More than twenty Botswana citizens who were active in the struggle for liberation against apartheid have dragged the South African government to court in a class action that seeks to overturn the decision by the Special Pension Administration to reject their applications for special pension, amid allegations of fraud, corruption and maladministration of the multibillion Rand Special Pension fund.â€¨â€¨
Cited as respondents before the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria are; the National Treasury, Minister of Finance Nhlanhla Nene, Special Pensions Appeal Board and the Government Pensions Administration. The Applicants accuse the Administration of administrative bungling, incompetence and conflict of interest.
They will argue that one senior staff member of the National Treasury's special pensions is not a fit and proper person to hold his current position because of his criminal record, after being found guilty of statutory corruption for stealing by servant under the prevention of corruption act and parole infringement.
He reportedly bought a R4 million house while working for the fund under mysterious circumstances even though he does not have the means to do so.â€¨â€¨Court papers indicate litigants will further argue that Jonathan suffers from conflict of interest because he worked for VENDZULU – a consultancy firm that was previously engaged by the Administration for capacity building.
A confidential report prepared by a task force to sniff out rampant looting and maladministration of the fund reported that a consultancy employ(ed) their own staff under the Special Pensions programme, yet their personnel was paid separately by the Special Pensions, resulting in massive financial gain to the consultancy.
The consulting group also reportedly advertised a critical post, staffed it with unqualified personnel of their choice and trained these employees afterwards to fit the profile of the posts. The finding appears to refer to Jonathan as well because even though he did not meet the specified requirements for the position, he was recruited by the consulting group and later taken for short training tailor made to meet the job profile and competencies for the job.
Millions of Rands have reportedly been looted through massive fraud using ghost beneficiaries and stealing from deserving cases by the staff of the Administration. Batswana applicants who clearly met the requirement for pension suspect they are likely to have been defrauded in the same manner after their applications were approved but the money later diverted.
â€¨â€¨The Applicants, represented by the Legal Resources Centre, are challenging both the decision of the Special Pension Administration and the Special Pension Appeals Board to reject their applications on the basis amongst others, that their applications were submitted late after the cut-off date of 31 December 2006, failed to provide proof of full time service and further that they should also apply to the Department of Home Affairs to determine their eligibility for South African citizenship. â€¨â€¨
The Applicants argue to the contrary that the grounds advanced by the administration and the board were fatally flawed, spurious, arbitrary, capricious and failed to take into account relevant factors nor were they rationally connected to the information before the court or the reasons given and therefore were unreasonable because no reasonable person could have arrived at such a decision. â€¨â€¨
They accuse the Administration of administrative bungling because the reasons to provide full time service are not the true reasons for rejecting their applications and neither were their applications submitted late.
To the contrary, the adjudicators who considered their applications had in fact conceded that there were in full time service and they met the requirement for eligibility for South African citizenship because they were either South African by birth and descent or at one time held South African citizenship.
They want the court to review and set aside the decision not to award them Special Pension as it unfairly dismisses their contribution to the struggle for the liberation of South Africa. The Pensions appeals board’s decision to dismiss the application of the applicants also affects many other citizens of Botswana and Namibia.â€¨â€¨
They applied for Special Pension in 2006 but their applications were either lost or misplaced by staff at the South African High Commission in Gaborone.
This has been confirmed in an affidavit by the former First Secretary of the Commission Nathaniel Serache who in an affidavit before the court stated that "unfortunately the forms were misplaced by members of staff at the South African Commission in Gaborone where I served as First Secretary while preparing the office where the forms were kept for a new staff member to occupy the office", he further confirmed that the Applicants indeed filled out the Special Pension applications forms that went missing.â€¨â€¨
While their applications were rejected inter-alia on the grounds that they had not approached the Department of Home Affairs to determine their eligibility for South African citizenship, the applicants dismiss the contention as flawed and baseless because "other Botswana citizens have had their special pension paid, without requiring material proof of their citizenship, and without the requirement of completing the determination of citizenship status."
