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A NEUTRAL PUBLIC SERVICE: WHAT A HYPOCRISY

Of late the Permanent Secretary to the Office of the President and some Senior Cabinet Ministers have been making noise cautioning public servants against involvement in partisan politics. The latest came from none other than the Minister for Presidential and Public Administration (MOPAPA) Eric Molale while campaigning at kgotla meetings in Borolong. 

Molale’s disposition could be a sign of outright naivety, hypocrisy or he was just being disingenuous.  Those who quarrel over the involvement of public service in politics are in denial. It is a strategy meant to mislead the unsuspecting public.

Public servants have always been at the centre of partisan politics. It was the 1984 Tshiamo ballot box election scandal that exposed this naked truth. Nathaniel Gontse the Presiding Officer who was caught rigging elections to robe Kenneth Koma representing the opposition Botswana National Front (BNF) a win against Peter Mmusi of the ruling BDP.

Initially Peter Mmusi was declared the winner. Two weeks following the general elections an unopened ballot box from Tshiamo Primary School polling station was discovered at the Attorney General’s Offices triggering a court case and declaration of a vacancy at Gaborone South constituency. This was followed by a by election which was comfortably won by Kenneth Koma the highly feared socialist inclined leader of the BNF at the time. The rest is history. The Tshiamo ballot box scandal was a clear demonstration that public servants were not only involved in partisan politics but they have historically connived with the ruling party to manipulate and rig elections.

Traditionally political appointments for highly senior and strategic positions are not uncommon in Botswana. Permanent secretaries, bosses of the security forces, ambassadors, district commissioners, head of parastatals and board members, heads of oversight institutions such as DCEC, Ombudsman, Independent Electoral Commission are overwhelmingly appointed based on political considerations as opposed to merit. Hence there is widespread mediocracy and incompetence in the public service resulting in poor implementation of policies and mega infrastructural development.It has cost the country billions of pula.

It is in this context that some senior public servants made an overnight transition to become politicians and cabinet ministers in government. These include Gladys Kokorwe, Lieutenant General Mompati Merafhe, Lieutenant General Dr Ian KhamaSeretse Khama, among others.  No sooner had Tebogo Masire retired from the army than he appeared in BDP colours at the 2013 party congress held in Maun. Prior to that General Masire had publicly stated that he hated politics. His appearance did not surprise many recalling the political statements he made at the height of the public sector strike in 2011.

Despite the pretentions that the public service should be politically neutral government functionaries have increasingly been blunt and open about it. The Public Service Charter has virtually been discarded. 

In 2015 Liakat Kablay, the Member of Parliament for Letlhakeng East and BDP Chief Whip advocated for the review of the Public Service Charter aimed at excluding citizens who are not BDP card carrying members from public service employment.  It is a view that is deep-rooted within the BDP psyche.  There is a general misconception within the ruling BDP that they are being sabotaged by public servants who are sympathetic to the opposition parties.  This is pure speculation with zero empirical evidence.

We know of individuals linked to the opposition who excelled as public servants. The examples are many and they include Gobe Matenge, Keeta Masogo, Tarr Mmopi, James Masisi, Justice John Mosojane, and Dr. Patrick Mmolotsi.  In fact one can safely argue that political appointments could be the source of low morale and public service under performance.  Imagine being supervised by an individual who is less qualified – a BDP political activist masquerading as a public servant.

The current regime is clearly determined to position their party cadres in key public service positions to do their bedding. A close examination of district commissioners reveal BDP activists such as Mmoloki Raletobana the former BDP member of parliament and Lee Lesetedi who worked at Tsholetsa House (the BDP head office) for many years are a few examples.Formers cabinet ministers in the mould of Ponatshego Kedikilwe, Jonnie Swartz, Peter Siele, and Gaotlhaetse Matlhabaphiri are back in government as pseudo public servants. 

The diplomatic appointments are even more glaring. Scores of BDP politicians have been assigned diplomatic positions at the expense of career diplomats.  These include former members of parliament the majority being victims of BDP primary elections or losers at the general elections such as Gaotlhaetse Matlhabaphiri, Boometswe Mokgothu, Colin Blackbeard, Lesego Motsumi, Jacob Nkate, Gladys Kokorwe, Duke Lefhoko, Tebelelo Seretse, Olebile Gaborone, Lebonaamang Mokalake among others.  The interest of Botswana is not served by diplomatic appointments that are based on political considerations only.  

A few BDP cadres have been jumping from public service to politics and back to public service without shame.  Examples include Gaotlhaetse Matlhabaphiri, Louis Malikongwa, Duke Masilo to mention but a few.  It is not surprising to find that some overzealous public officers openly display BDP party materials in their offices and turn up to work in full party colours of red, black and white.  It is also a familiar but annoying sight among Btv presenters.

