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Stuart White

Over the past few months our local satellite TV service provider, Multichoice, has been subject to a huge amount of bad publicity and social media moaning, even more than is usual.  The furore began in September 2015 when it was announced that in line with some of its other worldwide  subsidiaries, the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) was changing its programming schedule and its satellite channels and that subsequently southern Africa was next in line to receive the selection which had first been trialled in Australia last year.  So the old BBC Prime,  Lifestyle and Knowledge channels were being withdrawn and replaced with BBC First, Brit & Earth. 

However, to the dismay of many local viewers Multichoice Botswana made the decision not to include these new channels (with the exception of BBC Brit) on its Premium bouquet, ostensibly on the grounds that the content was not to the taste of its local clientèle but more likely because of the increased cost.  A social media blitz and flood of complaints followed and in mid-October the provider did a U-turn and announced that it would indeed offer BBC First, though BBC Earth remains off-limits.  Such is the power of the people, when combined with the might of Mark Zucherberg!

It’s not the first time Multichoice has been the butt of bad publicity.  Over the years it has been in operation it has often been criticised for its pricing structure and the Hobson’s Choice option that local subscribers are subjected to – in other words you can either take it or leave it – such is ever the way where a monopoly exists.  And over the holidays the moaning has grown ever louder, possibly the result of so many people with so much time on their hands and able to tune in so inevitably the current clarion cry is that the channels are showing too many repeat shows which, the subscribers feel, is another example of the poor value for money they are receiving and directly the fault of Multichoice.

It’s not, of course!  Multichoice is neither a television broadcaster nor a programme scheduler where the bouquet of channels is concerned.  All it does it hook up its own subscribers to a selection of channels with which it has an agreement.  This is effected via its decoder which enables access to that selection via satellite.  What the channel chooses to broadcast is decided by network executives where that channel originates, in line with local tastes, company budgets and availability of material.  Simply put, when you tune into BBC Brit and find yourself watching a re-run of a re-run of a re-run of a 2006 episode of Top Gear which you’ve seen so many times, you can practically watch with the sound turned down and fill in the dialogue yourself, it’s no use getting on the phone and giving the staff at Multichoice an earful – you have to contact the Beeb in the UK to register your complaint and good luck getting them to take a blind bit of notice.

And the sorrow of it all is that local viewers really don’t have a choice.  For a while there was the pirated Philibao bouquet, available through those decoders from the Chinese shops, though after a court case in South Africa on the issue of legality and unfair competition, this has now been shut down.  In any case it never offered any serious competition to the Multichoice bouquet  selections – its only advantage was that it was free and in satellite broadcasting, as in so much else in life, you get what you pay for.

But all  that may now be about to change.  In a market-shaking revelation, the American TV and film streaming operation Netflix has announced an immediate move into the southern African market.  The announcement was made by Netflix CEO Reed Hastings in a keynote speech at CES 2016, currently taking place in Las Vegas.  Netflix can be streamed to tablet, PC, smartphone and even your television and it offers the best of recent and previous popular television series in their entirety as well as current series episodes as soon as they air in the US and UK, along with hundreds of multi-genre movies.  All these are available on demand – in other words, he viewer chooses what he or she wants to view and when and the only repeats they ever have to suffer are the ones they opt to watch over.  And following a 2011 deal with Dreamworks Animation, there are now family-viewing offerings too.  Netflix, and its rival provider Amazon Television, revolutionised viewing habits in the US and more recently the UK and it’s almost certain to set the cat amongst the pigeons roosting on the roof of the Multichoice offices here.

There is one catch.  To benefit from the new service you will need a good, reliable, broadband internet service and not all areas currently can lay claim to this, though the greater Gaborone are is pretty-well covered.  And there is a monthly subscription fee for the privilege – US$7.99 (P80) for the basic option, US$9.99 P100)  for the standard package and US$11.99 (P120) for the Premium.  As you can see, all of these undercut Multichoice by some considerable margin and if money talks, many subscribers look set to walk.  In fact it’s fair to say that finally it appears that in satellite television viewing terms in Botswana, there may soon really be a multi-choice.

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Is COVID-19 Flogging an Already Dead Economic Horse?

9th September 2020

The Central Bank has by way of its Monetary Policy Statement informed us that the Botswana economy is likely to contract by 8.9 percent over the course of the year 2020.

The IMF paints an even gloomier picture – a shrinkage of the order of 9.6 percent.  That translates to just under $2 billion hived off from the overall economic yield given our average GDP of roughly $18 billion a year. In Pula terms, this is about P23 billion less goods and services produced in the country and you and I have a good guess as to what such a sum can do in terms of job creation and sustainability, boosting tax revenue, succouring both recurrent and development expenditure, and on the whole keeping our teeny-weeny economy in relatively good nick.

