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Democracy Deferred: COVID-19 and Legislative Oversight 

There has been controversy surrounding State of Public Emergency (SoE) purportedly necessitated by COVID-19. Pundits, MPs, particularly from the opposition, media and civil society doubted the need for a six-months SoE.

The President and the Leader of Government Business, Vice President, used the ruling party majority to achieve the emergency nonetheless.  How has the COVID-19 related SoE and related public policy positions impacted on the role of Parliament provision of oversight on the government?

The Constitution of the Republic provides at Section 50(1) that cabinet shall be responsible to the National Assembly “…for all things done by or under the authority of the President, Vice President or any Minister in the execution of his office”. Botswana’s democracy has enjoyed accolades from many observers owing mainly to its periodic free elections in a continent where polls could easily be postponed or incumbents increase their terms of office.

However, more profound yardsticks of parliamentary democracy reveal serious pitfalls. Parliament is less independent, depends on the Presidency for material and human resources and therefore hamstrung to provide effective oversight.

Parliament Business is normally dominated by Government Business; Bills, motions, policy statements, tabling of papers such as policies, reports and Statutory Instruments and presentations.  How has COVID-19 exacerbated this already existing encumbrance?

Under normal circumstances, MPs can table ordinary or urgent motions, regular questions or questions without notice, themes or Ministers Questions and they can table Bills. The Leader of Opposition can make a statement on any issue, as long as the Speaker agrees.

MPs can also cause Ministers to make statements on any topical issue. This could not be possible during COVID-19 restrictions mainly because Parliament adjourned sine die to prepare for lockdown. The executive was free to decide and action its decisions without any meaningful role by the legislature.

When Parliament convened to consider a proposal for SoE by the President and when it met again to consider the SoE regulations amendments, no Private Members Business was included or allowed, even on COVID-19 related matters. No Bill, motion, question or theme, statement by LOO or any private item was permitted.

This is notwithstanding burning issues on how the whole COVID-19 response was conducted by the executive. Parliament, in the last session, was not accorded adequate time to even consider the amendments to the regulations, MPs were given 24 hours to study and approve the document. This detracted from Parliament’s oversight role.

The opportunity for MPs to talk about COVID-19 related matters for seven minutes each, should not be misconstrued to be a meaningful provision of oversight. Proposed amendments by the opposition were thrown out. The executive used Parliament to amend the regulations as they deemed fit and no MP could do anything about it.

When Parliament convened to consider the amendments, there were burning issues; food distribution problems across the country, reports of allegations of corruption, direct appointment of companies in COVID-19 procurements and political elites benefiting from the corona virus related large purchases.

No concrete resolution resulted from MPs lamentations on these matters. Parliament, it was clear, was convened to rubberstamp executive decisions. Parliament, as is usually the case, was reduced to a talk show without any reasonable oversight resolutions.

Whilst in other jurisdictions Oversight Committees sat and held the executive to account, in Botswana this was not done. The Finance and Estimates Committee, Public Accounts Committee, Statutory Bodies and other oversight Committees couldn’t not sit for hearings since Parliament adjourned for lockdown.

Government indicated that it intended to spend more than P2 billion on COVID-19 related procurements. This should have been scrutinized by the Finance and Estimates Committee, particularly on what was to be procured, why, where and how, as well as the cost implications.

PAC has a backlog of two financial years of unexamined books or accounts and the restrictions made it impossible for it to hold hearings.

Fortunately, because of the relaxation of the restrictions, MPs serving oversight Committees will be workshopped for a week and PAC will resume its hearings from the 23rd June. No one knows with absolute certainty, except the executive, when Parliament will convene, or whether there would be prorogation before it convenes.

No one knows except the sovereign, on the status of the Mid-term Review of the National Development Plan 11, which was supposed to be a key agenda item in the approved almanac. Whatever the case, COVID-19 pandemic has proven to many Batswana that the Executive doesn’t take Parliament seriously and care less about the oversight role of the House.