The majority of parastatal board chairpersons are BDP political activists or sympathisers like Sebetela Sebetela (Botswana Power Corporation), Parks Tafa (University of Botswana),Bernard Bolele (Botswana International University of Science and Technology). Chief Executive Officers who are considered to be sympathetic to the opposition have recently been removed to give way to BDP political activists. Victims of exclusion from key positions on political grounds in parastatals include high performers such as Patrick Mmolotsi, Cross Kgosidiile, and Emmanuel Maite. The most scaring part of the politicization of the public service is in respect of the appointment of judges. Under Khama the three arms of government are systematically being painted red.

Under these circumstances employment contracts of political appointees should be aligned to the duration of the term of office of the political party in power. Failure to do so will be costly since premature termination of contracts will come at a heavy price to the tax payer. This is because upon resumption of office the new government will have little choice but to undertake a gradual and systematic exercise of terminating employment contracts of BDP political activists from the public service.  Meritocracy as opposed to political consideration should be paramount in the appointment of public servants. This will go a long in restoring the confidence of the public on the public service.

Kesitegile Gobotswang (PhD) is the Deputy Leader, BCP

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Opinions

Internal party-democracy under pressure

21st June 2022

British novelist, W. Somerset Maugham once opined: “If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its freedom; and the irony of it is that if it is comfort or money that it values more, it will lose that too.”

The truism in these words cannot be underestimated, especially when contextualizing against the political developments in Botswana. We have become a nation that does not value democracy, yet nothing represent freedom more than democracy. In fact, we desire, and value winning power or clinging to power more than anything else, even if it harms the democratic credentials of our political institutions. This is happening across political parties — ruling and opposition.

As far as democracy is concerned, we are regressing. We are becoming worse-off than we were in the past. If not arrested, Botswana will lose its status as among few democratic nations in the Africa. Ironically, Botswana was the first country in Africa to embrace democracy, and has held elections every five years without fail since independence.

We were once viewed as the shining example of Africa. Those accolades are not worth it any more. Young democracies such as South Africa, with strong institutions, deserves to be exalted. Botswana has lost faith in democracy, and we will pay a price for it. It is a slippery slope to dictatorship, which will bring among other excess, assault on civil liberties and human rights violations.

Former President, Festus Mogae once stated that Botswana’s democracy will only become authentic, when a different party, other than the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) wins elections, and when the President of such party is not from Serowe.

Although many may not publicly care to admit, Mogae’s assertion is true. BDP has over the years projected itself as a dyed-in-the-wool proponent of democracy, but the moment its stay in power became threatened and uncertain, it started behaving in a manner that is at variance with democratic values.  This has been happening over the years now, and the situation is getting worse by the day.

Recently, the BDP party leadership has been preaching compromise and consensus candidates for 2024 general elections. Essentially, the leadership has lost faith in the Bulela Ditswe dispensation, which has been used to selected party candidates for council and parliament since 2003. The leadership is discouraging democracy because they believe primary elections threaten party unity. It is a strange assertion indeed.

Bulela Ditswe was an enrichment of internal party democracy in the sense that it replaced the previous method of selection of candidates known as Committee of 18, in which a branch committee made of 18 people endorsed the representatives. While it is true that political contest can divide, the ruling party should be investing in political education and strengthening in its primary elections processes. Democracy does not come cheap or easy, but it is valuable.

Any unity that we desire so much at the expense of democracy is not true unity. Like W. Somerset Maugham said, democracy would be lost in the process, and ultimately, even the unity that was desired would eventually be lost too. Any solution that sacrifice democracy would not bring any results in the long run, except misery.

We have seen that also in opposition ranks. The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) recently indicated that its incumbent Members of Parliament (MPs) should not be challenged for their seats. While BDP is sacrificing democracy to stay in power, UDC is sacrificing democracy to win power. It is a scary reality given the fact that both parties – ruling and opposition — have embraced this position and believe democracy is the hindrance to their political ambitions.

These current reality points to one thing; our political parties have lost faith in democracy. They desire power more than, the purpose of power itself. It is also a crisis of leadership across the political divide, where we have seen dissenting views being met with persecution. We have seen perverting of political process endorsed by those in echelons of power to manipulate political outcomes in their favour.

Democracy should not be optional, it should be mandatory. Any leader proposing curtailing of democracy should be viewed with suspicion, and his adventures should be rejected before it is too late. Members of political parties, as subscribers of democracy, should collectively rise to the occasion to save their democracy from self-interest that is becoming prevalent among Botswana political parties.

