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Freedom of Speech: Where does it start and end?

One of the most important freedoms that citizens should enjoy is the freedom of the speech. This freedom is granted — in the case of Botswana and other democratic and advanced nations — by the constitution.

Governments do not necessarily have to bother citizens with what they say and how they say it. In any case, the democratic nature of governments allow citizens to criticise government for its decisions and for its behaviour. This right is granted because democracy is defined as a government of the people, and that government officials serve the interest of the people. Regularly, people are called, through elections to give a new mandate to those who served in governing positions.

All these do not happen devoid of differing opinions in public fora. Differing opinions are particularly encouraged in a democratic dispensation because they enhance perspectives on different issues.
It is this freedom that enables those who seek office to make their cases known. In the absence of the freedom of speech, democracy is impossible. Therefore, people abhor any attempt to have this freedom taken away from them at any time because doing so will be the end of democracy.

If people cannot say what they want to say, because of fear of retribution, the democratic nature of any society melts away. In the view of the importance of freedom of speech, it should also be noted that this freedom cannot be absolute. With the benefit of hindsight, irresponsible speech can disturb prevailing peace, intrude other people privacy and needlessly damage people reputation.

Therefore, even ultra-democratic nations, including pioneers of democracy such as the United States (US), do have the limit. Freedom of speech is defined by law hence any speech that amounts to libel, slander, threatening the President are not protected by the law in the US. This decision to curb the freedom of speech, reasonably so, were arrived at by the framers of constitutions, legislative bodies and other entities specifically for public good.

However, because government are always at the helm of law making, there are obvious chances that some government may try to use that as way of suppressing dissenting views, and persecuting political rivals, a result of which would be an assault on civil liberties. There is need to balance the need to protect people’s right to share their views and to participate in national discourse without fear of retribution as well as the need for people not to harm the public or individuals with their needless harmful remarks.

The media, as the fourth estate, has the primary responsibility to ensure that citizens enjoy their freedoms, most importantly the freedom of speech. Actually, it is this freedom that makes journalism possible. Because of this huge responsibility, the media practitioners as professionals are governed by ethics and also licensed by statutory bodies such as — in the case of Botswana — Botswana Post, Botswana Communication Regulatory Authority (BOCRA).

Ethics strive to promote responsible journalism, to avoid violation of people rights unjustly. Even the fourth estate do not enjoy absolute freedom of speech. In recent years, there have been a mushrooming of news platforms on social media, pursuing what one would consider citizen journalism. There are many legal challenges that face practitioners of this kind journalism, everywhere in the world including the US where it has been noted that even in court, these people may not be protected by what they call ‘shield laws’, as much as professional journalist are.

Professional journalists can be protected by the court, even when they are not necessarily right in their conduct because theirs is considered a professional duty, governed by ethics and also because of the believe that professional journalists are not purely driven by malice. It is without doubt that freedom of speech is paramount in any democratic society; that it should be protected at all cost, and that it should be cherished.

But when citizen journalism go rampant, to create platforms in the social media specifically for malice, to purposely spread fear through untruth, to destabilise the country, to violate people’s privacies and other forms of extreme, there is need to put it a limit to it. There is no justification really to use the freedom of speech to harm innocent people, to cause instability and to undermine the country’s peace and stability.

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Opinions

The Corona Coronation (Part 4)

25th May 2020

China moves to muzzle people who wanted to blow the trumpet

On February 3rd this year, Dr James Lyons-Weiler, a molecular biologist who is also senior researcher at the University of Pittsburgh, said this in a particularly insightful interview on the mystery of the coronavirus:

“I’ve analysed the entire genome sequence of this virus and compared it to the entire genome sequences of all the other coronaviruses that we have data for, and turned up this weird element that doesn’t belong there. I’ve found that it actually did match a vector technology that was published in 1998 in the proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

This vector technology is a mechanism by which molecular biologists insert new genes into viruses and bacteria. Now, it’s really unusual to find a vector technology sequence in a virus that’s circulating in humans, and so naturally, one thing we can say, I think for certain, is that this particular virus has a laboratory origin. So we can rule out a natural origin.”

