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

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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Opinions

Botswana to Become a Vaccinated Nation: Pandemic Anxiety Over?

30th March 2021

OSCAR MOTSUMI

This is a question that should seriously exercise the mind of every Botswana citizen and every science researcher, every health worker and every political leader political.

The Covid-19 currently defines our lives and poses a direct threat to every aspect and every part of national safety, security and general well-being. This disease has become a normative part of human life throughout the world.

The first part of the struggle against the murderous depredation of this disease was to protect personal life through restrictive health injunctions and protocols; the worst possibly being human isolation and masks that hid our sorrows and lamentations through thin veils. We suffered that humiliation with grace and I believe as a nation we did a great job.

Now the vaccines are here, ushering us into the second phase of this war against the plague; and we are asking ourselves, is this science-driven fight against Covid-19 spell the end of pandemic anxiety? Is the health nightmare coming to an end? What happy lives lie ahead? Is this the time for celebration or caution? As the Non State Actors, we have being struggling with these questions for months.

We have published our thoughts and feelings, and our research reviews and thorough reading of both the local and international impacts of this rampaging viral invasion in local newspapers and social media platforms.

More significantly, we have successfully organised workshops about the impact of the pandemic on society and the economy and the last workshop invited a panel of health experts, professionals, and public administers to advance this social dialogue as part of our commitment to the tripartite engagement we enjoy working with Government of Botswana, Civil Society and Development partners. These workshops are virtual and open to all Batswana, foreign diplomatic missions based in Gaborone, UN agencies located in Gaborone and international academic researchers and professional health experts and specialists.

The mark of Covid-19 on our nation is a painful one, a tragedy shared by the entire human race, but still a contextually painful experience. Our response is fraught with grave difficulties; limited resources, limited time, and the urgency to not only save lives but also avert economic ruin and a bleak future for all who survive. Several vaccines are already in the  market.

Parts of the world are already doing the best they can to trunk the pestilential march of this disease by rolling out mass-vaccinations campaigns that promise to evict this health menace and nightmare from their public lives. Botswana, like much of Africa, is still up in the disreputable, and, unenviable, preventative social melee of masked interactions, metered distances, contactless commerce.

We remain very much at the mercy of a marauding virus that daily runs amuck with earth shattering implications for the economy and human lives. And the battle against both infections and transmissions is proving to be difficult, in terms of finance, institutional capacities and resource mobilization. How are we prepared as government, and as citizens, to embrace the impending mass-vaccinations? What are the chances of us  succeeding at this last-ditch effort to defeat the virus? What are the most pressing obstacles?

Does the work of vaccines spell an end to the pandemic anxieties?

Our panellists addressed the current state of mass-vaccination preparedness at the Botswana national level. What resources are available? What are the financial, institutional and administrative operational challenges (costs and supply chains, delivery, distribution, administering the vaccine on time, surveillance and security of vaccines?) What is being done to overcome them, or what can be done to overcome them? What do public assessments of preparedness tell us at the local community levels? How strong is the political will and direction? How long can we expect the whole exercise to last? At what point should we start seeing tangible results of the mass-vaccination campaign?

They also addressed the challenges of the anticipated emerging Vaccinated Society. How to fight the myths of vaccines and the superstitions about histories of human immunizations? What exactly is being done to grow robust local confidence in the science of vaccinations and the vaccines themselves? More significantly, how to square these campaigns vis-vis personal rights, moral/religious obligations?

What messages are being sent out in these regards and how are Batswana responding? What about issues of justice and equality? Will we get the necessary vaccines to everyone who wants them? What is being done to ensure no deserving person is left behind?

They also addressed issues of health data. To accomplish this mass-vaccination campaign and do everything right we need accurate and complete data. Poor data already makes it very hard to just cope with the disease. What is being done to improve data for the mass-vaccination campaign? How is this data being collected, aggregated and prepared for real life situation/applications throughout Botswana in the coming campaign?

We know in America, for example, general reporting and treatment of health data at the beginning of vaccinations was so poor, so chaotic and so scattered mainstream newspapers like The Atlantic, Washington Post and the New York Times had to step in, working very closely with civil society organizations, to rescue the situation. What data-related issues are still problematic in Botswana?

To be specific, what kind of Covid-19 data is being taken now to ready the whole country for an effective and efficient mass-vaccination program?

