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President’s word is not law – Kirby

Court of Appeal President, Ian Kirby

Presidential Directives are not law and can be overruled, the Judiciary has expressed. When setting aside the government decision to deny foreign prisoners Anti Retroviral Drugs (ARS) early this week, the court of Appeal President, Ian Kirby stated that the directives are only binding to public officers but do not amount to law.


“The exercise of executive power is subject to the Constitution and subject to the laws of the land. That is the essence of the rule of law to which Botswana is a proud adherent. The discrimination practiced here, as from being authorised by any law, flies in the face of the Prison’s act and the regulations made under it,” Kirby stated.


Despite the common belief that the President’s word is law and has to be implemented without being questioned, Kirby said Presidential Directives convey government decisions, taken by the President acting on the advice of Cabinet but the Judiciary has the power to set aside the decision.


“It follows that in terms of the wide powers granted to the Courts by section 18(2) and 95(1) of the Constitution an executive decision conveyed through a Presidential Directive will be reviewable if it is shown to be ultra vires either a law passed by Parliament or the constitution,” Kirby further pointed out.


Kirby was responding to the Attorney General’s earlier contention that the Presidential Directive constitutes a prerogative power and not subject to review.


However Kirby says the Directive may stand in matters of high policy such as the declaration of war or of a state of emergency or making of appointments to Cabinet or to other high offices but not in situations where the President decides who gets health care and who does not.


“It is certainly not so here where an administrative decision not to provide free ARV medicine to foreign prisoners was conveyed by the Permanent Secretary. Section 47(1) of the constitution which confers executive power on the President states expressly that this power is to be exercised “subject to the provisions of this constitution.”Further it is upon Parliament and not upon the President that the power to make laws is conferred by section 86 of the constitution. So in my judgment, executive power is by extension, to be exercised subject to the laws made by Parliament as well,” Kirby further stated.


The decision to deny foreign prisoners free access to ARVs was conveyed in March 2004 by the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health and “no doubt in terms with the Presidential Directive it implemented.” The Permanent Secretary who is a public officer performing his functions as such directed that foreign prisoners shall be treated in a discriminatory manner by the refusal of free enrolment on ARVs and as such Kirby says, Subsection (2) was thus engaged and contravened. This he says meant prison officers or doctors who implemented that directive contravened the said legislation.


He therefore ruled that the decision to withhold free medical treatment from non-citizen prisoners was unlawful and set it aside.


Kirby further ordered the government to comply with the Prison’s Act and Regulations by providing HIV positive foreign prisoners with free testing, assessment and treatment with ARVs or Highly Active Anti Retroviral Treatment (HAART) on the same basis as citizen prisoners.


The complaint in the application which formed the subject of the appeal is that the decision of the authorities to withhold free HAART from foreign prisoners while according it to citizen prisoners was unlawful and a violation to the Prisons Act and the common law rights of the prisoners.


Kirby conceded that in terms of common law, the state has the duty to keep in good health the prisoners in its custody because having forfeited their freedom, they are unable to properly fend for themselves. This duty he said is reflected both in the legislation and in the legal precedents of most countries.


“In Botswana, notwithstanding that there is no constitutional right to health care, as there is in South Africa and some other countries, the Prisons Act and its Regulations provide the statutory embodiment of those common law principles. These include the right to equal treatment of all prisoners as well,” Kirby further stated.

Affordability

ARVs are known to be very expensive and costing in the range of P3 500 each month for one patient and the government had argued that it would be costly if it extends the free supply to non-citizen prisoners. The evidence on the issue of affordability however was not placed before court and Kirby maintained that it is actually the responsibility of government to budget for the fulfilment of its legal obligations.


“If the law requires a service to be provided, then funds must be found to provide that service, or Parliament must be engaged to amend the law. Lack of funds will not in the normal course justify disobedience of the law,” Kirby suggested.