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Union of Blue Bloods

9th September 2020

Joseph’s and Judah’s family lines conjoin to produce lineal seed

Just to recap, General Atiku, the Israelites were not headed for uncharted territory. The Promised Land teemed with Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. These nations were not simply going to cut and run when they saw columns of battle-ready Israelites approach: they were going to fight to the death.

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Security Sector Private Bills: What are they about?

9th September 2020

Parliament has begun debates on three related Private Members Bills on the conditions of service of members of the Security Sector.

The Bills are Prisons (Amendment) Bill, 2019, Police (Amendment) Bill, 2019 and Botswana Defence Force (Amendment) Bill, 2019. The Bills seek to amend the three statutes so that officers are placed on full salaries when on interdictions or suspensions whilst facing disciplinary boards or courts of law.

In terms of the Public Service Act, 2008 which took effect in 2010, civil servants who are indicted are paid full salary and not a portion of their emolument. Section 35(3) of the Act specifically provides that “An employee’s salary shall not be withheld during the period of his or her suspension”.

However, when parliament reformed the public service law to allow civil servants to unionize, among other things, and extended the said protection of their salaries, the process was not completed. When the House conferred the benefit on civil servants, members of the disciplined forces were left out by not accordingly amending the laws regulating their employment.

The Bills stated above seeks to ask Parliament to also include members of the forces on the said benefit. It is unfair not to include soldiers or military officers, police officers and prison waders in the benefit. Paying an officer who is facing either external or internal charges full pay is in line with the notion of ei incumbit probation qui dicit, non qui negat or the presumption of innocence; that the burden of proof is on the one who declares, not on one who denies.

The officers facing charges, either internal disciplinary or criminal charges before the courts, must be presumed innocent until proven otherwise. Paying them a portion of their salary is penalty and therefore arbitrary. Punishment by way of loss of income or anything should come as a result of a finding on the guilt by a competent court of law, tribunal or disciplinary board.

What was the rationale behind this reform in 2008 when the Public Service Act was adopted? First it was the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise.

The presumption of innocence is the legal principle that one is considered “innocent until proven guilty”. In terms of the constitution and other laws of Botswana, the presumption of innocence is a legal right of the accused in a criminal trial, and it is an international human right under the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 11.

Withholding a civil servant’s salary because they are accused of an internal disciplinary offense or a criminal offense in the courts of law, was seen as punishment before a decision by a tribunal, disciplinary board or a court of law actually finds someone culpable. Parliament in its wisdom decided that no one deserves this premature punishment.

Secondly, it was considered that people’s lives got destroyed by withholding of financial benefits during internal or judicial trials. Protection of wages is very important for any worker. Workers commit their salaries, they pay mortgages, car loans, insurances, schools fees for children and other things. When public servants were experiencing salary cuts because of interdictions, they lost their homes, cars and their children’s future.

They plummeted into instant destitution. People lost their livelihoods. Families crumbled. What was disheartening was that in many cases, these workers are ultimately exonerated by the courts or disciplinary tribunals. When they are cleared, the harm suffered is usually irreparable. Even if one is reimbursed all their dues, it is difficult to almost impossible to get one’s life back to normal.

There is a reasoning that members of the security sector should be held to very high standards of discipline and moral compass. This is true. However, other more senior public servants such as judges, permanent secretary to the President and ministers have faced suspensions, interdictions and or criminal charges in the courts but were placed on full salaries.

The yardstick against which security sector officers are held cannot be higher than the aforementioned public officials. It just wouldn’t make sense. They are in charge of the security and operate in a very sensitive area, but cannot in anyway be held to higher standards that prosecutors, magistrates, judges, ministers and even senior officials such as permanent secretaries.

Moreover, jail guards, police officers and soldiers, have unique harsh punishments which deter many of them from committing misdemeanors and serious crimes. So, the argument that if the suspension or interdiction with full pay is introduced it would open floodgates of lawlessness is illogical.

Security Sector members work in very difficult conditions. Sometimes this drives them into depression and other emotional conditions. The truth is that many seldom receive proper and adequate counseling or such related therapies. They see horrifying scenes whilst on duty. Jail guards double as hangmen/women.

Detectives attend to autopsies on cases they are dealing with. Traffic police officers are usually the first at accident scenes. Soldiers fight and kill poachers. In all these cases, their minds are troubled. They are human. These conditions also play a part in their behaviors. They are actually more deserving to be paid full salaries when they’re facing allegations of misconduct.

To withhold up to 50 percent of the police, prison workers and the military officers’ salaries during their interdiction or suspensions from work is punitive, insensitive and prejudicial as we do not do the same for other employees employed by the government.

The rest enjoy their full salaries when they are at home and it is for a good reason as no one should be made to suffer before being found blameworthy. The ruling party seems to have taken a position to negate the Bills and the collective opposition argue in the affirmative. The debate have just began and will continue next week Thursday, a day designated for Private Bills.

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