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Parliament debated Income Tax (Amendment) Bill in haste


The first session of the 11th Parliament closed its winter meeting on Friday 7th August 2015 on a rather infamous mode. Never before have we had the house varying its sitting hours twice in a single sitting. One wonders if this might be some paranoia warning us of what to expect in the twilight of President Ian Khama’s administration. Either way, the writing is on the wall. The Executive peremptorily undermines parliament.

Our immediate task is to address this enigma. The concern of most democracies in the contemporary world is to deepen and modernize parliamentary culture to better serve our peoples. Not the other way round. For instance, parliamentary debates worldwide are conducted through laid down rules, neatly codified into Standing Orders (SO). These rules are meant to guide parliamentary business; set out its purpose; and spell-out the responsibilities of members of parliament.

In our case, these rules are extremely manipulated to serve partisan interests. Debates are so strictly controlled and dreary. It has become a sectarian bigotry which the Khama regime mistakes for wisdom and virtue. Worse still, Ministers view questions from ordinary members with a great deal of contempt.

Rising to speak is heavily abused by the speakership under a pretext of observance of Catch the Speakers eye rule. When a member rise to complain about the process, s/he is directed to the Speaker’s Office about a matter that concerns the same office. Clear prejudice. An epitome of a government gone wild. Authoritarianism if you like.

The same speakership prepares the Order Paper or a list of issues to be discussed on a given day.

Back to the ghastly experiences of Friday 7th. I woke up to this day in full spirit, with one thing in mind. To ensure I speak without fail because this was the last day of session of parliament. The Order Paper was so conveniently crafted to fit the purpose.

The instructions were clear: circumvent debate and move for adoption of the Bill before 1230hrs. Coincidently, I fell victim of this evil BDP machinations. In the silence of my conscience, many questions emerged. But at the end, I put all the blame on the failure of the BCP and UDC to see the bigger picture. We can’t afford the denial anymore.

On a normal Friday, private members’ business takes precedence and often includes: (1) Ordinary Questions (2) Minister’s Question Time (3) motions and Bills. In the event, no such business exists, government business then straight away ensues.  

On Friday 7th, it was not difficult to realize everything had been stage managed to serve some clandestine interests. It would appear the plan was to have the Deputy Speaker Hon Molatlhegi, who is famous for his tough stance on opposition members, start the proceedings of the day.

And allow the Speaker, Hon Gladys Kokorwe, a moderate who turned radical on the day, to come later when the mission to whip opposition members into line would have been accomplished. Coincidently, the covert plan worked as hatched.

Not even strong resistance from the opposition bench would convince the speakership otherwise. The questions because they often last for a short span of 45 minutes were allowed to pass without any hurdle. The stage was reduced to a crude comedy during Minister’s question time.

Instead of the usual two, the Order Paper had only one slot marked for the Minister in the Presidency Hon Molale, a candidate in an ongoing bye-election who had resigned from his parliamentary seat as a consequence, strangely enough, to contest for another parliamentary seat. I am sure this is a puzzle that can only be expounded by Molale himself. Because even members of his cabal are clueless about what is going on.

The speakership could not even explain how it gotten Molale into the programme when they knew he was buzy addressing kgotla meetings in Borolong. His assistant Hon Makgalemele only resurfaced later after making clear this item on the Order Paper had passed.

As if this was not enough, more drama ensued with respect to private members’ motions. Guess what! All the motions in the Order Paper was for Hon Moswaane who by this time was in Francistown. Protests from opposition bench did not sway the Speakership which was in no mood to betray the superiors.    

It was the most perplexing enigma in my short stunt with parliament of Botswana. Who could have thought parliament can fight so hard just to have tax imposed on a chicken sale. By definition, as provided by Statistics Botswana, recognized widely and even by our very own Penal Code, the word livestock refers to, “All animals and birds kept or reared specifically for agricultural purposes including cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, horses, poultry, rabbits, and donkeys etc”.

