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Driving hell for leather

‘Car ownership is linked to upwardly-mobile aspiration, career path and wealth acquisition’   Discuss.

Certainly that statement would make for an interesting debate.   For instance, it may surprise younger readers to learn that what is now taken as the norm where car ownership is concerned was most certainly not the case only a few decades ago   I myself am old enough to remember when owning a car was the exception, not the rule. 

Growing up in the post-war decades in Britain, even a small car represented a major financial commitment and was beyond the reach of the average family.  We looked on in envy, watching American movies and television shows where almost everyone seemed to own a car, and a very big one at that.  We listened to songs by the Beach Boys that told us American teens all had their own cars before they left school and felt like the poor relations across the pond.

Gradually, however, the car became more affordable.  Car makers scaled down sizes and scaled up production and slowly but surely ownership came within the grasp of the many, not the few, even though our starter car was often second-hand and a bit of a skorokoro, or old banger.  We didn’t mind – we had wheels and wheels meant freedom!   But all the while we had our sights set on something bigger, better, faster or fancier!

You know it’s true.  Whatever car you currently drive but I’ll bet you’d really love an upgrade and that brings me to a documentary I watched this week on the latest version of the Bentley Continental GT.  The Bentley was one of the iconic luxury cars of the twentieth century,.  Founded by one Walter Bentley, who had  served in the Royal Naval Air Service in WW1 where he earned the subtleties of aerodynamics and mechanical engineering, he began his own business post-war, specialising in luxury speedsters, the marque winning the prestigious Le Mans auto race five times between 1924 and 1930.  In 1931 the company was bought by the equally luxurious and legendary manufacturer, Rolls-Royce and throughout the century, the Bentley and Rolls Royce motors epitomised the best in the business, the former lending its name to the phrase ‘Gently Bentley’, meaning carrying out something smoothly and stylishly, whatever you happened to be doing.

Now under the ownership of BMW,  Bentley last year launched the aforementioned 3rd Gen Bentley Continental, or Conti, as it affectionately known.    I won’t bore you too much with technical details.  Suffice to say that it has a 4-litre, V8 engine which goes from 0-60 in 3.6 seconds, an unique, rotating cockpit display, the interior is of hand-stitched leather and both interior and exterior come in 34 regular colours but can be customised to whatever shade takes your fancy.  Such performance and perfection doesn’t come cheap but that’s what makes it so aspirational.  Face it, if you’re a died-in-the-wool petrol head, you want this motor.

And therein lies the rub.  First off, even the phrase ‘petrol head’ is likely to get you pilloried by Extinction Rebellion activists  and other eco-warriors  these days.  Despite the fact that this vehicle consumes less than 10 litres of fuel per 100 kilometres and its emission levels are lower than any other in its class, this new Conti would definitely be classed by activists as a ‘gas guzzler’ and therefore the enemy of the planet.

It doesn’t stop there.  To produce the crafted, leather interior it takes the hides of 12 cows.  That is quite a lot for a relatively small space but Bentley is very concerned with hide quality and consistency and the skins are carefully selected and meticulously pattern-cut to achieve the required standard of quality. And right there, that’s more fuel for the eco-activist’s fire, if you’ll pardon the pun.

You see, cows are also regarded as the enemies of the planet.  In 2006 the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization published a study entitled ‘Livestock’s Long Shadow’, which received widespread international attention. It stated that livestock produced a staggering 18 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.  The agency drew a startling conclusion: livestock was doing more to harm the climate than all modes of transportation combined. This latter claim was wrong, and has since been corrected by Henning Steinfeld, the report’s senior author. The problem was that FAO analysts used a comprehensive life-cycle assessment to study the climate impact of livestock, but a different method when they analyzed transportation.

For livestock, they considered every factor associated with producing meat. This included emissions from fertiliser production, converting land from forests to pastures, growing feed, and direct emissions from animals (belching and manure) from birth to death. However, when they looked at transportation’s carbon footprint, they ignored impacts on the climate from manufacturing vehicle materials and parts, assembling vehicles and maintaining roads, bridges and airports. Instead, they only considered the exhaust emitted by finished cars, trucks, trains and planes. As a result, the FAO’s comparison of greenhouse gas emissions from livestock to those from transportation was greatly distorted.  Yet this misconception remains in the consciousness of many.

