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THE SEBINA SAGA: IS THIS THE BEGINNING OF OUR SOCIAL CONCIOUSNESS?

As a parent and as a citizen I would like to add my voice through my pen to the many voices that have fittingly been so loud as a result of the anger that has engulfed the nation following the sad news that councillor Amon Kemmonye of Sebina has impregnated a minor; a 16 year old school going child in his constituency. The councillor whose job among others should be to raise social awareness on issues of child abuse, HIV and aids, social indiscipline, importance of education and respect of the law.

This is indeed sad, especially when this is accompanied by rumours of efforts to ‘bury the evidence’ by committing further life threatening acts of criminality (abortion) in complicity with the area MP and assistant minister of education.  We are told that some investigations are on going to establish the authenticity of the purported incriminating conversation between the councillor and the area MP.  

Whether such rumours are true or not, the gravity of the ‘Sebina Saga’ is very serious as it involves a leader and law maker. The very people, who should be fighting this kind of behaviour, is a perpetrator and an accomplice of this evil deed. It is also sad that the political leadership have adopted a happy-go-lucky attitude and failed to take a timely and decisive action to appropriately punish the councillor and MP for this national embarrassment.  Having said this, we however need to broaden this anger, this debate and seek to find lasting solutions against child abuse going forward.

As a nation we have been failing our children for many years.  We should all be ashamed of ourselves for having allowed such despicable situations to continue year on year under our watch without taking any decisive action as a nation.  When we record 407 children from primary to secondary school dropping out of school due to pregnancy in one year, this must assume status of a national disaster demanding a fitting response from the authorities. These are children between 7 and 18 years old whose lives have been permanently impaired. 

They will be many more such children who have been violated and abused and whose lives have been ruined for ever; there are those children who did not fall pregnant but could possibly have been infected with the dreaded HIV virus; those children who have failed as a result of this abusive behaviour by adults.  We should be concerned not only about the Sebina Saga, Amon Kemmonye and the 407 students but we should be concerned about all the other children who have been violated over many years before.  Concerted efforts should be mounted to bring the culprits to account one way or the other and we must enact biting laws that will curb recurrence of such acts.

The ‘women and men against children sexual abuse’ and the ‘hatch tag we shall not forget’ movement have mounted a spirited and admirable campaign to conscientise the nation about child sexual abuse by adults and to mount pressure on the authorities to act boldly without fear or favour against Amon Kemmonye and Fedilis Molao the area member of parliament and assistant minister of education who is accused of having conspired with the councillor to ‘bury the evidence’. While I accept that the truth about the involvement of the area Member of Parliament must be established, the minister must vacate his position voluntarily or must be suspended pending conclusion of the investigations surrounding his involvement.  As for the councillor he must resign or summarily be fired.

Yes, it is good and commendable to have ‘the women and men against children sexual abuse’ and ‘hatch tag we shall not forget’ movement demonstrating and demanding answers mainly due to failure by government to take appropriate action. The burning question is how do we solve sexual abuse and defilement of our children?  I believe there are many fronts from where we should stand and fight for our children. The immediate ones that come to mind are the following;

Government Intervention

The government has full responsibility of safe guarding the safety and well being of the nation. The buck stops with the government of the day. The government through parliament is responsible for enacting laws that should protect our children.  The sexual abuse offence perpetrated by an adult on a child should be clearly defined by the law. The definition of a child should also be clearly defined by the law.  We seem to have laws that are incoherent and incomprehensive in terms of what the definition of a child is.

The age of consent is said to be 16; the age at which a child can vote and work is 18; the age at which a child can marry is 21. Normally children are at school until the age of 18 before they go for tertiary education or seek employment opportunities.  At 18 years the child can work, the child can vote, the child can consent but the child cannot marry??  What does the age of consent then mean?   To me it must means the age a child is graduating from childhood to adulthood and must now be held accountable for her or his actions and can thus be prosecuted for wrong doing.  Further, the age of consent by definition must mean the child has graduated from childhood and can therefore marry and have a family of her own.

Once we have a clear definition of what a child, we must then have a clear definition of what a child can and cannot do from a legal point of view.  The child is not a woman or a man and therefore they should not engage in sexual activities. Sex must be taboo for children. Any adult who engages in sexual activity with a child must be severely punished by the law. Such laws must come from parliament and must be stringent. The ruling party has the majority in parliament and can pass any law any time.  Therefore those who say the Sebina Saga is not political and should not be politicised are mistaken. This is a problem that requires political intervention and political oversight from government in general and ministry of education in particular. We must demand accountability from our government whom we have entrusted to make laws to protect us and our children.

