Ministers, Judges, MPs escape jail
Members of Parliament (MPs) for the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), acting in cahoots with opposing political parties legislators, on Tuesday circumvented the wheels of justice by changing the recently passed law on Declaration of Assets and Liabilities in order to avoid facing imprisonment.
The deadline to have declared was this week on the 20th February 2020 and contravention of the Act attracts a fine of P20 000 or an imprisonment term of two (2) years or both. However, following signal from government top officials, the MPs on Wednesday moved swiftly to amend the law at the 11th hour – two days before deadline as prescribed by the law – to avoid a fine of failure to declare assets. The new amendments have provided a relief not only to MPs but to Judges and other high ranking government officials.
President Mokgweetsi Masisi assented to the law on 22d October 2019 when it commenced into law – a day before the hotly contested 2019 General Elections. The Declaration of Assets and Liabilities Act was brought to parliament in a strange manner and enacted on the 2nd of September 2019. The hurried manner was largely seen as luring voters to elect the ruling BDP by way of rewarding it for having brought the crucial law which has been on the cards since 1999, when it was first tabled in parliament by former Minister of Health, Joy Phumaphi.
When the law finally passed last year, the implementation meant that Ministers, Judges, MP’s and top government officers (at E band and above) are now mandated to declare their assets and failure means defiance of the law. Before amending the law, Section 8 (1) as read with section 7 (5) of the Act, provided that a person subject to the Act shall make a declaration in the prescribed form within 60 days after – a) the coming into operation of this Act; b) his or her appointment or assumption of office or; c) the taking and subscribing before the National Assembly, of an oath of allegiance.
After amending the Act this week, Clause 2 of the Bill was amended by inserting, immediately after section 8 (which provides for when declarations are to be made), a new section; being section 8a) now provides “for an extension of time by the Minister.”The section now provides that “the Minister may, by order, extend the time provided therein (60 days), by any period that he or she considers necessary or expedient, provided that such period of extension shall not exceed twelve months.”
Minister of Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration, Kabo Morwaeng thanked all the MP’s from across the political aisle to having agreed with the amendment and passed the law. “Let me thank you MPs for agreeing with this Bill wholeheartedly. We did this both as the ruling party legislators together with the opposition. We were all in agreement. Let me also point out that we are doing this in the interest of the whole nation and not for the selected few,” he said this from the floor of Parliament.
Meanwhile, when presenting the Bill, Morwaeng said the Declaration of Assets and Liabilities Act of 2019 was intended to complement existing legislation by regulating declaration of assets and liabilities of MPs, Senior government officials, Judiciary and officers employed by public bodies and private enterprises – “to monitor their assets and liabilities for purposes of detecting corruption, money laundering and acquisition of property from proceeds of crime.”
He was at pains in explaining that although the Act came into effect on the 22nd of October 2019, MPs, Ministers and Judges failed to declare not once but on two occasions. “The Act came into effect on the 22nd of October 2019. As a result declarations should have been submitted by 22nd of December 2019. But due to ‘administration challenges’ however, the declaration form was only prescribed on the 20th December 2019,” he stated.
He also attributed the breaking of the law to the late prescription of the form and the declaration which only, at the time of presenting this amendments, had about 2 days before the lapse of the declaration period. “Even assuming that 60 days declaration period should be reckoned from the time that the form was prescribed, only about a day is left before the period expires [20th February],” he added.
Morwaeng justified that though the focus currently is building the necessary administrative capacity to ensure effective implementation of the provisions of the Act, “there exists some level of discomfort among potential declarants that the penalties for the late submission of the declaration could be levied on them”.
BDP and Opposition MP’s show support for the controversial amendments
On his part, UDC legislator for Okavango, Kenny Kapinga told Parliament that he is in full support of the amendments as put forward by the Minister. “Personally, I don’t think we should be delaying with this issue. All that the Minister is asking for is to be authorised to extend the period as he has prescribed in the proposed amendment. I don’t think there is any reasons to oppose such a proposal. So I stand to support the proposed amendment and think we can minimise the debate on this issue by just passing this thing,” he said.
Mmusi Kgafela, Mochudi West BDP legislator also had this to say, “As MPs we make laws for peace building and harmony and enhance the smooth running of the country. If we don’t give the Minister permission to extend the period of declaration, many of us will be criminals, tomorrow. This will extinguish the peace that has been reigning in the country.” In addition Paulson Majaga who is Nata/Gweta BDP MP also agreed with Morwaeng’s amendments.
“We are the law makers and so it is upon us to pass and review all laws as we see fit. So that whatever law we do, for today and the next generation, and for the nation they must be happy. Law must be carefully passed because they take long to be amended. We have always agreed that there is need for such declared law,” he said. According to another BDP law maker, Ignatius Moswaane, the issue is not about MPs changing the law to benefit them per se.
