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Freedom of Expression versus Restraint

Freedom of expression has come to the fore of debate nowadays more than it has ever appeared in our history as a nation. We are not surprised at the developments surrounding this inalienable freedom for obvious reasons.

One among many facts is clear. Botswana of 2014 boasts 20 mainstream media outfits. For a population estimated at two million, the ratio translates to 100, 000 people per media outfit, essentially. This scenario presents both an opportunity and risk where freedom of expression is mentioned. There are 13 newspapers, two television channels and five radio stations. The question should not be whether there is or no freedom of expression in Botswana; rather, what should freedom of expression be about in a democracy as ours is the question? Of course freedom of expression as enshrined in the Constitution should be about people’s opinions, beliefs, ideals, analyses, facts, reflections and so forth and should be exercised uninhibited. Freedom of expression should not be about outright insults, inciting public indecency, provoking violence or instigating hatred against others on the basis of ethnicity, sexual orientation, creed, political persuasion or religious heritage. As a plural democracy, one such hefty price that nations in this mould inevitably pay is unequivocal embrace of the freedom of expression by citizens and individuals.

God-fearing ministers can boldly declare their intolerance and apparent hatred for homosexuals, bisexuals and transgendered humans, yet preach ‘Jesus is love’ whom the Bible consistently depicts as having embraced immoral beings. What about politicians who publicly state that criminals deserve cruel deaths at the hands of security agents without a day in court, or worse still, citizens who make known their hatred for Zimbabweans to ruthlessly obliterate them with gunshots because they demanded a wage for their hard labour? These are clear examples of where freedom of expression is abused. These days, reading newspapers, listening to the radios or watching television; one realizes just how far off we have come to understand the freedom of expression in the things we say or do to others.

The truth is that all of us resent freedoms of others when their beliefs or opinions clash with ours. I remind myself whenever I listen to the phone-in shows in the morning, when the notorious voices call in and their viewpoint on any subject is a foregone guess by regular listeners. But no matter how much these callers are annoying to wear the same lens in gazing upon life in general, they are simply expressing their freedoms in an open Republic. It thus serves no purpose to show anger and intolerance of other people’s dissenting viewpoints.

In short, life will be utter boredom if everyone praised and glorified certain things and people without question or some degree of cynicism. But should our expressions necessitate enmity, or in some cases hatred to the extent that nowadays it is common to hear Batswana fearing that our nation is falling apart at the centre? Recently, the brief statement from the American Government to Botswana Government on the detention of Sunday Standard Editor Outsa Mokone made me realize how close a friend we have so much that America cared to remind Botswana of her moral high pedestal from where she probably is slipping into the darkness that defines African nations. But what came from the Government enclave was vitriolic and completely misplaced. In the exercise of our freedom of expression as a sovereign Government, we overreacted. When governments speak to one another, they are encapsulating the nation’s aspirations and beliefs.

We are likely divided on the appropriateness or lack thereof of the Government’s response, and that is to be expected; but in our freedoms of expression, we should never lose sight that we are Batswana. Weeks ago, the Btv entertainment show beamed one of our local artists with a hit ‘Ke kenta basadi fela’ and my family like many others during prime time-viewing was watching. I imagined the impact of the lyrics and sexual gestures on impressionable minds who are the primary target of the show. Not long after that, the national broadcaster played another hit titled ‘Leso la Monnamogolo le mpereketse’ and as I listened attentively, there was no ambiguity as to the glamorization of sex and promotion of sexual immorality. Both songs are about sexual intercourse and nothing about healthy relationships between men and women. They are about exploitation of the female species by the masculine males, who are edified by the many sexual escapades, whether such intimacies demean those they are in contact with is not relevant, much less important.

