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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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Botswana imports in numbers

1st March 2021
Botswana-imports

For so many years, Botswana has been trying to be a self-sufficient country that is able to provide its citizens with locally produced food products. Through appropriate collaborations with parastatals such as CEDA, ISPAAD and LEA, government introduced initiatives such as the Horticulture Impact Accelerator Subsidy-IAS and other funding facilities to facilitate horticultural farmers to increase production levels.

Now that COVID-19 took over and disrupted the food value chain across all economies, Botswana government introduced these initiatives to reduce the import bill by enhancing local market and relieve horticultural farmers from loses or impacts associated with the pandemic.

In more concerted efforts to curb these food crises in the country, government extended the ploughing period for the Southern part of Botswana. The extension was due to the late start of rains in the Southern part of the country.

Last week the Ministry of Agriculture extended the ploughing period for the Northern part of the country, mainly because of rains recently experienced in the country. With these decisions taken urgently, government optimizes food security and reliance on local food production.

When pigs fly, Botswana will be able to produce food to feed its people. This is evident by the numbers released by Statistics Botswana on imports recorded in November 2020, on their International Merchandise Trade Statistics for the month under review.

The numbers say Botswana continues to import most of its food from neighbouring South Africa. Not only that, Batswana relies on South Africa to have something to smoke, to drink and even use as machinery.

According to data from Statistics Botswana, the country’s total imports amounted to P6.881 Million. Diamonds contributed to the total imports at 33%, which is equivalent to P2.3 Million. This was followed by food, beverages and tobacco, machinery and electrical equipment which stood at P912 Million and P790 Million respectively.

Most of these commodities were imported from The Southern African Customs Union (SACU). The Union supplied Botswana with imports valued at over P4.8 Million of Botswana’s imports for the month under review (November 2020). The top most imported commodity group from SACU region was food, beverages and tobacco, with a contribution of P864 Million, which is likely to be around 18.1% of the total imports from the region.

Diamonds and fuel, according to these statistics, contributed 16.0%, or P766 Million and 13.5% or P645 Million respectively. Botswana also showed a strong and desperate reliance on neighbouring South Africa for important commodities. Even though the borders between the two countries in order to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus, government took a decision to open border gates for essential services which included the transportation of commodities such as food.

Imports from South Africa recorded in November 2020 stood at P4.615 Million, which accounted for 67.1% of total imports during the month under review. Still from that country, Botswana bought food, beverages and tobacco worth P844 Million (18.3%), diamonds, machinery and fuel worth P758 Million, P601 Million and P562 Million respectively.

Botswana also imported chemicals and rubber products that made a contribution of 11.7% (P542.2 Million) to total imports from South Africa during the month under review, (November 2020).

The European Union also came to Botswana’s rescue in the previous year. Botswana received imports worth P698.3 Million from the EU, accounting for 10.1% of the total imports during the same month. The major group commodity imported from the EU was diamonds, accounting for 86.9% (P606.6 Million), of imports from the Union. Belgium was the major source of imports from the EU, at 8.9% (P609.1 Million) of total imports during the period under review.

Meanwhile, Minister of Finance and Economic Development Thapelo Matsheka says an improvement in exports and commodity prices will drive growth in Sub-Saharan Africa. Growth in the region is anticipated to recover modestly to 3.2% in 2021. Matsheka said this when delivering the Annual Budget Speech virtually in Gaborone on the 1st of February 2021.

He said implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA), which became operational in January 2021, could reduce the region’s vulnerability to global disruptions, as well as deepen trade and economic integration.

“This could also help boost competition and productivity. Successful implementation of AfCFTA will, of necessity, require Member States to eliminate both tariffs and non-tariff barriers, and generally make it easier to do business and invest across borders.”

Matsheka, who is also a Member of Parliament for Lobatse, an ailing town which houses the struggling biggest meat processing company in the country- Botswana Meat Commission, (BMC), said the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) recognizes the need to prioritize the key processes required for the implementation of the AfCFTA.

“The revised SACU Tariff Offer, which comprises 5,988 product lines with agreed Rules of Origin, representing 77% of the SACU Tariff Book, was submitted to the African Union Commission (AUC) in November 2020. The government is in the process of evaluating the tariff offers of other AfCFTA members prior to ratification, following which Botswana’s participation in AfCFTA will come to effect.”

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Sheila Tlou: On why women don’t get votes

1st March 2021
Sheila Tlou

BARAPEDI KEDIKILWE

Women continue to shadow men in politics – stereotypes such as ‘behind every successful man there is a woman’ cast the notion that women cannot lead. The 2019 general election recorded one of Botswana’s worst performances when it comes to women participation in parliamentary democracy with only three women elected to parliament.

Botswana’s former Minister of Health, Professor Sheila Tlou who is currently the Co-Chair, Global HIV Prevention Coalition & Nursing Now and an HIV, Gender & Human Rights Activist is not amused by the status quo. Tlou attributes this dilemma facing women to a number of factors, which she is convinced influence the voting patterns of Batswana when it comes to women politicians.

Professor Tlou plugs the party level voting systems as the first hindrance that blocks women from ascending to power. According to the former Minister of Health, there is inadequate amount of professionalism due to corrupt internal party structures affecting the voters roll and ultimately leading to voter apathy for those who end up struck off the voters rolls under dubious circumstances.

Tlou also stated that women’s campaigns are often clean; whilst men put to play the ‘politics is dirty metaphor using financial muscle to buy voters into voting for them without taking into consideration their abilities and credibility. The biggest hurdle according to Tlou is the fallacy that ‘Women cannot lead’, which is also perpetuated by other women who discourage people from voting for women.

