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Friday, 19 April 2024

Electronic voting: Opposition smells “Big Rat”

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Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) Executive Secretary, Gabriel Seeletso has revealed that the Electoral Commission is only currently awaiting changes to the law by parliament, to effect electronic voting. But the opposition Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) and Botswana Congress Party (BCP) say they smell a “big rat”.

Currently, according to Seeletso, a bill to enact electronic voting is being debated in parliament and if it comes to pass, IEC will develop an implementation plan that will include broad consultation with stakeholders.

Contrary to his claims, WeekendPost has learnt that a notice to table the bill was swiftly pushed through on a certificate of urgency a fortnight ago in parliament by Minister of Public Administration and Public Affairs (MOPAPA), Eric Molale and it is to be formally tabled and debated anytime soon.

Seeletso said he is however alive to the fact that any kind of reform will be met with some form of opposition. “We are alive to the fact that any type of reform has to pay a prize of resistance,” he said.

He stressed that the first point of call will be consultation which will start with IEC staffers and cascade down to the public. The law, if enacted, will render civic and voter education on electronic voting a legal obligation of IEC.

He further said that afterwards processes of budgeting and procurement of the electronic voting gadgets will follow and a tender will be released which will either be a public or single service tender.

He further clarified that once it has been approved, IEC will first acquire prototypes to give the nation a “touch and feel opportunity”.

He also said that different political parties will also be engaged in all the critical steps.

Voting machines from Barhat Electronics Limited (BEL); an Indian company were trialled on Wednesday by journalists and politicians. They record the time that polling started and closed and machine serial number. Before the start of ballot casting, they indicate whether any ballot has been mischievously punched in before time, and also show the number of candidates contending for a particular position.

If a ballot is cast by mistake for an unintended candidate, it can be taken back and given the intended candidate. If a voter is stuck inside the booth, confused and not knowing how to proceed, the machine will beep to alert the voting officer.

Each gadget also verifies the election results for a particular polling station and calculates the winning votes in no time.

Also, if polling is closed, the machine will not enable any further voting and will beep and its red neons flare up if tampered with.

The machine’s micro-controllers are said to be totally hardwired into it, with no susceptibility to hacks. In fact, it is said that if one should try to tamper with them, they will no longer work.

If the batteries die, the voting data punched inside will remain intact, until wilfully removed. The data can remain inside even if the election results are being disputed before the courts. BEL officials said that in India, the machines have in one instance preserved data for a period of 5 years in custody.

They are also said to be so accurate that they have the capability tell which voter has voted for which candidate.

According to Seeletso spoilt votes and election night vigils will also be a thing of the past once electronic voting is in use.

“Instead of all the verification process that we used to endure, it will verify the votes in terms of how many numbers voted, leaving no room for spoilt votes, error, and show the winning candidate,” said Seeletso.

He further said that, “the machines are merely a replacement of the paper process, with no hazardous magnetic fields and as user friendly as a mobile phone.”

Seeletso further said that not much will change in terms of voting hall rules. He said that if the machine has a problem, the presiding officer will inform the returning officer, who will in turn inform the secretary of the IEC. The IEC would then issue a second set of machines to the bogged voting station, and the voting station will then duly compensate for lost time.

Seeletso also said that IEC will try as much as possible to have political parties insert their own serial numbers with which they can identify voting machines with, beyond each machine having its own serialised tag.

He revealed that the electronic voting equipment and related paraphernalia will cost in the region of P100 million. Defending the multimillion-Pula cost, Seeletso said that, the machines will replace the verification officers who ordinarily are senior employees whose overtime payments far exceed other election time staff.

He also said that the machines are reusable and a once off purchase which will save taxpayers millions of Pula as running an election ordinarily costs a fortune; in the region of P120million.
Seeletso also said that if the law is passed they will most likely use Barhat Electronics Limited machines and that whichever company gets the tender will also have to provide technical support.

They will also be calibrated before the election starts, a process in which political parties will be involved.

BEL has used their machines to run elections in Namibia, India, Butan and Nepal.

Seeletso also revealed that IEC intends to enforce its rules which stipulate that a single polling station must service 500 voters, in a bid to stem voter apathy, resulting from winding queues. He also said that even though a single machine has the capability to run multiple elections they will however stick to a single machine for a single voting station.

However, Botswana Congress Party Youth League (BCPYL), President Tumiso Chillyboy Rakgare said that they, “have lots and lots of suspicions with electronic voting”. He further said that the fact that IEC’s ties to the Office of the President remain un-severed, the independence of the Commission still remains suspect.