These two songs are examples of freedom of expression gone haywire because they depict a society that is misogynist and sexist in as far as relationships between men and women are concerned. It is thus disappointing that our broadcasters and even regulators in BOCRA do not seem to pick on such creativity to steer our composers to focus on nation-building themes. No parent wants to raise a boy-child who shall for lack of a better word, turn into a womaniser or player. Both songs run contrary to our moral ethos and botho as we know them to be fundamental pillars of this great nation. How can the death of a grandfather benefit a grandson who inherits the widow and indeed his own grandmother for sexual pleasures? It is an abomination of the worst order in our Setswana culture as this is an act of incest and violation of observance of seniority, where boys know their age limits where intercourse is concerned.

But the artist might have an argument that his composition is in fact a rendition of life in the fast-decaying moral fibre of Botswana. Haven’t we seen cases of incest in this form brought before our courts? Any person must and can exercise the freedom of expression, so long that freedom does not infringe upon others’ freedoms to express their opinions, beliefs, ideals and facts. Since we are in an election year toward the D-day, politicians’ statements are often times classic examples of how freedom of expression is put to the litmus test. Any politician who is unable to tackle the real issues of service delivery and how he can improve the lives of his voters usually finds character assassination the only weapon. Such a man or woman cannot be prevented from speaking his mind regarding the opponent, but in so doing, such a politician must make sure that whatever he says of another person is relevant, factual, fair and truthful comment. But cheap politicking across parties is what we are treated to on a daily basis and some make comments you can never figure out what fuelled them in the first place.

For example, political opponents in one constituency during radio debate disagreed on who between them as past members of Parliament can be credited for the landmark infrastructure in their area, which is the pride of the voters. One in a desperate move to score points told his opponent that he advocated for the particular development because the construction of the landmark was during a moment when his opponent attempted suicide and was hospitalized following his loss. Picking on such a painful and personal moment in someone’s life might smack of insincerity on the other party, but politicians seize every moment to score mileage, and skeletons concealed in closets come out rattling during an election year! The onus is on the one being attacked to clear his name by stating facts to defeat the disparaging remarks, or bring into focus what the attacker has done or said in the past to denounce him in similar fashion. Clearly from this case, the freedom of expression might have been overstretched to vilify another person, but the nicety about democracy is that the attacker cannot remain immune from similar disparaging remarks. It is thus morally expected to freely express one’s opinion about others because others can freely express their impressions about you.

The news article that led to the flight of Edgar Tsimane was in fact projecting President Ian Khama as a fugitive from [the] law after being reported to have had an automobile accident. Should the President not be the torchbearer when it comes to upholding the laws of the Republic? The President is the embodiment of Democracy and all values underpinning democracy, the respect of law being prominent. Should the newspaper have exercised restraint in publishing such an article with high risk of a backlash, if its truthfulness was to be doubted? Yes. But we hear from the editors that they ran the checklist of a factual story before publishing it. Like anybody who must fight to have his dignity and reputation intact, the President must not be restricted from approaching the courts to prove his innocence and seek redress in a defamation suit. But then there is a problem, we are cautioned; Khama cannot take off a layer of his office and present himself as an ordinary citizen 365 days in a given year, therefore, approaching the courts is tantamount to opening a Pandora’s box in that he shall be cross-examined like any witness! If he is immune from civil prosecution, it suffices he may not sue because he does not enjoy a personal capacity like the rest of us. So, bad things can be said about him and he cannot have a recourse? Presidency costs too dearly!

On the other hand, the matter does not need to reach the courts if the publishers were to satisfy areas that can point clearly in the direction that the article was well researched with ample evidence and proof that can be shared with the public without coercion from any quarters, for example a picture of the other vehicle involved in the accident, since our President [is alleged to have] fled immediately! I think such evidence would in fact have been the most appropriate to be splashed on the front page because it would support the story in terms of the exact location of the accident, and the owner of the vehicle would have to prove that it was not the President’s car that he hit. I think in as far as proof is concerned, the President’s office must be commended for sharing with the nation their version, where one of the fleet used by His Excellency was involved in an accident, but in Dibete, some 100 kilometres away from the capital. In journalism, it is not enviable practice to disclose news sources if they volunteered information on anonymity basis, hence the hotel employee from whom the story is alleged to have originated should not be revealed under any circumstances because of the confidentiality clause.