He however added that it is generally accepted, particularly in developing countries that the courts have no role to play in dictating to the Executive or to the Legislature on issues of policy or on budgetary matters involving the use or distribution of public funds. These are matters properly within the province of the Government, with all the expertise and resources available to it, according to Kirby. He added that this is particularly so in a Constitution such as that of Botswana which does not provide for judicially enforceable socio-economic rights, such as the right to health, the right to education and the right to housing.


“It is the responsibility of the government to budget for the fulfilment of its legal obligations. Those legal obligations too must be carefully construed because they do not extend for example to the implementation of government policies even when approved by Parliament such as the HIV/AIDS policy,” he stated before adding that, “laws are passed by Parliament in the manner provided in the constitution. Policies on the other hand provide the compass by which the government and its organs are guided. They normally express ideal and intended eventual outcomes but make reservations on availability of human and financial resources. They are guidelines to be followed to all extent possible. They are not laws.”


The Botswana Network on Law and AIDS (BONELA) who was a supporting applicant in the matter alongside the three Zimbabweans had contended that the HIV/AIDS policy provides for mandatory provision of ARVs to all people in Botswana whose CD4 count has dropped to the specified number in the treatment guidelines. However Kirby had noted that the truth of the matter is that the Policy does not require the universal enrolment but rather expresses that as an ideal and that the realisation of that ideal will be subject to financial constraints.


The HIV/AIDS Policy provides for preferential treatment to be given to Botswana citizens notwithstanding its overall objective of providing ARV treatment to all where resources allow. Kirby said when this decision was taken it could have been a genuine concern by government that where treatment was not available in their countries of origin for HIV and AIDS, foreigners and in some cases illegal immigrants, might commit crimes in Botswana to gain entry to prison and get the free ARV treatment available therein. Those fears, according to Kirby might render the decision to withhold ARV treatment from foreign prisoners rational, but it would not cure the unlawfulness of the decision in the light of the provisions of the Prison Act.


“The refusal of free enrolment on HAART to non-citizen prisoners when this is afforded to citizen prisoners clearly discriminates against the non citizens on account of their place of origin and that is prohibited by subsection 3,” the court further ruled.


Meanwhile Kirby recognised the shared responsibility of the three arms of government, the Judiciary, Legislature and Executive as the very foundation of democracy in Botswana, a partnership principle which has been promoted by successive administrations since Independence Day and by the Judges of the courts.


“It is only in recent years that some tensions between the executive and legislative branches relating to the roles of each and of the Judiciary have been suggested by some litigants.  But the constructive partnership between the three branches of government to promote adherence to the rule of law remains firm and unshaken,” he asserted.

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Masisi, DIS come under scrutiny at UN Rights Committee 

25th October 2021
masisi & magosi

President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi and the Directorate of Intelligence (DIS) came under the lens of the United Nations Human Rights Committee during the just ended dialogue between committee members and the Botswana delegation. 

Scores of issues, among them the country’s reports on topics including whether Masisi abused the State of Emergency Act during the COVID-19 pandemic and alleged surveillance and harassment of members of the public by DIS, were addressed at the session.

A Committee expert asked about legislation in the Penal Code allowing the Government to investigate people who expressed opinions against public figures, particularly the President. How many cases were there of journalists who had been investigated, prosecuted and tried?
Concerning the COVID-19 Emergency Powers Act, there was a provision for a fine or a five-year jail term for journalists using “source(s) other than the Director of Health Services or the World Health Organization” when reporting on COVID-19. The Committee Expert asked for the number of cases and other measures taken under this Act.

Another committee expert wanted to know that the scale and scope of electronic surveillance, which had sharply increased in recent years, was concerning. Furthermore, the Committee was troubled at the lack of a sufficient independent oversight mechanism over the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services that reportedly had contributed to a growing climate of fear and chilling effect on journalists, human rights defenders and opposition politicians. In this respect, a Committee Expert asked about the measures taken by Botswana during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure that the right to privacy was protected (collection and management of personal data).

