained that in his eyes there seems to be a fault line in the country’s system which confers a raft of sweeping powers on an individual who is not directly elected by the people.

Majaga contends that, that is not his idea of a democratic dispensation and that the country has already been surpassed by its neighbours including Zambia, where he recently was an election observer when Edgar Lungu was elected directly by Zambians.

The next motion in parliamentary order paper, still by Majaga asks government to make provisions that will see the president of the republic appointing cabinet ministers from individuals who are not sitting parliamentarians to allow them more time to do administrative work.

In regards to disentangling MP’s from ministerial posts, Majaga said that the arrangement he proposes will stem situations where ministers’ treat visits to constituencies as favours to fellow friends in cabinet. He explained that ministers currently exchange visits to one another’s constituency, leaving ordinary MP’s out in the cold.

“MP’s should be MPs and ministers should be ministers.” said Majaga.

He further said that this will also encourage the spirit of accountability as currently ministers are either busy or claim to be busy when it comes to expediting visits to Batswana.

Majaga said that his motions have not yet passed through BDP caucus but he remains hopeful.

Another raft of ‘disloyal’ motions on the BDP is by Tati West MP, Biggie Butale.

Butale has noticed a motion calling for an introduction of other indigenous languages in the education curriculum. Butale had tabled the same motion in parliament early last year before his party went for the Mmadinare elective congress in which he was candidate for the chairmanship and the motion never saw the light of day.

The proposal to introduce other indigenous languages in the education curriculum has previously been rejected in the ruling party quarters, with BDP head honchos crushing it as a divisive, costly and impractical move.

The current Minister of Defence, Justice and Security, Shaw Kgathi once described the idea as akin to the reintroduction of a Bantu form of education, as he shot down the motion then tabled by former Selibi Phikwe West MP, Gilson Saleshando.

Before the 2014 general election, the now BDP Secretary General, Botsalo Ntuane constantly waded into the contentious topic. Speaking at former party strong man, Daniel Kelagobe’s candidacy launch in Molepolole, Ntuane who described himself as a nationalist, shot down the idea, labelling it as a plot to divide the country along tribal lines. He had also spoken about it three weeks earlier at Odirile Motlhale’s candidacy launch in Ramotswa.

In Molepolole, he was quoted as saying: “We are just two years away from celebrating our golden jubilee and are we going to allow some people to divide us along tribal lines? We should identify ourselves first as Batswana and not along any ethnic grouping.”

Butale has also tabled another motion even more despised in ruling party quarters. He has tabled a motion calling for the establishment of community radio and television stations. Previously, BDP MP’s have also trashed the idea, advancing reasoning that the same have fuelled ethnic divisions in Rwanda. The current Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi shot down the idea on that basis when she was still Minister for Communications, Science and Technology.

Butale said this week that it does not mean that if the ruling party rejected similar motions in the past, it will continue to do the same at other times.

“Times change, it doesn’t mean that they will continue to reject them”

He further said that he continues to bring them up because he feels these are motions that can help the needy Batswana. He further said that he is confident that the motions will pass because BDP parliamentary caucus has already given them its blessings.

Butale further said that the motions are not in any way pro-opposition but serve to demonstrate that BDP is responsible to the needs of the larger population.

Another of his motion which will be received possibly with mixed reactions in the sluggish quarters of the ruling party concerns citizen economic empowerment.

While younger generations of Batswana appear unanimous on a citizen economic empowerment deal that forces foreign companies to partner with Batswana in businesses, President Khama seem to hold a divergent view.

At BDP’s first special congress in October 2015, Khama broke ranks with party SG Botsalo Ntuane concerning a law that forces foreign joint ventures with Batswana. Ntuane advocated before the BDP faithful that there should be a law that forces foreign companies to partner with Batswana as the foreigners immediately repatriate profits in chunks, offshore without leaving any major benefits for the natives.

Moments after Ntuane received a rapturous applause, Khama immediately moved to crush his argument stating that he does not want Batswana to be “cry-babies and piggy back on foreign companies.”

However, Ntuane warned this week that: “You cannot be a BDP MP only when it suits you and not when it doesn’t. In BDP we work as collective.”

He said that party policy is that all motions have to go to the caucus which will halt or green light the concerned motions.

Butale is a known liberal among conservatives who once advocated for increased media freedom, declaration of assets, closer ties with the labour movement, devolution of powers from central to local government and political party funding among others; topics that the ruling party has continuously shied away from.