This was also because proceedings were televised. Even more serious is a possibility of Parliament being lied to by the executive about a likelihood of exposure to a corona virus infected nurse deployed during the SoE session. The nurse, who is now negative, doubts if he was ever positive.

The revelation at the time prompted the Speaker to constrain the debate so that the House could quickly approve the SoE and adjourn so as to have MPs quarantined for 14 days. That the nurse may be negative is no surprise to MPs and many Batswana, not only due to general increasing mistrust on the government but also because of how the whole thing was handled. The nurse has slapped the government with a statutory notice and is probably heading to court.

Whilst the legislature in Botswana has inherent weaknesses, there is effectively no accountability of the executive regarding COVID-19 Public policy positions and procurements and democracy has been deferred. MPs receive periodic COVID-19 official updates and information the same way the general public does, through media sources.

This is despite media reports on widespread corruption and numerous blunders. Decisions are made by the executive secretly and arbitrarily. The only time that PAC can examine the books of accounts of government for COVID-19 year is around mid-year 2021 after an audit report by the Auditor General. It may be too late!

Dithapelo Keorapetse is MP for Selebi-Phikwe West, Chairman of PAC and Treasurer of SADCOPAC. He can be contacted at 75048833 or dithapelokeorapetse@gmail.com

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The Daring Dozen at Bari

8th December 2020
JEFF---Batswana-smoke-unit

Seventy-seven years ago, on the evening of December 2, 1943, the Germans launched a surprise air raid on allied shipping in the Italian port of Bari, which was then the key supply centre for the British 8th army’s advance in Italy.

The attack was spearheaded by 105 Junkers JU88 bombers under the overall command of the infamous Air Marshal Wolfram von Richthofen (who had initially achieved international notoriety during the Spanish Civil War for his aerial bombardment of Guernica). In a little over an hour the German aircraft succeeded in sinking 28 transport and cargo ships, while further inflicting massive damage to the harbour’s facilities, resulting in the port being effectively put out of action for two months.

Over two thousand ground personnel were killed during the raid, with the release of a secret supply of mustard gas aboard one of the destroyed ships contributing to the death toll, as well as subsequent military and civilian casualties. The extent of the later is a controversy due to the fact that the American and British governments subsequently covered up the presence of the gas for decades.

At least five Batswana were killed and seven critically wounded during the raid, with one of the wounded being miraculously rescued floating unconscious out to sea with a head wound. He had been given up for dead when he returned to his unit fourteen days later. The fatalities and casualties all occurred when the enemy hit an ammunition ship adjacent to where 24 Batswana members of the African Pioneer Corps (APC) 1979 Smoke Company where posted.

Thereafter, the dozen surviving members of the unit distinguished themselves for their efficiency in putting up and maintaining smokescreens in their sector, which was credited with saving additional shipping. For his personal heroism in rallying his men following the initial explosions Company Corporal Chitu Bakombi was awarded the British Empire Medal, while his superior officer, Lieutenant N.F. Moor was later given an M.B.E.

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A Strong Marriage Bond Needs Two

8th December 2020

Remember: bricks and cement are used to build a house, but mutual love, respect and companionship are used to build a HOME. And amongst His signs is this: He creates for you mates out of your own kind, so that you may find contentment (Sukoon) with them, and He engenders love and tenderness between you; in this behold, there are signs (messages) indeed for people who reflect and think (Quran 30:21).

This verse talks about contentment; this implies companionship, of their being together, sharing together, supporting one another and creating a home of peace. This verse also talks about love between them; this love is both physical and emotional. For love to exist it must be built on the foundation of a mutually supportive relationship guided by respect and tenderness. As the Quran says; ‘they are like garments for you, and you are garments for them (Quran 2:187)’. That means spouses should provide each other with comfort, intimacy and protection just as clothing protects, warms and dignifies the body.