Batswana must be made aware that the  end part of vaccination will just mark the beginning of a long journey to health recovery and national redemption; that in many ways Covid-19 vaccination is just another step toward the many efforts in abeyance to fight this health pandemic, the road ahead is still long and painful.

For this purpose, and to highlight the significance of this observation we tasked our panellists with  the arduous imperative of  analysing the impact of mass-vaccination on society and the economy alongside the pressing issues of post-Covid-19 national health surveillance and rehabilitation programs.

Research suggests the aftermath of Covid-19 vaccination is going to be just as difficult and uncertain world as the present reality in many ways, and that caution should prevail over celebration, at least for a long time. The disease itself is projected to linger around for some time after all these mass-vaccination campaigns unless an effort is made to vaccinate everyone to the last reported case, every nation succeeds beyond herd immunity, and cure is found for Covid-19 disease. Many people are going to continue in need of medications, psychological and psychiatric services and therapy.

Is Botswana ready for this long holdout? If not, what path should we take going into the future? The Second concern is , are we going to have a single, trusted national agency charged with the  mandate to set standards for our national health data system, now that we know how real bad pandemics can be, and the value of data in quickly responding to them and mitigating impact? Finally, what is being done to curate a short history of this pandemic? A national museum of health and medicine or a Public Health Institute  in Botswana is overdue.

If we are to create strong sets of data policies and data quality standards for fighting future health pandemics it is critical that they find ideological and moral foundations in the artistic imagery and photography of the present human experience…context is essential to fighting such diseases, and to be prepared we must learn from every tragic health incident.

Our panellists answered most of these questions with distinguished intellectual clarity. We wish Batswana to join us in our second Mass-vaccination workshop.

*Oscar Motsumi: Email:oscar.motsumi@gmail.com

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Opinions

The women you see in the news matter. Here’s why

9th March 2021
Jane Godia

Jane Godia

Today is International Women’s Day – it’s a moment to think about how much better our news diet could be if inequities were eliminated. In 1995, when the curtains fell in one of the largest meetings that have ever brought women together to discuss women in development, it was noted that women and media remain key to development.

Twenty-six years later, the relevant “Article J” of the Beijing Platform for Action, remains unfulfilled. Its two strategic objectives with regard to Women and Media have not been met. They are
Increase the participation and access of women to expression and decision-making in and through the media and new technologies of communication

Promote a balanced and non-stereotyped portrayal of women in the media.

Today, as we mark International Women’s Day, it’s an indictment on both media owners and civil society that women remain on the periphery of news-making. They cannot claim equal space in either the structures of newsrooms or in the content produced, be that as sources of news or as the subjects of reports. Indeed, the latest figures from WAN-IFRA’s Women in News Programme show just one in five voices in news belong to women*, be they as sources, as the author or as the main character of the news report.

Some progress was evident several years back, with stand-out women being named as chief executive officers, editors in chief, managing editors and executive editors. But these gains appear short lived in most media organisations. Excitement has turned to frustration as one-step forward has been replaced with three steps backwards. In Africa, the problem is acute. The decision-making tables of media organisations remain deprived of women and where there are women, they are surrounded by men.

Few women have followed in the footsteps of Esther Kamweru, the first woman managing editor in Kenya, and indeed sub-Saharan Africa. Today’s standout women editors include Pamela Makotsi-Sittoni (Nation Media Group, Kenya), Barbara Kaija (New Vision, Uganda), Mary Mbewe (Daily Nation, Zambia), Margaret Vuchiri (The Monitor, Uganda), Joyce Shebe (Clouds, Tanzania), Tryphinah Dongwana (Weekend Post, Botswana), Joyce Mhaville (Independent Television -ITV, Tanzania) and Tuma Abdallah (Standard Newspapers,Tanzania). But they remain an exception.

The lack of balance between women and men at the table of decision making has a rollback effect on the content that is produced. A table dominated by men typically makes decisions that benefit men.

So today, International Women’s Day is a grim reminder that things are not rosy in the news business. Achieving gender balance in news and in the structure of media organisations remains a challenge. Unmet, it sees more than half of the population in our countries suffer the consequences of bias, discrimination and sexism.

The business of ignoring the other half of the population can no longer be treated as normal. It’s time that media leaders grasp the challenge, not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it also makes a whole lot of business sense: start covering women, give them space and a voice in news-making and propel them to all levels of decision making within your organisation.

