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I am a sucker for New Year’s resolutions. The anticipation and pre-planning process starts about halfway through December when my intentions about intentions begin to form and lurk in my psychological ’ to do’  list (loosely translated that means I haven’t committed anything to paper or thought through my resolutions but there is an overwhelming sense that now is the time to start).

I saw a funny post on social media which said the earth makes one full rotation around the sun and then carries on doing exactly the same and everyone reacts with celebration and renditions of Auld Lang Syne – referring of course to the fact that the morphing from the end of December into the beginning of January is simply another day, all the more so because the Gregorian calendar is an artificial construct anyway. 

Looked at logically, the obvious time to mark a new rotational cycle would be the first day of spring, not 10 days after the official start of winter in Europe or summer in the southern hemisphere.  January 1st makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, yet just like most,  I too view the start of a new year as a defining moment – a new chapter, a fresh start or an opportunity to begin afresh.  ‘Happy New Year, Compliments of the Season and let’s hope it’s a good one’!

A quick Wikipedia search reveals that at the end of the Great Depression, about a quarter of American adults formed New Year's resolutions. At the start of the 21st century, about 40% did and about 40% to 50% of Americans participated in the New Year's resolution tradition, according to the 1995 Epcot and 1985 Gallop Polls. A study found 46% of participants who made common New Year's resolutions (e.g. weight loss, exercise programmes, quitting smoking) were over 10 times likely to succeed than those deciding to make life changes at other times of the year.

So even if you think it is corny or you don’t accept there’s anything much to it, a resolution if nothing else,  is a self-improvement, to-do list and there has been countless research to support that simply writing down your intention increases your chances of turning that into a reality. The real beauty is in its simplicity – work out what needs to be done and in what order, write down the tasks, carry them out and then, one-by-one, cross them off.

There has been other research that has focussed on the brain’s obsession with pressing tasks which has been called the “Zeigarnik effect” – that we remember things we need to do better than things we’ve done.  For example, it was observed that waiters could only recall diners’ orders before they had been served. After the dishes had been delivered, their memories simply erased who’d had the steak and who’d had the soup. The deed was done and the brain was ready to let go and turn to the next table.

Unfinished events – like the fact that last year we had promised ourselves to start writing that book or get the family’s finances in order including filing and planning,  clean out our closet, go  swimming 3 days a week and do charity work at least once a month…– tend to prey on our ever-more-cluttered mind. So when the new year comes, we see the opportunity to start over, to try again and do better this time.

American psychologist Will Joel Friedman says that the dissonance caused by unfinished business prevents us from living fully in the present moment. What we've accomplished takes second place in our minds, and what we haven't done moves front and centre. While this may serve as a useful to-do list, it also increases stress and chips away at our self-esteem.

New Year's resolutions are an exercise in positivity.  Even if we made the same ones last year and failed to keep them, we feel optimistic about success this year. And it is not only the territory of individuals. Organisations make New Year’s resolutions all the time. They show up in budgets, goals, and strategic plans.

They are often launched in a flourish of sparkly communications via Whatsapp, Facebook or Twitter, purportedly from the Chairman of the Board or the CEO, jollying and chivvying everyone in the organisation to pull together and come back to work with a renewed optimism. “Let’s make it the best year ever!.”  And just like our individual lists,  corporate  resolutions are also statements of hope and promise, the opposite of which would be despair and disappointment.  Looked at in that light, they’re pretty well obligatory!

And for those of you who are either unconvinced about the purpose and efficacy or those who want to buy into it but are still undecided on exactly what to commit to, let me make it very simple.  No matter how you phrase it, nor how you intend to achieve it, all New Year resolutions, be they private or corporate, boil down to three things – health, wealth and happiness –  To quote Keats. “That is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know’”

And on that note, ‘Lang may your lums reek’!

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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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