PRECEDENT SET: Assistant Minister of Education and Skills Development, Dr Unity Dow finds herself in an unfamiliar position of having to defend a matter involving a Ministry she is serving. The former Judge has decided not to argue the matter which she had originally won for her client in a P1.2 million award. Instead a different lawyer from her former law firm, Dow and Associates will take the podium against the Attorney General who is appealing the decision.
The Assistant Minister in the Ministry Education and Skills Development, Dr Unity Dow found herself between a rock and a hard place as she was notified of the Attorney General’s intention to appeal a matter she won in 2012.
Dow will on Monday briefly appear before a judge in a case in which the government is appealing her 2012 victory after she had successfully sued government for P1.2 million in damages for her client’s hand injuries, which she sustained in 2000 after being beaten by a teacher at Kgari Sechele Senior Secondary School.
Although there is no legal prohibition for Dow to argue her case as a Minister, she has chosen not to do so – presumably to avoid conflict of interest and in respect of the office that she holds. Dow who is a Specially Elected Member of Parliament ceased to be active at her firm, Dow and Associates upon taking her new office at the Ministry Education and Skills Development but assists behind the scenes according to sources.
Dow is expected to take a few minutes addressing the court over her painful recusal from the case of Bogadi Ramatlapeng against the Attorney General (AG) in which she believed and probably still believes in. The case will be argued by another lawyer at her firm instead.
In the grounds of appeal for the Monday case, the Attorney General argues that “the learned judge erred in coming to the conclusion that the respondent is entitled to the damages of 400 000.00 for pain and suffering. The award by trial court is palpable excessive or clearly disproportionate to the circumstances of this case”.
Attorney General further argues that the judge in his judgement misdirected himself in coming to the conclusion that the defendants are liable to plaintiff’s claim of P700 000.00 for permanent injury and disfigurement and P100 000.00 for future medical expenses. “The awarded damages are high and unreasonable,” reads AG’s court papers.
According to the Attorney General, the court “erred in concluding that the Appellants were liable without hearing expert testimony”.
Arguing her case then, Dow told judge Lot Moroka that she had been disappointed at the way the AG’s had been handling the case by not appearing in court or even honouring scheduled meetings.
She cited dates of failed meetings and court appearances from as far back as 2010 thanks to the defendant’s absence. Even after failure to respond to all these calls, the AG’s insisted that Ramatlapeng’s injury was not a result of that beating, but rather a fall that she sustained in 1998 as a result of her epilepsy.
Explaining her case to the court, Ramatlapeng had told court how she suffered intimidation and mistreatment from some of her teachers who did not even want to sympathise with her even though they understood her situation.
The injury, which was inflicted to an already epileptic Ramatlapeng led to inactiveness of her right hand because her fingers had curled to form a fist. A fracture on the thumb had also been discovered. With her injured right hand she can only support her left hand, but still feels pain on her right shoulder if she tries to use it.
Ramatlapeng continuously shed tears when she told court that she was mistreated and robbed of a bright future because she performed poorly at school that year, as no consideration was made for her situation. She had to learn to use her left hand at that crucial time of sitting for her final examinations.
Dow argued that even if AGs refused liability for the injury on the grounds that it was a result of a fall, it would still be irresponsible of Keetshabe to hit her on the same hand that she had sustained an injury on when falling. The lawyer also argued that the injury was permanent and had robbed Ramatlapeng of a decent livelihood.
Judge Moroka granted Ramatlapeng the P1.2 million compensation sought and 10% interest of the amount per annum.
Government is currently sitting on 4 400 vacant posts that remain unfilled in the civil service. This is notwithstanding the high unemployment rate in Botswana which has been exacerbated by the recent outbreak of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
Just before the burst of COVID-19, official data released by Statistics Botswana in January 2020, indicate that unemployment in Botswana has increased from 17.6 percent three years ago to 20.7 percent. “Unemployment rate went up by 3.1 percentage between the two periods, from 17.6 to 20.7 percent,” statistics point out.
Leading commercial bank, First National Bank Botswana (FNBB), expects the central bank to sharpen its monetary policy knife and cut the Bank Rate twice in the last quarter of 2020.