These include among others, Mrs GMJ Mokgosi of Pitsane in Barolong Farms, David Modikwagae Aphiri of Mochudi, Michael Kitso Dingake of Bobonong, Fish Keitseng of Kanye, and Motsamai Mpho of Maun. However, the applications of many other equally deserving applicants either bona fide SA citizens or those eligible for South African citizenship and with an impeccable track record of having been at the fore-front of the liberation struggle such as that of Frank Ikaneng Modise who was exiled in the UK were rejected.
â€¨â€¨This is despite the fact that Frank Modise together with Fish Keitseng were MK veterans and together hosted Nelson Mandela in Lobatse in 1962. Modise was co-founder and organizer of the then United Tobacco Workers Union, a former affiliate of COSATU.
He was engaged in full time service for the ANC, played a major role in the Zeerust uprising of the 1950s, coordinated its legal defence and conducted underground operations in support of the detainees of the Zeerust uprisings at the courts in Zeerust, Rustenburg and Pretoria.
He was detained and tortured on many occasions by the apartheid police before fleeing via Botswana to the UK where he continued be central in arranging humanitarian, financial, logistical, and educational opportunities for many South African refugees and the ANC. Modise later passed on in London as a result of complications consistent with the injuries he sustained due to torture at the hands of the apartheid police. â€¨â€¨
By contrast, Mrs Mokgodi was awarded a service period of 25 years after the Special Pension Administration accepted and was convinced that she was engaged full time in the service of a political organization in terms of Section 1 of the Special Pension Act 69 of 1996.
The Applicants on the other hand maintain they have locus standi to bring the matter before the court because they have exhausted all local remedies and it has become apparent that there is no other reasonable and effective manner in which the challenge can be made particularly since the applicants have tried various political means to obtain clarity as to the procedural fairness, lawfulness and reasonableness of the DHA decision.â€¨â€¨
The Applicants hope the court will make an order equally applicable to other applicants in a similar position and other potential applicants who might not be part of the court process in the public interest so that their contribution to the struggle is not denied and trampled upon through unlawful administrative action.
They also want the Administration’s decision that Batswana and Namibian Applicants should submit a determination of citizenship to the Department of Home Affairs before the Board could consider their appeals to be reviewed and set aside and declared unlawful.â€¨â€¨According to them, the delay in bringing the case before the court is an indication of how difficult it can be to challenge the Administration's decision for rejecting their applications for Special Pension.
Most of the applicants do not have the financial means to obtain legal representation since alternative amicable settlements have failed. The court process therefore provided that the only opportunity to challenge the administration’s decision of the Board was by providing evidence in court.
“Other special pension applicants have not had that opportunity and some have passed away and their dependents may not be able to act on their behalf,” they maintain. They fought against apartheid and made real sacrifices towards achievement of South Africa's democracy by risking their personal safety in order to further the cause of freedom and equality in South Africa.â€¨â€¨
In 2011, Finance Minister Nene was forced to retract his statement following public outcry after he lied to the Parliament standing committee on finance claiming "considerable progress" and that the special pension unit had drastically reduced the backlog for pension applications citing misleading and inflated numbers.
Parliament was informed by Jonathan of many cases of fraud and corruption in the form of fake biographies which were referred to the Special Investment stagnation Unit and the Hawks. â€¨â€¨A special task force investigation corruption revealed how virtually the whole Bizana community, in the Eastern Cape were defrauded and denied the opportunity to apply for pensions by a syndicate made up of Administration officials who used extortion, selling application forms at R500 each.
The Administration failed to take action against officials involved claiming the syndicate did not defraud the state but applicants despite operating as representatives of the fund. The task force opined that fraudulent activities continued unabated among the Administration personnel but no measures were taken to address the problem.