As highlighted in earlier pieces, Luc Montaignier, the discoverer of HIV, said pretty much the same thing, and so did nine specialised Indian researchers. In fact, the Indian scientists attracted so much flak for going against the contrived orthodox – that the coronavirus made a leap from bats into humans using an intermediate animal host palatable to human taste – that two days later, they withdrew the paper altogether.

Yet if the Indian researchers were tarnished, it was all a smear campaign as ample enough evidence, albeit circumstantial, has emerged to the effect that the novel coronavirus was birthed in a Chinese laboratory and it was from there it either leaked or was deliberately propagated into the human population for both experimental (in a diabolical sense) and mercenary motives. The culprit laboratory in the main is the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Strictly speaking though, the laboratory was an accomplice as opposed to a sole respondent.

“THE VIRUS WAS INTRODUCED FROM OUTSIDE THE MARKET”, CHINESE RESEARCHERS ALLEGE

The novel coronavirus outbreak is curious, if not anomalous, in more than one respect. Analysts have wondered, for instance, why it arose in central China when traditionally basically every disease that emerges in China does so through Guangdong, the coastal province that surrounds Hong Kong in the southern part of the country.

This aberration in itself, not to mention the jigsaw that the country’s two major population centres of Shanghai (23.4 million) and Beijing (18.8 million) were only minimally affected, presupposes the fact that there is something fishy about the whole phenomenon, if it can be called that.

A persuasive case can in fact be made that although the coronavirus was according to Chinese authorities detected on December 1, 2019, it had actually been slowly but surely on the loose as early as November (considering that there was certain to be an incubation period between infection and symptoms before the cluster cases of the seafood market began to emerge on December 15, 2019). The Chinese authorities were very much cognisant of this, as well as the fact that the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market was not the germinal point of the virus.

The January 29, 2020 online edition of The Lancet featured a paper titled Clinical Features of Patients Infected with the 2019 Novel Coronavirus in Wuhan, China. The paper was authored by a team led by Professor Chaolin Huang, the Deputy Director of Jinhintan Hospital, the first Wuhan infirmary to be designated for treatment of the purportedly “mysterious” pneumonia that was triggered by the nascent coronavirus.

The paper said of the 99 Covid-19 cases analysed, 50 percent had never been to the Huanan Seafood Market and that “the origin of 2019nCoV (Covid-19) needs further investigation”. Had the team been matter-of-fact in their declaration, they would have made it categorical that the virus originated elsewhere but they were wary that they did not incense the political powers that be.

On the same day, the New England Journal of Medicine reported, in a paper titled Early Transmission Dynamics in Wuhan, China, of Novel Coronavirus–Infected Pneumonia and which was authored by a team of dozens of Chinese doctors from the country’s various centres for disease control and prevention, that of the first 425 confirmed Covid-19 cases in Wuhan, 45 percent had never set foot in the precincts of the seafood market.

In the hard news that was splashed on the front pages of Chinese newspapers but which was totally ignored by the laughably partial Western media, researchers from Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, which is a branch of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the Chinese Institute for Brain Research made it plain that the novel coronavirus did not emanate from the Wuhan street market but from a different place which they were discrete enough not to name.

“The crowded street market provided a happy playground for the SARS-CoV-2 circulation and spread it to the whole world from December 2019,” the researchers boldly stated. The vendors and shoppers at Huanan were simply unfortunate enough to be infected by a virus that was introduced from outside the ill-fated and convenient scapegoat market.

Having sequenced the genomic data of 93 Covid-19 samples provided by 12 countries in a bid to track down the source of the infection and understand how it spreads, the Xishuangbanna researchers, who were led by Dr Yu Wenbin, wrote in their institute’s journal on February 28 that the novel coronavirus “was imported from elsewhere. The busy market then boosted its circulation and spread it to the whole city.” More than a dozen scientific blogs published in China would onward relay the same inference.

CHINESE AUTHORITIES DUCK AND DIVE

As the coronavirus tore through the ranks of the 11 million-odd Wuhan residents, the Chinese authorities committed two rather rueful and costly mistakes. First, they downplayed the gravity of the problem both to their own people and to the world at large. Second, they threatened serious repercussions to any Chinese who pronounced on the situation in public fora without the sanction of the political bigwigs.