The bank expects a 25 basis point (bps) in the beginning of the last quarter, which is next month, and another shed by the same bps in December, making a total of 50 bps cut in the last quarter. According to the bank’s researchers, the central bank is now holding on to 4.25 percent for the time being pending for more informed data on the economic climate.
An audit of the accounts and records for the supply of food rations to the institutions in the Northern Region for the financial year-ended 31 March 2019 was carried out. According to Auditor General’s report and observations, there are weaknesses and shortcomings that were somehow addressed to the Accounting Officer for comments.
Auditor General, Pulane Letebele indicated on the report that, across all depots in the region that there had been instances where food items were short for periods ranging from 1 to 7 months in the institutions for a variety of reasons, including absence of regular contracts and supplier failures. The success of this programme is dependent on regular and reliable availability of the supplies to achieve its objective, the report said.
There would be instances where food items were returned from the feeding centers to the depots for reasons of spoilage or any other cause. In these cases, instances had been noted where these returns were not supported by any documentation, which could lead to these items being lost without trace.
The report further stressed that large quantities of various food items valued at over P772 thousand from different depots were damaged by rodents, and written off.Included in the write off were 13 538 (340ml) cartons of milk valued at P75 745. In this connection, the Auditor General says it is important that the warehouses be maintained to a standard where they would not be infested by rodents and other pests.
Still in the Northern region, the report noted that there is an outstanding matter relating to the supply of stewed steak (283×3.1kg cans) to the Maun depot which was allegedly defective. The steak had been supplied by Botswana Meat Commission to the depot in November 2016.
In March 2017 part of the consignment was reported to the supplier as defective, and was to be replaced. Even as there was no agreement reached between the parties regarding replacement, in 51 October 2018 the items in question were disposed of by destruction. This disposal represented a loss as the whole consignment had been paid for, according to the report.
“In my view, the loss resulted directly from failure by the depot managers to deal with the matter immediately upon receipt of the consignment and detection of the defects. Audit inspections during visits to Selibe Phikwe, Maun, Shakawe, Ghanzi and Francistown depots had raised a number of observations on points of detail related to the maintenance of records, reconciliations of stocks and related matters, which I drew to the attention of the Accounting Officer for comments,” Letebele said in her report.
In the Southern region, a scrutiny of the records for the control of stocks of food items in the Southern Region had indicated intermittent shortages of the various items, principally Tsabana, Malutu, Sunflower Oil and Milk which was mainly due to absence of subsisting contracts for the supply of these items.
“The contract for the supply of Tsabana to all depots expired in September 2018 and was not replaced by a substantive contract. The supplier contracts for these stocks should be so managed that the expiry of one contract is immediately followed by the commencement of the next.”
Suppliers who had been contracted to supply foodstuffs had failed to do so and no timely action had been taken to redress the situation to ensure continuity of supply of the food items, the report noted.
In one case, the report highlighted that the supplier was to manufacture and supply 1 136 metric tonnes of Malutu for a 4-months period from March 2019 to June 2019, but had been unable to honour the obligation. The situation was relieved by inter-depot transfers, at additional cost in transportation and subsistence expenses.
In another case, the contract was for the supply of Sunflower Oil to Mabutsane, where the supplier had also failed to deliver. Examination of the Molepolole depot Food Issues Register had indicated a number of instances where food items consigned to the various feeding centres had been returned for a variety of reasons, including food item available; no storage space; and in other cases the whole consignments were returned, and reasons not stated.
This is an indication of lack of proper management and monitoring of the affairs of the depot, which could result in losses from frequent movements of the food items concerned.The maintenance of accounting records in the region, typically in Letlhakeng, Tsabong, and Mabutsane was less than satisfactory, according to Auditor General’s report.
In these depots a number of instances had been noted where receipts and issues had not been recorded over long periods, resulting in incorrect balances reflected in the accounting records. This is a serious weakness which could lead to or result in losses without trace or detection, and is a contravention of Supplies Regulations and Procedures, Letebele said.
Similarly, consignments of a total of 892 bags of Malutu and 3 bags of beans from Tsabong depot to different feeding centres had not been received in those centres, and are considered lost. These are also not reflected in the Statement of Losses in the Annual Statements of Accounts for the same periods.