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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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DIS blasted for cruelty – UN report

26th July 2022
DIS BOSS: Magosi

Botswana has made improvements on preventing and ending arbitrary deprivation of liberty, but significant challenges remain in further developing and implementing a legal framework, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said at the end of a visit recently.

Head of the delegation, Elina Steinerte, appreciated the transparency of Botswana for opening her doors to them. Having had full and unimpeded access and visited 19 places of deprivation of liberty and confidentiality interviewing over 100 persons deprived of their liberty.

She mentioned “We commend Botswana for its openness in inviting the Working Group to conduct this visit which is the first visit of the Working Group to the Southern African region in over a decade. This is a further extension of the commitment to uphold international human rights obligations undertaken by Botswana through its ratification of international human rights treaties.”

Another good act Botswana has been praised for is the remission of sentences. Steinerte echoed that the Prisons Act grants remission of one third of the sentence to anyone who has been imprisoned for more than one month unless the person has been sentenced to life imprisonment or detained at the President’s Pleasure or if the remission would result in the discharge of any prisoner before serving a term of imprisonment of one month.

On the other side; The Group received testimonies about the police using excessive force, including beatings, electrocution, and suffocation of suspects to extract confessions. Of which when the suspects raised the matter with the magistrates, medical examinations would be ordered but often not carried out and the consideration of cases would proceed.

“The Group recall that any such treatment may amount to torture and ill-treatment absolutely prohibited in international law and also lead to arbitrary detention. Judicial authorities must ensure that the Government has met its obligation of demonstrating that confessions were given without coercion, including through any direct or indirect physical or undue psychological pressure. Judges should consider inadmissible any statement obtained through torture or ill-treatment and should order prompt and effective investigations into such allegations,” said Steinerte.

One of the group’s main concern was the DIS held suspects for over 48 hours for interviews. Established under the Intelligence and Security Service Act, the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) has powers to arrest with or without a warrant.

The group said the “DIS usually requests individuals to come in for an interview and has no powers to detain anyone beyond 48 hours; any overnight detention would take place in regular police stations.”

The Group was able to visit the DIS facilities in Sebele and received numerous testimonies from persons who have been taken there for interviewing, making it evident that individuals can be detained in the facility even if the detention does not last more than few hours.

Moreover, while arrest without a warrant is permissible only when there is a reasonable suspicion of a crime being committed, the evidence received indicates that arrests without a warrant are a rule rather than an exception, in contravention to article 9 of the Covenant.

Even short periods of detention constitute deprivation of liberty when a person is not free to leave at will and in all those instances when safeguards against arbitrary detention are violated, also such short periods may amount to arbitrary deprivation of liberty.

The group also learned of instances when persons were taken to DIS for interviewing without being given the possibility to notify their next of kin and that while individuals are allowed to consult their lawyers prior to being interviewed, lawyers are not allowed to be present during the interviews.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention mentioned they will continue engaging in the constructive dialogue with the Government of Botswana over the following months while they determine their final conclusions in relation to the country visit.

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Stan Chart halts civil servants property loan facility

26th July 2022
Stan-Chart

Standard Chartered Bank Botswana (SCBB) has informed the government that it will not be accepting new loan applications for the Government Employees Motor Vehicle and Residential Property Advance Scheme (GEMVAS and LAMVAS) facility.

This emerges in a correspondence between Acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance Boniface Mphetlhe and some government departments. In a letter he wrote recently to government departments informing them of the decision, Mphetlhe indicated that the Ministry received a request from the Bank to consider reviewing GEMVAS and LAMVAS agreement.

He said: “In summary SCBB requested the following; Government should consider reviewing GEMVAS and LAMVAS interest rate from prime plus 0.5% to prime plus 2%.” The Bank indicated that the review should be both for existing GEMVAS and LAMVAS clients and potential customers going forward.