The role of the parents

The parents have a supreme parental role to play and guide the children on matters of sexuality and how they should protect themselves against possible paedophiles. This will come only if parents can openly discuss issues of sexuality with their children.  Our culture here needs to be challenged. The children must be conformable to talk to their parents on issues of sexuality especially if anything that looks or feels like sexual advance is made by the opposite sex. Our culture that says we cannot discuss sexual matters with our children is no longer relevant in this day and age of television and social media. We have to empower our children more to counter the negative impacts of television, social media and the ‘sick’ people in our society.

The role of the community

The community must be drilled through Kgotla meetings and social gathering that children are children and should be treated as such. They cannot be treated as women or men.

The old culture that used to exist in our country where a child was a child of all the adult community members must be restored for the sake of our children and our dignity as a nation. Our culture here must be upheld and enhanced. We used to have traditional schools for girls and boys. These traditional schools were for children graduating from childhood to adulthood. The children used to spend time in the bush with the adults being drilled on what adulthood mean. These schools were called ‘bojale’ and ‘bogwera’ for girls and boys respectfully. Some tribes still practice these very important rituals but they have lost their original meaning in many respects. This is the culture that we should modernise to take into account legal and health issues, practise it and possibly sell it to the world as a national product.

The role of schools

This is where our children spend most of their time. The teachers have perhaps the biggest influence on our children, in many cases more influence than that of their parents. 

Most of our children have deep respect for their teachers, so our teachers are role models of our children. They must be moral upright and endevour to teach our children not only book knowledge but life skills and moral education.  Our teachers must be empowered and incentivised to be more than just classroom teachers. Many children if not all hold teachers in the highest esteem, I still do even after many years.  Hence the behaviour of teachers is very important as it could influence our children positively or negatively.

The school environment should be used to mould our children into God fearing, moral upright and responsible people who are being groomed for future leadership  that will  not only take our country to higher levels of prosperity put also to higher pedestals internationally.

CONCLUSION

In conclusion we must use the Sebina Saga to concientise our people young and old, our politicians of all colours and persuasions that the status quo must be reversed immediately.  We need to use this sad saga to come out better as a nation. Parliament and government must lead the way by immediately coming up with appropriate legislation to protect our children.

As a nation we need to revisit our cultures and modernise what we can to cement who we real are as a nation.  As we prepare to celebrate our 50 years of self rule we must seek to define what we have collectively achieved as a nation. What have we, as Batswana done to build a Botswana brand? What is it that we are proud of that we can call our very own? Our cultures have unique components that we can build on to protect our children and be proud.

As for Amon, he must go immediately. This gesture although belated would be a fitting apology to the nation; otherwise he will continue to embarrass himself and his party.  As for Fedilis, he must do the honourable thing and resign or be suspended; otherwise he will be an ineffective minister devoid of any respect associated with that office.

E mail;  HYPERLINK "mailto:bernard.busani@gmail.com" bernard.busani@gmail.com;   Tel; 71751440

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Opinions

Can we cure ourselves from the cancer of corruption?

28th October 2020
DCEC DIRECTOR: Tymon Katholo

Bokani Lisa Motsu

“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.” Carl Sagan

Corruption is a heavy price to pay. The clean ones pay and suffer at the mercy of people who cannot have enough. They always want to eat and eat so selfishly like a bunch of ugly masked shrews. I hope God forgives me for ridiculing his creatures, but that mammal is so greedy. But corruption is not the new kid on the block, because it has always been everywhere.

This of course begs the question, why that is so? The common answer was and still is – abuse and misuse of power by those in power and weak institutions, disempowered to control the leaders. In 1996, the then President of The World Bank, James D. Wolfensohn named the ‘C-Word’ for the first time during an annual meeting of the Bretton Woods Institutions. A global fight against corruption started. Transparency International began its work. Internal and external audits mushroomed; commissions of inquiry followed and ever convoluted public tender procedures have become a bureaucratic nightmare to the private sector, trying to fight red tape.

The result is sobering corruption today is worse than it was 25 years ago. There is no denying that strong institutions help, but how does it come that in the annual Transparency International Ranking the same group of countries tend to be on the top while another group of countries, many African among them, tend to be on the bottom? Before one jumps to simple and seductive conclusions let us step back a moment.