He also at some point noticed a motion in parliament calling for the immortalisation of late Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) leader, Gomolemo Motswaledi through naming one major government institution in his honour, but was stopped in his tracks by his party as the move would have amounted to an immense propaganda coup for the opposition.

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Civil Service volatility: Democracy vs Bureaucracy

19th April 2021
President Masisi

Here is how one Permanent Secretary encapsulates the clear tension between democracy and bureaucracy in Botswana: “President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s Government is behaving like a state surrounded with armed forces in order to capture it or force its surrender. The situation has turned so volatile, for tomorrow is not guaranteed for us top civil servants.

These are the painful results of a personalized civil service in our view as permanent secretaries”. Although his deduction of the situation may be summed as sour grapes because he is one of the ‘victims’ of the reshuffle, he is convinced this is a perfect description of the rationale behind frequent changes and transfers characterising the current civil service.

The result of it all, he said, is that “there is too much instability at managerial and strategic levels of the civil service leading to a noticeable directionless civil service.” He continued: “Changes and transfers are inevitable in the civil service, but to a permissible scale and frequency. Think of soccer team coach who changes and transfers his entire squad every month; you know the consequences?”

The Tsunami has hit hard at critical departments and Ministries leaving a strong wave of uncertainty, many demoralised and some jobless. In traditional approaches to public administration, democracy gives the goals; and bureaucracy delivers the technical efficiency required for implementation. But the recent moves in the civil service are indicative of conflicting imperatives – the notion of separation between politicians and administrators is becoming blurred by the day.

“Look at what happened to Prisons and BDF where second in command were overlooked for outsiders, and these are the people who had sacrificially served for donkey’s years hoping for a seat at the ladder’s end. The frequency of the changes, at times affecting the same Ministry or individual also demonstrates some level of ineptitude, clumsiness and lack of foresight from those in charge,” remarked the PS who added that their view is that the transfers are not related to anything but “settling scores, creating corruption opportunities and pushing out perceived dissident and former president, Ian Khama’s alleged loyalists and most of these transfers are said to be products of intelligence detection.”

Partly blaming Khama for the mess and his unwillingness to let go, the PS dismissed Masisi for falling to the trap and failing to outgrow the destructive tiff. “Khama is here to stay and the sooner Masisi comes to terms with the fact that he (Masisi) is the state President, the better. For a President to still be making these changes and transfers signals signs of a confused man who has not yet started rolling his roadmap, if at all it was ever there. I am saying this because any roadmap comes with key players and policies,” he concluded.

The Ministry of Health and Wellness seems to be the most hard-hit by the transfers, having experienced three Permanent Secretaries changes within a year and a half. Insiders say the changes have everything to do with the Ministry being the centre of COVID-19 tenders and economic opportunities. “The buck stops with the PS and no right-thinking PS can just allow glaring corruption under his watch as an accounting officer. Technocrats are generally law abiding, the pressure comes with politically appointed leaders racing against political terms to loot,” revealed a director in the Ministry preferring anonymity.

The latest transfer of Kabelo Ebineng she says was also motivated by his firm attitude against the President’s blue-eyed Task Team boys. “The Task Team wants to own the COVID-19 pandemic and government interventions and always cry foul when the Ministry reasserts itself as mandated by law,” said the director who added that Masisi who was always caught between the crossfire decided on sacrificing Ebineng to the joy of his team as they (Task Team) were in the habit of threatening to resign citing Ebineng as the problem.

Ebineng joins the Office of the President as a deputy Coordinator (government implementation and coordination office).The incoming PS is the soft-spoken Grace Muzila, known and described by her close associates as a conformist albeit knowledgeable.

One of the losers in the grand scheme is Thato Raphaka who many had seen as the next PSP because of his experience and calm demeanour following a declaration of interest in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Secretary post by the current PSP, Elias Magosi.

But hardly ten months into his post, Raphaka has been transferred out to the National Strategy Office in what many see as a demotion of some sort. Other notable changes coming into OP are Pearl Ramokoka formerly with the Employment, Labour and Productivity Ministry coming in as a Permanent Secretary and Kgomotso Abi as director of Public Service Reforms.

One of the ousted senior officers in the Office of the President warned that there are no signs that the changes and transfers will stop anytime soon: “If you are observant you would have long noticed that the changes don’t only affect senior officers but government decisions as well. A decision is made today and the government backtracks on it within a week. Not only that, the President says this today, and his deputy denies it the following day in Parliament,” he warned.

