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Pastors develop cold feet on challenging new law

Minister of Labour and Home Affairs Edwin Batshu

An assemblage of enraged pastors who had earlier this year vowed to approach the High court to challenge the constitutionality of the Societies Amendment Bill after the president Lt. Gen. Ian Khama signed it into substantive law have now developed cold feet on the matter.

WeekendPost has established that the pastors, who had already roped-in a constitutional lawyer Kabo Motswagole of Motswagole and Company, are said to be not forthcoming and are fostering the theory that they might have abandoned the impending court case.

Previously the ‘men of God’ strongly opposed the bill and maintained that should Khama sign the bill, they would immediately encounter the law by moving an application before the courts to challenge it.

It is understood that the pastors have since kept a low profile and not followed on their vow, although due to unclear circumstances. The clergymen have remained anonymous for fear of being victimized by the government or whoever. When asked on the matter, the attorney representing the pastors, Motswagole confirmed to this publication that it’s indeed true that the priests had “grown cold feet” but it’s unclear why so.

Information reaching this publication suggests that President Khama has already assented to the bill and it’s now substantive law. This comes after the bill, clouded with controversy whereby legislator for Francistown West Ignatious Moswaane broke his sunglasses to illustrate protest against the proposed law while another representing Sefhare Ramokgonami Dorcas Makgato threatened to strip naked if the law did not pass, was debated extensively by parliament. The bill has however been passed by the National Assembly.

“Now since the bill has gone through all the structures and procedures in place, it has been gazetted and the president has also signed it to become substantive law,” a source at the Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs (MLHA) under the Department of Civil and National Registration confirmed to WeekendPost this week.

Previously, the Societies Act prescribed the minimum number of persons for the formation and registration of a society at ten (10). As it stands, the number of persons required in the enacted law for registering a society under the bill has thus been upstretched from 10 to 20, and that of religious organisations from 10 to a whopping 250.

The number 250, together with a few other sections is said to be at odds with the church ministers and their sympathisers. They insist that it impedes and breaches on the fundamental freedom of religion and is therefore unconstitutional.

This publication has it on good authority that the new law will be operationalized next month – on September 1 – to be precise. It is understood that the Ministry is currently reviewing regulations.

“We are currently discussing the Act first with stakeholders before we operationalize it, as you know, the law is debated by parliament, then it adopts it, and the president signs it and later it is gazetted for two consecutive times and further consultations are made and then Act is implemented.”

According to the Ministry official under the department, this week they met with various stakeholders from different Societies affected by the new Act including churches to consult them further through workshops subsequent to the Act approval by parliament and assenting by President Khama.

Minister of Labour and Home Affairs Edwin Batshu had, when presenting the bill to parliament, said that “the amendment was necessitated by ‘mushrooming’ of churches, particularly under foreign leadership who appeared to be ‘economic missionaries’ attracted by the economic status of this country.”

According to Batshu, there was also a concern with regard to splinter churches that emerged due to struggles for leadership positions and control of church assets as well as finances.

Meanwhile it is understood that Minister Batshu’s locus – and by extension the new law – has not gone down well with the some church movements such as the Evangelical Fellowship of Botswana (EFB) which publicly denounced the law as a ‘not-so-good’ law. The umbrella body of Pentecostal and evangelical or ‘fire churches’ is seen as widely targeted by the law.

According to EFB president, Master Matlhaope, they opposed not the law in its entirety but some of the sections in the new law like the one which raises the threshold number of 250 from the previous 10 to register a church.

“It will stop even genuine churches to register,” he pointed out. “We felt 250 was too high to register a church, and it will encourage unlawful operations. To raise that 250, you mobilise people and you may end up assembling illegally. We had requested the government to re-look at this area, but they did not.”

Matlhaope also highlighted that there was need for a religious advisory council which will educate, empower and therefore mitigate the impact as far as mushrooming of churches is concerned. Right now, he said there is lack of strong regulatory mechanism.

He insisted that the law needed thorough minds to be applied and not emotions. Although the EFB president condemned those churches and men of God lacking integrity and those commercializing the churches, he asserted that in the end he stands for freedom of worship.

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Civil Service volatility: Democracy vs Bureaucracy

19th April 2021
President Masisi

Here is how one Permanent Secretary encapsulates the clear tension between democracy and bureaucracy in Botswana: “President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s Government is behaving like a state surrounded with armed forces in order to capture it or force its surrender. The situation has turned so volatile, for tomorrow is not guaranteed for us top civil servants.