Wolfensohn called corruption a cancer that destroys economies like a cancer destroys a body. A cancer is, simplified, good cells in a body gone bad, taking control of more and more good cells until the entire body is contaminated and eventually dies. So, let us look at the good cells of society first: they are family ties, clan and tribe affiliation, group cohesion, loyalty, empathy, reciprocity.

Most ordinary people like the reader of these lines or myself would claim to share such values. Once we ordinary people must make decisions, these good cells kick in: why should I hire a Mrs. Unknown, if I can hire my niece whose strengths and weaknesses I know? If I hire the niece, she will owe me and support my objectives.

Why should I purchase office furniture from that unknown company if I know that my friend’s business has good quality stuff? If I buy from him, he will make an extra effort to deliver his best and provide quality after sales service? So, why go through a convoluted tender process with uncertain outcome? In the unlikely case my friend does not perform as expected, I have many informal means to make him deliver, rather than going through a lengthy legal proceeding?

This sounds like common sense and natural and our private lives do work mostly that way and mostly quite well.

The problem is scale. Scale of power, scale of potential gains, scale of temptations, scale of risk. And who among us could throw the first stone were we in positions of power and claim not to succumb to the temptations of scale? Like in a body, cancer cells start growing out of proportion.

So, before we call out for new leaders – experience shows they are rarely better than the old ones – we need to look at ourselves first. But how easy is that? If I were the niece who gets the job through nepotism, why should I be overly critical? If I got a big furniture contract from a friend, why should I spill the beans? What right do I have to assume that, if I were a president or a minister or a corporate chief procurement officer I would not be tempted?

This is where we need to learn. What is useful, quick, efficient, and effective within a family or within a clan or a small community can become counterproductive and costly and destructive at larger corporate or national scale. Our empathy with small scale reciprocity easily permeates into complacency and complicity with large scale corruption and into an acquiescence with weak institutions to control it.

Our institutions can only be as strong as we wish them to be.

I was probably around ten years old and have always been that keen enthusiastic child that also liked to sing the favourite line of, ‘the world will become a better place.’  I would literally stand in front of a mirror and use my mom’s torch as a mic and sing along Michael Jackson’s hit song, ‘We are the world.’

Despite my horrible voice, I still believed in the message.  Few years later, my annoyance towards the world’s corrupt system wonders whether I was just too naïve. Few years later and I am still in doubt so as to whether I should go on blabbing that same old boring line. ‘The world is going to be a better place.’ The question is, when?

The answer is – as always: now.

This is pessimistic if not fatalistic – I challenge Sagan’s outlook with a paraphrased adage of unknown origin: Some people can be bamboozled all of the time, all people can be bamboozled some of the time, but never will all people be bamboozled all of the time.

We, the people are the only ones who can heal society from the cancer of corruption. We need to understand the temptation of scale and address it. We need to stop seeing ourselves just a victim of a disease that sleeps in all of us. We need to give power to the institutions that we have put in place to control corruption: parliaments, separation of power, the press, the ballot box. And sometimes we need to say as a niece – no, I do not want that job as a favour, I want it because I have proven to be better than other contenders.

It is going to be a struggle, because it will mean sacrifices, but sacrifices that we have chosen, not those imposed on us.

Let us start today.

*Bokani Lisa Motsu is a student at University of Botswana

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Opinions

Accounting Officers are out of touch with reality

19th October 2020

Parliament, the second arm of State through its parliamentary committees are one of Botswana’s most powerful mechanisms to ensure that government is held accountable at all times. The Accounting Officers are mostly Permanent Secretaries across government Ministries and Chief Executive Officers, Director Generals, Managing Directors of parastatals, state owned enterprises and Civil Society.

So parliament plays its oversight authority via the legislators sitting on a parliamentary committee and Accounting Officers sitting in the hot chair.  When left with no proper checks and balances, the Executive is prone to abuse the arrangement and so systematic oversight of the executive is usually carried out by parliamentary committees.  They track the work of various government departments and ministries, and conduct scrutiny into important aspects of their policy, direction and administration.

It is not rocket science that effective oversight requires that committees be totally independent and able to set their own agendas and have the power to summon ministers and top civil servants to appear and answer questions. Naturally, Accounting Officers are the highest ranking officials in the government hierarchy apart from cabinet Ministers and as such wield much power and influence in the performance of government.  To illustrate further, government performance is largely owed to the strategic and policy direction of top technocrats in various Ministries.