There are numerous factors put on the table when scrutinizing a woman, she can be either too old, or too young, or her marital status can be used against her. An unmarried woman is labelled as a failure and questioned on how she intends on being a leader when she failed to have a home. The list is endless including slut shaming women who have either been through a divorce or on to their second marriages, Tlou observed.

The only way that voters can be emancipated from this mentality according to Tlou is through a robust voter education campaign tailor made to run continuously and not be left to the eve of elections as it is usually done. She further stated that the current crop of women in parliament must show case their abilities and magnify them – this will help make it clear that they too are worthy of votes.

And to women intending to run for office, Tlou encouraged them not to wait for the eleventh hour to show their interest and rather start in community mobilisation projects as early as possible so that the constituents can get to know them and their abilities prior to the election date.

Youthful Botswana National Front (BNF) leader and feminist, Resego Kgosidintsi blames women’s mentality towards one another which emanates from the fact that women have been socialised from a tender age that they cannot be leaders hence they find it difficult to vote for each other.

Kgosidintsi further states that, “Women do not have enough economic resources to stage effective campaigns. They are deemed as the natural care givers and would rather divert their funds towards raising children and building homes over buying campaign materials.”

Meanwhile, Vice President of the Alliance for Progressives (AP), Wynter Mmolotsi agrees that women’s participation in politics in Botswana remains a challenge. To address this Mmolotsi suggested that there should be constituencies reserved for women candidates only so that the outcome regardless of the party should deliver a woman Member of Parliament.

Mmolotsi further suggested that Botswana should ditch the First Past the Post system of election and opt for the proportional representation where contesting parties will dutifully list able women as their representatives in parliament.

On why women do not get elected, Mmolotsi explained that he had heard first hand from voters that they are reluctant to vote for women since they have limited access to them once they have won; unlike their male counterparts who have proven to be available night or day.

The pre-historic awarding of gender roles relegating women to be pregnant and barefoot at home and the man to be out there fending for the family has disadvantaged women in political and other professional careers.

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SEZA’s P126 million tender heads to court

1st March 2021

Special Economic Zone Authority’s (SEZA) P126 million Master Planning of Pandamatenga Special Economic Zones Business Case, Urban & Landscapes tender is in court after one of bidders, Moralo Design challenged its disqualification from the tender.

SEZA is transforming Pandamatenga into an Agropolis which will combine modern farming with top notch industrial, residential, commercial and recreational land use. The project is measured at 137, 007 ha which comprises of 84, 500 ha for commercial production, 12 400 ha for the subsistence production, 107 ha will be for Agro-processing while 40 000 ha will be for the Zambezi Integrated Agro-commercial Project (ZIACDP).

In their court papers, Moralo Designs, represented by Jones Moitshepi Firm, said they received a letter from SEZA on or around the 12th November 2020 notifying that their bid has been disqualified at the technical evaluation stage of the tender adjudication process.

In their response, Lonely Mogara who is Chief Executive Office of SEZA said Moralo Designs is not entitled to be heard by the court as the company never participated in the disputed tender hence SEZA knows the bidder as Moralo Design Consortium.

“Moralo Designs had failed to establish any right to be heard by the court. The fact that they had submitted a tender was not guarantee that they would be awarded the tender,” he said.
“The reasons for the disqualification of Moralo Design Consortium’s bid were valid and justified because their bid was insufficient as it lacked vital information as required by the terms of reference.”

SEZA Chief said the requirements for the work plan and project programme were clearly stated in the Invitation To Tender (ITT). Moralo Design Consortium was not penalised for non-existent requirements.  In disqualifying the bid by Moralo Designs Consortium, Mogara further indicated that SEZA considered that there was a requirement for a programme and work plan.

“The purported “project programme” that was submitted by Moralo Design Consortium failed to depict the activity durations, activity phasing and interrelations, milestones, delivery dates of reports and logical sequence of activities constituent with methodology and showing a clear understanding of the terms of reference,” said Mogara in responding affidavit.

He said the ITT required that there be provision of delivery dates within the programme hence Moralo Designs Consortium failed to consult with SEZA when they felt that such a requirement would be impossible to provide.  He continued to say there was an avenue available when the tender was being prepared, but they failed to use it.

“Moralo Designs’ application for interim relief lacks merit and only seeks to delay SEZA from completing the evaluation and award of a tender that will serve the greater good of the nation,” said Mogara.

He went on to say Moralo Designs has no prospects of succeeding in its review application as the possibility of court granting the review are so remote in that the court does not possess the requisite technical knowhow on what constitutes an adequate work plan and what ought to be contained in it.

A bidder disqualified for failure to provide adequate information has no right to be protected by the court. Irreparable harm can only be suffered by one who has shown that there exists a right in so far as having stood the chance of being awarded the tender.

The financial benefit likely to be derived by Moralo Designs- which is highly unlikely- is outweighed by the nature of the project. In the unlikely event that the application for review is successful, they can claim for damages.  The availability of such remedy weighs in favour of the interdict being refused. The refusal stands to benefit the nation more than the financial interest that Moralo Designs seeks to protect.

Moralo Designs failed to establish the urgency of their application. They waited for more than a month and half after the disqualification to approach the court on urgency. Meanwhile when delivering the State of the Nation Address (SONA) last year, President Mokgweetsi Masisi revealed that the detailed design and construction of 12 steel grain silos — with an overall storage capacity of 60 000 metric tonnes — is underway at the Pandamatenga SEZ and the P126 million project will be completed by August 2021.

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