Police want Inquest Act reviewed
Botswana Police Commissioner Keabetswe Makgope
The Botswana Police Service (BPS) together with government participants have resolved to appoint a task team to review the ‘outdated’ Inquest Act of 1954.
An Inquest is an investigation held to determine a person’s cause of death, normally conducted by a magistrate or a judge and it usually involves an autopsy by a medical officer or a coroner, in other jurisdictions. Inquests are typically ordered in unnatural or suspicious deaths.
The current Act; promulgated in 1954, long before the country saw independence is said to have been surpassed by events, is ambiguous and obstructs the work of Police Forensic Science Services (FSS).
Deputy Commissioner of Police, David Mosetse said that he believes the inquest process as outlined in the 1954 Act has been surpassed by times because the only deaths processed by FSS are ones reported to the police. He said that this then means the department can only take up cases after an inquest docket has been opened or where there is suspicion that criminality has occurred.
Mosetse also seemed to hint that the 1954 Act gave District Commissioners (DC’s)too much power as de facto coroners, urging stakeholders to “look at today’s landscape and ask ourselves whether we still wish the DC to continue ordering post mortems, exhumations, and deciding whether deaths are natural or not”.
“During that time (1954) when the Act was enacted, the District Commissioner was a British Representative, a man with enormous powers. According to the Inquest Act, this gentleman was a de facto Coroner who was empowered to make a decision as to whether to order an inquest hearing, to issue a certificate of death or whether to order a medical examination on a deceased body or to order burial,” Narrated Mosetse.
It also emerged that in some instances, hospitals decline to perform autopsies as they deem the cases to be for the police, while the FSS also declines to conduct them unless it has been reported to the police and in others, cases which are clearly natural deaths are referred to FSS merely because no one will issue a death certificate.
Pathologist Dr Shathani Mugoma also said that the old Act strips pathologists’ powers as it has consolidated all powers to determine deaths on the hands of Police.
“Pathologists rarely go to the scene; we are just watching the game and the Police do everything,” he lamented.
He also said that families of the deceased often times pressurise pathologists and the police to hurriedly issue a death certificate in order to claim insurance payouts.
He continued to say that what then happens next is that the cause of death is then labelled as ‘unknown’, something he said denies the country true audited mortality data.
Mugoma further asserted that the Act is also silent on who should be present when autopsies are conducted and pathologists are often at the mercy of commandeering attorneys.
He said that recently a contingent of Zimbabwean state security agents filled his autopsy room in Francistown, videotaping the procedure in progress.
“Powerful lawyers would insist on being present in the operating room.” He continued, “A few weeks ago 5 Zimbabwean CIO (Criminal Investigations Organisation) agents from Bulawayo and 3 from Plumtree crammed into the autopsy room, videotaping the procedure on a Zimbabwean body,” he said.
He also said that now that the Bogosi Act has also changed, there is also need to align it with the Inquest Act and that the role of the Botswana Health Professionals Council (BHPC) needs to be made clear in the new Act.
High ranking government stakeholders including Forensic pathologists, Police officers, district commissioners and directors, also converged on the proposition that, autopsies should be made compulsory and the decision to conduct the procedure no longer be a prerogative of the next of kin.
They proposed that the new Inquest Act should include mandatory post-mortem, replacement of District Commissioners with legal officers, clear definition of who should be present in autopsy rooms and compulsory tests on dead bodies before cremation.
They also proposed the need of a coroner, involvement of pathological personnel at crime or accident scenes as well as the provisions of medical records when conducting autopsies.
They also called for the new Act to be in the clear, in terms of who should conduct autopsies and the role of medical officers as well as the police’s ability to conclude whether the death is unnatural or not.
The FSS Director Baboloki Tumediso-Magosha is expected to appoint the task team to review the Act.
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ENVIRONMENT ISSUES: Masisi asks Virginia for help
President Mokgweetsi Masisi says the issue of sustainable natural resources management has always been an important part of Botswana’s national development agenda.
Masisi was speaking this week on the occasion of a public lecture at Virginia Polytechnic, under theme, “Merging Conservation, Democracy and Sustainable Development in Botswana.”
Botswana, according to Masisi, holds the view that the environment is fragile and as such, must be managed and given the utmost protection to enable the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
“It is necessary that we engage one another in the interchange of ideas, perspectives, visualizations of social futures, and considerations of possible strategies and courses of action for sustainable development,” said Masisi.
On the other hand, dialogue, in the form of rigorous democratic discourse among stakeholders presents another basis for reconfiguring how people act on their environments, with a view to conserving its resources that “we require to meet our socio-economic development needs on a sustainable basis,” Masisi told attendees at the public lecture.
He said government has a keen interest in understanding the epidemiology and ecology of diseases of both domestic and wild animals. “It is our national interest to forestall the dire consequences of animal diseases on our communities livelihoods.”
President Masisi hoped that both Botswana and Virginia could help each other in curbing contagious diseases of wildlife.
“We believe that Virginia Tech can reasonably share their experiences, research insights and advances in veterinary sciences and medicines, to help us build capacity for knowledge creation and improve efforts of managing and containing contagious diseases of wildlife. The ground is fertile for entering into such a mutually beneficial partnership.”
When explaining environmental issues further, Masisi said efforts of conservation and sustainable development might at times be hampered by the emergence and recurrence of diseases when pathogens mutate and take host of more than one species.