The Administration officials reportedly frustrated the Hawks investigations by refusing to produce all relevant documents. The criminal syndicate of the administration officials was able to produce fake ID documents, birth certificates, death certificates, marriage certificates and using false bank accounts. At least R1 million was intercepted by the task force before it was transferred into a bank account by the syndicate.
Botswana has made improvements on preventing and ending arbitrary deprivation of liberty, but significant challenges remain in further developing and implementing a legal framework, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said at the end of a visit recently.
Head of the delegation, Elina Steinerte, appreciated the transparency of Botswana for opening her doors to them. Having had full and unimpeded access and visited 19 places of deprivation of liberty and confidentiality interviewing over 100 persons deprived of their liberty.
She mentioned “We commend Botswana for its openness in inviting the Working Group to conduct this visit which is the first visit of the Working Group to the Southern African region in over a decade. This is a further extension of the commitment to uphold international human rights obligations undertaken by Botswana through its ratification of international human rights treaties.”
Another good act Botswana has been praised for is the remission of sentences. Steinerte echoed that the Prisons Act grants remission of one third of the sentence to anyone who has been imprisoned for more than one month unless the person has been sentenced to life imprisonment or detained at the President’s Pleasure or if the remission would result in the discharge of any prisoner before serving a term of imprisonment of one month.
On the other side; The Group received testimonies about the police using excessive force, including beatings, electrocution, and suffocation of suspects to extract confessions. Of which when the suspects raised the matter with the magistrates, medical examinations would be ordered but often not carried out and the consideration of cases would proceed.
“The Group recall that any such treatment may amount to torture and ill-treatment absolutely prohibited in international law and also lead to arbitrary detention. Judicial authorities must ensure that the Government has met its obligation of demonstrating that confessions were given without coercion, including through any direct or indirect physical or undue psychological pressure. Judges should consider inadmissible any statement obtained through torture or ill-treatment and should order prompt and effective investigations into such allegations,” said Steinerte.
One of the group’s main concern was the DIS held suspects for over 48 hours for interviews. Established under the Intelligence and Security Service Act, the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) has powers to arrest with or without a warrant.
The group said the “DIS usually requests individuals to come in for an interview and has no powers to detain anyone beyond 48 hours; any overnight detention would take place in regular police stations.”
The Group was able to visit the DIS facilities in Sebele and received numerous testimonies from persons who have been taken there for interviewing, making it evident that individuals can be detained in the facility even if the detention does not last more than few hours.
Moreover, while arrest without a warrant is permissible only when there is a reasonable suspicion of a crime being committed, the evidence received indicates that arrests without a warrant are a rule rather than an exception, in contravention to article 9 of the Covenant.
Even short periods of detention constitute deprivation of liberty when a person is not free to leave at will and in all those instances when safeguards against arbitrary detention are violated, also such short periods may amount to arbitrary deprivation of liberty.
The group also learned of instances when persons were taken to DIS for interviewing without being given the possibility to notify their next of kin and that while individuals are allowed to consult their lawyers prior to being interviewed, lawyers are not allowed to be present during the interviews.
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention mentioned they will continue engaging in the constructive dialogue with the Government of Botswana over the following months while they determine their final conclusions in relation to the country visit.
Standard Chartered Bank Botswana (SCBB) has informed the government that it will not be accepting new loan applications for the Government Employees Motor Vehicle and Residential Property Advance Scheme (GEMVAS and LAMVAS) facility.
This emerges in a correspondence between Acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance Boniface Mphetlhe and some government departments. In a letter he wrote recently to government departments informing them of the decision, Mphetlhe indicated that the Ministry received a request from the Bank to consider reviewing GEMVAS and LAMVAS agreement.
He said: “In summary SCBB requested the following; Government should consider reviewing GEMVAS and LAMVAS interest rate from prime plus 0.5% to prime plus 2%.” The Bank indicated that the review should be both for existing GEMVAS and LAMVAS clients and potential customers going forward.