It is disheartening to point out that the recent parliament committees — as has been the case all over the years — has laid bare the incompetency, inadequacy and ineptitude of people bestowed with great responsibilities in public offices. To say that they are ineffective and inefficient sounds as an understatement. Some appear useless and hopeless when it comes to running the government despite the huge responsibility they possess.

If we were uncertain about the degree at which the Accounting Officers are incompetent, the ongoing parliament committees provide a glaring answer.  It is not an exaggeration to say that ordinary people on the streets have been held ransom by these technocrats who enjoy their air conditioned offices and relish being chauffeured around in luxurious BX SUV’s while the rest of the citizenry continue to suffer. Because of such high life the Accounting Officers seem to have, with time, they have gotten out of touch with the people they are supposed to serve.

An example; when appearing before the recent Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Office of the President Permanent Secretary, Thuso Ramodimoosi, looked reluctant to admit misuse of public funds. Although it is clear funds were misused, he looked unbothered when committee members grilled him over the P80 million Orapa House building that has since morphed into a white elephant for close to 10 successive years. To him, it seems it did not matter much and PAC members were worried for nothing.

On a separate day, another Accounting officer, Director of Public Service Management (DPSM), Naledi Mosalakatane, was not shy to reveal to PAC upon cross-examination that there exist more than 6 000 vacancies in government. Whatever reasons she gave as an excuse, they were not convincing and the committee looked sceptical too. She was faltering and seemed not to have a sense of urgency over the matter no matter how critical it is to the populace.

Botswana’s unemployment rate hoovers around 18 percent in a country where majority of the population is the youth, and the most affected by unemployment. It is still unclear why DPSM could underplay such a critical matter that may threaten the peace and stability of the country.
Accounting Officers clearly appear out of touch with the reality out there – if the PAC examinations are anything to go by.

Ideally the DPSM Director could be dropping the vacancy post digits while sourcing funds and setting timelines for the spaces to be filled as a matter of urgency so that the citizens get employed to feed their families and get out of unemployment and poverty ravaging the country.
The country should thank parliamentary committees such as PAC to expose these abnormalities and the behaviour of our leaders when in public office. How can a full Accounting Officer downplay the magnitude of the landless problem in Botswana and fail to come with direct solutions tailor made to provide Batswana with the land they desperately need?

Land is a life and death matter for some citizens, as we would know.

When Bonolo Khumotaka, the Accounting Officer in the Ministry of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services, whom as a top official probably with a lucrative pay too appears to be lacking sense of urgency as she is failing on her key mandate of working around the clock to award the citizens with land especially those who need it most like the marginalised.  If government purports they need P94 billion to service land to address the land crisis what is plan B for government? Are we going to accept it the way it is?

Government should wake up from its slumber and intervene to avoid the 30 years unnecessary waiting period in State land and 13 years in Tribal land.  Accounting Officers are custodians of government policy, they should ensure it is effective and serve its purpose. What we have been doing over the years, has proved that it is not effective, and clearly there is a need for change of direction.

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Is it possible to make people part of your business resilience planning after the State of Public Emergency?

12th October 2020

THABO MAJOLA

His Excellency Dr Mokgweetsi EK Masisi, the President of the Republic of Botswana found it appropriate to invoke Section 17 (1) of the Constitution of the Republic of Botswana, using the powers vested in him to declare a State of Public Emergency starting from the 2nd April 2020 at midnight.

The constitutional provision under Section 17 (2b) only provided that such a declaration could be up to a maximum of 21 days. His Excellency further invoked Section 93 (1) to convene an extra- ordinary meeting of Parliament to have the opportunity to consult members of parliament on measures that have been put in place to address the spread and transmission of the virus. At this meeting Members of Parliament passed a resolution on the legal instruments and regulations governing the period of the state of emergency, and extended its duration by six (6) months.

The passing of the State of Emergency is considered as a very crucial step in fighting the near apocalyptic potential of the Novel COVID-19 virus. One of the interesting initiatives that was developed and extended to the business community was a 3-month wage subsidy that came with a condition that no businesses would retrench for the duration of the State of Public Emergency. This has potentially saved many people’s jobs as most companies would have been extremely quick to reduce expenses by downsizing. Self-preservation as some would call it.

Most organisations would have tried to reduce costs by letting go of people, retreated and tried their best to live long enough to fight another day. In my view there is silver lining that we need to look at and consider. The fact that organisations are not allowed to retrench has forced certain companies to look at the people with a long-term view.