In exercising our freedoms of expression, therefore; creative writers, journalists, performing artists, composers and politicians must observe moral ethos over and above our professional codes of conduct to remind ourselves of the need for restraint, where in doubt of information in our possession to pass for facts. As it has been said countless times; freedoms and civil liberties do not exist in a vacuum; those in the enjoyment of such freedoms must make sure they reciprocate with high degree of responsibility, otherwise we are recycling an heirloom that is too much for us to handle in the now and future. Where we have been reckless, we must not cry foul but dance to the music, especially if we cannot humble ourselves to beg for pardon and mercy from those we have violated. After all; to err is human, to forgive is divine!

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Opinions

Can we cure ourselves from the cancer of corruption?

28th October 2020
DCEC DIRECTOR: Tymon Katholo

Bokani Lisa Motsu

“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.” Carl Sagan

Corruption is a heavy price to pay. The clean ones pay and suffer at the mercy of people who cannot have enough. They always want to eat and eat so selfishly like a bunch of ugly masked shrews. I hope God forgives me for ridiculing his creatures, but that mammal is so greedy. But corruption is not the new kid on the block, because it has always been everywhere.

This of course begs the question, why that is so? The common answer was and still is – abuse and misuse of power by those in power and weak institutions, disempowered to control the leaders. In 1996, the then President of The World Bank, James D. Wolfensohn named the ‘C-Word’ for the first time during an annual meeting of the Bretton Woods Institutions. A global fight against corruption started. Transparency International began its work. Internal and external audits mushroomed; commissions of inquiry followed and ever convoluted public tender procedures have become a bureaucratic nightmare to the private sector, trying to fight red tape.

The result is sobering corruption today is worse than it was 25 years ago. There is no denying that strong institutions help, but how does it come that in the annual Transparency International Ranking the same group of countries tend to be on the top while another group of countries, many African among them, tend to be on the bottom? Before one jumps to simple and seductive conclusions let us step back a moment.

Wolfensohn called corruption a cancer that destroys economies like a cancer destroys a body. A cancer is, simplified, good cells in a body gone bad, taking control of more and more good cells until the entire body is contaminated and eventually dies. So, let us look at the good cells of society first: they are family ties, clan and tribe affiliation, group cohesion, loyalty, empathy, reciprocity.

Most ordinary people like the reader of these lines or myself would claim to share such values. Once we ordinary people must make decisions, these good cells kick in: why should I hire a Mrs. Unknown, if I can hire my niece whose strengths and weaknesses I know? If I hire the niece, she will owe me and support my objectives.

Why should I purchase office furniture from that unknown company if I know that my friend’s business has good quality stuff? If I buy from him, he will make an extra effort to deliver his best and provide quality after sales service? So, why go through a convoluted tender process with uncertain outcome? In the unlikely case my friend does not perform as expected, I have many informal means to make him deliver, rather than going through a lengthy legal proceeding?

This sounds like common sense and natural and our private lives do work mostly that way and mostly quite well.

The problem is scale. Scale of power, scale of potential gains, scale of temptations, scale of risk. And who among us could throw the first stone were we in positions of power and claim not to succumb to the temptations of scale? Like in a body, cancer cells start growing out of proportion.

So, before we call out for new leaders – experience shows they are rarely better than the old ones – we need to look at ourselves first. But how easy is that? If I were the niece who gets the job through nepotism, why should I be overly critical? If I got a big furniture contract from a friend, why should I spill the beans? What right do I have to assume that, if I were a president or a minister or a corporate chief procurement officer I would not be tempted?

