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Parliament: An Institution that needs all Powers Necessary, As We Need Oxygen

Do we really understand the powers that parliamentarians have in our lives? A re a thaloganya gore thopho ga se thopho hela, at time it is a life and death issue?

A re a thaloganya gore mopalamente yo o mo thophang ke ene a tsayang ditshwetso le go dira melao ya gore a Motswana o hiwa melemo, o ya sekolong, o bona tiro, o okeletswa madi, o bula kgwebo, le gore o e bula jang ko kae? A re a thaloganya gore thopho ga se thopho hela ya go tsenya party ya sepolotiki mo pusong?

If we get it, but keep forgetting then let me remind us of the importance of voting our members of Parliament, and how important an institution this body is. This is building on the last article on the Parliament with Power, Without Powers. When we vote MPs we are voting our law makers, but we are also voting, ideally, for people who will hold the Executive accountable. Hence it is important to put in place oversight mechanisms to ensure that oversight. One would ask, but who makes the laws that could ensure oversight? Well, the MPs themselves make the laws. The MP you vote, determines the quality of laws and oversight you get. Basically, who you put in Parliament really determines how you live your life.

Oversight or lack thereof affects the functioning of a political regime. So, next time you engage with your MP please ask what their take is on oversight. Ask gore how accountable to do they want the Executive and other Politically Exposed Persons to be, to the public, for the public good, not Political Party good, not individual good, but the public good. Ask how willing they are to learn more about playing an oversight role and ensuring it is legislated for.

Some will always argue that there is oversight in Botswana Parliament- referring to Public Accounts Committee, however, apart from PAC, what are the oversight tools available to our Parliament? Ask your MP, our legislatures, if they actually oversee actions and activities of government and if this role and how this role has an impact on the political system and the behaviour of government. Kana re mono hela, le mapalamente a rona?

Let us keep this in mind, democracy does not depend exclusively on the government’s ability to perform but also on the fact that the government action is subject to scrutiny and control, the probability that a country is democratic is, in my view, affected by the legislature’s potential to oversee the government.

Actually before I continue, maybe we have different expectations from our democracy, what kind of democracy you want? The kind that puts in power governments- produced by elections-that are inefficient, corrupt, short-sighted, irresponsible, dominated by special interests, and incapable of adopting policies demanded by the public good or should democracy bring and give you much more on the positive side? For Huntington (1991: 9-10) “elections, open, free and fair are the essence of democracy, the inescapable sine qua non. However, for me, for me, the fact that a government is corrupt, irresponsible, unable or unwilling to address citizens’ demands certainly makes the political system less democratic.

Strengthening oversight does try to fight irresponsiveness, unaccountable leaders’ inefficiencies and short-sightedness, when the tools are availed and structures given powers to act. Some scholars submit that oversight consists in the legislative supervision of the policies and the programs enacted by the government (Schick, 1976). So if we cannot supervise policies and programs enacted by government and our MPs also cannot to do so, then re ba ga mang tota? Ke raya gore ha mopalamente wa gago a sa kgone gore nnyaa, tandabala e rile ka gore gongwe ga a itse gore o ka dira jalo le ha a tswa party e mo pusong, tota batho re mo mathateng.

Our MPs should be capable to supervise, scrutinise policies and programs by government, on behalf of the people to ensure we all benefit from these. If your MP does not ask questions in the National Assembly and they have been there for decades, please ask gore a buse madi a lekgetho. Other scholars have noted instead that oversight is not just a supervision of what the Executive branch of government has done but is also supervision of the Executive’s legislative proposals (Maffio, 2002).

In a parliamentary system, where the Executive branch has the power to introduce a Bill, the process through which a Bill becomes a law (the referral of Bill to specific committees, the discussion within such committees, the debates of a Bill in the plenary and the fact that the parliament has ultimately the power to amend, approve or reject a government’s legislative proposal) gives the legislative branch of government the power to oversee the government plans before enactment.

Jaanong, ha e le gore re na le mapalamente a le 63, e be e le gore 34 ba mo Executive branch, re thoka le a le 42 go hitisa molao motheo, go ka kgonagala jang gore go nne le yone tebelelo eo e e tseneletseng go thokomela gore ba ba 34 ba dira eng, e bile ba tswa Party e nngwe hela? Can we really say and argue for quality laws, policies and programs to benefit Batswana, when the voices that could bring reason in cases of unreasonableness are nominal in the National Assembly?