Mphetlhe said the Bank informed the Ministry that the current GEMVAS and LAMVAS interest rate structure results into them making losses, “as the cost of loa disbursements is higher that their end collections.”

He said it also requested that the loan tenure for the residential property loans to be increased from 20 to 25 years and the loan tenure for new motor vehicles loans to be increased from 60 months to 72 months.

Mphetlhe indicated that the Bank’s request has been duly forwarded to the Directorate of Public Service Management for consideration, since GEMVAS and LAMVAS is a Condition of Service Scheme. He saidthe Bank did also inform the Ministry that if the matter is not resolved by the 6th June, 2022, they would cease receipt of new GEMVAS and LAMVAS loan applications.

“A follow up virtual meeting was held to discuss their resolution and SCB did confirm that they will not be accepting any new loans from GEMVAS and LAMVAS. The decision includes top-up advances,” said Mphetlhe. He advised civil servants to consider applying for loans from other banks.

In a letter addressed to the Ministry, SCBB Chief Executive Officer Mpho Masupe informed theministry that, “Reference is made to your letter dated 18th March 2022 wherein the Ministry had indicated that feedback to our proposal on the above subject is being sought.”

In thesame letter dated 10 May 2022, Masupe stated that the Bank was requesting for an update on the Ministry’s engagements with the relevant stakeholder (Directorate of Public Service Management) and provide an indicative timeline for conclusion.

He said the “SCBB informs the Ministry of its intention to cease issuance of new loans to applicants from 6th June 2022 in absence of any feedback on the matter and closure of the discussions between the two parties.”  Previously, Masupe had also had requested the Ministry to consider a review of clause 3 of the agreement which speaks to the interest rate charged on the facilities.

Masupe indicated in the letter dated 21 December 2021 that although all the Banks in the market had signed a similar agreement, subject to amendments that each may have requested. “We would like to suggest that our review be considered individually as opposed to being an industry position as we are cognisant of the requirements of section 25 of the Competition Act of 2018 which discourages fixing of pricing set for consumers,” he said.

He added that,“In this way,clients would still have the opportunity to shop around for more favourable pricing and the other Banks, may if they wish to, similarly, individually approach your office for a review of their pricing to the extent that they deem suitable for their respective organisations.”

Masupe also stated that: “On the issue of our request for the revision of the Interest Rate, we kindly request for an increase from the current rate of prime plus 0.5% to prime plus 2%, with no other increases during the loan period.” The Bank CEO said the rationale for the request to review pricing is due to the current construct of the GEMVAS scheme which is currently structured in a way that is resulting in the Bank making a loss.

“The greater part of the GEMVAS portfolio is the mortgage boo which constitutes 40% of the Bank’s total mortgage portfolio,” said Masupe. He saidthe losses that the Bank is incurring are as a result of the legacy pricing of prime plus 0% as the 1995 agreement which a slight increase in the August 2018 agreement to prime plus 0.5%.

“With this pricing, the GEMVAS portfolio has not been profitable to the Bank, causing distress and impeding its ability to continue to support government employees to buy houses and cars. The portfolio is currently priced at 5.25%,” he said.  Masupe said the performance of both the GEMVAS home loan and auto loan portfolios in terms of profitability have become unsustainable for the Bank.

Healso said, when the agreement was signed in August 2018, the prime lending rate was 6.75% which made the pricing in effect at the time sufficient from a profitable perspective. “It has since dropped by a total 1.5%. The funds that are loaned to customers are sourced at a high rate, which now leaves the Bank with marginal profits on the portfolio before factoring in other operational expenses associated with administration of the scheme and after sales care of the portfolio,” said the CEO.

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Botswana ranked 129 in female MPs representation

26th July 2022
Minister of Finance & Economic Development Peggy Serame

The Global Gender Gap Index, a report published by the World Economic Forum annually, has indicated that Botswana is among countries that fare badly when it comes to representation of women in legislative bodies.