He further said that there are many gaps with the machines to allow for election rigging and there is no how opposition parties can verify the safety of their votes in an election. “You can see that it is a way of stealing a mandate and they are trying all the tricks in the book to steal elections in 2019,”Rakgare said.

Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD), Vice President, Wynter Mmolotsi however said that they are still stunned at how the electronic voting bill was sprung upon unsuspecting legislators and the events preceding. Mmolotsi said that his party was surprised at the politicking antics of Eric Molale in the Goodhope-Mabule constituency at a time when the area legislator is ill.

He further said that it is surprising that only a week after his campaigns, Molale asked parliament to allow him to present the electronic voting bill on a certificate of urgency, immediately asking for a vote to settle the matter. It is believed that the bill is currently being cobbled up and Molale is expected to table it soon.

Botswana National Front (BNF) Secretary General, Moeti Mohwasa also said that they are surprised at the, “supersonic speed at which the electronic voting development is proceeding without consultation”.

Mohwasa also revealed that BNF is looking into allegations that government has independently engaged an independent consultant to link up and manipulate the electronic voting machines remotely.

Meanwhile, Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) Secretary for Political Education and Elections Committee, Kabo Morwaeng said that even though he has not yet reported back to his party, he is personally impressed with the machines.

Morwaeng said that if all should go as presented, electronic voting will cut all the paperwork, storage and transportation costs among others. He said that it will also enhance democracy by doing away with spoilt votes and helping the illiterate citizens to exercise their democratic right in their privacy.

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Nigerians, Zimbabweans apply for Chema Chema Fund

16th April 2024

Fronting activities, where locals are used as a front for foreign-owned businesses, have been a long-standing issue in Botswana. These activities not only undermine the government’s efforts to promote local businesses but also deprive Batswana of opportunities for economic empowerment, officials say. The Ministry of Trade and Industry has warned of heavy penalties for those involved in fronting activities especially in relation to the latest popular government initiative dubbed Chema Chema.

According to the Ministry, the Industrial Development Act of 2019 clearly outlines the consequences of engaging in fronting activities. The fines of up to P50,000 for first-time offenders and P20,000 plus a two-year jail term for repeat offenders send a strong message that the government is serious about cracking down on this illegal practice. These penalties are meant to deter individuals from participating in fronting activities and to protect the integrity of local industries.

“It is disheartening to hear reports of collaboration between foreigners and locals to exploit government initiatives such as the Chema Chema Fund. This fund, administered by CEDA and LEA, is meant to support informal traders and low-income earners in Botswana. However, when fronting activities come into play, the intended beneficiaries are sidelined, and the funds are misused for personal gain.” It has been discovered that foreign nationals predominantly of Zimbabwean and Nigerian origin use unsuspecting Batswana to attempt to access the Chema Chema Fund. It is understood that they approach these Batswana under the guise of drafting business plans for them or simply coming up with ‘bankable business ideas that qualify for Chema Chema.’

Observers say the Chema Chema Fund has the potential to uplift the lives of many Batswana who are struggling to make ends meet. They argue that it is crucial that these funds are used for their intended purpose and not siphoned off through illegal activities such as fronting. The Ministry says the warning it issued serves as a reminder to all stakeholders involved in the administration of these funds to ensure transparency and accountability in their disbursement.

One local commentator said it is important to highlight the impact of fronting activities on the local economy and the livelihoods of Batswana. He said by using locals as a front for foreign-owned businesses, opportunities for local entrepreneurs are stifled, and the economic empowerment of Batswana is hindered. The Ministry’s warning of heavy penalties is a call to action for all stakeholders to work together to eliminate fronting activities and promote a level playing field for local businesses.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Trade and Industry’s warning of heavy penalties for fronting activities is a necessary step to protect the integrity of local industries and promote economic empowerment for Batswana. “It is imperative that all stakeholders comply with regulations and work towards a transparent and accountable business environment. By upholding the law and cracking down on illegal activities, we can ensure a fair and prosperous future for all Batswana.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Merck Foundation and African First Ladies mark World Health Day 2024

15th April 2024

Merck Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Merck KGaA Germany marks “World Health Day” 2024 together with Africa’s First Ladies who are also Ambassadors of MerckFoundation “More Than a Mother” Campaign through their Scholarship and Capacity Building Program. Senator, Dr. Rasha Kelej, CEO of Merck Foundation emphasized, “At Merck Foundation, we mark World Health Day every single day of the year over the past 12 years, by building healthcare capacity and transforming patient care across Africa, Asia and beyond.