We can no longer afford to imagine that it’s only men who make and sell the news and bring in the shillings to fund the media business. Women too are worthy newsmakers. In all of our societies, there are women holding decision making positions and who are now experts in once male-only domains such as engineers, doctors, scientists and researchers.

They can be deliberately picked out to share their perspectives and expertise and bring balance to the profile of experts quoted on our news pages. Media is the prism through which society sees itself and women are an untapped audience. So, as we celebrate International Women’s Day, let us embrace diversity, which yields better news content and business products, and in so doing eliminate sexism. We know that actions and attitudes that discriminate against people based on their gender is bad for business.

As media, the challenge is ours. We need to consciously embrace and reach the commitments made 26 years ago when the Beijing Platform for Action was signed globally. As the news consuming public, you have a role to play too. Hold your news organization to account and make sure they deliver balanced news that reflects the voices of all of society.

Jane Godia is a gender development and media expert who serves as the Africa Director of Women in News programme.  
WOMEN IN NEWS is WAN-IFRA’s ground-breaking programme to increase women’s leadership and voices in the news. It does so by equipping women journalists and editors with the skills, strategies, and support networks to take on greater leadership positions within their media. www.womeninnews.org

Jane Godia, Director, Africa, Women in News

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Opinions

Why is the media so afraid to talk about sexual harassment?

9th March 2021

MELANIE WALKER

The eve of International Women’s Day presents an opportunity for us to think about gender equality and the long and often frustrating march toward societies that are truly equal.

As media, we are uniquely placed to drive forward this reflection and discussion. But while focusing on the challenges of gender in society, we owe it to our staff and the communities we serve to also take a hard look at the obstacles within our own organisations.

I’m talking specifically about the scourge of sexual harassment. It’s likely to have happened in your newsroom. It has likely happened to a member of your team. It happens to all genders but is disproportionately directed at women. It happens in every industry, regardless of country, culture or context. This is because sexual harassment is driven by power, not sex. Wherever you have imbalances in power, you have individuals who are at risk of sexual harassment, and those who abuse this power.

I’ve been sexually harassed. The many journalists and editors, friends and family members who I have spoken to over the years on this subject have also been harassed. Yet it is still hard for leaders to recognize that this could be happening within their newsrooms and boardrooms. Why does it continue to be such a taboo?

Counting the cost of sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is, simply put, bad for business. It can harm your corporate reputation. It is a drain on the productivity of staff and managers. Maintaining and building trust in your brand is an absolute imperative for media organisations globally. If and when a case gets out of control or is badly handled – this can directly impact your bottom line.

It is for this reason that WAN-IFRA Women in News has put eliminating sexual harassment as a top priority in our work around gender equality in the media sector. This might seem at odds with the current climate where social interactions are fewer and remote work scenarios are in place in many newsrooms and businesses. But one only needs to tune into the news to know that the abuse of power, manifested as verbal, physical or online harassment, is alive and well.

Preliminary results from an ongoing Women in News research study into the issue of sexual harassment polling hundreds of journalists in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia indicate that more than 1 in 3 women media professionals have been physically harassed, and just under 50% have been verbally harassed. Just over 15% of men in African newsrooms reported being physically harassed, and slightly less than 1 in 4 reports being verbally harassed. The numbers for male media professionals in Southeast Asia are slightly higher than a quarter on both forms of harassment.

The first step in confronting sexual harassment is to talk about it. We need to strip away the stigma and discomfort around having open conversations about what sexual harassment is and isn’t. Media managers, it is entirely in your power to create dynamics in your own teams that are free from sexual harassment.

Publishers and CEOs, you set the organisational culture in your media company.

By being vocal in recognising that it happens everywhere, and communicating to your employees that you will not tolerate sexual harassment of any kind, you send a powerful message to your teams, and publicly. With these actions, you will help us overcome the legacy of silence around this topic, and in doing so take an important first step to create media environments that truly embrace equality.

Melanie Walker is Executive Director of Media Development of the World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA). She is a creator of Women in News, WAN-IFRA’s ground-breaking programme to increase women’s leadership and voices in the news. It does so by equipping women journalists and editors with the skills, strategies, and support networks to take on greater leadership positions within their media. www.womeninnews.org

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