The so-called compromise candidates, only benefits the leadership because it creates comforts for them. But for members, and for the nation, it is causing damage by reversing the gains that have been made over the years. We should reject leaders who only preach democracy in word, but are hesitant to practice it.

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Opinions

The Big Deal About Piracy

21st June 2022
piracy

Piracy of all kinds continues to have a massive impact on the global creative industry and the economies of the countries where it thrives.

One of the biggest misconceptions around piracy is that an individual consumer’s piracy activities, especially in a market the size of Botswana’s, is only a drop in the pool of potential losses to the different sectors of the economy piracy affects.

When someone sitting in Gaborone, Botswana logs onto an illegal site to download King Richard online, they don’t imagine that their one download will do anything to the production house’s pocket or make a dent in the actors’ net worth. At best, the sensitivity towards this illegal pirating activity likely only exists when contemplating going about pirating a local musician’s music or a short film produced locally.

The ripple effects of piracy at whatever scale reach far beyond what the average consumer could ever imagine. Figures released by software security and media technology company, Irdeto, show that users in five major African territories made approximately 17,4 million total visits to the top 10 identified piracy sites on the internet.

The economic impact of this on the creative industry alone soars to between 40 and 97.1 billion dollars, according a 2022 Dataprot study. In addition, they estimate that “illegally streamed copyrighted content consumes 24% of global bandwidth”.

As Botswana’s creative industry remains relatively slight on the scale of comparison to industries such as Nollywood and Nilewood where the creative industry contributes a huge proportion to West and East Africa’s respective GDPs, that does not imply that piracy activities in Botswana do not have a similar impact on our economy and the ability of our creative industry to grow.

When individuals make decisions to illegally consume content via internet streaming sites they believe they are saving money for themselves in the name of enjoying content they desire to consume. Although this is a personal choice that remains the prerogative of the consumer, looking beyond the fact that streaming on illegal content sites is piracy, the ripple effect of this decision also has an endless trail of impact where funds which could be used to grow the local creative industry through increased consumption, and revenue which would otherwise be fed back into Botswana’s economy are being diverted.

“Why can’t our local creative industry grow?” “Why don’t we see more home-grown films and shows in Botswana?” are questions constantly posed by those who consume television content in Botswana. The answer to this lies largely in the fact that Botswana’s local content needs an audience in order for it to grow. It needs support from government and entities which are in a position to fund and help the industry scale greater heights.

Any organisational body willing to support and grow the local creative industry needs to exist and operate in an economy which can support its mandates. Content piracy is a cycle that can only be alleviated when consumers make wiser decisions around what they consume and how.

This goes beyond eradicating piracy activities in so far as television content is concerned. This extends to the importation and trade in counterfeit goods, resale of goods and services not intended for resale across the border, outside its jurisdiction, and more. All of these activities stunt the growth of an economy and make it nearly impossible for industries and sectors to propel themselves to places where they can positively impact society and reinvest into the country’s economy.

So what can be done to turn the tide here in Botswana in order to see our local production houses gain the momentum required to produce more, license more and expand their horizons? While those who enforce the law continue to work towards minimizing piracy activities, it’s imperative that as consumers we work to make their efforts easier by being mindful of how our individual actions play a role in preventing the success of our local creative networks and our economy’s growth.

Whether you are pirating a Hollywood Blockbuster, illegally streaming a popular Motswana artist’s music, or smuggling in an illegal decoder to view content restricted to South Africa only, your actions have an impact on how we as a nation will make our mark on the global landscape with local creative productions. Thembi Legwaila is Corporate Affairs Manager, MultiChoice Botswana

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Opinions

Our Strength is our Unity

18th March 2022
Craig-Cloud

Putin Chose War.  We Remain United with Ukraine.

U.S. Ambassador Craig L. Cloud

This is a dangerous moment for Europe and for freedom-loving people around the world.  By launching his brutal assault on the people of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has also committed an assault on the principles that uphold global peace and democracy.  But the people of Ukraine are resilient.

They’ve had a democracy for decades, and their bravery is inspiring the world.  The United States, together with our Allies and partners across the globe, will continue to support the Ukrainian people as they defend their country.  By choosing to pay for a war instead of investing in the needs of Russians, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine will be a strategic failure for the Kremlin and ravage the future of the Russian people.

When the history of this era is written, it will show that Putin’s choice to launch an unprovoked, unjust, and premeditated attack left the West more unified and Russia exponentially weaker.

United in Our Response

This will not end well for Vladimir Putin.  Together, the United States and our Allies and partners are taking action to hold Russia accountable.  As a result of unprecedented global sanctions coordination, the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Japan, and Canada have removed selected Russian banks from the SWIFT messaging system and imposed restrictive measures on the Russian Central Bank.

