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Desperate fish traders appeal to BCP

Kesitegile Gobotswang (PhD)
BCP Deputy Leader

Recently while the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) leadership was in Maun on party assignment they were visited by a delegation representing fishermen and women, fish traders/exporters and Zambian truck drivers. They came with a very specific request asking the BCP to intervene in a protracted battle with the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resource Conservation and Tourism over a fishing ban at Lake Ngami.


Apparently they approached us because they hold BCP highly when it comes to speaking out on national issues. They vividly recall the intervention of the party during the controversial relocation of residents of Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve (CKGR). The BCP successfully stood with the residents of Letoreng Village following a government’s decision to relocate them to Machaneng in Tswapong.


A meeting of all the affected people was quickly convened by Ema Reje shopping complex where scores of trucks loaded with dried fish were grounded since March 2017. The victims turned up in large numbers. About forty Batswana fish traders/exporters mainly women and close to twenty truck drivers and their crews are affected. At the meeting I was accompanied by the veteran politician Gibson Nshimwe former Member of Parliament of Chobe who is currently a businessman and BCP Deputy Chairperson of North West Region.


The story of the victims of Botswana government’s brutality could hit hard even the most ruthless of human beings. What we heard and saw was unacceptable. Government had opted to brutalize innocent people instead of protecting them. To suggest that government had declared war on the people of Ngamiland is an underestimation.


Their woes started towards the end March 2017 when government through the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resource Conservation and Tourism imposed a fishing ban on Lake Ngami. According to the information we extracted from the meeting the fishing season is between March and December every year.


Fishermen and women are required to obtain a Fishing Permit from Lake Ngami Conservation Trust and a Commercial Fishing Licence from the Department of Wildlife and National Parks. We ascertained that indeed the affected persons possessed all valid permits and licences. We learnt that dried fish from Lake Ngami has a lucrative market in Zambia.


Since they had all the necessary documentation they started fishing when the 2017 season began. Fish was dried as usual in readiness for transportation. The traders/exporters proceeded to make transport arrangements with Zambian truck operators. By March 28 2017 the dried fish destined for export was fully loaded and ready to be transported to Zambia.

Surprisingly they were slapped with a fishing moratorium for the 2017 fishing season by the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resource Conservation and Tourism in April 2017. The situation where the trucks full of dried fish are parked is deplorable since the fish is beginning to rot thus releasing a terrible smell. Already officials from the Department of Environmental Health, Ministry of Health and Wellness have frequently visited the site since they are concerned about the situation that poses a health hazard.


The truck drivers and crews are stranded there because they cannot leave the trucks and the cargo unattended. When their stay in Botswana expires they are expected to travel to Kazungula to apply for additional days. Some of them have already overstayed because they don’t have money to travel to Kazungula. Besides they fear that if they go back they may not be allowed back into Botswana.


The story they narrated really horrified us. We could not belief that this was happening in Botswana. Obviously government is deliberately taking advantage of the weak and economically marginalized to deprive them of a crucial source of livelihood. It is an abuse of public office on the part of the Minister concerned. The fishing ban should not have been applied retrospectively.


Efforts by the affected persons to negotiate with government departments failed to resolve the stand-off. Further appeals to local elected political leadership failed to pressure government to reverse their draconian fishing ban. It is against this background that the affected people approached the BCP to intervene.


As alluded to in previous conversations the challenge we face as a nation is that policies on national resources and conservation are influenced by external forces. In particular the relationship between Tshekedi and Ian Khama on the one hand and Dereck and Beverly Joubert on the other is at the very centre of decision making. It is generally believed that the Khamas are in the pocket of the Jouberts.

 

The couple frequently imposes irrational fishing and hunting regulations through their powerful friends in government ignoring expert advice. Dereck and Beverly Joubert are well known documentary filmmakers associated with National Geographic. The awarding of the Presidential Order of Meritorious Service to Dereck Joubert did not come as a surprise.


In our view the responsible Minister must withdraw the fishing moratorium and offer unconditional apology to innocent Batswana who are struggling to graduate from poverty. In addition government must compensate fish traders/exporters as well as truck drivers for the huge financial losses incurred. The behaviour of government is totally unacceptable. Government is being tyrannical in dealing with poverty stricken women who are toiling to make ends meet.


It should concern us that the same government that has dismally failed to provide sufficient jobs for Batswana should be frustrating the informal sector that is the backbone of global economies. Over the years government has mismanaged foot and mouth disease. This further impoverished the people of Ngamiland. The tourism industry has not benefited the people of the North West either. Tourism remains the preserve of a few who are closely connected to the ruling elite and their foreign friends. As if this was not enough the people of Ngamiland hardly benefit from the on and off mining ventures in the area.


This kind of behaviour by the government of Botswana has the potential to strain relations between Botswana and Zambia since citizens of the latter are unnecessarily being terrorized and persecuted when they have not broken any law in this country.  After the fish traders/exporters government is coming for us if we don’t speak out.

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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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