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2019: Botswana’s worst political year!

Ndulamo Anthony Morima

Inarguably, the year 2019 will go down in Botswana’s political history as the worst year ever, or at least the most eventful political year this country has ever endured. I say worst because several tendencies came to the fore which are inimical to the democratic ideal that our country has become internationally acclaimed for.

Such of our values and virtues as tolerance, inclusiveness and abhorrence of such ills as tribalism and sexism were, this year, tested to the core. In my view, it is the feud between his Excellency the President, Dr. Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi, and his predecessor, Lieutenant General Dr. Seretse Khama Ian Khama, which made this year the nightmare it was. For the first time in our history, we witnessed public spats between the current president and the former, with the Permanent Secretary to the President (PSP) joining the fray in support of the current.

In an unprecedented development, the former president’s staff were pulled from his residence and/or offices without his knowledge and/or consent; the former president was, in some instances, denied the privilege to travel by air; the former president was denied the privilege to determine who is employed as his private secretary. Not only that. Dr. Khama was barred from using obstacles at the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) range and several positions were taken from him, including the chancellorship for the Botswana University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (BUAN) and the Vision 2036 patronship.

Of course, some of these decision (e.g. the refusal to appoint former Director General of the Directorate on Intelligence & Security Services(DISS), Isaac Kgosi, as Dr. Khama’s private secretary) by government were appropriate, but because of the feud they were done in a combative manner which sometimes led to mistakes, which resulted in government retracting from some.

On the international stage, the feud caused embarrassment to Botswana when Dr. Khama was not accorded full diplomatic protocols when he visited the Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama, contrary to government’s preference because of its One China policy. This incident dented relations between Botswana and South Africa because the latter granted Dr. Khama a diplomatic passage in his capacity as former head of state.

Recently, it was reported that this feud escalated to unprecedented levels when Dr. Khama was denied VIP protocols and courtesies at Sir Seretse Khama International Airport. Reportedly, he was not allowed to use the VIP gates and he queued like everybody else and walked to the aero plane, something which was not only embarrassing, but also put his security at risk.

It is disconcerting that there are allegations that the public service and law enforcement and security agencies, especially the DISS, are used to fight these political battles. If true, it is regrettable since this is an abys from which we may never recover. Dr. Khama himself is not without blemish. Against tradition, he has spoken ill of not only his party, the BDP, but also the government as though he has not been part of them for the past twenty years or so.

This he did not only locally, but also internationally when he gave interviews to international media houses during which he gave a negative account of the government he once led, which is currently led by his chosen successor, Dr. Masisi. Of course, Dr. Khama, like every citizen, has the right to the freedom of conscience and expression. But, he, as former head of state, is no ordinary citizen. Not only that. The world over, tradition dictates that former heads of state, especially when they are succeeded by a head of state from their own political party, stay out of politics and do not openly criticize their successor after they have left office.

It is also unheard of, and it is almost taboo, for a former head of state to use international fora or platform to criticize his or her government. The Masisi/Khama feud has given rise to several unpleasantries which marred the year 2019. One such was the response Dr. Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi got from Dr. Masisi and the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) simply because she decided to challenge Dr. Masisi for the party presidency.

In the eyes of Dr. Masisi and the BDP, Dr. Venson-Moitoi’s decision to challenge Dr. Masisi was a sin which warranted her dismissal as a cabinet minister. While Dr. Venson-Moitoi’s dismissal from cabinet may be understandable because ministers serve at the President’s pleasure, it is not understandable why some in the BDP became as intolerant as to question her nationality, claiming she holds dual citizenship since she is also a Malawian citizen.

Worse still, others became as personal as to depict her as not only ugly, but also a bully. Others brought in the tribal card, claiming that the reason Dr. Khama supported her candidature is that she is a MoNgwato. The tribal card was also used against one of Dr. Venson-Moitoi’s ardent supporters, former Member of Parliament (MP) for Tati East and former BDP Chairperson, Sampson Guma Moyo, who has since fled the country to South African claiming his life was at risk.

Suddenly, Dr. Venson-Moitoi’s credentials as one of the longest serving Parliamentarians and cabinet ministers, who Dr. Masisi himself supported during her campaign for the chairpersonship of the African Union, counted for nothing simply because she exercised her democratic right to stand for political office.

The Opposition has also played a role in making this year the worst in Botswana’s political history.

The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC)’s failure to deal decisively and timeously with the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) saga resulted in the UDC expelling the BMD in the eve of the general elections, something which could only spell electoral doom for the Opposition.

Subsequent to the expulsion, instead of spending time and resources on the campaign trail, the UDC and the BMD spent time and much needed resources in the courts, fighting a battle which, as the Court of Appeal held, was, for all intents and purposes, academic and based not on pragmatism, but on mere principle, if at all.

Also, just like in 2014, the Opposition’s vote was split because the Alliance for Progressives (AP), as if it did not learn from the Botswana Congress Party (BCP)’s 2014 lesson, contested the elections outside the UDC.

It is because of this that many, especially workers, trade unions, the unemployed and the poor believe that the Opposition reversed the gains of 2014 and handed victory to the BDP on a silver platter.

For the first time in our electoral history, there have been allegations of massive vote rigging and fraud, with allegations that the DISS, the state president and the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) were involved.

As we speak, the High Court is seized with at least sixteen (16) petitions for Parliamentary elections, something which is unprecedented by any measure.

If true, this would be a serious indictment on our democracy, one of whose invaluable tenets has been free and fair elections. Given the history of the DISS, many may not be surprised about allegations of its involvement.

But the same cannot be said about the IEC, an institution which has, so far, been almost beyond reproach. It would indeed cause an irretrievable damage to our democracy if it were to be found that the IEC or its officials were involved in vote rigging and fraud as alleged by the UDC.

Granted, the state president is a politician who desires political victory at all costs. But, never before has a state president been accused of participating in vote rigging in our country. Therefore, if it were to be found that he was indeed involved as alleged, our country’s reputation will suffer irreparable harm.

The BDP and Dr. Masisi’s response to the UDC’s petitions have not been clothed with grace. As if filing a petition is a crime, some have accused the UDC of lack of patriotism, treason and sabotage.

This cannot be correct, and it should be frowned upon by all who believe in democracy. Electoral petitions, just like any form of litigation, are a constitutional remedy which is available to any person who feels aggrieved by the electoral results.

In countries where this remedy is thwarted, people resort to unconstitutional and/ or unlawful measures which invariably put the peace and security of the country in jeopardy. 

One, therefore, prays that this be the last year our country suffers such political turmoil for if this continues, the good governance, peace and stability our country has become internationally acclaimed for may be in jeopardy.

Given the size of our economy, our meagre population and the fact that we are a landlocked country, if we suffer an attrition on good governance, peace and stability, we are guaranteed to go down the drain. What a waste that will be! 

Ndulamo Anthony Morima

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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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