President Biden announced sweeping financial sanctions and stringent export controls that will damage Russia’s economy, financial system, and access to cutting-edge technology.  After Putin began his invasion, the ruble hit its weakest point in history, and the Russian stock market plunged.

Along with the United Kingdom and European Union, the United States imposed sanctions on the architects of this war, including Putin himself.

By moving in close coordination with a powerful coalition of Allies and partners representing more than half of the global economy, we have magnified the impact of our actions to impose maximum costs on Putin and his regime.  In response to Putin’s war of choice, we will limit Russia’s ability to do business in U.S. dollars.

We will stunt Russia’s ability to finance and grow its military.  We will impair Russia’s ability to compete in the global economy.  And we are prepared to do more.

In addition to economic penalties, this week President Biden authorized an additional $1 billion over the $350 million of security assistance he recently approved, and a $650 million in 2021, to immediately help Ukraine defend itself, bringing America’s total security assistance to Ukraine over the past year to $2 billion.

We also stand ready to defend our NATO Allies.  President Biden has coordinated with Allied governments to position thousands of additional forces in Germany and Poland as part of our commitment to NATO’s collective defense.

He authorized the deployment of ground and air forces already stationed in Europe to NATO’s eastern and southeastern flanks:  Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania.  Our Allies have also added their own forces and capabilities to ensure our collective defense.  There should be no doubt about the readiness of the greatest military Alliance in the history of the world:  NATO is more united than ever.

The United States has also coordinated with major oil-producing and consuming countries to underscore our common interest in securing global energy supplies.  We are working with energy companies to surge their capacity to supply energy to the market, particularly as prices increase.

Putin’s Unprovoked and Premeditated War

This was an attack that Vladimir Putin has planned for a long time.  He methodically moved more than 150,000 troops and military equipment to Ukraine’s border.  He moved blood supplies into position and built field hospitals, demonstrating his intentions all along.

He rejected every good-faith effort by the United States and our Allies and partners to address his fabricated security concerns and to avoid needless conflict and human suffering by engaging in diplomacy and dialogue.

Putin executed his playbook exactly as we had warned he would do.  We saw Russia’s proxies increase their shelling in the Donbas.  We saw the Russian government launch cyber-operations against Ukraine.  We saw staged political theater in Moscow and heard outlandish and baseless claims made about Ukraine in an attempt to justify Russia’s aggression.

Russia continues to justify its military aggression by falsely claiming the need to stop “genocide” in Ukraine – despite there being no evidence that genocide was occurring there.  We saw Russia use these tactics before when they invaded Ukraine in 2014 and Georgia in 2008.

And then, at almost the very same moment the United Nations Security Council was meeting to stand up for Ukraine’s sovereignty and forestall disaster, Putin launched his invasion in violation of international law.  Missiles began to rain down, striking historic cities across Ukraine.  Then came air raids, columns of tanks, and battalions of troops, all riding a renewed wave of disinformation and outright lies.

We have been transparent with the world.  We declassified our intelligence about Russia’s plans so there could be no confusion and no cover up.  Putin is the aggressor.  Putin chose this war.  And now his people will bear the consequences of his decision to invest in war rather than in them.

Transatlantic Unity and Resolve Stronger Than Ever

Putin’s goal of dividing the West has failed.  In the face of one of the most significant challenges to European security and democratic ideals since World War II, the United States and our Allies and partners have joined together in solidarity.  We have united, coordinating intensively to engage as one with Russia and Ukraine, provided assistance to Ukraine, developed a broad response, and reaffirmed our commitment to NATO.

Putin has failed to divide us.  Putin has failed to undermine our shared belief in the fundamental right of sovereign nations to choose their destiny and their allies.  And Putin will fail to erase the proud nation of Ukraine.

The next few days, weeks, and months will be incredibly difficult for the people of Ukraine.  Putin has unleashed great suffering on them.  But the Ukrainian people have known 30 years of independence, and they have repeatedly shown they will not tolerate anyone who tries to take their country backwards.

The world is watching this conflict closely, and if Russian forces commit atrocities, we will explore all international mechanisms that could be used to bring those responsible – whether members of the military or their civilian leadership – to account.

Putin’s aggression against Ukraine will cost Russia profoundly, both economically and strategically.  The Russian people deserve better from their government than the immense cost to their future that this invasion has precipitated.

Liberty, democracy, and human dignity are forces far more powerful than fear and oppression.  In the contest between democracy and autocracy, between sovereignty and subjugation, make no mistake:  Freedom will prevail.

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