Third, they neglected to institute a headstart clampdown on inessential toing-and-froing both within Wuhan and between Wuhan and other cities. To rub salt into the wound, the WHO played along to the Chinese subterfuge, blindly echoing their reassuring words parrot style.

Before Wuhan, the seventh largest city in China, was put on lockdown on January 23, 2020, its mayor allowed more than 5 million residents to leave the town, and this at a time when 80 people had died of Covid-19, 2760 were infected, and a total of 14 countries had acknowledged the presence of the virus in their midst. It is a miracle that the peregrinations of this sea of humanity did not trigger a Covid-19 apocalypse across the vast country.

If the truth may be told, the exodus was not a spur-of-the-moment one intended to steer clear of the Covid-19 epicentre: it was in relation to the so-called Lunar New Year, during which the Chinese typically make no less than 3 billion trips over the full season, with workers getting a week off work from January 24-30 and returning to their hometowns for extended family reunions. However, with the spectre of Covid-19 bearing down on Wuhan, the authorities should have flexed situation-specific muscles and confined the Wuhanese in particular to within the Wuhan radius by responsible decree.

Meanwhile, the spin mantra on the lips of the Chinese authorities was that “the diseases is preventable and controllable”, that “there is no need to be alarmed” and that the chances that the disease could be spread through human contact was implausible even when emergency wards were filling with invalids who included members of the same family.

“We knew this was not the case,” wrote an anonymous Wuhan-based doctor who had seen a atypically huge surge in chest illnesses since January 12 on the National Health Commission website. About 8 people were investigated for “spreading rumours about the outbreak.”

Doctors and other members of the health cadre who tried to raise red flags were silenced both reactively and pro-actively. Officials forbade the release of data pertaining to data publication of pneumonia related to Wuhan, including social and self-media or technical services companies. The term viral pneumonia was not to be used on the image reports.

When the Shanghai P3 Laboratory team, that first isolated and published the virus genome on February 5, approached the National Health Commission for its guidance on preventative measures, it was ordered to close with the gag instructions that “existing samples must be destroyed. Information about the samples, related samples, and related data, are all prohibited from release.”

The Chinese government only moved to act constructively and be reasonably transparent on January 20, by which time the virus had gained a tenacious hold. China paid dearly, in terms of lives lost, for its inaction and that way put much of the world at serious peril.

REVELRY IN THE MIDST OF FOREBODING

All sorts of probable reasons as to why Beijing initially chose to treat the Covid-19 outbreak so nonchalantly have been bandied about. The most seemly of these had to do with politics by a regime that is so obsessed with self-promotion even where it is not called for.

The emergence of the coronavirus coincided with the country’s political season, when officials gather for the Communist Party’s annual congress, a propaganda indaba where they rhapsodise about their policies, programmes, and the strides they are making economically. At a time such as this, a promulgation of bad news would have tellingly subtracted from the time-honoured euphoria of the occasion.

“Stressing politics is always No. 1,” Wang Xiaodong, the governor of Hubei, told officials on January 17. “Political issues are at any time the most fundamental major issues.”
Indeed, in his annual report to the same congress, Wuhan mayor Zhou Xianwang made not the merest mention of the viral outbreak.

In fact, no other city or provincial leader did so. , Zhou even had the audacity to allow 40,000 families to gather and share their home-cooked food in a Chinese New Year banquet when 291 people were reeling from the effects of the coronavirus and 6 had already succumbed to it.

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Opinions

Resilience, Rescue and Recovery on the African continent

12th May 2020

MARCUS COURAGE

The seismic shifts that Covid-19 has introduced to the way we live, work and consume, has brought nature’s dominion and the scale of inequality on our continent into stark relief.

New ideas and new policies will be required to address complex and interdependent socio-economic and environmental challenges that have concerned us for some time, but which now assume a much greater importance for policy-makers and other stakeholders.

Although we are still in the early days of this pandemic, movements to restore the primacy of people and the environment in African policy-making have already started to emerge.

The case for massive investment in healthcare provision is the most obvious, but attention is being drawn too to the risk of other crises such as climate change –  on a continent that is more vulnerable than any other to the effects of changing weather patterns.

The disruption to value chains caused by global lockdowns and stockpiling, has renewed concerns about globalism. Localisation will assume a new importance for African law-makers seeking measures to guarantee security of supply.