But what are the tools that Parliaments and legislatures can employ to oversee the government and its activities? Studies suggest the usual to oversee the actions of the Executive such as hearing in committees, hearings in plenary assembly, the creation of inquiry committees, parliamentary questions, question time, the interpellations and the Ombudsman (Maffio, 2002; Pennings 2000). Ombudsman o bothokwa bathong, a re mo diriseng. The presence of the oversight tool is necessary but can be an insufficient condition for effective oversight. Effective oversight may depend on the specific oversight powers given to the parliament:

On whether the parliament has the ability to modify legislation (Loewenberg and Patterson, 1979). So if you have MPs who do not know much about law making, who do not read laws, who do not research to improve on the law, it means gore, should a law be unjust, unreasonable and possibly taking away our rights, we are screwed, because the courts do not change laws, only the legislature has that prerogative. Jaanong a bas a itse gore melao e ba e dirang e ama batho jang, ba itibile gore ba ja jang, re mo mathateng.

On whether parliaments and parliamentarians are given proper information to perform their oversight tasks adequately (Frantzich, 1979). Indeed MPs in other countries have advisors or researchers to inform them and help them make sound decisions and deliberations on behalf of the people. This could be one way we transform our systems, by according our MPs researchers to feed them with information to do better for the people.

On the role of individual MPs, on the role of committee chairs, on the saliency of issues and on how aggressively the opposition performs its role (Rockman, 1984). Bathong ba Modimo, in a democracy, a strong Opposition in Parliament is essential. Kagore, ba go ngakalala ba bala, ba lebelela melao le melawana, ba botsa dipotso on our behalf, we have seen how opposition has asked pertinent questions in the National Assembly, tse di thusiteng go senola go sa tsamaiseng sente puso le tshenyetso sechaba ke batho b aba neng re ba tshephile ka go ba ha marapo mo pusong.

Let me leave you with these questions, with the little that you now know about legislative oversight, is it really important, can it really transform and better our political system, do you want a better liberal democracy or just a formal democracy ya dithopho? If you are still not sure about where you stand on oversight, ask yourself this, knowing what you know about your own undisciplined impulses and tendencies, can you really trust that your leaders do not need to be scrutinised, particularly with the powers we have entrusted them? Wouldn’t you rather give powers and instruments to an institution of representatives to oversee governments’ activities on your behalf, enshrined in the constitution? In a liberal democracy, I believe, we ought to have tools and mechanisms in place to guard those who guard us.

Consulted Works:

Parliamentary Oversight for Government Accountability Edited by Riccardo Pelizzo, Rick Stapenhurst and David Olson 2006. 59 pages. Stock No. 37262
Diamond, L. (1999) Developing Democracy, Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press.
Fish, S.M. (2006) “Stronger legislatures, Stronger Democracies”, in Journal of Democracy, vol. 17, n. 1, pp.5-20.
Frantzich, S.E. (1979) “Computerized Information Technology in the US House of Representatives”, Legislative Studies Quarterly, vol. 4, n. 2, pp. 255-280.
Huntington, S. (1991) The Third Wave of Democratization, London, University of Oklahoma Press.
Loewenberg, G. and Patterson, S.C. (1979) Comparing Legislatures, Boston, Little, Brown and Co.
Maffio, R. (2002) “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Il controllo parlamentare dell’attivita’ di governo in prospettiva comparata”, Quaderni di Scienza Politica, vol. 9, n. 2, pp. 333-383.
Pennings, Paul. 2000. “Parliamentary Control of the Executive in 47 Democracies”, Paper prepared for the workshop on “Parliamentary Control of the Executive”, ECPR Joint Sessions of Workshops, Copenhagen, April 14-19.
Schick, A. “Congress and the details of administration”, Public Administration Review, 36: 516-528. 22
Stapenhurst, R. and R. Pelizzo (2002) “A Bigger Role for Legislatures”, in Finance and Development, vol. 39, n. 3, pp. 46-48.
Stapenhurst, R., Sahgal, V., Woodley, W. and R. Pelizzo (2005) “Scrutinizing Public Expenditures. Assessing the Performance of Public Accounts Committees”, World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 3613, The World Bank, Washington DC.