This is where we need to learn. What is useful, quick, efficient, and effective within a family or within a clan or a small community can become counterproductive and costly and destructive at larger corporate or national scale. Our empathy with small scale reciprocity easily permeates into complacency and complicity with large scale corruption and into an acquiescence with weak institutions to control it.

Our institutions can only be as strong as we wish them to be.

I was probably around ten years old and have always been that keen enthusiastic child that also liked to sing the favourite line of, ‘the world will become a better place.’  I would literally stand in front of a mirror and use my mom’s torch as a mic and sing along Michael Jackson’s hit song, ‘We are the world.’

Despite my horrible voice, I still believed in the message.  Few years later, my annoyance towards the world’s corrupt system wonders whether I was just too naïve. Few years later and I am still in doubt so as to whether I should go on blabbing that same old boring line. ‘The world is going to be a better place.’ The question is, when?

The answer is – as always: now.

This is pessimistic if not fatalistic – I challenge Sagan’s outlook with a paraphrased adage of unknown origin: Some people can be bamboozled all of the time, all people can be bamboozled some of the time, but never will all people be bamboozled all of the time.

We, the people are the only ones who can heal society from the cancer of corruption. We need to understand the temptation of scale and address it. We need to stop seeing ourselves just a victim of a disease that sleeps in all of us. We need to give power to the institutions that we have put in place to control corruption: parliaments, separation of power, the press, the ballot box. And sometimes we need to say as a niece – no, I do not want that job as a favour, I want it because I have proven to be better than other contenders.

It is going to be a struggle, because it will mean sacrifices, but sacrifices that we have chosen, not those imposed on us.

Let us start today.

*Bokani Lisa Motsu is a student at University of Botswana

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Opinions

Accounting Officers are out of touch with reality

19th October 2020

Parliament, the second arm of State through its parliamentary committees are one of Botswana’s most powerful mechanisms to ensure that government is held accountable at all times. The Accounting Officers are mostly Permanent Secretaries across government Ministries and Chief Executive Officers, Director Generals, Managing Directors of parastatals, state owned enterprises and Civil Society.

So parliament plays its oversight authority via the legislators sitting on a parliamentary committee and Accounting Officers sitting in the hot chair.  When left with no proper checks and balances, the Executive is prone to abuse the arrangement and so systematic oversight of the executive is usually carried out by parliamentary committees.  They track the work of various government departments and ministries, and conduct scrutiny into important aspects of their policy, direction and administration.

It is not rocket science that effective oversight requires that committees be totally independent and able to set their own agendas and have the power to summon ministers and top civil servants to appear and answer questions. Naturally, Accounting Officers are the highest ranking officials in the government hierarchy apart from cabinet Ministers and as such wield much power and influence in the performance of government.  To illustrate further, government performance is largely owed to the strategic and policy direction of top technocrats in various Ministries.

It is disheartening to point out that the recent parliament committees — as has been the case all over the years — has laid bare the incompetency, inadequacy and ineptitude of people bestowed with great responsibilities in public offices. To say that they are ineffective and inefficient sounds as an understatement. Some appear useless and hopeless when it comes to running the government despite the huge responsibility they possess.

If we were uncertain about the degree at which the Accounting Officers are incompetent, the ongoing parliament committees provide a glaring answer.  It is not an exaggeration to say that ordinary people on the streets have been held ransom by these technocrats who enjoy their air conditioned offices and relish being chauffeured around in luxurious BX SUV’s while the rest of the citizenry continue to suffer. Because of such high life the Accounting Officers seem to have, with time, they have gotten out of touch with the people they are supposed to serve.

An example; when appearing before the recent Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Office of the President Permanent Secretary, Thuso Ramodimoosi, looked reluctant to admit misuse of public funds. Although it is clear funds were misused, he looked unbothered when committee members grilled him over the P80 million Orapa House building that has since morphed into a white elephant for close to 10 successive years. To him, it seems it did not matter much and PAC members were worried for nothing.