Imagine, this entire conundrum was entertained just to perpetuate further onslaught on the already bruised poor Botswana farmer. We tried to oppose the Bill but our counterparts in the ruling party through the Minister of Finance, owing greatly to the superior numbers, outdid us. 

The Minister was in moods to take ‘NO’ as an answer. This is the same Minister who like Hon Tshekedi Khama has no interest on debates whatsoever that touch on any other parliamentary matter except when his ministry is directly involved. And we had to rush to satisfy him and by extension his executive.  

The debate is by law established to start at 0900hrs and end at 1230hrs. Realizing time would not allow the Minister to respond and see the Bill pass, the mother of the House Hon Venson-Moitoi, in an unexpected harsh, stood-up to vary the Order Paper to allow parliament to continue its business until 1300hrs.

Interestingly, by 1300hrs, the Minister of Finance had not spoken but the house had to adjourn. It was not long before the Vice President stood up and hurried to make further variations in the sitting hours, to extend with another 30 minutes to 1330hrs. It was so noisy that I didn’t hear the Speaker making a ruling. I would later learn through taking a perusal at the Hansard that Masisi’s request was also granted. Whether the Standing Orders allow or not is another issue!

But we are lucky, most of our past Speakers are still alive; Mr Ray Matlapeng Molomo, Mr Patrick Balopi and Dr Margaret Nnanyana Nasha. I am sure they can confirm that a Speaker cannot make a ruling while there are members of parliament on their feet.

This would be against the decorum of the house. S/he would first have to order them to sit down or order them out of the house before any ruling is made. But acting under pressure, the now electrified Hon Kokorwe would not even respect the decorum she is entrusted to safeguard by virtue of being a Speaker just because she wanted to beat the 1300hrs time and grant the Vice President his wish.

I mean why not respect the rules we set for ourselves, adjourn the house at agreed time and seize the opportunity to consult with the public just like it was done with the Land Policy.  

Isn’t it logical that farmers ought to be consulted about their property because we are often told the BMC belongs to them? Who is fooling who? Will I be wrong to conclude that many farmers don’t even know the BMC exists as a cooperative that allegedly belongs to them? Important yet, they have made so many recommendations to the government wholly owned parastatal but to no avail.

At the heart of their argument has always been the low prices, which are discouraging sales to BMC. Yet the government is keen on imposing a tax claim (4%) in every livestock sold by farmers to respective business outlets. The idea is to exempt BMC from taxation and withhold 4 percent tax from farmer’s receipts and give directly to government as Income Tax.

Somebody must remind the Executive that the reason why BMC is continuously registering huge losses is not because of the 15% tax on BMC annual turnover that this Bill has just cancelled but the BMC monopoly position and its associated inefficiencies.

The truth is, the fundamental change that awaits the Beef industry which the BMC management knows, is for off-take and supply to increase, which in turn, requires the appropriate price incentives for farmers. Not piecemeal approaches where tax is transferred from the BMC to ordinary farmers.

Lifting the existing ban on live cattle exports is another option. Because the Beef Sector remains the only industry in Botswana where investors despite producing more than what can be consumed or processed are prohibited by an irrational monopoly to export their excess product. This goes against macro-economic common sense.

Removing BMC’s protection would force BMC to pay competitive regional export parity prices to farmers. In the long term, the BMC must operate at international levels of efficiency. Allowing competition, besides benefiting farmers, would force the necessary restructuring of the BMC.

Noah Salakae is Member of Parliament for Ghanzi North

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Opinions

Internal party-democracy under pressure

21st June 2022

British novelist, W. Somerset Maugham once opined: “If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its freedom; and the irony of it is that if it is comfort or money that it values more, it will lose that too.”

The truism in these words cannot be underestimated, especially when contextualizing against the political developments in Botswana. We have become a nation that does not value democracy, yet nothing represent freedom more than democracy. In fact, we desire, and value winning power or clinging to power more than anything else, even if it harms the democratic credentials of our political institutions. This is happening across political parties — ruling and opposition.