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Botswana to Become a Vaccinated Nation: Pandemic Anxiety Over?

30th March 2021

OSCAR MOTSUMI

This is a question that should seriously exercise the mind of every Botswana citizen and every science researcher, every health worker and every political leader political.

The Covid-19 currently defines our lives and poses a direct threat to every aspect and every part of national safety, security and general well-being. This disease has become a normative part of human life throughout the world.

The first part of the struggle against the murderous depredation of this disease was to protect personal life through restrictive health injunctions and protocols; the worst possibly being human isolation and masks that hid our sorrows and lamentations through thin veils. We suffered that humiliation with grace and I believe as a nation we did a great job.

Now the vaccines are here, ushering us into the second phase of this war against the plague; and we are asking ourselves, is this science-driven fight against Covid-19 spell the end of pandemic anxiety? Is the health nightmare coming to an end? What happy lives lie ahead? Is this the time for celebration or caution? As the Non State Actors, we have being struggling with these questions for months.

We have published our thoughts and feelings, and our research reviews and thorough reading of both the local and international impacts of this rampaging viral invasion in local newspapers and social media platforms.

More significantly, we have successfully organised workshops about the impact of the pandemic on society and the economy and the last workshop invited a panel of health experts, professionals, and public administers to advance this social dialogue as part of our commitment to the tripartite engagement we enjoy working with Government of Botswana, Civil Society and Development partners. These workshops are virtual and open to all Batswana, foreign diplomatic missions based in Gaborone, UN agencies located in Gaborone and international academic researchers and professional health experts and specialists.

The mark of Covid-19 on our nation is a painful one, a tragedy shared by the entire human race, but still a contextually painful experience. Our response is fraught with grave difficulties; limited resources, limited time, and the urgency to not only save lives but also avert economic ruin and a bleak future for all who survive. Several vaccines are already in the  market.

Parts of the world are already doing the best they can to trunk the pestilential march of this disease by rolling out mass-vaccinations campaigns that promise to evict this health menace and nightmare from their public lives. Botswana, like much of Africa, is still up in the disreputable, and, unenviable, preventative social melee of masked interactions, metered distances, contactless commerce.

We remain very much at the mercy of a marauding virus that daily runs amuck with earth shattering implications for the economy and human lives. And the battle against both infections and transmissions is proving to be difficult, in terms of finance, institutional capacities and resource mobilization. How are we prepared as government, and as citizens, to embrace the impending mass-vaccinations? What are the chances of us  succeeding at this last-ditch effort to defeat the virus? What are the most pressing obstacles?

Does the work of vaccines spell an end to the pandemic anxieties?

Our panellists addressed the current state of mass-vaccination preparedness at the Botswana national level. What resources are available? What are the financial, institutional and administrative operational challenges (costs and supply chains, delivery, distribution, administering the vaccine on time, surveillance and security of vaccines?) What is being done to overcome them, or what can be done to overcome them? What do public assessments of preparedness tell us at the local community levels? How strong is the political will and direction? How long can we expect the whole exercise to last? At what point should we start seeing tangible results of the mass-vaccination campaign?

They also addressed the challenges of the anticipated emerging Vaccinated Society. How to fight the myths of vaccines and the superstitions about histories of human immunizations? What exactly is being done to grow robust local confidence in the science of vaccinations and the vaccines themselves? More significantly, how to square these campaigns vis-vis personal rights, moral/religious obligations?

What messages are being sent out in these regards and how are Batswana responding? What about issues of justice and equality? Will we get the necessary vaccines to everyone who wants them? What is being done to ensure no deserving person is left behind?

They also addressed issues of health data. To accomplish this mass-vaccination campaign and do everything right we need accurate and complete data. Poor data already makes it very hard to just cope with the disease. What is being done to improve data for the mass-vaccination campaign? How is this data being collected, aggregated and prepared for real life situation/applications throughout Botswana in the coming campaign?

We know in America, for example, general reporting and treatment of health data at the beginning of vaccinations was so poor, so chaotic and so scattered mainstream newspapers like The Atlantic, Washington Post and the New York Times had to step in, working very closely with civil society organizations, to rescue the situation. What data-related issues are still problematic in Botswana?

To be specific, what kind of Covid-19 data is being taken now to ready the whole country for an effective and efficient mass-vaccination program?