The latest Global Gender Gap Index, published last week, benchmarks the current state and evolution of gender parity across four key dimensions (Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment). It is the longest-standing index which tracks progress towards closing these gaps over time since its inception in 2006.

This year, the Global Gender Gap Index benchmarked 146 countries. Of these, a subset of 102 countries have been represented in every edition of the index since 2006, further providing a large constant sample for time series analysis.

Botswana ranks number 66 overall (out of 146 countries), with good rankings in most of the pillars. Botswana ranks 1st in Health and Survival, 7th in the Economic Participation and Opportunity, 22nd in Educational Attainment, and 129th in Political Empowerment.

The Global Gender Gap Index measures scores on a 0 to 100 scale and scores can be interpreted as the distance covered towards parity (i.e. the percentage of the gender gap that has been closed). The cross-country comparisons aim to support the identification of the most effective policies to close gender gaps.

The Economic Participation and Opportunity sub-index contains three concepts: the participation gap, the remuneration gap and the advancement gap. The participation gap is captured using the difference between women and men in labour-force participation rates. The remuneration gap is captured through a hard data indicator (ratio of estimated female-to-male earned income) and a qualitative indicator gathered through the World Economic Forum’s annual Executive Opinion Survey (wage equality for similar work).

Finally, the gap between the advancement of women and men is captured through two hard data statistics (the ratio of women to men among legislators, senior officials and managers, and the ratio of women to men among technical and professional workers).

The Educational Attainment sub-index captures the gap between women’s and men’s current access to education through the enrolment ratios of women to men in primary-, secondary- and tertiary-level education. A longer-term view of the country’s ability to educate women and men in equal numbers is captured through the ratio of women’s literacy rate to men’s literacy rate.

Health and Survival sub-index provides an overview of the differences between women’s and men’s health using two indicators. The first is the sex ratio at birth, which aims specifically to capture the phenomenon of “missing women”, prevalent in countries with a strong son preference. Second, the index uses the gap between women’s and men’s healthy life expectancy.

This measure provides an estimate of the number of years that women and men can expect to live in good health by accounting for the years lost to violence, disease, malnutrition and other factors.
Political Empowerment sub-index measures the gap between men and women at the highest level of political decision-making through the ratio of women to men in ministerial positions and the ratio of women to men in parliamentary positions. In addition, the reported included the ratio of women to men in terms of years in executive office (prime minister or president) for the last 50 years.

In the last general elections, only three women won elections, compared to 54 males. The three women are; Nnaniki Makwinja (Lentsweletau-Mmopane), Talita Monnakgotla (Kgalagadi North), and Anna Mokgethi (Gaborone Bonnington North). Four women were elected through Specially Elected dispensation; Peggy Serame, Dr Unity Dow, Phildah Kereng and Beauty Manake. All female MPs — save Dow, who resigned — are members of the executive.

Overall, Botswana has 63 seats, all 57 elected by the electorates, and six elected by parliament. Early this year, Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) secretary general and Gaborone North MP, Mpho Balopi, successfully moved a motion in parliament calling for increment of elective seats from 57 to 61. Balopi contented that population growth demands the country respond by increasing the number of MPs.

In Africa, Botswana play second fiddle to countries like Rwanda, Namibia, South Africa, Burundi, and Zimbabwe who have better representation of women, with Rwanda being the only country with more than 50 percent of women in parliament.

The low number of women in parliament is attributed to Botswana’s current, electoral system, First-Past-the-Post. During the 9th parliament, then MP for Mahalapye East tabled a motion in parliament in which she sort to increase the number of Specially Elected MPs in parliament to augment female representation in the National Assembly.

The motion was opposed famously, by then Specially Elected MP, Botsalo Ntuane, who said the citizens were not in favour of such a move since it dilute democracy, instead suggesting the Botswana should switch to Proportional-Representation-System. Botswana is currently undergoing Constitutional Review process, with the commission, appointed in December, expected to deliver the report to President Mokgweetsi Masisi by September this year.

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