The Expert also enquired about a database website, which was not functioning but was supposed to contain documents of Botswana’s international human rights commitments.
In terms of the freedom of assembly, while the Constitution of the State party guaranteed it, the Committee had received information that, in practice, the Public Order Act required citizens to apply to the nearest police for a permit to hold an assembly, and police had sometimes denied requests for unclear reasons.

The Committee Expert asked if the Public Order Act of the State party had been applied in conformity with those tests. Would the State party indicate the measures it had taken and/or intended to take to make the application of the law in question strictly compatible with the requirements under article 21? Furthermore, the Committee had also received allegations that police officers sometimes used force to compel gathering people to disperse. In this regard, the Expert asked for information on legal provisions and practical guidelines under which police officers may resort to force and any training programme if any, for police and other law enforcement officers to respect and ensure the right of peaceful assembly.

A Committee Expert asked about cases of holding people for longer periods under pre-trial detention than the maximum period provided for in legislation, 36 months, instead of six. Were there any plans to shorten the duration of pre-trial detention in legislation? The Committee noted that there was no provision for local community broadcasting. What measures were the State party taking to ensure that the local communities could also communicate in their language in the media?

What measures had been undertaken by Botswana to increase sustainable development in the country regarding climate change in particular. What efforts had been undertaken to ensure that customary courts worked up to speed? A Committee Expert asked about children in rural areas who travelled a long way to their schools. The delegation was asked about the independence of the Ombudsman Office, including provisions for appointing the Ombudsman. What budget was envisaged for this Office?

The Expert acknowledged the established procedures and institutions for anti-human trafficking but expressed concerns about the lack of reported cases. The Expert asked about the accountability of the public prosecution, as well as the intelligence services. Replying, the Botswana delegation, led by Presidential Minister Kabo Morwaeng, said there was an ongoing consultation for revising provisions that would ensure better protection for journalists and media freedom in Botswana.

Still, the delegation said, freedom of expression was assured in the State party without any restrictions, including in Parliament. There was an education programme providing the opportunity for children in primary school to be taught in their mother tongue. It also explained that the Ombudsman would be dealing with issues of human rights promotion and protection.

“National policies and procedures were envisaged to control the distribution of natural resources. Botswana was also taking measures to increase the access of minority groups to education. Regarding pre-trial detention, the delegation explained that the criminal procedure assured justice was preserved in the country,” said the delegation.

On the issue of torturer and alleged use of unreasonable force on suspects, the Botswana delegation explained that police officers were trained to use minimal force, ensuring that human rights were preserved, including in the cases of assemblies. On the use of surveillance, no legal provisions were breached, and such measures were used in accordance with national legislation. Legal aid was very costly, and it was not possible to keep the record in detail as asked by the Committee.

Morwaeng told the Committee that the Government maintained a robust consultative approach to policy development and legislative process. He said this was a system of governance that ensured that the voices of ordinary citizens were respected and taken into account in the social, economic and political process that affected them the most, giving full effect to the full enjoyment of human rights across the board. The delegation took due note of the views of the Committee, including the importance of harnessing information technology to give a broader appreciation of the provisions of the Covenant.

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Masisi on P1 billion water investment

25th October 2021
water project

The P1 billion water project launched by President Dr vMokgweetsi Masisi this week is said to be critical to the success of key projects planned in Lobatse – the Lobatse Milk Afric and Leather Park. After commissioning the multi-million Pula Masama-Mmamashia water project last week following its completion, on Thursday, Masisi performed ground-breaking ceremony of yet another major water project, the Lobatse Water Supply Master Plan (LWSMP1).

The water project was conceptualized in 2009 to address water shortage in areas along the Greater Gaborone zone. These areas include Ramotswa, Otse, Mogobane, Mankgodi, Manyana, Goodhope, Lekgolobotlo, Mmathethe, Molapowabojang and villages surrounding. It was said that some major upcoming projects in Lobatse such as Lobatse Leather Park, Milk Afric and the Pioneer Border Gate are dependent on the success of this project, in order for them to take off and operate effectively. The two projects have been struggling to take-off despite government having put the necessary resources.