Batswana must be made aware that the  end part of vaccination will just mark the beginning of a long journey to health recovery and national redemption; that in many ways Covid-19 vaccination is just another step toward the many efforts in abeyance to fight this health pandemic, the road ahead is still long and painful.

For this purpose, and to highlight the significance of this observation we tasked our panellists with  the arduous imperative of  analysing the impact of mass-vaccination on society and the economy alongside the pressing issues of post-Covid-19 national health surveillance and rehabilitation programs.

Research suggests the aftermath of Covid-19 vaccination is going to be just as difficult and uncertain world as the present reality in many ways, and that caution should prevail over celebration, at least for a long time. The disease itself is projected to linger around for some time after all these mass-vaccination campaigns unless an effort is made to vaccinate everyone to the last reported case, every nation succeeds beyond herd immunity, and cure is found for Covid-19 disease. Many people are going to continue in need of medications, psychological and psychiatric services and therapy.

Is Botswana ready for this long holdout? If not, what path should we take going into the future? The Second concern is , are we going to have a single, trusted national agency charged with the  mandate to set standards for our national health data system, now that we know how real bad pandemics can be, and the value of data in quickly responding to them and mitigating impact? Finally, what is being done to curate a short history of this pandemic? A national museum of health and medicine or a Public Health Institute  in Botswana is overdue.

If we are to create strong sets of data policies and data quality standards for fighting future health pandemics it is critical that they find ideological and moral foundations in the artistic imagery and photography of the present human experience…context is essential to fighting such diseases, and to be prepared we must learn from every tragic health incident.

Our panellists answered most of these questions with distinguished intellectual clarity. We wish Batswana to join us in our second Mass-vaccination workshop.

*Oscar Motsumi: Email:oscar.motsumi@gmail.com

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The women you see in the news matter. Here’s why

9th March 2021
Jane Godia

Jane Godia

Today is International Women’s Day – it’s a moment to think about how much better our news diet could be if inequities were eliminated. In 1995, when the curtains fell in one of the largest meetings that have ever brought women together to discuss women in development, it was noted that women and media remain key to development.

Twenty-six years later, the relevant “Article J” of the Beijing Platform for Action, remains unfulfilled. Its two strategic objectives with regard to Women and Media have not been met. They are
Increase the participation and access of women to expression and decision-making in and through the media and new technologies of communication

Promote a balanced and non-stereotyped portrayal of women in the media.

Today, as we mark International Women’s Day, it’s an indictment on both media owners and civil society that women remain on the periphery of news-making. They cannot claim equal space in either the structures of newsrooms or in the content produced, be that as sources of news or as the subjects of reports. Indeed, the latest figures from WAN-IFRA’s Women in News Programme show just one in five voices in news belong to women*, be they as sources, as the author or as the main character of the news report.

Some progress was evident several years back, with stand-out women being named as chief executive officers, editors in chief, managing editors and executive editors. But these gains appear short lived in most media organisations. Excitement has turned to frustration as one-step forward has been replaced with three steps backwards. In Africa, the problem is acute. The decision-making tables of media organisations remain deprived of women and where there are women, they are surrounded by men.

Few women have followed in the footsteps of Esther Kamweru, the first woman managing editor in Kenya, and indeed sub-Saharan Africa. Today’s standout women editors include Pamela Makotsi-Sittoni (Nation Media Group, Kenya), Barbara Kaija (New Vision, Uganda), Mary Mbewe (Daily Nation, Zambia), Margaret Vuchiri (The Monitor, Uganda), Joyce Shebe (Clouds, Tanzania), Tryphinah Dongwana (Weekend Post, Botswana), Joyce Mhaville (Independent Television -ITV, Tanzania) and Tuma Abdallah (Standard Newspapers,Tanzania). But they remain an exception.

The lack of balance between women and men at the table of decision making has a rollback effect on the content that is produced. A table dominated by men typically makes decisions that benefit men.

So today, International Women’s Day is a grim reminder that things are not rosy in the news business. Achieving gender balance in news and in the structure of media organisations remains a challenge. Unmet, it sees more than half of the population in our countries suffer the consequences of bias, discrimination and sexism.

The business of ignoring the other half of the population can no longer be treated as normal. It’s time that media leaders grasp the challenge, not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it also makes a whole lot of business sense: start covering women, give them space and a voice in news-making and propel them to all levels of decision making within your organisation.

