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A call to public service

Jeff Ramsay
GUEST

This week’s big story was undoubtedly President Khama’s substantive opening address at the 72nd Annual General Convention of the Botswana Public Employees Union.
 
While the event marked the first time that the President, though not members of his administration, had opened the Union’s annual gathering, he has had previous contacts with the Union’s leaders. This is in addition to his consultations with the Union’s membership through his now routine contacts with public servants across the country.
 
As much as some may steadfastly wish to deny it, the plain truth is that no President has devoted himself more to engaging in direct communication with ordinary Batswana in various settings than Khama. It is also true that in today’s information age one’s social and by extension political authority is increasing reliant on direct rather than mediated forms of communication.
 
After all, why allow others to convey your message to the public when through electronic more especially interactive communications, as well as good old verbal consultations, you can directly engage the world. We thus increasingly find global leaders eschewing press conferences for ‘town halls’ and social media outreach.
 
Given the above, the notion of returning to our pre-1972 Constitutional order when the President’s diary, in the Westminster tradition of Prime Ministers, like the rest of his Ministers was tied to the schedule of Parliament hardly seems progressive.
 
This is not to say one cannot go back to the future if one really wants to.       But, one would think that those advocating for the ‘independence’ of Parliament would, if anything, want to reduce rather than increase the Executive’s presence in the House.
 
It is due to the fact that, as in other parliamentary democracies, Cabinet serves as legislative frontbench, that the authority of Parliament is fused rather than separate from that of the executive branch. This is further reflected in the ongoing tradition of generally having His Honour the Vice President serve as the titular ‘Leader of the House’. 
 
By contrast, in a political dispensation where there is a true separation of power between the executive and legislative branch, Heads of State tend to only enter the hallowed halls of the legislature by invitation on special occasion.
 
American Presidents have thus pretty much limited there formal visits to Capitol Hill to the annual State of the Union Address, for which the judicial and military leadership is also in attendance as a symbolic reflection of the full spectrum of Federal leadership.     
 
But I digress. Coming back to this week’s BOPEU Convention it is clear the direct exchange of perspectives by the President and the Union leadership was a fruitful, if not overdue, escalation of former’s personal commitment to engage in continuous dialogue with civil servants about ways of enhancing public service delivery as well as conditions of service. Both of these commitments are predicated on a need to reduce conflicts in the workplace to facilitate constructive labour relations aimed at improving productivity. As Khama observed:
 
“We need to ensure that we develop or improve and sharpen our skills for better implementation of processes that could lead to improved productivity and returns for the country and thus could also translate to increases in salaries and a vibrant economy.”


 â€¨Khama further affirmed the need for the public sector to collectively guard against issues of corruption, red tape and bureaucratic lethargy.  While the Cabinet must carry the ultimate burden of accountability, at the end of the day it is the machinery of Government as a whole, that is the public service, which are expected to ensure the effective and efficient implementation of big projects or programmes on time and within budget.



In his remarks Khama also made reference to the need to reduce inequalities in the workplace through among others, being mindful of gender and disability issues. He further used the occasion to reaffirm the continued relevance and authority of the eight principles of the Public Service Charter, namely: Regard for the public interest; Neutrality; Accountability; Transparency; Freedom from corruption; Continuity; the duty to be Informed; and Due Diligence.


ʉ۬Acknowledging that the reality on the ground was that the public is not happy with the current level and quality of public services, he further urged the Union sensitize its members on the need to improve the quality and speed of public services, adding that Government is reviewing the current performance management system to achieve a high performance culture linking pay to performance.
 
He also directly appealed to the Union membership to ensure that the public service as a whole is not politicised, by upholding the Public Service Charter principle of Neutrality, stating that a politically inclined public service could ultimately compromise national stability.
 
Coming to the Budget he observed that the reality is that Botswana is not a rich country; the 2014/15 budget being a modest P48 billion, while for example the budget of RSA is over P1 trillion. The World Bank Development Indicators further show that Botswana spends around 43% of our budget on employees, double that of other middle income countries although the public service is only 5.6% of the population.
 

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Export Processing Zones: How to Get SEZA to Sizzle

23rd September 2020
Export Processing Zone (EPZ) factory in Kenya

In 2005, the Business & Economic Advisory Council (BEAC) pitched the idea of the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) to the Mogae Administration.

It took five years before the SEZ policy was formulated, another five years before the relevant law was enacted, and a full three years before the Special Economic Zones Authority (SEZA) became operational.

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Egypt Bagged Again

23rd September 2020
Samson

… courtesy of infiltration stratagem by Jehovah-Enlil’s clan

With the passing of Joshua’s generation, General Atiku, the promised peace and prosperity of a land flowing with milk and honey disappeared, giving way to chaos and confusion.

Maybe Joshua himself was to blame for this shambolic state of affairs. He had failed to mentor a successor in the manner Moses had mentored him. He had left the nation without a central government or a human head of state but as a confederacy of twelve independent tribes without any unifying force except their Anunnaki gods.