The Lobatse Leather Park is anticipated to create about 4700 jobs at the initial stage and 7000 jobs at full capacity. The project entails the development of a complex for different tanneries with the support of state-owned beef company, Botswana Meat Commission. It will comprise primary infrastructure such as a common effluent treatment plant, sewage treatment plant, and others.

When operational, the park is expected to supply the private sector with hides and skins, raw to finished leather tanneries, and the manufacturing of different leather products. These products include shoes, belts, jackets, and others, thereby playing an instrumental role in stimulating economic activity. Leather Beneficiation Park is seen as important for the leather industry as it would ensure that Botswana moves from exporting raw leather to finished leather goods. It is said research has established that there are plenty of hides and skins in the country from the three million cattle and 1.8 million goats.

Meanwhile, Milk Afric dairy farm project which was expected to be complete by the second half of 2018, is in the wilderness after the initial partnership between Botswana Development Corporation (BDC) and Milk Afric failed to bear fruits. BDC has been searching for a new partner for the project. Once fully operational, the farm will produce a total of 21.9 million litres or one third of the national milk demand, which is 65 million litres a year. At present, Botswana imports over 58.8 million litres from South Africa at a cost of P345 million annually.

The P120 million project is a Public Private Partnership deal between Lobatse Town Council (LTC),  with 10 percent shareholding through leasing its 1375.4 ha farm for 25 years; and 26 percent (P40 million) by Botswana Development Corporation (BDC). When speaking at the groundbreaking ceremony held in Ramotswa, Masisi said, in addition to improving the water supply for domestic needs and livelihoods, this infrastructural development will facilitate major projects in the Lobatse region, which are critical to the ailing, old town.

“Our objective as a country is to align developments with the National Vision 2036 Pillar 3 on Sustainable Development, which recognizes water as a very scarce resource which requires strategic management by key players.” Botswana is a developing country with an increasing population, Masisi said, adding that an increase in population naturally causes exponential growth in the demand for water. This is a reality that Botswana is faced with and challenged to address for sustainable water supply, the President said.

He indicated that this is why they are continuously witnessing major water projects undertaken by government, in collaboration with key partners. “Gaborone and surrounding areas have been experiencing an acute water supply deficit due to infrastructure that has outlived its potential to meet the growing demand for water by citizens. This particular project entails the construction of a Pump Station at Forest Hill in Gaborone, a 57 kilometre pipeline from Gaborone to Lobatse and a new Northern reservoir.”

The project, awarded China State Construction and Engineering Corporation/Van and Truck Hire Joint Venture at over P1 billion, is currently at 49% of its completion stage. There are 637 jobs created by this water project. “The transmission pipeline will convey 63 million litres of water a day from Gaborone to Lobatse. This is a great improvement compared to an average supply of 14 million litres of water that has been supplied to Lobatse, Borolong and surrounding areas,” Masisi said.

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UN quizzes Botswana on gays, Sebina defilement case

25th October 2021
EU

The United Nations Committee on Human Rights has taken Botswana to task over what it considers to be discrimination laws against lesbians and gays and delay in prosecuting suspects in the infamous Sebina defilement case.  The Botswana delegation led by Presidential Minister Kabo Morwaeng found itself against the wall before the United Nations Human Rights Committee of experts in Geneva, Switzerland.  

First to take Botswana head-on was the UN Committee member, C SOH, who noted that the recent ruling of the High Court pays particular attention to the penal code penalising same-sex sexual conduct as it found that it infringed on the constitutional rights, dignity, liberty and privacy of the LGBTI persons (lesbians and gays).  “Nonetheless, I note with deep concern that those discriminatory provisions of the of the penal code remain in effect and regrettably the government stated in its periodic review before deciding whether or not to repeal section 164 it would still await the final determination of the court of appeal in the case of Motshidiemang vs State,” said Soh.