As far as democracy is concerned, we are regressing. We are becoming worse-off than we were in the past. If not arrested, Botswana will lose its status as among few democratic nations in the Africa. Ironically, Botswana was the first country in Africa to embrace democracy, and has held elections every five years without fail since independence.

We were once viewed as the shining example of Africa. Those accolades are not worth it any more. Young democracies such as South Africa, with strong institutions, deserves to be exalted. Botswana has lost faith in democracy, and we will pay a price for it. It is a slippery slope to dictatorship, which will bring among other excess, assault on civil liberties and human rights violations.

Former President, Festus Mogae once stated that Botswana’s democracy will only become authentic, when a different party, other than the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) wins elections, and when the President of such party is not from Serowe.

Although many may not publicly care to admit, Mogae’s assertion is true. BDP has over the years projected itself as a dyed-in-the-wool proponent of democracy, but the moment its stay in power became threatened and uncertain, it started behaving in a manner that is at variance with democratic values.  This has been happening over the years now, and the situation is getting worse by the day.

Recently, the BDP party leadership has been preaching compromise and consensus candidates for 2024 general elections. Essentially, the leadership has lost faith in the Bulela Ditswe dispensation, which has been used to selected party candidates for council and parliament since 2003. The leadership is discouraging democracy because they believe primary elections threaten party unity. It is a strange assertion indeed.

Bulela Ditswe was an enrichment of internal party democracy in the sense that it replaced the previous method of selection of candidates known as Committee of 18, in which a branch committee made of 18 people endorsed the representatives. While it is true that political contest can divide, the ruling party should be investing in political education and strengthening in its primary elections processes. Democracy does not come cheap or easy, but it is valuable.

Any unity that we desire so much at the expense of democracy is not true unity. Like W. Somerset Maugham said, democracy would be lost in the process, and ultimately, even the unity that was desired would eventually be lost too. Any solution that sacrifice democracy would not bring any results in the long run, except misery.

We have seen that also in opposition ranks. The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) recently indicated that its incumbent Members of Parliament (MPs) should not be challenged for their seats. While BDP is sacrificing democracy to stay in power, UDC is sacrificing democracy to win power. It is a scary reality given the fact that both parties – ruling and opposition — have embraced this position and believe democracy is the hindrance to their political ambitions.

These current reality points to one thing; our political parties have lost faith in democracy. They desire power more than, the purpose of power itself. It is also a crisis of leadership across the political divide, where we have seen dissenting views being met with persecution. We have seen perverting of political process endorsed by those in echelons of power to manipulate political outcomes in their favour.

Democracy should not be optional, it should be mandatory. Any leader proposing curtailing of democracy should be viewed with suspicion, and his adventures should be rejected before it is too late. Members of political parties, as subscribers of democracy, should collectively rise to the occasion to save their democracy from self-interest that is becoming prevalent among Botswana political parties.

The so-called compromise candidates, only benefits the leadership because it creates comforts for them. But for members, and for the nation, it is causing damage by reversing the gains that have been made over the years. We should reject leaders who only preach democracy in word, but are hesitant to practice it.

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Opinions

The Big Deal About Piracy

21st June 2022
piracy

Piracy of all kinds continues to have a massive impact on the global creative industry and the economies of the countries where it thrives.

One of the biggest misconceptions around piracy is that an individual consumer’s piracy activities, especially in a market the size of Botswana’s, is only a drop in the pool of potential losses to the different sectors of the economy piracy affects.

When someone sitting in Gaborone, Botswana logs onto an illegal site to download King Richard online, they don’t imagine that their one download will do anything to the production house’s pocket or make a dent in the actors’ net worth. At best, the sensitivity towards this illegal pirating activity likely only exists when contemplating going about pirating a local musician’s music or a short film produced locally.

The ripple effects of piracy at whatever scale reach far beyond what the average consumer could ever imagine. Figures released by software security and media technology company, Irdeto, show that users in five major African territories made approximately 17,4 million total visits to the top 10 identified piracy sites on the internet.

