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Dr. Masisi, stop humiliating Dr. Khama!

Ndulamo Anthony Morima

The tendency of mankind is to overlook the frailties of their heroes and heroines and to exaggerate the infirmities of their nemesis. Mankind also has the propensity to, at the rise of a new leader, realign their loyalties to the new leader. This is not necessarily wrong. What is abominable is to forsake the former leader and to behave as if one was not a part of that leadership.

What is even more repulsive is to start a crusade to admonish and even disparage the former leader, and to treat them as if they made no contribution to the growth of the country. This can not be condoned by any patriot and democrat. It cannot be correct that the people who continue to associate with such a former leader are regarded as traitors and unpatriotic and are victimized and purged.

Granted, especially at the twilight of his tenure, former president Lieutenant General Dr. Seretse Khama Ian Khama’s popularity had diminished substantially, so much that under his leadership the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), for the first time since independence, attained less than 50% of the popular vote during the 2014 general elections.

Granted, during Khama’s era our democracy regressed. Relations between government and public sector trade unions were at their lowest; the private media was treated as an enemy of the people; the Directorate on Intelligence and Security Services (DISS) trampled on people’s civil liberties at will without restraint, etc.

Though His Excellency the President, Dr. Mokgweetsi Keabetswe Eric Masisi, was Dr. Khama’s deputy, it is Dr. Khama who should take the blame because H.E Dr. Masisi, just like Dr. Khama’s cabinet ministers, were, in terms of our Constitution, mere advisors to the President since executive authority vests in the President.

Honestly, even former Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration, Honorable Eric Molale, and current Permanent Secretary to the President, Carter Morupisi, both of whom served under Dr. Khama and championed his agenda, can not be blamed for Dr. Khama’s maladies for they were messengers.

But, Dr. Khama’s iniquities notwithstanding, no one can doubt his loyalty, commitment and honour to our Republic. No one can claim that Dr. Khama, in the majority of the decisions he took as President, meant well for Batswana. His economic policies and programmes were, no doubt, ill advised and consequently not sustainable, but no one can claim that they were a total waste of resources because some Batswana, though not in substantial numbers to lead to sustainable economic growth, benefitted from the programmes.

Given his popularity, especially at the dawn of his presidency, Dr. Khama could have, like some African presidents have done, amended the Constitution to increase the presidential term limit so that he continues in office, but he did not. For this, we should be grateful though some say it is not a favour as he was constitutionally obliged not to act otherwise. Of course, it is not a favour, but had he decided to cling to power, it would have forever changed our democracy and even resulted in civil war, or at least civil strife.

Dr. Khama, as a police officer, soldier, commander of the Botswana Defence Force (BDF), Vice President and President, played an invaluable role in our country’s development. Certainly, his shortcomings cannot cancel all the good work he did for the love of his country.  Reports that the Presidency has taken action to undermine him are, therefore, not to be ululated, not even by Dr. Khama’s worst adversaries. They are to be condemned with the derision they deserve.

Of course, I am opposed to Khama’s attempts to have the former DISS Director General, Isaac Kgosi, employed as his Private Secretary, not because I am against the principle that ordinarily he should be allowed to choose the person he prefers working with, but because of the baggage that Kgosi has or is perceived to have.

But, this should not be reason for Dr. Khama to be treated with such disdain, even by civil servants, many of whom owe their current positions to him. Not even the fact that he has contemplated taking legal action to compel government to engage Kgosi as his Private Secretary justifies the treatment he is getting at the hands of the government he has done so much for.  

How can we treat our former President with such contempt that a decision to withdraw his staff compliment can be made without consulting him? That government, following complaints by Dr. Khama, later issued a press release to the effect that H.E Dr. Masisi was not aware of the decision is incredible.

It is common knowledge that I have been one of Dr. Khama’s fiercest critics, but the day I watched a video clip in which Dr. Khama, during an interview with this paper, almost helplessly lamented the decision to recall his staff without notifying him, I knew something was terribly wrong.  

How can Morupisi have made such a decision which affects a former head of state and has security implications without consulting H.E Dr. Masisi? In my view, if Morupisi indeed made the decision, it could be because of the messages, perhaps implied, he got from the way H.E Dr. Masisi has treated Dr. Khama in the past.

It should be noted that before this scandal Dr. Khama had complained of the indignant manner in which the Office of the President (OP) treats him. In fact, he had complained about the manner in which Morupisi treats him with contempt. Recently, though Morupisi issued a press release disputing it, there were reports that Dr. Khama was literally left in the sun and without a table at the Palapye Kgotla when the tables he was using were unceremoniously taken away.