We can no longer afford to imagine that it’s only men who make and sell the news and bring in the shillings to fund the media business. Women too are worthy newsmakers. In all of our societies, there are women holding decision making positions and who are now experts in once male-only domains such as engineers, doctors, scientists and researchers.

They can be deliberately picked out to share their perspectives and expertise and bring balance to the profile of experts quoted on our news pages. Media is the prism through which society sees itself and women are an untapped audience. So, as we celebrate International Women’s Day, let us embrace diversity, which yields better news content and business products, and in so doing eliminate sexism. We know that actions and attitudes that discriminate against people based on their gender is bad for business.

As media, the challenge is ours. We need to consciously embrace and reach the commitments made 26 years ago when the Beijing Platform for Action was signed globally. As the news consuming public, you have a role to play too. Hold your news organization to account and make sure they deliver balanced news that reflects the voices of all of society.

Jane Godia is a gender development and media expert who serves as the Africa Director of Women in News programme.  
WOMEN IN NEWS is WAN-IFRA’s ground-breaking programme to increase women’s leadership and voices in the news. It does so by equipping women journalists and editors with the skills, strategies, and support networks to take on greater leadership positions within their media. www.womeninnews.org

Jane Godia, Director, Africa, Women in News

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Why is the media so afraid to talk about sexual harassment?

9th March 2021

MELANIE WALKER

The eve of International Women’s Day presents an opportunity for us to think about gender equality and the long and often frustrating march toward societies that are truly equal.

As media, we are uniquely placed to drive forward this reflection and discussion. But while focusing on the challenges of gender in society, we owe it to our staff and the communities we serve to also take a hard look at the obstacles within our own organisations.

I’m talking specifically about the scourge of sexual harassment. It’s likely to have happened in your newsroom. It has likely happened to a member of your team. It happens to all genders but is disproportionately directed at women. It happens in every industry, regardless of country, culture or context. This is because sexual harassment is driven by power, not sex. Wherever you have imbalances in power, you have individuals who are at risk of sexual harassment, and those who abuse this power.

I’ve been sexually harassed. The many journalists and editors, friends and family members who I have spoken to over the years on this subject have also been harassed. Yet it is still hard for leaders to recognize that this could be happening within their newsrooms and boardrooms. Why does it continue to be such a taboo?

Counting the cost of sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is, simply put, bad for business. It can harm your corporate reputation. It is a drain on the productivity of staff and managers. Maintaining and building trust in your brand is an absolute imperative for media organisations globally. If and when a case gets out of control or is badly handled – this can directly impact your bottom line.

It is for this reason that WAN-IFRA Women in News has put eliminating sexual harassment as a top priority in our work around gender equality in the media sector. This might seem at odds with the current climate where social interactions are fewer and remote work scenarios are in place in many newsrooms and businesses. But one only needs to tune into the news to know that the abuse of power, manifested as verbal, physical or online harassment, is alive and well.

Preliminary results from an ongoing Women in News research study into the issue of sexual harassment polling hundreds of journalists in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia indicate that more than 1 in 3 women media professionals have been physically harassed, and just under 50% have been verbally harassed. Just over 15% of men in African newsrooms reported being physically harassed, and slightly less than 1 in 4 reports being verbally harassed. The numbers for male media professionals in Southeast Asia are slightly higher than a quarter on both forms of harassment.

The first step in confronting sexual harassment is to talk about it. We need to strip away the stigma and discomfort around having open conversations about what sexual harassment is and isn’t. Media managers, it is entirely in your power to create dynamics in your own teams that are free from sexual harassment.

Publishers and CEOs, you set the organisational culture in your media company.

By being vocal in recognising that it happens everywhere, and communicating to your employees that you will not tolerate sexual harassment of any kind, you send a powerful message to your teams, and publicly. With these actions, you will help us overcome the legacy of silence around this topic, and in doing so take an important first step to create media environments that truly embrace equality.

Melanie Walker is Executive Director of Media Development of the World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA). She is a creator of Women in News, WAN-IFRA’s ground-breaking programme to increase women’s leadership and voices in the news. It does so by equipping women journalists and editors with the skills, strategies, and support networks to take on greater leadership positions within their media. www.womeninnews.org

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