Mphetlhe said the Bank informed the Ministry that the current GEMVAS and LAMVAS interest rate structure results into them making losses, “as the cost of loa disbursements is higher that their end collections.”
He said it also requested that the loan tenure for the residential property loans to be increased from 20 to 25 years and the loan tenure for new motor vehicles loans to be increased from 60 months to 72 months.
Mphetlhe indicated that the Bank’s request has been duly forwarded to the Directorate of Public Service Management for consideration, since GEMVAS and LAMVAS is a Condition of Service Scheme. He saidthe Bank did also inform the Ministry that if the matter is not resolved by the 6th June, 2022, they would cease receipt of new GEMVAS and LAMVAS loan applications.
“A follow up virtual meeting was held to discuss their resolution and SCB did confirm that they will not be accepting any new loans from GEMVAS and LAMVAS. The decision includes top-up advances,” said Mphetlhe. He advised civil servants to consider applying for loans from other banks.
In a letter addressed to the Ministry, SCBB Chief Executive Officer Mpho Masupe informed theministry that, “Reference is made to your letter dated 18th March 2022 wherein the Ministry had indicated that feedback to our proposal on the above subject is being sought.”
In thesame letter dated 10 May 2022, Masupe stated that the Bank was requesting for an update on the Ministry’s engagements with the relevant stakeholder (Directorate of Public Service Management) and provide an indicative timeline for conclusion.
He said the “SCBB informs the Ministry of its intention to cease issuance of new loans to applicants from 6th June 2022 in absence of any feedback on the matter and closure of the discussions between the two parties.” Previously, Masupe had also had requested the Ministry to consider a review of clause 3 of the agreement which speaks to the interest rate charged on the facilities.
Masupe indicated in the letter dated 21 December 2021 that although all the Banks in the market had signed a similar agreement, subject to amendments that each may have requested. “We would like to suggest that our review be considered individually as opposed to being an industry position as we are cognisant of the requirements of section 25 of the Competition Act of 2018 which discourages fixing of pricing set for consumers,” he said.
He added that,“In this way,clients would still have the opportunity to shop around for more favourable pricing and the other Banks, may if they wish to, similarly, individually approach your office for a review of their pricing to the extent that they deem suitable for their respective organisations.”
Masupe also stated that: “On the issue of our request for the revision of the Interest Rate, we kindly request for an increase from the current rate of prime plus 0.5% to prime plus 2%, with no other increases during the loan period.” The Bank CEO said the rationale for the request to review pricing is due to the current construct of the GEMVAS scheme which is currently structured in a way that is resulting in the Bank making a loss.
“The greater part of the GEMVAS portfolio is the mortgage boo which constitutes 40% of the Bank’s total mortgage portfolio,” said Masupe. He saidthe losses that the Bank is incurring are as a result of the legacy pricing of prime plus 0% as the 1995 agreement which a slight increase in the August 2018 agreement to prime plus 0.5%.
“With this pricing, the GEMVAS portfolio has not been profitable to the Bank, causing distress and impeding its ability to continue to support government employees to buy houses and cars. The portfolio is currently priced at 5.25%,” he said. Masupe said the performance of both the GEMVAS home loan and auto loan portfolios in terms of profitability have become unsustainable for the Bank.
Healso said, when the agreement was signed in August 2018, the prime lending rate was 6.75% which made the pricing in effect at the time sufficient from a profitable perspective. “It has since dropped by a total 1.5%. The funds that are loaned to customers are sourced at a high rate, which now leaves the Bank with marginal profits on the portfolio before factoring in other operational expenses associated with administration of the scheme and after sales care of the portfolio,” said the CEO.
The Global Gender Gap Index, a report published by the World Economic Forum annually, has indicated that Botswana is among countries that fare badly when it comes to representation of women in legislative bodies.
