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Electronic voting: Opposition smells “Big Rat”

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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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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