African businesses should leverage this momentum and the availability of abundant cheap labour to become the contract manufacturer of choice, in the same way that China has been for the last two decades. Industries will need to consult closely with their governments to reap these rewards.

The effectiveness of government is being more closely scrutinised in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.  In a post-COVID debt-laden environment the case for rationalisation of government will grow stronger, opening up more spaces for private sector provision of services and collaboration with community groups for last-mile delivery.

The coronavirus will expose the quality of leadership and governance on our continent. Over the long term, the willingness and ability of Africa’s leadership to embrace new models and new policies for growing and sharing value among citizens and conserving natural capital will determine the competitiveness of nations.

In the short term, three factors  – a nation’s health, the efficacy of governments’ social interventions and the quality of financial relief and economic stimulus – will determine the speed and quality of economic recovery.

The coronavirus will expose governments with weak capacity. Fragile states are at risk of experiencing further negative downward spirals that could trigger social unrest and political instability.

In countries where state capacity has become diminished or non-existent, the consequences of COVID-19 could be transformational, expanding the reach of militias and other armed sub-state actors who fill governance voids to provide services to local communities.

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‘Uncivilised’ and/or ‘Uncultured’ Democracies: Would Still Struggle with Deep-Rooted Conflicts of Interest …

12th May 2020

In ‘civilised’ democracies, old democracies, cultured democracies, the adherence to norms, standards and shared values is a practice. That is why they come up with legal and institutional frameworks to practice this adherence.

They have rules, regulations, control mechanisms and codes of ethics and conduct for public officials. We know, human beings can be tricky people. That is why one needs rules to contain, confine (covid19 much?) and prevent behaviours that can corrupt the system. One must manage people’s behaviour to ensure that there is little to no damage that can deny ordinary citizens of development.

It is why these democracies have systems and regimes in place such as the conflicts of interest regulations/regime and Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs) regimes. To ensure that public officials entrusted with power do not abuse it. Underline trust and abuse.

United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) Article 2 states:

(a) “Public official” shall mean:

(i)   Any person holding a legislative, executive, administrative or judicial office of a State Party, whether appointed or elected, whether permanent or temporary, whether paid or unpaid, irrespective of that person’s seniority;

(ii)   any other person who performs a public function, including for a public agency or public enterprise, or provides a public service, as defined in the domestic law of the State Party and as applied in the pertinent area of law of that State Party;

(iii) Any other person defined as a “public official” in the domestic law of a State Party.

So, is the Mayor of Francistown a public official? Yes, and he is also a Politically Exposed Person (PEP). So how do we have a Mayor tendering in a ‘company’ he runs and actually get awarded a tender? Simple, maybe some of us do not care about rules, regimes and regulations and competence and competition etc.

Grey areas are loved and incompetency is the norm (probably why we cannot come up with emergency public procurement regulations that continue to ensure upholding of transparency and accountability standards). It is the norm because it benefits a few and exclude the majority, particularly the majority that would compose songs about the one who skews the scale in his favour at their expense.

If you were to ask how many people the Mayor’s company hires, how much taxes it has paid the past 5 years, we may be surprised. Hopefully it is one of the SMMEs that have been growing over the past years, creating employment for Batswana- helping the state fight unemployment, and not one of those- tse di winang a tender and then shelved waiting for another big win.

Let us try and get why a Mayor can win a tender in his City Council.  It is probably because democratic principles do not mean a thing in Francistown City Council or in Botswana for that matter. They have not been cultivated in our system, in the fibre of our administration. Why do I say this? In my view, democracy seeks to ensure some justice and fairness in how the state and citizens behave.

The proponents of democracy know that life can be unequal and that those who are privileged to be in positions of power can abuse that power by oppressing the powerless. So they came up with underlying values to undergird the system and ensure some equality, if not, definitely better, decent and dignified living for citizens of democracies.

So they came up with principles such as transparency, accountability and came up with mechanisms to ensure the integrity of the system. They call for competition in bidding, so that, ideally, the best company wins, best in terms of the quality of services and goods produced for and to citizens, best in regards to pricing, that the buyer gets the value for money for the goods and services.

Particularly important in the public sector, we do not want our government impoverished by price gouging. It would mean your taxes di dirisiwa bothatswa.