It’s also a mistake to equate livestock farming with deforestation.  In fact the opposite is true.  Cows not only don’t mind trees, they like to rest in their shade when the weather is hot and shelter there when it rains.  Whereas a farmer wanting to grow carrots, cabbages or other cash crops, is more likely to clear a field of trees and bushes in order to make space for his vegetable rows.  And since leather is a by-product of the cattle farming industry and using it productively reduces wastage, that too is somewhat of a fallacy.

So even though a base-model Bentley Conti  will set you back a cool two and a half million pula here’s the plan.  Explain to your bank manager how much you’ll be saving on fuel in the interests of a greener planet and anyway, petrol is just old trees recycled.  Then tell them how important it is that all our local cow hides don’t go to waste, not to mention saving the jobs of all the staff at Bentley’s Croydon plant. All told, we really all need one because it’s clearly good for the planet and its people.  You know it makes sense!

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The current two Pandemics that have affected Botswana: HIV/AIDS and Covid-19 – and the response (Reflections from an observer)

4th August 2020

Dr Edward T. Maganu

The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) was first detected in Botswana in 1985. The coronavirus that causes Covid-19 was detected in 2020. Both viruses were new, and it was their global occurrence that led to their classification as pandemics.

They have both been traced to animals, something not surprising as most new viruses are actually cross-overs from animals. A virus crosses species, in this case to humans, and its subsequent behaviour depends on how it adapts to the new species. Many are “dead-ends”, the virus cannot multiply or be transmitted between members of the new species.

In the case of the two which are our subject in this paper, the viruses adapted to the new species (human) and underwent mutations that allowed them to be easily transmitted between humans, hence the rapid spread.

The two viruses, HIV and the Covid-19 virus are very different, hence their mode of spread is different and their mechanisms of disease causation and epidemiology are very different. The approach to their control is of necessity very different. To illustrate their difference, HIV is transmitted mainly by sexual intercourse, Covid-19 virus mainly by the droplet method through the respiratory tract.

HIV causes ill health a long time after infection, which can run from about two years to many years (incubation period); the incubation period of Covid-19 is a few days, estimated at between 10 and 14 days. HIV infection leads to the destruction of the immune system, and when the victim gets ill, it can be from any of a wide variety of diseases caused by “opportunistic infections or even cancers”, hence the name Acquired Human Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS).

Covid-19 on the other hand presents generally as an upper respiratory tract infection (URTI) although there are some presenting differently, especially with lower respiratory infection (lungs affected) in the more severe cases. Another but very important difference is that, while Covid-19 is generally an acute, self-limiting illness, with most patients recovering fully within a few weeks, and in fact many showing no symptoms, HIV/AIDS is a chronic condition; once the patient starts signs and symptoms, usually years after infection, this leads invariably to death from one of the opportunistic infections or diseases.

This last scenario used to be the case in the first decades of HIV/AIDS, but has fortunately changed after the development of drugs that in combination are referred to as Highly Active Anti-Retroviral Therapy (HAART, now known as ART).

HIV/AIDS is now treatable and no longer a death sentence, although treatment lasts for life as the drugs do not eliminate the virus from the body but suppress it. As for Covid-19, there is currently, as is the case generally with viral infections, no effective antibiotic or antiviral drug that kills the virus or eliminates it from the body.

Where does this put us? We are essentially dealing with two diseases or pandemics that are very different from each other. I did my post-graduate studies in Public Health during the last years of smallpox eradication, actually I finished the studies in 1978, the year Smallpox eradication was certified in Botswana.

What used to be emphasized, why the world succeeded in eradicating Smallpox was that it had epidemiological characteristics that supported eradication: it was easy to diagnose, even by lay people; it had a consistent incubation period of about 10 days; it virtually had a 100% manifestation rate (everybody infected showed typical signs and symptoms); there was a vaccine against it that was virtually 100% effective. Unfortunately, there have been few diseases with such favourable characteristics for eradication. Hence the next disease targeted for eradication, Polio, is almost done but still causing some problems.

Response to the HIV/AIDS and Covid-19 pandemics in Botswana

When HIV was detected in Botswana in 1985, the world had been aware of the existence of AIDS for about five years, that is, since the outbreaks among gays in America in 1981. By 1985 the virus had been identified but little was known about it; it was still a subject of intense research. However we knew that it caused AIDS and was no longer just transmitted in gay sex, but that most transmission in Africa was through heterosexual sex, and that sexual transmission was responsible for more than 90% of transmission occurring in Africa.

