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THE RACE TO 2019 HAS BEGUN: GERRYMANDERING COULD MANIFEST ITSELF IN MANY FORMS?

This is a word I have learnt recently after BDP Gaborone region proposal to increase our constituencies from the current 57 to 120 for the 2019 elections. I then found out what gerrymandering was; it is a practice that attempts to establish political advantage for a particular party by manipulating district boundaries to create partisan advantaged constituencies as typified by the illustration in the borrowed picture above.

The word was created in reaction to redrawing of Massachusetts state senate election districts under the then governor Elbridge Gerry in the early 1800s.  Many political commentators have branded the proposal by BDP functionaries to increase constituencies for the 2019 elections as gerrymandering.  This is considered to be so because such proposal was made before by the opposition in parliament and was decisively rejected on the basis that the economy could not afford it.

How can the economy afford it now when it is said to be in intensive care requiring a stimulus package (ESP) for its resuscitation; when we have been forced to tap into our foreign reserves to support our ailing economy?  If the proposal to increase constituencies were to be approved this would give credence to those suggesting that gerrymandering to keep the ruling party in perpetual power is indeed at play.

However, increasing constituencies in order to improve effectiveness of representation of the people is desirable as was previously proposed by the opposition provided that the economy can support it. It becomes devious if it is done for the purpose of gerrymandering. The nation is therefore fore warned; be alert and awake so that in the event that the proposal is accepted, effective systems to hinder and frustrate any gerrymandering are devised by you through your representatives and civic organisations.
What else could be considered to be ‘gerrymandering’?

This intriguing gerrymandering word got my mind working. I started thinking maybe they could be other areas where gerrymandering could be at play in our country. They could be many things that are being done in this country that are similar in nature to gerrymandering and maybe we should find local names for them to. These are things or programs done for political expediency whose only aim is to shift political boundaries in the land by using public resources to manipulate people’s minds and emotions in a way that unfairly favours one party over the other. We therefore as a nation need more than ever to deeply scrutinise certain programs that seem illogical to many people but are being done and supported by seemingly knowledgeable and sane people.

Please allow me to think aloud. I can see a number of seemingly ‘gerrymandered’ programs in our country.  You will find appropriate names for these if you so wish, but for me they smell like gerrymandering dressed differently.

ESP

The way the ESP I mentioned earlier was announced and is being implemented brings a lot of doubt on whether this is a genuine attempt to stimulate the economy or whether it is a package meant to lineup pockets of some partisan functionaries and consequently their political party  to  create financial advantage over other parties? Elections are very expensive, so creating a scheme that will financial benefit party functionaries and the party will help with campaigns and possibly to buy votes especially from the poor and disadvantaged.  We understand that over a billion pula was spent even before the package was endorsed by parliament. How and when were these tenders prepared and adjudicated? Who won these tenders? Was a transparent and auditable process used?

The nation in a strange way was told to register companies in order to benefit from ESP. One wonders how one registers a company for ESP? What expertise is required for one to register such a company and for one to successfully execute an ESP project?  Should we not have rather encouraged already established and experienced companies to get ready by identifying and training Batswana for execution of these projects? We heard from a very senior party functionary through a leaked tape how tenders are created and won in this country for the ruling party supporters through tenderpreneuring.

Tenderpreneurs do not have to have any skill; they only need the political connection; they add no value to our economy. They are given tenders which tenders are implemented by others and a sizable cut from those tenders lines the pockets of these tenderpreneurs. Is this not gerrymandering dressed in public financial manipulations whose aim is to change people’s psychological boundaries to create partisan advantages?
 

Unprecedented Presidential visits to rural areas and showering the poor with gifts and?

It is a known fact that poor people are easily manipulated by simple gestures from authorities. Visiting poor people and talking to them as the president does so often is a good thing, if it is meant to hear concerns and developmental needs of these people but giving them presents is a sure sign of buying loyalty and keeping the poor poorer. These people can be the most loyal people you can come across and are always looking for something, anything from their leaders and giving them presents will surely win their hearts and loyalty. Leaders can easily manipulate them by cheap politics that does not add any value to their lives.

On the other hand, leaders who want to make a difference to the lives of the poor people do not give them soup and gifts, they build clinics, schools, roads and provide employment that pays at least a living wage; the elderly are given living allowances, food baskets and cared for not only by the family members but by the community and the country. These people have done their part for the country and it the time for the country to give back to these people who are now physically and emotionally unable to support themselves.

I often wonder where the blankets that the president doles out during his many visits come from. Do they belong to the country or do they come from the president personal resources? Or are they gifts from foreign companies or those tenderpreneurs? These are just innocent questions that the nation needs to ask unequivocally and wonder if this is not another form of gerrymandering; shifting political boundaries by buying people with gifts they do not deserve or need?
Ipelegeng

The way ipelegeng is conducted leaves a lot to be desired. It is not the ipelegeng that was originally envisaged by the founding father of this republic. Ipelegeng was a self help scheme meant to allow local communities to help the government with short to long term projects that benefited the community directly. Projects like building local roads, classrooms, dams, staff houses; contribution to building the University of Botswana was a typical ipelegeng project that current generations and generations to come will continue to benefit from.

Ipelegeng of today is about spending long hours under shades of trees chatting. Go around Gaborone and see these people at work and see what they actually achieve in a day. To me this is just a way of saying to these people we do not have jobs for you but we shall pay you P400 for registering in this ipelegeng because we care for you, you do not have to achieve anything. This also creates a lazy mentality that will become difficult to shake off.  Why can’t they create permanent jobs for cleaning town roads, like it is done throughout the world?

If you go around Mogoditshane village almost every yard in some streets is a brick yard owned by foreigners. Therefore brick molding is a growing profitable business that requires low level skills as evidenced by these many busy informal brick yards. This is an area that will continue to grow as Gaborone and surrounding areas continue to build new houses and infrastructure. Why can’t government use this ipelegeng money to set up proper brick yards and a support structure in areas such as Mogoditshane and get these people to mold bricks for sale and pay them decent wages instead of gerrymandering with ipelegeng program?

What else?

I am sure there are many other areas where gerrymandering is done in our country. The people need to understand these things so that the perpetuators could be appropriately punished at the polls. The people must know that the government owns no money; the government does not own any resources in this country. The money the country has and the resources that have been bestowed upon us belong to the people of this country equally.  The government role is to manage the financial and natural resources on our behalf; provide and facilitate the provision of all the services needed by the people.

The government is duty bound to ensure that we have adequate roads, adequate transportation and communication systems; adequate health care systems; adequate food; electricity, gas and water; adequate educational facilities and programs; must ensure that people are meaningfully employed to contribute to the growth of their economy; must ensure that we are well represented internationally in order to benefit fully from the global village.

Conclusion

I want to conclude by  quoting from the bible, ‘’ if I give all I possess to the poor…, but do not have love, I gain nothing, love is patient, love is kind, love does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud, it does not dishonor others, it is not self seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs, it does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth, it protects, always hopes and perseveres’’ Corinthians 13:3-7.

As a nation let us consider these words and apply them to our situations. Do we really love each other? Do our leaders really love the people or is it all about them using the people for their own selfish benefit?

The government role is not to go around giving gifts to the poor; they are organisations and charities that do that where there is need. The government role is to empower people so that they can create livelihoods for themselves.

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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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