We have ‘manuals’ on how to run government in a democracy, but then we have some ‘uncivilised’ and ‘uncultured’ people contorting the system. Even when they have gone to benchmark in the ‘civilised’ and ‘cultured’ world, to learn best practices.

By the way, the delegation’ trip probably cost you and I millions. Spending millions on benchmarking trips to learn about good governance, but then come back and do the opposite? Go bidiwa eng selo se?

So the proponents of democracy –be it neo-liberals, realists, socialists- go further and say openness, transparency is good but the system can still suffer abuse, let us control matters such as conflicts of interest as a way of preventing abuse and abuse of entrusted power.

A situation will exist where an official’s family and friends bid for contracts which would give their companies undue advantage. Now in Francistown, it is actually the Mayor’s company. Oh yes, he declared the interest he says, but was his company really the best in terms pf pricing and quality, better than other contractors?

The prevention of conflict of interest becomes one of the most important keys of corruption prevention (Council of Europe, Conference Octopus Interface about Corruption and Democracy, Strasbourg, 20-21 Nov.2006 2006). We do want to detect, prevent and investigate corruption right?  Even prosecute, right? Then why don’t we have integrity systems in place? Why don’t we build public trust and confidence- or maybe it does not matter? Why?

Conflicts of interest or its perception can adversely impact the reputation and integrity of an entity or an individual, it is important for you to avoid, even the appearance its appearance. This helps maintain public trust and confidence. Kana gongwe citizens no longer have trust and confidence (wondering emoji). Gatwe ko Francistown City Council a culture of public officials, particularly politicians bidding for contracts in the City Council is practically a norm (allegedly):

  • Councillors and some officials can award tenders to their companies(allegedly);
  • They award tenders to their families and friends (allegedly);
  • They are part of the tender adjudication process even though they have companies that deal with the City Council (allegedly);

Commitment to fight inequalities and corruption is in the culture you cultivate as a nation, as government: local or central. When a public servant, underline servant, is not committed to maintaining public confidence and puts his/her economic interests before citizens, what is that? Who are they serving?

The Mayor may make millions but he is costing the country by contributing to the decimation of the SMMEs. The Private Sector is important betsho, it is not just parastatals and foreign companies, it is also the small to mid-sized companies that have the potential to grow and employ citizens.

Most of the time, corruption appears where a prior private interest improperly influenced the performance of the public official. Therefore, conflict of interest prevention has to be part of a broader policy to prevent and combat corruption. The UNCAC offers a basic legal framework for countries to consider and harmonise to prevent and combat corruption.

UNCAC is a Fundamental Preventive Tool

  • Public sector (art.7, S3):

Each State Party shall endeavour to adopt, maintain and strengthen systems that promote transparency and prevent conflicts of interest

  • Codes of conduct for public officials (art. 8, S6):

Each State Party shall take note of the relevant initiatives of regional, interregional and multilateral organizations, such as the International Code of Conduct for Public Officials contained in General Assembly resolution 51/59 of 12 December 1996… and endeavour to establish measures and systems requiring public officials to make declarations to appropriate authorities regarding their outside activities, employment,  investments, assets and substantial gifts or benefits from which a conflict of interest may result with respect to their functions as public officials.

  • Public procurement and management of public finances (art. 9 S1):

Each State Party shall take necessary steps to establish appropriate systems of procurement, based on transparency, competition and objective criteria in decision -making, that are effective in preventing corruption. Such systems shall address…measures to regulate matters regarding personnel responsible for procurement, such as declaration of interest in particular public procurements, screening procedures and training requirements.

  • Private sector (art. 12 S2):

Each State Party shall take measures to prevent corruption involving the private sector. Measures to achieve these ends may include…the development of standards and procedures designed to safeguard the integrity of relevant private entities, including codes of conduct for the correct, honourable and proper performance of the activities of business and all relevant professions and the prevention of conflicts of interest, and for the promotion of the use of good commercial practices among businesses and in the contractual relations of businesses with the State.

Did they Mayor declare his company when he came into office? Is he the Director of this company? Is he a consultant? How does he work for it? When does he work for it, when he is supposedly fulltime Mayor? Doe she work at night for it and gets paid a salary, does he pay income tax for the salary from his company? Like, how does it work?

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