The economic impact of this on the creative industry alone soars to between 40 and 97.1 billion dollars, according a 2022 Dataprot study. In addition, they estimate that “illegally streamed copyrighted content consumes 24% of global bandwidth”.

As Botswana’s creative industry remains relatively slight on the scale of comparison to industries such as Nollywood and Nilewood where the creative industry contributes a huge proportion to West and East Africa’s respective GDPs, that does not imply that piracy activities in Botswana do not have a similar impact on our economy and the ability of our creative industry to grow.

When individuals make decisions to illegally consume content via internet streaming sites they believe they are saving money for themselves in the name of enjoying content they desire to consume. Although this is a personal choice that remains the prerogative of the consumer, looking beyond the fact that streaming on illegal content sites is piracy, the ripple effect of this decision also has an endless trail of impact where funds which could be used to grow the local creative industry through increased consumption, and revenue which would otherwise be fed back into Botswana’s economy are being diverted.

“Why can’t our local creative industry grow?” “Why don’t we see more home-grown films and shows in Botswana?” are questions constantly posed by those who consume television content in Botswana. The answer to this lies largely in the fact that Botswana’s local content needs an audience in order for it to grow. It needs support from government and entities which are in a position to fund and help the industry scale greater heights.

Any organisational body willing to support and grow the local creative industry needs to exist and operate in an economy which can support its mandates. Content piracy is a cycle that can only be alleviated when consumers make wiser decisions around what they consume and how.

This goes beyond eradicating piracy activities in so far as television content is concerned. This extends to the importation and trade in counterfeit goods, resale of goods and services not intended for resale across the border, outside its jurisdiction, and more. All of these activities stunt the growth of an economy and make it nearly impossible for industries and sectors to propel themselves to places where they can positively impact society and reinvest into the country’s economy.

So what can be done to turn the tide here in Botswana in order to see our local production houses gain the momentum required to produce more, license more and expand their horizons? While those who enforce the law continue to work towards minimizing piracy activities, it’s imperative that as consumers we work to make their efforts easier by being mindful of how our individual actions play a role in preventing the success of our local creative networks and our economy’s growth.

Whether you are pirating a Hollywood Blockbuster, illegally streaming a popular Motswana artist’s music, or smuggling in an illegal decoder to view content restricted to South Africa only, your actions have an impact on how we as a nation will make our mark on the global landscape with local creative productions. Thembi Legwaila is Corporate Affairs Manager, MultiChoice Botswana

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Opinions

Our Strength is our Unity

18th March 2022
Craig-Cloud

Putin Chose War.  We Remain United with Ukraine.

U.S. Ambassador Craig L. Cloud

This is a dangerous moment for Europe and for freedom-loving people around the world.  By launching his brutal assault on the people of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has also committed an assault on the principles that uphold global peace and democracy.  But the people of Ukraine are resilient.

They’ve had a democracy for decades, and their bravery is inspiring the world.  The United States, together with our Allies and partners across the globe, will continue to support the Ukrainian people as they defend their country.  By choosing to pay for a war instead of investing in the needs of Russians, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine will be a strategic failure for the Kremlin and ravage the future of the Russian people.

When the history of this era is written, it will show that Putin’s choice to launch an unprovoked, unjust, and premeditated attack left the West more unified and Russia exponentially weaker.

United in Our Response

This will not end well for Vladimir Putin.  Together, the United States and our Allies and partners are taking action to hold Russia accountable.  As a result of unprecedented global sanctions coordination, the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Japan, and Canada have removed selected Russian banks from the SWIFT messaging system and imposed restrictive measures on the Russian Central Bank.

President Biden announced sweeping financial sanctions and stringent export controls that will damage Russia’s economy, financial system, and access to cutting-edge technology.  After Putin began his invasion, the ruble hit its weakest point in history, and the Russian stock market plunged.

Along with the United Kingdom and European Union, the United States imposed sanctions on the architects of this war, including Putin himself.

By moving in close coordination with a powerful coalition of Allies and partners representing more than half of the global economy, we have magnified the impact of our actions to impose maximum costs on Putin and his regime.  In response to Putin’s war of choice, we will limit Russia’s ability to do business in U.S. dollars.