On a separate day, another Accounting officer, Director of Public Service Management (DPSM), Naledi Mosalakatane, was not shy to reveal to PAC upon cross-examination that there exist more than 6 000 vacancies in government. Whatever reasons she gave as an excuse, they were not convincing and the committee looked sceptical too. She was faltering and seemed not to have a sense of urgency over the matter no matter how critical it is to the populace.

Botswana’s unemployment rate hoovers around 18 percent in a country where majority of the population is the youth, and the most affected by unemployment. It is still unclear why DPSM could underplay such a critical matter that may threaten the peace and stability of the country.
Accounting Officers clearly appear out of touch with the reality out there – if the PAC examinations are anything to go by.

Ideally the DPSM Director could be dropping the vacancy post digits while sourcing funds and setting timelines for the spaces to be filled as a matter of urgency so that the citizens get employed to feed their families and get out of unemployment and poverty ravaging the country.
The country should thank parliamentary committees such as PAC to expose these abnormalities and the behaviour of our leaders when in public office. How can a full Accounting Officer downplay the magnitude of the landless problem in Botswana and fail to come with direct solutions tailor made to provide Batswana with the land they desperately need?

Land is a life and death matter for some citizens, as we would know.

When Bonolo Khumotaka, the Accounting Officer in the Ministry of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services, whom as a top official probably with a lucrative pay too appears to be lacking sense of urgency as she is failing on her key mandate of working around the clock to award the citizens with land especially those who need it most like the marginalised.  If government purports they need P94 billion to service land to address the land crisis what is plan B for government? Are we going to accept it the way it is?

Government should wake up from its slumber and intervene to avoid the 30 years unnecessary waiting period in State land and 13 years in Tribal land.  Accounting Officers are custodians of government policy, they should ensure it is effective and serve its purpose. What we have been doing over the years, has proved that it is not effective, and clearly there is a need for change of direction.

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Is it possible to make people part of your business resilience planning after the State of Public Emergency?

12th October 2020

THABO MAJOLA

His Excellency Dr Mokgweetsi EK Masisi, the President of the Republic of Botswana found it appropriate to invoke Section 17 (1) of the Constitution of the Republic of Botswana, using the powers vested in him to declare a State of Public Emergency starting from the 2nd April 2020 at midnight.

The constitutional provision under Section 17 (2b) only provided that such a declaration could be up to a maximum of 21 days. His Excellency further invoked Section 93 (1) to convene an extra- ordinary meeting of Parliament to have the opportunity to consult members of parliament on measures that have been put in place to address the spread and transmission of the virus. At this meeting Members of Parliament passed a resolution on the legal instruments and regulations governing the period of the state of emergency, and extended its duration by six (6) months.

The passing of the State of Emergency is considered as a very crucial step in fighting the near apocalyptic potential of the Novel COVID-19 virus. One of the interesting initiatives that was developed and extended to the business community was a 3-month wage subsidy that came with a condition that no businesses would retrench for the duration of the State of Public Emergency. This has potentially saved many people’s jobs as most companies would have been extremely quick to reduce expenses by downsizing. Self-preservation as some would call it.

Most organisations would have tried to reduce costs by letting go of people, retreated and tried their best to live long enough to fight another day. In my view there is silver lining that we need to look at and consider. The fact that organisations are not allowed to retrench has forced certain companies to look at the people with a long-term view.

Most leaders have probably had to wonder how they are going to ensure that their people are resilient. Do they have team members who innovate and add value to the organisation during these testing times? Do they even have resilient people or are they just waiting for the inevitable end? Can they really train people and make them resilient? How can your team members be part of your recovery plan? What can they do to avoid losing the capabilities they need to operate meaningfully for the duration of the State of Public Emergency and beyond?