He explained: “the main reason is, in which I support you Minister, is that this is not intended to benefit only MPs but also others like Judiciary, Ministers and top government officials which they are supposed to declare. But we are looking at the loopholes of the law which is unsettling – to avoid jailing the whole nation. One of them include that some assets include having valued them which may be a challenge for some because of lack of sufficient money. So others must not be jailed because of this even if they have good intentions.”
Moswaane further said that this law was not made for elections as some want to posit. “It was necessary as the nation has been waiting for it for years. It is what Batswana wanted,” he stressed. Meanwhile Leader of Opposition (LOO) and UDC Vice President Dumelang Saleshando also was in agreement with the amendments; “I support the request by the Minister.” He however pointed out his reservations pertaining to the law: ‘‘but I want to just state a few reservations,’’ he said.
“I am not a fan of Bills that come here on urgency. You were appointed Minister early November. You should have anticipated some of these things. Clearly within the Ministry someone slept on the job and now we have to mop up what is essentially a mess not of our doing,” he highlighted. The Maun West MP explained that the law making process in Botswana has a number of safe guards to make sure that MPs do not find themselves in the situation they found themselves in on Tuesday, indicating that, “one of those is that after a Bill has been passed by the house, the President is allowed some time to reflect and consult further before he assents to it.”
He added: “but you know this particular one was one of those laws that were rushed in the race to the General Elections. And it doesn’t surprise us that it was actually only assented to on the 22nd October, a day before elections. There was a rush for the law to assist with campaigns. Now we are here in a mess.” Saleshando said he hopes that in future, they do not take pride in saying that Parliament passed a whole number of Acts in one night and claim that it is good for productivity because if they do that, they will end up in such scenario.
He continued: “One gets the impression that the only difficulty with the law is the looming deadline. I think you [Minister Morwaeng] need to be more open to the public and the nation and let the nation know that there are essentially clauses in the law that require of us to look them again. Nothing to do with the deadline. But because it’s simply not implementable.” The Leader of Opposition further highlighted that if Morwaeng does not state that when he comes back to Parliament, even if its six months later with a set of new proposals to amend, he is going to raise suspicions about the real motive.
“Was it just the deadline? If it was the deadline we got the extension, where is the desire to amend now coming from? So I think it will be better in your response Minister, that you disclose to the nation that it’s much more than the deadline because also that you plan to amend because some of the clauses make it almost impossible for the law to become operational,” he said.
“I want to state it upfront that when it gets to that point where the law or where you will be presenting the amendments, we, from our side we suggest that the Bill to amend be committed to a Special Select Committee that will engage with the larger public about what should go into the law or [what] should not be part of it.”
For Saleshando, it is critical because to be honest they are an interested party and essentially they are conflicted. “If you do not want to be seen by the public, which is highly suspicious of politicians about the assets they have and their willingness to disclose, it will be very critical that the amendments be subjected to a Special Select Committee which will consult more broadly on the law,” Saleshando emphasised.
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Local tennis team upbeat ahead of Billie Jean King cup
With almost two weeks until the 2023 Billie Jean King Cup, which will be staged in Kenya from June 12-17, 2023, the Botswana Tennis Association (BTA) ladies’ team coach, Ernest Seleke, is optimistic about reaching greater heights.
Billie Jean King Cup, or the BJK Cup, is a premier international team competition in women’s tennis, launched as the Federation Cup to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the International Tennis Federation (ITF). The BJK Cup is the world’s largest annual women’s international team sports competition in terms of the number of nations that compete.
The finals will feature 12 teams (Botswana, Burundi, Ghana, Kenya, Seychelles, Morocco, Namibia, Nigeria, Tunisia, Mauritius, Zimbabwe, and the Democratic Republic of Congo) competing in the four round-robin groups of three. The four group winners will qualify for the semifinals, and the 2023 Billie Jean King Cup will be crowned after the completion of the knockout phase.
Closer to home, the BW Tennis team is comprised of Thato Madikwe, Leungo Monnayoo, Chelsea Chakanyuka, and Kelebogile Monnayoo. However, according to Seleke, they have not assembled the team yet as some of the players are still engaged.
“At the moment, we are depending on the players and their respective coaches in terms of training. However, I will meet up with Botswana-based players in the coming week, while the United States of America (USA) based player Madikwe will probably meet us in Kenya. Furthermore, Ekua Youri and Naledi Raguin, who are based in Spain and France respectively, will not be joining us as they will be writing their examinations,” said Seleke.
