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Khama on a joy ride to Chile

Kesitegile Gobotswang (PhD)
BCP Deputy Leader

While the private media was consumed by fake news propagated by authors of the scandalous Tholwana Borethe President Seretse Khama Ian Khama undertook a three day state visit to Chile in South America. 

According to state media the President is accompanied by Minister of International Affairs and Cooperation Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, Minister of Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration Eric Molale, Minister of Investment, Trade and Industry Vincent Seretse, and Sadique Kebonang Minister of Mineral Resources, Green Technology, and Energy Security.

Statements coming from government enclave are couched in typical diplomatic language coupled with phrases that are frequently recited to evade the truth about relations between countries. According to the state media the purpose of the visit was “To strengthen and broaden the scope of relations between the two countries as well as explore new possible areas of bilateral cooperation.”  There are no specifics in terms of existing bilateral areas of cooperation that are being strengthened.  

We may never get to know the real mission of the visit to Chile. However, given the previous overseas visits to South Korea and Sweden, we have reason to be suspicious. Khama’s recent overseas visits were linked to acquisition of sophisticated military equipment with a potential to trigger an undesirable arms race in Southern Africa. Clearly his visits are informed by his personal tastes and economic interest. Every year the President never misses to attend the meeting of Conservation International where he is a Board Member.  Speculation is that he may serve the organization on a semi full-time basis after retirement.

We must be concerned about the secrecy surrounding such visits. Given the looting of state assets and abuse of public office that characterise the Khama Administration we must demand full accountability by the President.  Needless to say accountability is the highest form of patriotism. A President who prefers to address foreign over local media is clearly unpatriotic. We must get it from him why he undertook such a long expensive visit across oceans. Khama may enter the Guinness Book of Records for being the only democratically elected President who never addressed the local press on issues of national interest.  In the absence of information shared with the public we are left with no choice but to speculate.  

It is worth noting that the President travelled to Chile via the United States of America where he attended a meeting on Conservation and Sustainability hosted by University of Wisconsin. It is not by coincidence that the visit to Chile was planned around the same time as the University of Wisconsin meeting. The President has been criticised for using state resources to satisfy his personal interests. He possibly used the Chile state visit as a cover up to the Wisconsin University excursion.   

Khama is known for his passion in tourism.  Hence he has made it a point that the political head of the sector is someone whom he can trust in protecting his interest.  When he assumed power in 2008 the Minister of Wildlife and Tourism was Kitso Mokailo his confidante from their days in the Botswana Defence Force (BDF).  Mokaila was replaced by Tshekedi Khama who is his younger brother. Apart from Tourism Khama has over the years developed interest in petroleum and diamond trade. In order to safeguard his business interest he strategically positions his close relatives and trusted allies in these sectors.

It is against this background that the visit to Chile must be understood.  It may turn out to be a private business trip funded by the taxpayer. In trying to determine the underlying reasons for the Chile state visit it is important to examine the key features of the political and economic development of Chile. Chile and Botswana shares a number of things in common. Like Botswana Chile is one of the most prosperous countries in South America with a high per capita income, good competiveness, most politically stable, and least corrupt.

However, Chile and Botswana record some of the highest income inequalities. Wealth distribution is a huge challenge in both countries.  There is poverty in the mist of plenty. Surprisingly both Botswana and Chile expressed their commitment in eradicating abject poverty.  Obviously it is a mission impossible.

Botswana and Chile are rich in natural resources especially copper.  Obviously Botswana could learn a lot about copper mining in Chile and how they deal with frequent fluctuations in global market prices.  The timing of the visit does not make sense, coming after the final decision to liquidate BCL. Had the President visited Chile in 2015 it is likely that BCL Mine would still be operational today. The excitement of the Minister of Mineral Resources over Dubai as a potential buyer of BCL and Tati Nickel resulted in overlooking possible opportunities in other parts of the globe such as South America, Chile in particular.  

If the purpose of the visit was to explore possibilities of saving BCL and Tati Nickel mines then the inclusion of Minister Sadique Kebonang was justified. Another reason why Kebonang was part of the large Presidential entourage might have to do with the long awaited Lobatse Leader Park. South American countries have successfully beneficiated cattle by products. They have a huge leather manufacturing industrial base. Of the four Ministers who accompanied the President one can safely say that Eric Molale the Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration was just a tourist. He was on a joy ride to occupy excess space in the presidential jet with very little to show upon his return.  

The Botswana Congress Party (BCP) is not against foreign investment. However, we believe in the introduction of a law on indigenous economic empowerment which would stipulate that foreign companies that invest in Botswana should partner with indigenous Batswana to impart business skills and also enhance cash circulation in the local economy.  This has the potential to create employment opportunities for young people.

In the end when the cost of the state visit far outweigh its benefit then there is something seriously wrong with such a visit. It is a waste of public resources and an abuse of public office.  The nation deserves to know better.  BCP will continue advocating for the introduction of the freedom of information law to ensure the right of citizens to know in order to make informed decisions.

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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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