Some African countries were already experiencing severe HIV/AIDS epidemics, especially in Central and East Africa. In some of them (Uganda is sometimes quoted) people started dying in large numbers before the cause was known, only for people to move to neighbouring villages and infect others there!

The Botswana HIV epidemic, as well as those of SACU countries generally, was later than those of Central and East Africa. The latter had already experienced high disease and mortality rates for some years. In the late 1980s, Botswana was experiencing a big economic boom, and this attracted professionals, technicians and artisans from African countries badly affected by HIV/AIDS, and this really speeded up transmission in the country.

When the first seropositive people were identified in 1985, I was Assistant Director of Health Services responsible for Primary Health Care. So, Disease Control fell in my Department, and I had the responsibility of reporting to my seniors at the Ministry and hence to the country that we now had HIV.

Control measures were started immediately, such as screening all blood donated for transfusion and putting together with the help of WHO, the first short-term control plan. A unit was created which was headed by an appropriate professional. In 1986 I became Director of Health Services and Deputy Permanent Secretary, and in January 1990 I became Permanent Secretary.

In all these positions I was intimately involved in HIV/AIDS control, working intimately with those directly responsible for the unit/programme, and also doing at least one assignment with Global Programme on AIDS (GPA) when it was still with WHO before UNAIDS was created to share the AIDS programme with other UN Agencies. In the same manner, here at home we started pushing for the multisectoral approach to HIV/AIDS control in the early 1990s, that resulted in the formation of the National AIDS Council and eventually NACA.

The Ministry of Health undertook a very intensive public education from early in the HIV epidemic. The Ministry warned the people of Botswana (through and including the political, traditional and community leaders) about what was going to happen, the impending doom of high morbidity and mortality. What was needed was change is sexual behaviour.

Everyone knows that the main message from the Ministry was “ABC” (abstain, be faithful, condomise), which had become a universal message especially in Africa was used by the Ministry. Put in other words, the message aimed at three things; i) delaying sexual debut, ii) avoiding multiple concurrent partners and iii) consistent condom use.

This message never made an impact on the Botswana population, so when the clinical cases started hitting the country after the several years of silent spread (the silent phase of HIV spread), the effect was disaster. We had a nasty surprise in the health system that while the countries in central Africa that had early HIV/AIDS epidemics had their HIV prevalence plateauing at 15% and we thought the same would happen here, in Botswana and Southern Africa prevalence rates went past 30%.

This was due partly to the sexual practices of our people but also to the HIV sub-type that was prevalent in our part of the world. By 1966 Botswana was declared as having the highest prevalence of HIV in the world.

The real heavy load of cases in Botswana started in the mid-1990s, and everybody remembers it; funerals and funerals and funerals. That time ARVs were still under development, and it was only at the end of the 1990s that they became available but very expensive, so most poor and middle income countries could not immediately afford them.

Thanks to India, Thailand and Brazil who broke the patents and manufactured the drugs, their availability to many developing countries would have taken a long time. Here in Botswana, it was due to the initiative of the then President that HAART became available for general use in Government facilities in 2002, with massive aid from PEPFAR and ACHAP (supplied by Merck Foundation and the Bill and Gates Foundation).

Otherwise there was talk of extinction, and the expected population pyramid produced by UNAIDS was frightening. Luckily because of ARV’s that scenario did not occur. The rest of Botswana’s HIV/AIDS trajectory up to now is history. I left Government service on 31st December 1996 after seven years as P.S. and joined WHO.

I had almost joined WHO in 1989 but deferred it when I was appointed PS and did not want to appear unpatriotic and disappoint President Masire and PSP Legwaila with both of whom I had very excellent relations. My initial job with WHO was in Tuberculosis, a disease that had been my passion since I did Public Health and took over its control as head of disease control in 1979.

No matter what post I held in the Ministry thereafter, I participated directly in Tuberculosis control. And as we all know. Tuberculosis became and is still one of the manifestations of HIV globally and in Botswana.

HIV/AIDS was and is a slow epidemic. So, the public did not really perceive it as a threat in Botswana, except perhaps in the late 1990s and early 2000s when it caused very high mortality in the country. The Covid-19 epidemic/pandemic is different. Although it doesn’t kill everybody who gets it like HIV-related disease did, we have seen in highly affected countries that the 2-5% it kills translate to large numbers, because this is an acute infection that spreads very quickly. So, it should be easy for the public to perceive its danger.