The above questions have forced companies to reimagine the future of work. The truth is that no organisation can operate to its full potential without resilient people. In the normal business cycle, new teams come on board; new business streams open, operations or production sites launch or close; new markets develop, and technology is introduced. All of this provides fresh opportunities – and risks.

The best analogy I have seen of people-focused resilience planning reframes employees as your organisation’s immune system, ready and prepared to anticipate risks and ensure they can tackle challenges, fend off illness and bounce back more quickly.  So, how do you supercharge your organizational immune system to become resilient?

COVID-19 has helped many organisations realize they were not as prepared as they believed themselves to be. Now is the time to take stock and reset for the future. All the strategies and plans prior to COVID-19 arriving in Botswana need to be thrown out of the window and you need to develop a new plan today. There is no room for tweaking or reframing. Botswana has been disrupted and we need to accept and embrace the change. What we initially anticipated as a disease that would take a short term is turning out to be something we are going to have to live with for a much longer time. It is going to be a marathon and therefore businesses need to have a plan to complete this marathon.

Start planning. Planning for change can help reduce employee stress, anxiety, and overall fear, boosting the confidence of staff and stakeholders. Think about conducting and then regularly refreshing a strategic business impact analysis, look at your employee engagement scores, dig into your customer metrics and explore the way people work alongside your behaviours and culture. This research will help to identify what you really want to protect, the risks that you need to plan for and what you need to survive during disruption. Don’t forget to ask your team members for their input. In many cases they are closest to critical business areas and already have ideas to make processes and systems more robust.

Revisit your organisational purpose. Purpose, values and principles are powerful tools. By putting your organisation’s purpose and values front and center, you provide clear decision-making guidelines for yourself and your organisation. There are very tough and interesting decisions to make which have to be made fast; so having guiding principles on which the business believes in will help and assist all decision makers with sanity checking the choices that are in front of them. One noticeable characteristic of companies that adapt well during change is that they have a strong sense of identity. Leaders and employees have a shared sense of purpose and a common performance culture; they know what the company stands for beyond shareholder value and how to get things done right.

Revisit your purpose and values. Understand if they have been internalised and are proving useful. If so, find ways to increase their use. If not, adapt them as necessities, to help inspire and guide people while immunizing yourself against future disruption. Design your employee experience. The most resilient, adaptive and high performing companies are made up of people who know each other, like each other, and support each other.

Adaptability requires us to teach other, speak up and discuss problems, and have a collective sense of belonging. Listening to your team members is a powerful and disruptive thing to do. It has the potential to transform the way you manage your organisation. Enlisting employees to help shape employee experience, motivates better performance, increases employee retention and helps you spot issues and risks sooner. More importantly, it gives employees a voice so you can get active and constructive suggestions to make your business more robust by adopting an inclusive approach.

Leaders need to show they care. If you want to build resilience, you must build on a basis of trust. And this means leaders should listen, care, and respond. It’s time to build the entire business model around trust and empathy. Many of the employees will be working under extreme pressure due to the looming question around what will happen when companies have to retrench. As a leader of a company transparency and open communication are the most critical aspects that need to be illustrated.

Take your team member into confidence because if you do have to go through the dreaded excise of retrenchment you have to remember that those people the company retains will judge you based on the process you follow. If you illustrate that the business or organization has no regard for loyalty and commitment, they will never commit to the long-term plans of the organisation which will leave you worse off in the end. Its an absolutely delicate balance but it must all be done in good faith. Hopefully, your organization will avoid this!

This is the best time to revisit your identify and train your people to encourage qualities that build strong, empathetic leadership; self-awareness and control, communication, kindness and psychological safety.  Resilience is the glue that binds functional silos and integrates partners, improves communications, helps you prepare, listen and understand. Most importantly, people-focused resilience helps individuals and teams to think collectively and with empathy – helping you respond and recover faster.

Article written by Thabo Majola, a brand communications expert with a wealth of experience in the field and is Managing Director of Incepta Communications.

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