These are the painful results of a personalized civil service in our view as permanent secretaries”. Although his deduction of the situation may be summed as sour grapes because he is one of the ‘victims’ of the reshuffle, he is convinced this is a perfect description of the rationale behind frequent changes and transfers characterising the current civil service.

The result of it all, he said, is that “there is too much instability at managerial and strategic levels of the civil service leading to a noticeable directionless civil service.” He continued: “Changes and transfers are inevitable in the civil service, but to a permissible scale and frequency. Think of soccer team coach who changes and transfers his entire squad every month; you know the consequences?”

The Tsunami has hit hard at critical departments and Ministries leaving a strong wave of uncertainty, many demoralised and some jobless. In traditional approaches to public administration, democracy gives the goals; and bureaucracy delivers the technical efficiency required for implementation. But the recent moves in the civil service are indicative of conflicting imperatives – the notion of separation between politicians and administrators is becoming blurred by the day.

“Look at what happened to Prisons and BDF where second in command were overlooked for outsiders, and these are the people who had sacrificially served for donkey’s years hoping for a seat at the ladder’s end. The frequency of the changes, at times affecting the same Ministry or individual also demonstrates some level of ineptitude, clumsiness and lack of foresight from those in charge,” remarked the PS who added that their view is that the transfers are not related to anything but “settling scores, creating corruption opportunities and pushing out perceived dissident and former president, Ian Khama’s alleged loyalists and most of these transfers are said to be products of intelligence detection.”

Partly blaming Khama for the mess and his unwillingness to let go, the PS dismissed Masisi for falling to the trap and failing to outgrow the destructive tiff. “Khama is here to stay and the sooner Masisi comes to terms with the fact that he (Masisi) is the state President, the better. For a President to still be making these changes and transfers signals signs of a confused man who has not yet started rolling his roadmap, if at all it was ever there. I am saying this because any roadmap comes with key players and policies,” he concluded.

The Ministry of Health and Wellness seems to be the most hard-hit by the transfers, having experienced three Permanent Secretaries changes within a year and a half. Insiders say the changes have everything to do with the Ministry being the centre of COVID-19 tenders and economic opportunities. “The buck stops with the PS and no right-thinking PS can just allow glaring corruption under his watch as an accounting officer. Technocrats are generally law abiding, the pressure comes with politically appointed leaders racing against political terms to loot,” revealed a director in the Ministry preferring anonymity.

The latest transfer of Kabelo Ebineng she says was also motivated by his firm attitude against the President’s blue-eyed Task Team boys. “The Task Team wants to own the COVID-19 pandemic and government interventions and always cry foul when the Ministry reasserts itself as mandated by law,” said the director who added that Masisi who was always caught between the crossfire decided on sacrificing Ebineng to the joy of his team as they (Task Team) were in the habit of threatening to resign citing Ebineng as the problem.

Ebineng joins the Office of the President as a deputy Coordinator (government implementation and coordination office).The incoming PS is the soft-spoken Grace Muzila, known and described by her close associates as a conformist albeit knowledgeable.

One of the losers in the grand scheme is Thato Raphaka who many had seen as the next PSP because of his experience and calm demeanour following a declaration of interest in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Secretary post by the current PSP, Elias Magosi.

But hardly ten months into his post, Raphaka has been transferred out to the National Strategy Office in what many see as a demotion of some sort. Other notable changes coming into OP are Pearl Ramokoka formerly with the Employment, Labour and Productivity Ministry coming in as a Permanent Secretary and Kgomotso Abi as director of Public Service Reforms.

One of the ousted senior officers in the Office of the President warned that there are no signs that the changes and transfers will stop anytime soon: “If you are observant you would have long noticed that the changes don’t only affect senior officers but government decisions as well. A decision is made today and the government backtracks on it within a week. Not only that, the President says this today, and his deputy denies it the following day in Parliament,” he warned.

Some observers have blamed the turmoil in the civil service partly to lack of accountable presidential advisers or kitchen cabinet properly schooled on matters of statecraft. They point out that politicians or those peripheral to them should refrain from hampering the technical and organizational activities of public managers – or else the party (reshuffling) won’t stop.