The latest Global Gender Gap Index, published last week, benchmarks the current state and evolution of gender parity across four key dimensions (Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment). It is the longest-standing index which tracks progress towards closing these gaps over time since its inception in 2006.
This year, the Global Gender Gap Index benchmarked 146 countries. Of these, a subset of 102 countries have been represented in every edition of the index since 2006, further providing a large constant sample for time series analysis.
Botswana ranks number 66 overall (out of 146 countries), with good rankings in most of the pillars. Botswana ranks 1st in Health and Survival, 7th in the Economic Participation and Opportunity, 22nd in Educational Attainment, and 129th in Political Empowerment.
The Global Gender Gap Index measures scores on a 0 to 100 scale and scores can be interpreted as the distance covered towards parity (i.e. the percentage of the gender gap that has been closed). The cross-country comparisons aim to support the identification of the most effective policies to close gender gaps.
The Economic Participation and Opportunity sub-index contains three concepts: the participation gap, the remuneration gap and the advancement gap. The participation gap is captured using the difference between women and men in labour-force participation rates. The remuneration gap is captured through a hard data indicator (ratio of estimated female-to-male earned income) and a qualitative indicator gathered through the World Economic Forum’s annual Executive Opinion Survey (wage equality for similar work).
Finally, the gap between the advancement of women and men is captured through two hard data statistics (the ratio of women to men among legislators, senior officials and managers, and the ratio of women to men among technical and professional workers).
The Educational Attainment sub-index captures the gap between women’s and men’s current access to education through the enrolment ratios of women to men in primary-, secondary- and tertiary-level education. A longer-term view of the country’s ability to educate women and men in equal numbers is captured through the ratio of women’s literacy rate to men’s literacy rate.
Health and Survival sub-index provides an overview of the differences between women’s and men’s health using two indicators. The first is the sex ratio at birth, which aims specifically to capture the phenomenon of “missing women”, prevalent in countries with a strong son preference. Second, the index uses the gap between women’s and men’s healthy life expectancy.
This measure provides an estimate of the number of years that women and men can expect to live in good health by accounting for the years lost to violence, disease, malnutrition and other factors. Political Empowerment sub-index measures the gap between men and women at the highest level of political decision-making through the ratio of women to men in ministerial positions and the ratio of women to men in parliamentary positions. In addition, the reported included the ratio of women to men in terms of years in executive office (prime minister or president) for the last 50 years.
In the last general elections, only three women won elections, compared to 54 males. The three women are; Nnaniki Makwinja (Lentsweletau-Mmopane), Talita Monnakgotla (Kgalagadi North), and Anna Mokgethi (Gaborone Bonnington North). Four women were elected through Specially Elected dispensation; Peggy Serame, Dr Unity Dow, Phildah Kereng and Beauty Manake. All female MPs — save Dow, who resigned — are members of the executive.
Overall, Botswana has 63 seats, all 57 elected by the electorates, and six elected by parliament. Early this year, Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) secretary general and Gaborone North MP, Mpho Balopi, successfully moved a motion in parliament calling for increment of elective seats from 57 to 61. Balopi contented that population growth demands the country respond by increasing the number of MPs.
In Africa, Botswana play second fiddle to countries like Rwanda, Namibia, South Africa, Burundi, and Zimbabwe who have better representation of women, with Rwanda being the only country with more than 50 percent of women in parliament.
The low number of women in parliament is attributed to Botswana’s current, electoral system, First-Past-the-Post. During the 9th parliament, then MP for Mahalapye East tabled a motion in parliament in which she sort to increase the number of Specially Elected MPs in parliament to augment female representation in the National Assembly.
The motion was opposed famously, by then Specially Elected MP, Botsalo Ntuane, who said the citizens were not in favour of such a move since it dilute democracy, instead suggesting the Botswana should switch to Proportional-Representation-System. Botswana is currently undergoing Constitutional Review process, with the commission, appointed in December, expected to deliver the report to President Mokgweetsi Masisi by September this year.