“Water pollution also kills aquatic life, such as fish, which is one of humanity’s much deserved sources of food. In this regard, One Health Approach imposes ecological responsibility upon all of us to care for the environment and the bio-diversity therein.”
He said the production and use of animal vaccines is an important space and tool for conservation, particularly to deal with trans-border animal diseases.
“In Botswana, our 43-year-old national premier pharmaceutical institution called Botswana Vaccine Institute has played its role well. Through its successful production of highly efficacious Foot and Mouth vaccines, the country is able to contain this disease as well as supply vaccines to other countries in the sub-region.:
He has however declared that there is need for more help, saying “We need more capacitation to deal with and contain other types of microbial that affect both animals and human health.”
Masisi saddened by deaths of elephant attacks
President Mokgweetsi Masisi has expressed a strong worry over elephants killing people in Botswana. When speaking in Virginia this week, Masisi said it is unfortunate that Batswana have paid a price with their own blood through being attacked by elephants.
“Communities also suffer unimaginable economic losses yearly when their crops are eaten by the elephants. In spite of such incidents of human-elephant conflict, our people embrace living together with the animals. They fully understand wildlife conservation and its economic benefits in tourism.”
In 2018, Nthobogang Samokwase’s father was attacked by an elephant when travelling from the fields, where he stayed during the cropping season.
It was reported that the man couldn’t run because of his age. He was found trampled by the elephant and was pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital.
In the same year, in Maun, a 57-year-old British woman was attacked by an elephant at Boro and died upon arrival at the hospital. The woman was with her Motswana partner, and were walking dogs in the evening.
Last month, a Durban woman named Carly Marshall survived an elephant attack while on holiday in the bush in Botswana. She was stabbed by one of the elephant’s tucks through the chest and was left with bruises. Marshall also suffered several fractured ribs from the ordeal.
President Masisi Botswana has the largest population of African elephants in the world, totaling more than 130 000. “This has been possible due to progressive conservation policies, partnerships with the communities, and investment in wildlife management programmes.”
In order to benefit further from wildlife, Masisi indicated that government has re-introduced controlled hunting in 2019 after a four-year pause. “The re-introduction of hunting was done in an open, transparent and democratic way, giving the communities an opportunity to air their views. The funds from the sale of hunting quota goes towards community development and elephant conservation.”
He stressed that for conservation to succeed, the local people must be involved and derive benefits from the natural resources within their localities.
“There must be open and transparent consultations which involve all sectors of the society. It is against this backdrop that as a country, we lead the continent on merging conservation, democracy and sustainable development.”
Masisi stated that Botswana is open to collaborative opportunities, “particularly with identifiable partners such as Virginia Tech, in other essential areas such as conservation, and the study of the interplay among the ecology of diseases of wild animals and plants, and their effects on human health and socio-economic development.”
Gov’t commit to injecting more funds in fighting HIV
Minister for State President Kabo Morwaeng says government will continue to make resources available in terms of financial allocations and human capital to ensure that Botswana achieves the ideal of eradicating HIV and AIDS as a public health threat by 2030.
Morwaeng was speaking this morning in Gaborone at the High-Level Advocacy event to accelerate HIV Prevention in Botswana. He said the National AIDS and Health Promotion Agency (NAPHA), in partnership with UNAIDS, UN agencies, the Global Fund and PEPFAR, have started a process of developing transition readiness plan for sustainability of HIV prevention and treatment programmes.
“It is important for us, as a country that has had a fair share of donor support in the response to an epidemic such as HIV and AIDS, to look beyond the period when the level of assistance would have reduced, or ceased, thus calling for domestic financing for all areas which were on donor support.”
Morwaeng said this is important as the such a plan will guarantee that all the gains accrued from the response with donor support will be sustained until the end when “we reach the elimination of HIV and AIDS as a public health threat by 20230,” he said.
“I commit to continue support efforts towards strengthened HIV prevention, accentuating HIV primary prevention and treatment as prevention towards Zero New Infections, Zero Stigma, Discrimination and Zero AIDS related death, to end AIDS in Botswana.”
He reiterated that government commits to tackle legislative, policy and programming challenges that act as barriers to the achievement of the goal of ending AIDS as a public health threat.
In the financial year 2022/2023, a total of 119 Civil Society Organizations, including Faith Based Organizations, were contracted with an amount of P100 million to implement HIV and NCDs prevention activities throughout the country, and the money was drawn from the Consolidated Fund.
Through an upcoming HIV Prevention Symposium, technical stakeholders will use outcomes to develop the Botswana HIV Prevention Acceleration Road Map for 2023-2025.
Morwaeng stated that government will support and ensure that Botswana plays its part achieving the road map. He said there is need to put hands on the deck to ensure that Botswana sustains progress made so far in the fight against HIV and AIDS.
“There are tremendous achievements thus far to, reach and surpass the UNAIDS fast track targets of 95%- 95%- 95% by the year 2025. As reflected by the BAIS preliminary results of 2021, we now stand at 95- 98- 98 against the set targets.”
“These achievements challenge us to now shift our gears and strive to know who are the remaining 5% for those aware of their HIV status, 2% of enrolment on treatment by those aware of their status and 2% of viral suppression by those on treatment.”
Explaining this further, Morwaeng said shift in gears should extend to coming up with robust strategies of determining where these remaining people are as well as how they will be reached with the necessary services.
“These are just some of the many variables that are required to ensure that as a country, we are well positioned to reaching the last mile of our country’s response to the HIV and AIDS pandemic.”