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Masisi takes charge

Parliament has acceded to President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi’s request to extend a State of Emergency for a period of six months solely for the purposes of addressing the novel coronavirus.

After a heated debate at the Boipuso hall in Gaborone, the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) had to flex muscles and evoke its majority to suppress the arguments against from the main opposition Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) who were against the proposal.

The BDP had also quashed UDC proposals of a 28 days and three months State of Emergency. The UDC was suspicious of the six months request and argued that there is potential for abuse of power by the sitting President because absolute power corrupts absolutely. On the day of the conclusion of the debates on the State of Emergency request, Government published an amendment to the Guidelines issued by the President.

Part of the amendments suspends for a period of six months provisions of the Trade and Disputes Act which provides for the right to strike and lockouts. Furthermore during the State of Emergency, the Chief Justice may suspend the operation of any of the procedures or timelines laid down in the rules of any court; issue directives relating to the detention, bail or remand of prisoners awaiting arraignment, trial, or appeal.

The amendments further deal with businesses, Where a business is unable to have employees work remotely from home or where a business is unable to pay salaries, the business may cease operations but shall not retrench or dismiss an employee during the state of public emergency.

Earlier when addressing Members of Parliament, President Masisi said, I found it appropriate to invoke Section 17 (1) of the Constitution of the Republic of Botswana, and use the powers vested in me to declare a State of Public Emergency starting from 2nd April 2020 at midnight. The State of Public Emergency is for purposes of taking effective measures to address the spread and transmission of this novel virus.

He reasoned that the said constitutional provision under Section 17 (2b) only provides that such a declaration can be up to 21 days. Considering the gravity of the matter, and in line with the Constitution, I also invoked Section 93 (1) to convene an extra- ordinary meeting of Parliament to have the opportunity to consult you on measures that have been put in place to address the spread and transmission of the virus, after which I will request you to pass a resolution on the legal instruments and regulations governing the period of the state of emergency, and also extend its duration by six (6) months.

President Masisi said the Constitution of a democratic country has in its nucleus a core of entrenched provisions that are not and cannot be subordinated to any other piece of legislation. Such entrenched provisions include the Bill of Rights that guarantees freedoms of movement, gatherings, association and self-expression.

These are the liberties that in our Constitution are so deeply embedded that they can only be legislatively reviewed through the instruments of national referenda. However, the prevailing state of emergency is intended to deal only with the COVID-19 crisis and will not in any way undermine people’s fundamental rights.

According to Masisi, this pandemic is a national security threat that challenges our very existence as a nation state and people. Parliament has, in its last sitting, passed the Appropriation Bill that allocated the national budget. At the time, we did not foresee that the pandemic would reach these alarming rates.

Masisi argued that it became clear from the impact that COVID-19 was having on the global economy that the declaration of a Public Health Emergency was limited in adequately addressing the possible social and economic negative effects it would have on our country.

Therefore on 31st March 2020, on the strong advice of the High Level Task Force and Cabinet, I declared a State of Public Emergency in accordance with Section 17 (1) of the Constitution of the Republic of Botswana.

The President said during the period of the State of Emergency; all businesses and offices may only continue their business operations by allowing their employees to work remotely from home except employees designated as essential service provider; and All persons employed within the public service, parastatals and any other state owned entity, unless specifically designated as essential service providers, shall work remotely from home.

Responding to fears that he may abuse the powers conferred on him by Parliament, the President declared, “I Mokgweertsi Masisi did not seek the Presidency of this country for reasons of ruling by decree; I did not campaign for election as President of this celebrated democracy for me to erode civil liberties upon coming into office; I did not dream of leading this proud and beloved nation, by diminishing its values of freedom and other enshrined rights that have made us the unique nation that we are.

He said he rejoiced over his ascendency to the Presidency of this country with the prescription of a legacy that would “enhance our freedoms, develop our country and lead our people beyond the middle income trap towards the first world status of development.” Masisi said he intends using the declaration of the State of Emergency, solely for the purpose of protecting our people against the decimating potentials of the Novel COVID-19 virus.

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