In the view expressed by some Permanent Secretaries, Elias Magosi, has not really been himself since joining the civil service; and has cut a picture of indifference in most critical engagements; the most notable been a permanent secretaries platform which he chairs. As things stand there is need to reconcile the imperatives of democracy and democracy in Botswana. Peace will rein only when public value should stand astride the fault that runs between politicians and public managers.

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Morupisi fights for freedom in court

19th April 2021

Former Permanent Secretary to the President, Carter Morupisi, is fighting for survival in a matter in which the State has charged him and his wife, Pinnie Morupisi, with corruption and money laundering.

Morupisi has joined a list of prominent figures that served in the previous administration and who have been accused of corruption during their tenure in office. While others have been emerging victorious, Morupisi is yet to find that luck. The High Court recently dismissed his no case to answer application.

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Pressure mounts on Biden to suspend Covid-19 vaccine patents

19th April 2021
Joe Biden

United States President, Joe Biden, is faced with a decision to make relating to the Covid-19 vaccine intellectual property after 175 former world leaders and Nobel laurates joined the campaign urging the US to take “urgent action” to suspend intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines to help boost global inoculation rates.

According to the world leaders, doing so would allow developing countries to make their own copies of the vaccines that have been developed by pharmaceutical companies without fear of being sued for intellectual property infringements.

“A WTO waiver is a vital and necessary step to bringing an end to this pandemic. It must be combined with ensuring vaccine know-how and technology is shared openly,” the signatories, comprising more than 100 Nobel prize-winners and over 70 former world leaders, wrote in a letter to US President Joe Biden, according to Financial Times.

A measure to allow countries to temporarily override patent rights for Covid related medical products was proposed at the World Trade Organization by India and South Africa in October, and has since been backed by nearly 60 countries.

Former leaders who signed the letter included Gordon Brown, former UK Prime Minister; François Hollande, former French President; Mikhail Gorbachev, former President of the USSR; and Yves Leterme, former Belgian Prime Minister.

In their official communication, South Africa and India said: “As new diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines for Covid-19 are developed, there are significant concerns [about] how these will be made available promptly, in sufficient quantities and at affordable prices to meet global demand.”

While developed countries have been able to secure enough vaccine to inoculate their citizens, developing countries such as Botswana are struggling to source enough to swiftly vaccine their citizens, something which world leaders believe it would work against global recovery therefore proving counter-productive.

Since the availability of vaccines, Botswana has been able to secure only 60 000 doses of vaccines, 30 000 as donation as from the Indian government, while the other 30 000 was sourced through COVAX facility.  Canada, has pre-ordered vaccines in surplus and it will be able to vaccinate each of its citizens six times over. In the UK and US, it is four vaccines per person; and two each in the EU and Australia.

For vaccines produced in Europe, developing countries are forced to pay double what European countries are paying, making it more expensive for already financially struggling economies.  European countries however justify the price of vaccines and that they deserve to buy them cheap since they contributed in their development.

It is evident that vaccines cannot be made available immediately to all countries worldwide with wealthy economies being the only success story in that regard, something that has been referred to as a “catastrophic moral failure”, head of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The challenge facing developing countries is not only the price, but also the capacity of vaccine manufactures to be able to do so to meet global demand within a short time. The proposal for a patent waiver by India and South Africa has been rejected by developed countries, known for hosting the world leading pharmaceutical companies such US, European Union, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland.

According to the Financial Times, US business groups including pharmaceutical industry representatives, have urged Biden to resist supporting a waiver to IP rules at the WTO, arguing that the proposal led by India and South Africa was too “vague” and “broad”.

The individuals who signed the letter, including Nobel laureates in economics as well as from across the arts and sciences, warned that inequitable vaccine access would impact the global economy and prevent it from recovering.

“The world saw unprecedented development of safe and effective vaccines, in major part thanks to US public investment,” the group wrote. “We all welcome that vaccination rollout in the US and many wealthier countries is bringing hope to their citizens.”

“Yet for the majority of the world that same hope is yet to be seen. New waves of suffering are now rising across the globe. Our global economy cannot rebuild if it remains vulnerable to this virus.”
The group warned that fully enforcing IP was “self-defeating for the US” as it hindered global vaccination efforts. “Given artificial global supply shortages, the US economy already risks losing $1.3tn in gross domestic product this year.”

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