One would have thought that Dr. Khama’s complaints would have caused H.E Dr. Masisi to call Morupisi to order in that regard. It appears he has not because if he had, Morupisi would not have, within such a short period of time, acted in such a disrespectful manner against our former President. H.E Dr. Masisi has a duty to continue the traditions relating to respect for the former President. It is he, as the sitting President, who has to respect the dignity of the office which he, one day, will occupy. If he does not, ordinary people will not.

If he does not, ministers and civil servants would, in an effort to ingratiate themselves to him, trample on the dignity of the former President thinking or knowing that that would appease him. That cannot be correct, no matter how much Dr. Khama polarized the nation, as he did, when he was in office.

The office of the former President is a constitutionally recognized office, with its attendant protocols. So, treating Dr. Khama in an undignified manner does not only humiliate Khama, it also lowers our dignity as a nation. Go re diga seriti ebile gore tsenya phefo. Go re tsenya matho a ba dichaba. There is a Setswana adage that says ‘kgomo ya morago e gata fa ya pele e gatileng teng’, meaning that successors follow their predecessors’ footsteps. What if Dr. H.E Masisi’s successor treats him as he is treating Dr. Khama today?

We should not take Dr. Khama’s humiliating treatment lightly. It may cause civil strife of the magnitude none had anticipated. Needless to say, Dr. Khama has a significant number of followers and sympathizers, likely more than H.E Dr. Masisi has. No one knows how these will react if this humiliation were to continue. Already, there are reports that some in the BDP are plotting H.E Dr. Masisi’s down fall and Dr. Khama’s return.

There is an impending challenge on H.E Dr. Masisi’s BDP presidency, with some saying Dr. Khama is still the party president since he never resigned as such. This matter is so serious that it recently prompted the party Secretary General, Mpho Balopi, to address it during a press conference. The question is: what will happen to the government if Dr. Khama returns to the party presidency?

Some in the BDP are muting the idea of Dr. Khama standing for the BDP Chairpersonship at the party’s forthcoming elective congress. Again, the question is: what will happen to the government if Dr. Khama becomes party chairperson?

Can’t Dr. Khama, for instance, influence an amendment to the Constitution to extend the term of office of president? Can’t Khama exploit the Constitution and come back since some are of the view that the current ten-year limitation relates to a continuous period, claiming that one can be president after taking a break as Dr. Khama has.

This happened in Russia where the current President, Vladimir Putin, served his constitutional term and retired when it lapsed, and was appointed as Prime Minister by then President Dmitry Medvedev, but re-ran for the presidency, won it, and appointed Medvedev as his Prime Minister.       

No one wants the likely up-rising by BaNgwato, who may feel that their paramount chief is being undermined. For years, there has been a stand-off between government and Bakgatla who believed government did not respect their paramount chief, Kgosi Kgafela II, who is in self-imposed exile in South Africa. No one wants some rogue elements in the military having ideas of waging a military coup to bring back Dr. Khama, their idol to power. Dr. Khama, no doubt, has significant support within the military.

The status and benefits accorded to former presidents are meant, in part, to encourage people to leave office peacefully knowing that they will be taken care off. If these are taken away arbitrarily, some in the future may be unwilling to leave office for fear of losing their status, something which may be a threat to our democracy.

Yes, this is a serious matter. This is why I once suggested that such African former heads of state as Thabo Mbeki and Olusegun Obasanjo of South Africa and Nigeria respectively should intervene and try to reconcile Dr. Khama and H.E Dr. Masisi. I respect the elders within the BDP, whom we hear were once enlisted to mediate, but, in my view, they are unlikely to succeed because of, inter alia, the baggage of the party factions they are associated with and the political patronage they have enjoyed from both Dr. Khama and H.E Dr. Masisi.

Besides fear for the civil strife which may result from this stand-off, real likelihood of adverse economic consequences exists. Some potential investors, who regard this as likely resulting in instability, especially in view of Dr. Khama’s relationship with the army, may be scared off from investing in Botswana.

It would be recalled that in some of the cables they were leaked by Wikileaks’s Julian Assange the United States of America regarded Khama as a threat to Botswana’s democracy because of his military back ground. In fact, the USA opined that Khama may amend the Constitution to continue his term in office.

Meanwhile, Dr. Khama may also be well advised to take a break and enjoy his retirement. He has not rested since he left office. This after the taxing schedule he undertook during his country-wide farewell tour. This may also help to minimize friction with H.E Dr. Masisi who, perhaps, feels Dr. Khama is not giving him the space to enjoy his presidency’s honeymoon.

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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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