We will stunt Russia’s ability to finance and grow its military.  We will impair Russia’s ability to compete in the global economy.  And we are prepared to do more.

In addition to economic penalties, this week President Biden authorized an additional $1 billion over the $350 million of security assistance he recently approved, and a $650 million in 2021, to immediately help Ukraine defend itself, bringing America’s total security assistance to Ukraine over the past year to $2 billion.

We also stand ready to defend our NATO Allies.  President Biden has coordinated with Allied governments to position thousands of additional forces in Germany and Poland as part of our commitment to NATO’s collective defense.

He authorized the deployment of ground and air forces already stationed in Europe to NATO’s eastern and southeastern flanks:  Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania.  Our Allies have also added their own forces and capabilities to ensure our collective defense.  There should be no doubt about the readiness of the greatest military Alliance in the history of the world:  NATO is more united than ever.

The United States has also coordinated with major oil-producing and consuming countries to underscore our common interest in securing global energy supplies.  We are working with energy companies to surge their capacity to supply energy to the market, particularly as prices increase.

Putin’s Unprovoked and Premeditated War

This was an attack that Vladimir Putin has planned for a long time.  He methodically moved more than 150,000 troops and military equipment to Ukraine’s border.  He moved blood supplies into position and built field hospitals, demonstrating his intentions all along.

He rejected every good-faith effort by the United States and our Allies and partners to address his fabricated security concerns and to avoid needless conflict and human suffering by engaging in diplomacy and dialogue.

Putin executed his playbook exactly as we had warned he would do.  We saw Russia’s proxies increase their shelling in the Donbas.  We saw the Russian government launch cyber-operations against Ukraine.  We saw staged political theater in Moscow and heard outlandish and baseless claims made about Ukraine in an attempt to justify Russia’s aggression.

Russia continues to justify its military aggression by falsely claiming the need to stop “genocide” in Ukraine – despite there being no evidence that genocide was occurring there.  We saw Russia use these tactics before when they invaded Ukraine in 2014 and Georgia in 2008.

And then, at almost the very same moment the United Nations Security Council was meeting to stand up for Ukraine’s sovereignty and forestall disaster, Putin launched his invasion in violation of international law.  Missiles began to rain down, striking historic cities across Ukraine.  Then came air raids, columns of tanks, and battalions of troops, all riding a renewed wave of disinformation and outright lies.

We have been transparent with the world.  We declassified our intelligence about Russia’s plans so there could be no confusion and no cover up.  Putin is the aggressor.  Putin chose this war.  And now his people will bear the consequences of his decision to invest in war rather than in them.

Transatlantic Unity and Resolve Stronger Than Ever

Putin’s goal of dividing the West has failed.  In the face of one of the most significant challenges to European security and democratic ideals since World War II, the United States and our Allies and partners have joined together in solidarity.  We have united, coordinating intensively to engage as one with Russia and Ukraine, provided assistance to Ukraine, developed a broad response, and reaffirmed our commitment to NATO.

Putin has failed to divide us.  Putin has failed to undermine our shared belief in the fundamental right of sovereign nations to choose their destiny and their allies.  And Putin will fail to erase the proud nation of Ukraine.

The next few days, weeks, and months will be incredibly difficult for the people of Ukraine.  Putin has unleashed great suffering on them.  But the Ukrainian people have known 30 years of independence, and they have repeatedly shown they will not tolerate anyone who tries to take their country backwards.

The world is watching this conflict closely, and if Russian forces commit atrocities, we will explore all international mechanisms that could be used to bring those responsible – whether members of the military or their civilian leadership – to account.

Putin’s aggression against Ukraine will cost Russia profoundly, both economically and strategically.  The Russian people deserve better from their government than the immense cost to their future that this invasion has precipitated.

Liberty, democracy, and human dignity are forces far more powerful than fear and oppression.  In the contest between democracy and autocracy, between sovereignty and subjugation, make no mistake:  Freedom will prevail.

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