Some observers have blamed the turmoil in the civil service partly to lack of accountable presidential advisers or kitchen cabinet properly schooled on matters of statecraft. They point out that politicians or those peripheral to them should refrain from hampering the technical and organizational activities of public managers – or else the party (reshuffling) won’t stop.

In the view expressed by some Permanent Secretaries, Elias Magosi, has not really been himself since joining the civil service; and has cut a picture of indifference in most critical engagements; the most notable been a permanent secretaries platform which he chairs. As things stand there is need to reconcile the imperatives of democracy and democracy in Botswana. Peace will rein only when public value should stand astride the fault that runs between politicians and public managers.

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Morupisi fights for freedom in court

19th April 2021
morupisi

Former Permanent Secretary to the President, Carter Morupisi, is fighting for survival in a matter in which the State has charged him and his wife, Pinnie Morupisi, with corruption and money laundering.

Morupisi has joined a list of prominent figures that served in the previous administration and who have been accused of corruption during their tenure in office. While others have been emerging victorious, Morupisi is yet to find that luck. The High Court recently dismissed his no case to answer application.

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Pressure mounts on Biden to suspend Covid-19 vaccine patents

19th April 2021
Joe Biden

United States President, Joe Biden, is faced with a decision to make relating to the Covid-19 vaccine intellectual property after 175 former world leaders and Nobel laurates joined the campaign urging the US to take “urgent action” to suspend intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines to help boost global inoculation rates.

According to the world leaders, doing so would allow developing countries to make their own copies of the vaccines that have been developed by pharmaceutical companies without fear of being sued for intellectual property infringements.

“A WTO waiver is a vital and necessary step to bringing an end to this pandemic. It must be combined with ensuring vaccine know-how and technology is shared openly,” the signatories, comprising more than 100 Nobel prize-winners and over 70 former world leaders, wrote in a letter to US President Joe Biden, according to Financial Times.

A measure to allow countries to temporarily override patent rights for Covid related medical products was proposed at the World Trade Organization by India and South Africa in October, and has since been backed by nearly 60 countries.

Former leaders who signed the letter included Gordon Brown, former UK Prime Minister; François Hollande, former French President; Mikhail Gorbachev, former President of the USSR; and Yves Leterme, former Belgian Prime Minister.

In their official communication, South Africa and India said: “As new diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines for Covid-19 are developed, there are significant concerns [about] how these will be made available promptly, in sufficient quantities and at affordable prices to meet global demand.”

While developed countries have been able to secure enough vaccine to inoculate their citizens, developing countries such as Botswana are struggling to source enough to swiftly vaccine their citizens, something which world leaders believe it would work against global recovery therefore proving counter-productive.

Since the availability of vaccines, Botswana has been able to secure only 60 000 doses of vaccines, 30 000 as donation as from the Indian government, while the other 30 000 was sourced through COVAX facility.  Canada, has pre-ordered vaccines in surplus and it will be able to vaccinate each of its citizens six times over. In the UK and US, it is four vaccines per person; and two each in the EU and Australia.

For vaccines produced in Europe, developing countries are forced to pay double what European countries are paying, making it more expensive for already financially struggling economies.  European countries however justify the price of vaccines and that they deserve to buy them cheap since they contributed in their development.

It is evident that vaccines cannot be made available immediately to all countries worldwide with wealthy economies being the only success story in that regard, something that has been referred to as a “catastrophic moral failure”, head of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The challenge facing developing countries is not only the price, but also the capacity of vaccine manufactures to be able to do so to meet global demand within a short time. The proposal for a patent waiver by India and South Africa has been rejected by developed countries, known for hosting the world leading pharmaceutical companies such US, European Union, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland.

According to the Financial Times, US business groups including pharmaceutical industry representatives, have urged Biden to resist supporting a waiver to IP rules at the WTO, arguing that the proposal led by India and South Africa was too “vague” and “broad”.

The individuals who signed the letter, including Nobel laureates in economics as well as from across the arts and sciences, warned that inequitable vaccine access would impact the global economy and prevent it from recovering.

“The world saw unprecedented development of safe and effective vaccines, in major part thanks to US public investment,” the group wrote. “We all welcome that vaccination rollout in the US and many wealthier countries is bringing hope to their citizens.”

“Yet for the majority of the world that same hope is yet to be seen. New waves of suffering are now rising across the globe. Our global economy cannot rebuild if it remains vulnerable to this virus.”
The group warned that fully enforcing IP was “self-defeating for the US” as it hindered global vaccination efforts. “Given artificial global supply shortages, the US economy already risks losing $1.3tn in gross domestic product this year.”

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