I am proud to share that Merck Foundation has provided over 1740 scholarships to aspiring young doctors from 52 countries, in 44 critical and underserved medical specialties such as Oncology, Diabetes, Preventative Cardiovascular Medicine, Endocrinology, Sexual and Reproductive Medicine, Acute Medicine, Respiratory Medicine, Embryology & Fertility specialty, Gastroenterology, Dermatology, Psychiatry, Emergency and Resuscitation Medicine, Critical Care, Pediatric Emergency Medicine, Neonatal Medicine, Advanced Surgical Practice, Pain Management, General Surgery, Clinical Microbiology and infectious diseases, Internal Medicine, Trauma & Orthopedics, Neurosurgery, Neurology, Cardiology, Stroke Medicine, Care of the Older Person, Family Medicine, Pediatrics and Child Health, Obesity & Weight Management, Women’s Health, Biotechnology in ART and many more”.

As per the available data, Africa has only 34.6% of the required doctors, nurses, and midwives. It is projected that by 2030, Africa would need additional 6.1 million doctors, nurses, and midwives*. “For Example, before the start of the Merck Foundation programs in 2012; there was not a single Oncologist, Fertility or Reproductive care specialists, Diabetologist, Respiratory or ICU specialist in many countries such as The Gambia, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Central African Republic, Guinea, Burundi, Niger, Chad, Ethiopia, Namibia among others. We are certainly creating historic legacy in Africa, and also beyond. Together with our partners like Africa’s First Ladies, Ministries of Health, Gender, Education and Communication, we are impacting the lives of people in the most disadvantaged communities in Africa and beyond.”, added Senator Dr. Kelej. Merck Foundation works closely with their Ambassadors, the African First Ladies and local partners such as; Ministries of Health, Education, Information & Communication, Gender, Academia, Research Institutions, Media and Art in building healthcare capacity and addressing health, social & economic challenges in developing countries and under-served communities. “I strongly believe that training healthcare providers and building professional healthcare capacity is the right strategy to improve access to equitable and quality at health care in Africa.

Therefore, I am happy to announce the Call for Applications for 2024 Scholarships for young doctors with special focus on female doctors for our online one-year diploma and two year master degree in 44 critical and underserved medical specialties, which includes both Online Diploma programs and On-Site Fellowship and clinical training programs. The applications are invited through the Office of our Ambassadors and long-term partners, The First Ladies of Africa and Ministry of Health of each country.” shared Dr . Kelej. “Our aim is to improve the overall health and wellbeing of people by building healthcare capacity across Africa, Asia and other developing countries. We are strongly committed to transforming patientcare landscape through our scholarships program”, concluded Senator Kelej.

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Interpol fugitive escapes from Botswana

15th April 2024

John Isaak Ndovi, a Tanzanian national embroiled in controversy and pursued under a red notice by the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol), has mysteriously vanished, bypassing a scheduled bail hearing at the Extension 2 Magistrate Court in Gaborone. Previously apprehended by Botswana law enforcement at the Tlokweng border post several months earlier, his escape has ignited serious concerns.

Accused of pilfering assets worth in excess of P1 million, an amount translating to roughly 30,000 Omani Riyals, Ndovi has become a figure of paramount interest, especially to the authorities in the Sultanate of Oman, nestled in the far reaches of Asia.

The unsettling news of his disappearance surfaced following his failure to present himself at the Extension 2 Magistrate Court the preceding week. Speculation abounds that Ndovi may have sought refuge in South Africa in a bid to elude capture, prompting a widespread mobilization of law enforcement agencies to ascertain his current location.

In an official communiqué, Detective Senior Assistant Police Commissioner Selebatso Mokgosi of Interpol Gaborone disclosed Ndovi’s apprehension last September at the Tlokweng border, a capture made possible through the vigilant issuance of the Interpol red notice.

At 36, Ndovi is implicated in a case of alleged home invasion in Oman. Despite the non-existence of an extradition treaty between Botswana and Oman, Nomsa Moatswi, the Director of the Directorate of Public Prosecution (DPP), emphasized that the lack of formal extradition agreements does not hinder her office’s ability to entertain extradition requests. She highlighted the adoption of international cooperation norms, advocating for collaboration through the lenses of international comity and reciprocity.

Moatswi disclosed the intensified effort by law enforcement to locate Ndovi following his no-show in court, and pointed to Botswana’s track record of extraditing two international fugitives from France and Zimbabwe in the previous year as evidence of the country’s relentless pursuit of legal integrity.

When probed about the potential implications of Ndovi’s case on Botswana’s forthcoming evaluation by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), Moatswi reserved her speculations. She acknowledged the criticality of steering clear of blacklisting, suggesting that this singular case is unlikely to feature prominently in the FATF’s assessment criteria.

 

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