According to Soh, “This statement makes us cast doubt on the will of the government to vigorously” strike out section 164, which criminalises sex between people of the same sex.  “In this respect, I would like to ask the delegation to explain what the intended goal by the government was when it filed an appeal against the unconstitutionality ruling of the High Court,” he said. Soh said the Botswana Government had also explained that no persons had been convicted under this provision, section 164, ever since the penal code was enacted.

“However, media reports indicate that in August 2016, the government of a Gaborone Magistrate Court sentenced a man three years in prison who had been charged and convicted under section 164 for engaging in unnatural acts. Can the delegation explain these discrepancies relating to persons who have been convicted and sentenced under section 164 of the penal code,” he said.  He also wanted the Botswana delegation to explain how the government addresses how customary courts have been discriminating against LGBTI persons.

Another member of the UN Committee, Duncan Muhumuza, expressed concern that the Directorate of Public Prosecution (DPP) has taken more than four years to prosecute suspects in the Sebina saga in which a councillor was alleged to have slept with a student who was also a minor.
Replying to concerns raised by the UN experts, Mogakolodi Segwagwa, chief state counsel at the Attorney General Chambers, noted that one of the UN committee members has “become fearful that the fact that government appealed the case could be a sign that there is lack of will or doubt on the part of the government as to abolishing or outlawing of same-sex relations.”

“But I would like to assure the panel that Botswana has over the years proved itself at all times to be compliant with court orders. There are many examples I could put forward where the government had to make sure that court orders were executed. That is the assurance I can give out to the committee,” said Segwagwa.  He said there was a good reason for appealing the decision of the High Court in which it outlawed section 164.

“This was a High Court decision, and as you know in our jurisdiction when a judge is at the same court with his brothers and his sisters and fellow judges, whatever decision he puts out so far as that particular court is concerned, it is not law because it is not binding on his fellow brothers and sisters and it is not binding on fellow judges,” explained Segwagwa. He added that “It is merely persuasive so much so that some other judges may choose to when a similar case comes before him or her, depart and ignore the position that that particular judge espoused, and he or she can do so with ease.”

Segwagwa further explained that “There was a very pressing need for this matter to be appealed to the Court of Appeal for purposes of crystalising the law and for purposes of ensuring that if there is any aspect of the law that the High Court had overlooked in arriving at this particular decision, then such an aspect can be taken into consideration by the Court of Appeal.” “So we are waiting for that judgement, and once it comes, it will be implemented. I take it that the committee would like the Court of Appeal to uphold the decision below and strike out this particular section.”

He assured the UN experts that when the High Court struck out section 164 in 2019, the country did not erupt into violence, adding that this was an “indication that we don’t have anything against people of LGBT. They are our brothers and sisters, and we co-exist with them.”  Regarding the Sebina saga, Segwagwa said the painful case “where this councillor was said to have had sexual intercourse with a child is the police dealt with a matter as it is the law and we all know that the police are bound by their Act to do so without fear and prejudice.”

He said Upon completion of their investigation, “the matter was handed over to the prosecuting authority, as Mr Muhumuza had indicated, it has been four years and we concede that four years is a long time and that it is unreasonably a long time and that it defeats the whole adage that justice should be sweetest and freshest so much so that the case needed to be speeded along.”

He added that “But the problem we have which is not a problem in the sense of it being a problem, but the impediment we have in the sense that the Constitution created the Office of the Director of Prosecutions under section 51 subsection A and if you go to that particular section and you read subsection six, the director shall not be subjected to the control of another authority.”

Segwagwa said, “this is the section that was inserted in this constitution to safeguard the independence of the Director of DPP to ensure that he or she prosecutes matters without fear, favour and prejudice and it presents impediment where we can’t try and say to the DPP, go and register or indicate your position now, tomorrow or next year and that is why it has taken all this time, but we believe attempts are being made that it finds its way to the court.”

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