Seleke further highlighted the significance of this competition and how competitive it is. “It is a massive platform for our players to showcase their talent in tennis, and it is very competitive as countries target to get promoted to the world categories where they get to face big nations such as Spain, France, USA, and Italy. Though we are going to this tournament as underdogs because it is our second time participating, I’m confident that the girls will put in a good showing and emerge with results despite the odds,” highlighted Seleke.
Quizzed about their debut performance at the BJK Cup, he said, “I think our performance was fair considering the fact that we were newbies. We came third in our group after losing to North Macedonia and South Africa. We went on to beat Uganda, then Kenya in the playoffs. Unfortunately, we couldn’t play Burundi due to heavy rainfall and settled for the position 9/10,” he said.
For her part, team representative Leungo Monnayoo said they are working hard as they aim to do well at the tourney. “The preparations for the tourney have long begun because we practice each and every day. We want to do well, hence we need to be motivated. Furthermore, I believe in my team as we have set ourselves a big target of coming home with the trophy,” she said.
Pep Stores donates sanitary towels to Popagano JSS
The Guidance and Counseling unit at Popagano Junior Secondary School received a donation of 790 sanitary towels from Pep stores on Thursday.
When presenting the donation, Mareledi Thebeng, the Dinokaneng Area Manager, highlighted their belief in giving back to the community, as their existence depends on the communities they serve. Thebeng pointed out that research indicates one in four girls miss school every day due to the lack of basic necessities like sanitary towels. Therefore, as a company, they strive to assist in alleviating this situation. She expressed hope that this donation would help ensure uninterrupted learning for girls.
Upon receiving the donation on behalf of the students, Charity Sambire, the President of the Student Representative Council, expressed her gratitude. Sambire specifically thanked Pep Store for their generous gift, speaking on behalf of the students, especially the girl child.
She conveyed their sincere appreciation for Pep Store’s compassion and quoted the adage, “Blessed is the hand that gives.” Sambire expressed the students’ hope for Pep Stores’ prosperity, enabling them to continue supporting the students. As a gesture of gratitude, the students pledged to excel academically.
During her speech, Motlalepula Madome, the Senior Teacher in Guidance and Counseling, highlighted that many students at the school come from disadvantaged backgrounds where parents struggle to provide basic necessities. Consequently, some students miss school when they experience menstruation due to this lack.
Madome emphasized the significance of the donation in preventing the girl child from missing lessons and its potential to improve the school’s overall results. She expressed the school’s gratitude and expressed a desire for continued support from Pep Stores.
Popagano Junior Secondary School, situated in the Okavango District, holds the second position academically in the North West region. Despite its location, the school has been dedicated to achieving excellence since 2017
Botswana misses out critical PAP committee meeting
The Pan African Parliament (PAP) committee on gender, family, youth and people with disability in its sitting considered, adopted and recommended to the plenary session the preliminary report on the framework for the model law on gender equality.
According to the last week’s media release from PAP which is sitting with its various committees until June 2nd, the committee is following up the PAP initiative to draw up a model law on gender equality to enable national governments to harmonize, modernize and standardize their legislations to address local needs is set to be discussed in Plenary.
However, what is concerning is the fact that Botswana which is a member state missed the deliberations. Kgosi Mosadi Seboko who sat in the committee representing Botswana has since been ejected by parliament and this is a huge blow for a nation that is still battling equity and gender balance.
“Although PAP has no legislative powers it makes model laws for member states to adopt. PAP also develops protocols to be ratified by countries. The input of countries at Committee state is extremely critical. It now means the voice of Botswana is missing the discussions leading up to development of protocols or model laws,” said one of Botswana’s representative at PAP Dr. Kesitegile Gobotswang who is attending the current session.
While Botswana is missing, the committee meeting took place on the sidelines of the Sixth PAP second ordinary Session being held under the African Union Theme of the Year for 2023, “The Year of AfCFTA: Accelerating the Implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area” in Midrand, South Africa and will run up to 2 June 2023. Chairperson of the Committee, Hon Mariam Dao-Gabala expressed satisfaction with preliminary processes undertaken so far towards the formulation of the Model Law,” a release from the PAP website reads.
“The law should be suitable to all countries whatever the predominant culture or religion is. The aim is to give an opportunity to women to participate in the economic, political and social development of the continent. Women are not well positioned and face a lot of obstacles. We are introducing the idea of equity in the Law because we cannot talk about equality without equity,” said Hon Mariam Dao-Gabala in the press statement.
The release has stated that among issues to be covered by the Model Law is the migratory movements of women. The Committee proffered that this has to be addressed at the continental level to ensure that migrant women enjoy all their rights and live with dignity in their destination country. The members of the Gender Committee undertook consultations to consolidate the contributions of the various stakeholders that will be the logical framework format for the Model Law.