MPs last chance is to comment during committee of supply
The Opposition in Parliament have been left trying to figure out their next move after the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) outsmarted them and closed debates on the 2015/2016 budget way ahead of schedule and before the opposition Members of Parliament could debate Minister Kenneth Matambo’s presentation.
Matambo told this publication that he is shocked at the poor quality of debate in Parliament in relation to the budget speech. However it is expected that the proposals contained in the line Ministry presentations will provide MPs with a further platform to debate and ultimately pass a final budget.
About P50 billion worth of public money is contained in this year’s budget and MPs are expected to ensure that it is distributed accordingly.
In a seemingly well planned numbers’ game, the BDP MPs would not debate the budget and the opposition feared that if they exhausted their arguments, the BDP would have the floor all to themselves in the following week and refuse to give them a chance to interject during proceedings.
“We were waiting for them to speak, they did not and the problem is the MPs of the BDP have started a new trend whereby they wait for the opposition to debate first and they attack us later when we have exhausted our numbers. It is now upon us as the opposition to decide on how we handle this issue going forward,” the Opposition Whip, Wynter Mmolotsi stated in an interview on Friday this week.
Mmolotsi of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) was the last MP to debate before the speaker called on Minister Matambo to respond and thus calling on the closure of the debate which was scheduled to continue until the 19th of this Month.
Six MPs in all had responded to Matambo’s speech and they include the leader of Opposition, Duma Boko and MP Tawana Moremi both of UDC and three BDP MPs, Guma Moyo, Liakat Kablay and Ignatius Moswaane.
There is no standard as to how the speaker balances the debate. MPs are called as they show their interest in debating by way of standing up as soon as the last speaker ends their debate. In the absence of such action, the speaker then calls on the Minister to respond so that the house can proceed to its next agenda.
However another opposition MP, Phenyo Butale also of the UDC faults the early closure of the budget debate on the Speaker whom he said should be seen to protect the integrity of Parliament. According to him the sudden closure of the debate was an ambush on opposition and the bigger loss is that “we are losing the quality of debate because some will have to speak when they are not prepared. It puts the very big question on the speakership. Why is he in haste to close the debate at every opportunity he gets as if it was a deliberate strategy? He nearly did the same with the State of the Nation Address.”
Minister Matambo who expressed disappointment at the quality of debate put on this year’s budget turned the tables on the opposition and says the lack of response shows that the government of the day has tabled such a good budget that the opposition failed to criticise it as it usually does.
“We, the government have submitted to the house and the nation. The speech belongs to the BDP and we cannot be the ones to speak first. The opposition had nothing to say about the economy of this country and the electorates have seen that. They have accepted the budget because we as the BDP government presented a well thought budget and distributed it fairly and that is why they had nothing to say to oppose it and I am happy.”
Although Matambo said he was happy, he admitted that when he was called to respond, he was not ready and he had to think on his feet.
“I am the one who was not ready. They cannot say they were not ready. They were given all the time until the 19th to express their views on the budget and come up with suggestions!” Matambo responded in a separate interview.
Nonetheless the opposition still have time to deliberate on the budget during the committee of supply session which is the next item on the agenda following the Minister’s response. According to Wynter Mmolotsi, who acts as Opposition Whip in Parliament, some MPs have not spoken because they could have wanted to zoom in at specific items during the committee of supply.
“This is unlike the state of the nation address where an Mp is given a single chance to debate. We still have time to debate at committee of supply stage. The BDP must really work on this issue and stop marking and frustrating the opposition. It happened in November (2014) during debates on the state of the nation address.
Each opportunity they got, they were ever keen to ask the Speaker to close the debate. That forced opposition MPs to debate before they were ready and the BDP had a field day afterwards, attacking us knowing very well that we have all used our slot,” Mmolotsi added. Of the fifty-seven Parliament seats, twenty are held by opposition with UDC having seventeen and Botswana Congress Party three.
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.