The surveillance and containment that has been employed so far in Botswana to control the spread of Covid-19 has been very effective. Those responsible, the Ministry of Health and Wellness and the Task Force deserve to be acknowledged and thanked for a job well done. I am confident that the health care system can also adjust itself and not be disrupted by this new threat.

Since the chances of developing a drug against such a virus seems a bit remote, we are all putting our hope on a vaccine. Many viral diseases have very effective vaccines, so this keeps our hope up. We also need to know if one attack of this disease results in life-long immunity (like measles, mumps, chicken pox etc.) or if one can be attacked more than once, implying that the virus keeps mutating and bringing up new sub-types.

We are still to see if the public will do better than they did with HIV/AIDS and follow the health education. Experience is what usually persuades people to change; that is why many believe the celebrated change in Uganda when people changed and HIV infections dropped was due to the large mortality they had experienced before they even knew what was killing them.

Regarding Covid-19, we are seeing in a number of badly affected countries, people ignoring or resisting social distancing measures and masks, sometimes encouraged by politicians! Here in Botswana we have not yet experienced large losses of lives from Covid-19, so it is still to be seen how the public will really conform to advice, especially on social distancing and other measures like masks and hand washing.

What one sees so far is not very encouraging -in combis, bars etc., and during weekends in homes. In health we talk of KAP (Knowledge, Attitude, Practice). We know that K does not always lead to change in A, and to P. We saw this plainly in HIV/AIDS, what is going to happen in Covid-19?

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Shedding off the tax haven tag: amendment of section 5(4a) of the income tax act

4th August 2020

Botswana has been under scrutiny from organizations such as Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), French government and Financial Action Task Force (FATF) in relation to secrecy laws in relation to sharing information with other countries.

In its 2017 report, the FATF stated that some Acts that aim at combating financial crime including the Income Tax Act have some limitations in relation to confidentiality of information exchanged, its protection, and use of the information for the purposes it was requested for. The worry was that there may be refusal by competent authorities to provide requested information under unreasonable or unduly restrictive conditions to courts or prosecuting bodies.

This has resulted in the country being grey listed by the FATF and has been under close monitoring by the FATF in relation to the deficiencies identified in our laws. The European Union also recently listed us in countries that may be blacklisted in October 2020 if it doesn’t address identified deficiencies.

Amending of secrecy law for Income Tax purposes may have been influenced by these developments and as the deadline comes closer for compliance it is not surprising that we have such a proposal including amendment of Acts such as Botswana Unified Revenue Service Act (which is mentioned in the report as one of the Acts to be strengthened).

Though there are some exchange of information provisions in various tax agreements Botswana has, there was worry that the current section 5(4A) had some limitations. The current subsection only references subsection 4 and doesn’t mention other sections in the Act or the whole Act. The phrase “…notwithstanding subsection (4)…..” has been replaced with “notwithstanding this Act or any other written law….” This now means the tax authority will not be limited by any section in this Act or any other law to provide information to other tax authorities or any other institution that needs such information whether within or outside the country.

The provision will supplement other available protocols such as the Southern African Development Community (SADC) exchange of information protocol and Article 25 of various double taxation avoidance agreements Botswana has with different countries. Some commentators though believe that the provision might be limited as it still references section 53 which deals with tax agreements the country has with other tax jurisdictions. The worry is that it may make it difficult for non-counterparts to access information as the same provision may be used by the authority to refuse releasing of such information where the countries do not have agreements or partnership of any form.

However apart from the tax agreements Botswana has some Tax Information Exchange Agreements (TIEAs) with some countries that are not in SADC and also do not have tax agreements with. There is also a tax information exchange manual that provides guidance on how such information is provided to whoever needs it. As parliament debates the bill in the coming weeks, we can rest assured that the passing of the bill as is or with some improvements such as allowing for a provision that caters for countries without tax agreements we will be moving towards the “white list”. Botswana will indeed be shedding off the tax haven tag and complying with the FATF and EU recommendations.

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The Ati Hoopla: There’s Need for Soul-Searching Before We Shy Stones

9th July 2020

Over the last few weeks, the one name that has been trending on social media in our neck of the woods is that of Atlasaone Molemogi, artistically known as ATI.

ATI is a young Motswana entertainer of age 30 as of 2020. Wildly popular, with close to 200,000 followers on his Facebook platform, ATI has been described as “Botswana’s finest rapper”, a music genre I am neither familiar with nor wish to acquaint with having grown up on a staple of rock and roll, soul, country, pop, folk, jazz, blues, rhumba, mbaqanga and the like.

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