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Oh what a tangled we weave

Stuart White

You’ve probably heard the expression ‘Tell the truth and shame the devil’, meaning that by always telling the truth you take the moral high ground and follow the teachings of the Lord.  After all, ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour’ is the 9th Biblical commandment in Christianity and Judaism and a common precept in all major religions.  Ergo, telling the truth is holy, lying is the work of the devil.  

It’s a lesson we all learned at our parents’ knees and was reinforced in Sunday School and proper school.  We were taught that telling the truth would never get us into trouble (not strictly accurate in every instance!) and lying would always result in tears before bedtime (again, not necessarily the case!)  but it’s a good moral starting point at any rate.

But as we grew older we learned that sometimes the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth is not always called for; not that you have to tell lies necessarily, just that the withholding of certain information is sometimes expedient; that sometimes the whole story is on a ‘need to know basis’ and you get to decide who precisely needs to know and what and how much information they need to be drip-fed.

Then there’s the ‘white lie’. This is a social convention whereby you tell a little fib to spare someone’s feelings or simply make a situation easier.   Telling your best friend that she looks lovely in that dress or his full-arm tattoo is absolutely in the best of taste, for example; or telling your boss you had a flat tyre rather than the real reason that you were late was that you overslept.  Again!

So on the face of it, it would appear that we transition from truthful children to slightly less truthful adults, the Matilda’s of this world notwithstanding.  (she was the young lady in Hilaire Belloc’s cautionary poem who simply loved to invent stories, including calling out half the fire brigades in London when she pretended that her aunt’s house was on fire and was ultimately hoist by her own petard a little while later when the house really did catch fire but no-one would believe her and thus she perished in the ensuing domestic inferno – you have to admit that children’s stories were more graphic back in the day!)

However, according to a new study, the transition from utter truthfulness to some sort of partially-accurate expediency comes much earlier than we might think.  

Researchers from McGill University analyzed the behaviour of nearly 100 children between the ages of six and 12.  The children were each shown a series of short videos featuring childlike puppets which either told the truth or lied and the outcome of these decisions varied.  In some scenarios, telling a lie would cause harm to another character, while in others, a lie intended to help someone else would have a negative outcome for the speaker.

The researchers also showed videos of puppets telling different truths – including ‘tattling’ – highlighting how these can harm someone as well.

Then, the kids were asked to decide if the characters were being honest or deceitful, and choose whether those particular behaviours should be rewarded or punished.

The conclusions were thus:

Children of all ages could distinguish between truth and lies

Younger children more often saw truth as good, despite consequences

This could be seen even in cases of 'tattling,' where truth caused harm

Older children considered the intent and outcome of situations insteadʉ۬

‘Looking at how children see honesty and deceit is a way of gaining insight into different stages of moral and social development,’ said Victoria Talwar, a Canada Research Chair in McGill’s Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology.

‘Children get a lot of messages from their parents saying that lying is always bad, but at the same time they see their parents telling ‘white lies’ to make life easier. Depending on their age, this is likely to be a bit confusing for children.

‘We were interested in gaining a more nuanced picture of children’s perceptions of truth and lies – since not all lies have negative consequences for the other person, and not all truths have positive consequences for someone else. We were curious to know at what age children start to understand this.’

Overall, the children were easily able to distinguish between truth and lies, regardless of age.  In deciding which behaviours to reward or condemn, however, the researchers noted two significant differences among the age groups.

When assessing a ‘false confession’ scenario, in which a character would claim responsibility for another character’s misdeed to spare the real perpetrator, the younger children were more likely to view this as negative behaviour than older kids.

A similar trend was seen in the case of tattling.  While younger children were less concerned with the negative consequences of truth-telling, older children were often conflicted. Telling a small lie to spare someone from bad feelings may seem like the right thing to do, but ask a young child, and your actions might not be considered so virtuous.

‘What we were seeing is children’s confusion around particular kinds of truths and lies,’ says Shanna Mary Williams. ‘Younger children see things more starkly – truths are good and lies are bad.

But by the time they are 10-12 years old, children become more aware that truth and lies are less binary.  The older they are, the more interested children are in the consequences of these actions. They are also more able to start looking at the intentions behind the speech.’

So it would appear that our ‘white lie’ mechanism begins to kick in at the pre-teen stage, both from the selfish, self-preservation aspect and the somewhat more selfless ‘sparing someone’s feelings’ angle. 

So a modern-day Moses, on being handed down the tablet of stone with its 10 commandments, might look at the 9th and pose the question “But what if my wife asks ‘does my bum look big in this?’ and it does, how should I answer her, Lord?” 

To which the only response He could give would be to tell him to make sure Mrs. Moses had read and fully understood the 6th Commandment* before he passed comment’!  Personally I would add ‘then head for the hills’!

* Author’s note:  6th Commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ 

STUART WHITE is the Managing Director of HRMC and they can be reached on 395 1640 or at

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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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