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Stuart White

The World in Black-N-White

Growing up in the sixties  I was fascinated with sci-fi television series and movies – Star Trek, Lost In Space, Space Family Robinson, The Jetsons, My Favourite Martian. 

With America’s eye firmly on the goal of landing on the moon, the entertainment industry jumped on the bandwagon and watching these programmes, it all seemed suddenly possible.  In a few short years we’d be commuting to work in helicopters, our homes would be cleaned by robots and we’d be jetting off to Mars for our holidays.

As for plastic, it was the wonder of the age.  There was nothing it couldn’t replace, it was cheap durable (and how!) and was the material of the future (again, and how!).  We even wore it in the form of PVC.  Now 60 years on, what to do with the all the excess is a global problem and one that may encourage us to move to another planet just to get away from all the earthbound plastic!

Separating science from science fiction, our lives are very different today than back then but not in the ways depicted on screen.  There is not a day that goes by when I am not reminded of what life was like years ago. I look at my cell phone and ask myself how we ever coped without these, ditto the microwave, internet, cheap international travel almost everything that is central to our lives.  But as all these inventions came along, there were also the naysayers who predicted they would be five-minute wonders.

Here are probably some of the worst technology predictions of all time:

“The Americans have need of the telephone, but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys” – said by the not so visionary William Preece of the British Post Office. “Television won’t be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of looking at a plywood box every night.”  Darryl Zannizk of 20th Century Fox  (ah,  but that was before the 55” slimline colour screen with Dolby surround sound!)

“Remote shopping, while entirely feasible, will flop. “ Time magazine (I buy pretty much everything online) So what are we to make of a new report on the future of technology commissioned by Samsung  which predicts that  hoverboard- based sports and holiday in space (where have we heard that one before!) are some of the things which will be common by 2069?   Other predictions are for mass scale production of 3D printed organs, implants to monitor our health and self-cleaning homes. 

Transport will have been completely revolutionised with underwater transport systems being in use between the UK and mainland Europe (if they are still talking after Brexit) and other regions where high speed pods will easily transport travellers between some countries in less than an hour. Flying taxis and buses will also be in use in urban areas to cut congestion while more long-distance travel will use reusable rockets flying in the upper atmosphere and at high speeds, cutting travel time between London and New York to 30 minutes. I wonder if Air Botswana’s arrival and departure record will be sorted by then? All of this, it is prophesised, will be part of everyday life in a mere half century. 

My first waving red flag with all of this is what will be the cost to the planet the carbon footprint etc.?   It is sad that except for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. scarcely any politicians are talking of this issue while the Amazonian rainforests are burning and we elect into power people who are in denial, don’t care about these issues and refuse to act.

And too many of us don’t care either. We use and reuse without thinking of the costs with our ’ it’s just one plastic straw’  mentality, without considering how many others are saying the same, how much of our daily lives is encased in and invested in, perpetual plastic when once the dream was that of perpetual motion.  Do you know there are no technological or economic barriers to converting entirely to clean renewable energy sources, same as there is not one reason to stick with plastic straws – as with everything it is whether there is societal or political will.

One prediction which scientists did seem to get right was climate change. Forty years ago a group of scientists produced the Charney Report.  Now, it was not nearly as impressive or sexy  as a moon landing and didn’t have millions waiting with bated breath for the results which firmly established the science of global warming. So some predications, it appears, we are willing to entertain and embrace …others we need time to warm to the idea a bit more and yes, the pun was intended.

Here is the thing.  In our thinking about the future we have to ensure that our plans, innovations designs etc are aligned with our future survival and to the world we want to bequeath to generations to come. I am all for flying taxis, reusable rockets and underwater highways provided it can be delivered at absolute minimum cots to the planet –otherwise it’s not worth the ultimate price  All of those inventions to be sound like they’re going to need a helluva lot more plastic, not less – imagine driving underground in  anything at all corrosive.

Robot construction, formerly utilising  metal, is now using durable plastic cases, just like every other electronic device we own or use.   And as for the miracle that is the 3D Printer, guess what everything is printed in – that’s right, more plastic. It’s time for a drastic re-think of where we are going and which technologies are truly beneficial long-term and stretch the term ‘natural resources’ to embrace all the alternative materials and methodologies that are so readily available and so sustainable.

Oh, and just for the record, I hate Sci-Fi moves these days.

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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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