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‘RO, ‘RO ‘RO YOUR ‘BOT

23rd September 2020

If I say the word ‘robot’ to you,  I can guess what would immediately spring to mind –  a cute little Android or animal-like creature with human or pet animal characteristics and a ‘heart’, that is to say to say a battery, of gold, the sort we’ve all seen in various movies and  tv shows.  Think R2D2 or 3CPO in Star Wars, Wall-E in the movie of the same name,  Sonny in I Robot, loveable rogue Bender in Futurama,  Johnny 5 in Short Circuit…

Of course there are the evil ones too, the sort that want to rise up and eliminate us  inferior humans – Roy Batty in Blade Runner, Schwarzenegger’s T-800 in The Terminator,  Box in Logan’s Run,  Police robots in Elysium and  Otomo in Robocop.

And that’s to name but a few.  As a general rule of thumb, the closer the robot is to human form, the more dangerous it is and of course the ultimate threat in any Sci-Fi movie is that the robots will turn the tables and become the masters, not the mechanical slaves.  And whilst we are in reality a long way from robotic domination, there are an increasing number of examples of  robotics in the workplace.

ROBOT BLOODHOUNDS Sometimes by the time that one of us smells something the damage has already begun – the smell of burning rubber or even worse, the smell of deadly gas. Thank goodness for a robot capable of quickly detecting and analyzing a smell from our very own footprint.

A*Library Bot The A*Star (Singapore) developed library bot which when books are equipped with RFID location chips, can scan shelves quickly seeking out-of-place titles.  It manoeuvres with ease around corners, enhances the sorting and searching of books, and can self-navigate the library facility during non-open hours.

DRUG-COMPOUNDING ROBOT Automated medicine distribution system, connected to the hospital prescription system. It’s goal? To manipulate a large variety of objects (i.e.: drug vials, syringes, and IV bags) normally used in the manual process of drugs compounding to facilitate stronger standardisation, create higher levels of patient safety, and lower the risk of hospital staff exposed to toxic substances.

AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY ROBOTS Applications include screw-driving, assembling, painting, trimming/cutting, pouring hazardous substances, labelling, welding, handling, quality control applications as well as tasks that require extreme precision,

AGRICULTURAL ROBOTS Ecrobotix, a Swiss technology firm has a solar-controlled ‘bot that not only can identify weeds but thereafter can treat them. Naio Technologies based in southwestern France has developed a robot with the ability to weed, hoe, and assist during harvesting. Energid Technologies has developed a citrus picking system that retrieves one piece of fruit every 2-3 seconds and Spain-based Agrobot has taken the treachery out of strawberry picking. Meanwhile, Blue River Technology has developed the LettuceBot2 that attaches itself to a tractor to thin out lettuce fields as well as prevent herbicide-resistant weeds. And that’s only scratching the finely-tilled soil.

INDUSTRIAL FLOOR SCRUBBERS The Global Automatic Floor Scrubber Machine boasts a 1.6HP motor that offers 113″ water lift, 180 RPM and a coverage rate of 17,000 sq. ft. per hour

These examples all come from the aptly-named site www.willrobotstakemyjob.com    because while these functions are labour-saving and ripe for automation, the increasing use of artificial intelligence in the workplace will undoubtedly lead to increasing reliance on machines and a resulting swathe of human redundancies in a broad spectrum of industries and services.

This process has been greatly boosted by the global pandemic due to a combination of a workforce on furlough, whether by decree or by choice, and the obvious advantages of using virus-free machines – I don’t think computer viruses count!  For example, it was suggested recently that their use might have a beneficial effect in care homes for the elderly, solving short staffing issues and cheering up the old folks with the novelty of having their tea, coffee and medicines delivered by glorified model cars.  It’s a theory, at any rate.

Already, customers at the South-Korean  fast-food chain No Brand Burger can avoid any interaction with a human server during the pandemic.  The chain is using robots to take orders, prepare food and bring meals out to diners.  Customers order and pay via touchscreen, then their request is sent to the kitchen where a cooking machine heats up the buns and patties. When it’s ready, a robot ‘waiter’ brings out their takeout bag.   

‘This is the first time I’ve actually seen such robots, so they are really amazing and fun,’ Shin Hyun Soo, an office worker at No Brand in Seoul for the first time, told the AP. 

Human workers add toppings to the burgers and wrap them up in takeout bags before passing them over to yellow-and-black serving robots, which have been compared to Minions. 

Also in Korea, the Italian restaurant chain Mad for Garlic is using serving robots even for sit-down customers. Using 3D space mapping and other technology, the electronic ‘waiter,’ known as Aglio Kim, navigates between tables with up to five orders.  Mad for Garlic manager Lee Young-ho said kids especially like the robots, which can carry up to 66lbs in their trays.

These catering robots look nothing like their human counterparts – in fact they are nothing more than glorified food trolleys so using our thumb rule from the movies, mankind is safe from imminent takeover but clearly  Korean hospitality sector workers’ jobs are not.

And right there is the dichotomy – replacement by stealth.  Remote-controlled robotic waiters and waitresses don’t need to be paid, they don’t go on strike and they don’t spread disease so it’s a sure bet their army is already on the march.

But there may be more redundancies on the way as well.  Have you noticed how AI designers have an inability to use words of more than one syllable?  So ‘robot’ has become ‘bot’ and ‘android’ simply ‘droid?  Well, guys, if you continue to build machines ultimately smarter than yourselves you ‘rons  may find yourself surplus to requirements too – that’s ‘moron’ to us polysyllabic humans”!

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