Most leaders have probably had to wonder how they are going to ensure that their people are resilient. Do they have team members who innovate and add value to the organisation during these testing times? Do they even have resilient people or are they just waiting for the inevitable end? Can they really train people and make them resilient? How can your team members be part of your recovery plan? What can they do to avoid losing the capabilities they need to operate meaningfully for the duration of the State of Public Emergency and beyond?

The above questions have forced companies to reimagine the future of work. The truth is that no organisation can operate to its full potential without resilient people. In the normal business cycle, new teams come on board; new business streams open, operations or production sites launch or close; new markets develop, and technology is introduced. All of this provides fresh opportunities – and risks.

The best analogy I have seen of people-focused resilience planning reframes employees as your organisation’s immune system, ready and prepared to anticipate risks and ensure they can tackle challenges, fend off illness and bounce back more quickly.  So, how do you supercharge your organizational immune system to become resilient?

COVID-19 has helped many organisations realize they were not as prepared as they believed themselves to be. Now is the time to take stock and reset for the future. All the strategies and plans prior to COVID-19 arriving in Botswana need to be thrown out of the window and you need to develop a new plan today. There is no room for tweaking or reframing. Botswana has been disrupted and we need to accept and embrace the change. What we initially anticipated as a disease that would take a short term is turning out to be something we are going to have to live with for a much longer time. It is going to be a marathon and therefore businesses need to have a plan to complete this marathon.

Start planning. Planning for change can help reduce employee stress, anxiety, and overall fear, boosting the confidence of staff and stakeholders. Think about conducting and then regularly refreshing a strategic business impact analysis, look at your employee engagement scores, dig into your customer metrics and explore the way people work alongside your behaviours and culture. This research will help to identify what you really want to protect, the risks that you need to plan for and what you need to survive during disruption. Don’t forget to ask your team members for their input. In many cases they are closest to critical business areas and already have ideas to make processes and systems more robust.

Revisit your organisational purpose. Purpose, values and principles are powerful tools. By putting your organisation’s purpose and values front and center, you provide clear decision-making guidelines for yourself and your organisation. There are very tough and interesting decisions to make which have to be made fast; so having guiding principles on which the business believes in will help and assist all decision makers with sanity checking the choices that are in front of them. One noticeable characteristic of companies that adapt well during change is that they have a strong sense of identity. Leaders and employees have a shared sense of purpose and a common performance culture; they know what the company stands for beyond shareholder value and how to get things done right.

Revisit your purpose and values. Understand if they have been internalised and are proving useful. If so, find ways to increase their use. If not, adapt them as necessities, to help inspire and guide people while immunizing yourself against future disruption. Design your employee experience. The most resilient, adaptive and high performing companies are made up of people who know each other, like each other, and support each other.

Adaptability requires us to teach other, speak up and discuss problems, and have a collective sense of belonging. Listening to your team members is a powerful and disruptive thing to do. It has the potential to transform the way you manage your organisation. Enlisting employees to help shape employee experience, motivates better performance, increases employee retention and helps you spot issues and risks sooner. More importantly, it gives employees a voice so you can get active and constructive suggestions to make your business more robust by adopting an inclusive approach.

Leaders need to show they care. If you want to build resilience, you must build on a basis of trust. And this means leaders should listen, care, and respond. It’s time to build the entire business model around trust and empathy. Many of the employees will be working under extreme pressure due to the looming question around what will happen when companies have to retrench. As a leader of a company transparency and open communication are the most critical aspects that need to be illustrated.

Take your team member into confidence because if you do have to go through the dreaded excise of retrenchment you have to remember that those people the company retains will judge you based on the process you follow. If you illustrate that the business or organization has no regard for loyalty and commitment, they will never commit to the long-term plans of the organisation which will leave you worse off in the end. Its an absolutely delicate balance but it must all be done in good faith. Hopefully, your organization will avoid this!

This is the best time to revisit your identify and train your people to encourage qualities that build strong, empathetic leadership; self-awareness and control, communication, kindness and psychological safety.  Resilience is the glue that binds functional silos and integrates partners, improves communications, helps you prepare, listen and understand. Most importantly, people-focused resilience helps individuals and teams to think collectively and with empathy – helping you respond and recover faster.

Article written by Thabo Majola, a brand communications expert with a wealth of experience in the field and is Managing Director of Incepta Communications.

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