In Islam marriage is considered an ‘ibaadah’, (an act of pleasing Allah) because it is about a commitment made to each other, that is built on mutual love, interdependence, integrity, trust, respect, companionship and harmony towards each other. It is about building of a home on an Islamic foundation in which peace and tranquillity reigns wherein your offspring are raised in an atmosphere conducive to a moral and upright upbringing so that when we all stand before Him (Allah) on that Promised Day, He will be pleased with them all.

Most marriages start out with great hopes and rosy dreams; spouses are truly committed to making their marriages work. However, as the pressures of life mount, many marriages change over time and it is quite common for some of them to run into problems and start to flounder as the reality of living with a spouse that does not meet with one’s pre-conceived ‘expectations’. However, with hard work and dedication, couples can keep their marriages strong and enjoyable. How is it done? What does it take to create a long-lasting, satisfying marriage?

Below are some of the points that have been taken from a marriage guidance article I read recently and adapted for this purposes.

POSITIVITY
Spouses should have far more positive than negative interactions. If there is too much negativity — criticizing, demanding, name-calling, holding grudges, etc. — the relationship will suffer. However, if there is never any negativity, it probably means that frustrations and grievances are not getting ‘air time’ and unresolved tension is accumulating inside one or both partners waiting to ‘explode’ one day.

“Let not some men among you laugh at others: it may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): nor let some women laugh at others: it may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): nor defame nor be sarcastic to each other, nor call each other by (offensive) nicknames.” (49:11)

We all have our individual faults though we may not see them nor want to admit to them but we will easily identify them in others. The key is balance between the two extremes and being supportive of one another. To foster positivity in a marriage that help make them stable and happy, being affectionate, truly listening to each other, taking joy in each other’s achievements and being playful are just a few examples of positive interactions.
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “The believers who show the most perfect faith are those who have the best character and the best of you are those who are best to their wives”

UNDERSTANDING

Another characteristic of happy marriages is empathy; understanding your spouses’ perspective by putting oneself in his or her shoes. By showing that understanding and identifying with your spouse is important for relationship satisfaction. Spouses are more likely to feel good about their marriage and if their partner expresses empathy towards them. Husbands and wives are more content in their relationships when they feel that their partners understand their thoughts and feelings.

Successful married couples grow with each other; it simply isn’t wise to put any person in charge of your happiness. You must be happy with yourself before anyone else can be.  You are responsible for your actions, your attitudes and your happiness. Your spouse just enhances those things in your life. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “Treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers.”

COMMITMENT

Successful marriages involve both spouses’ commitment to the relationship. The married couple should learn the art of compromise and this usually takes years. The largest parts of compromise are openness to the other’s point of view and good communication when differences arise.

When two people are truly dedicated to making their marriage work, despite the unavoidable challenges and obstacles that come, they are much more likely to have a relationship that lasts. Husbands and wives who only focus on themselves and their own desires are not as likely to find joy and satisfaction in their relationships.

ACCEPTANCE

Another basic need in a relationship is each partner wants to feel valued and respected. When people feel that their spouses truly accept them for who they are, they are usually more secure and confident in their relationships. Often, there is conflict in marriage because partners cannot accept the individual preferences of their spouses and try to demand change from one another. When one person tries to force change from another, he or she is usually met with resistance.

However, change is much more likely to occur when spouses respect differences and accept each other unconditionally. Basic acceptance is vital to a happy marriage. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “It is the generous (in character) who is good to women, and it is the wicked who insults them.”
“Overlook (any human faults) with gracious forgiveness.” (Quran 15:85)

COMPASSION, MUTUAL LOVE AND RESPECT

Other important components of successful marriages are love, compassion and respect for each other. The fact is, as time passes and life becomes increasingly complicated, the marriage is often stressed and suffers as a result. A happy and successful marriage is based on equality. When one or the other dominates strongly, intimacy is replaced by fear of displeasing.

It is all too easy for spouses to lose touch with each other and neglect the love and romance that once came so easily. It is vital that husbands and wives continue to cultivate love and respect for each other throughout their lives. If they do, it is highly likely that their relationships will remain happy and satisfying. Move beyond the fantasy and unrealistic expectations and realize that marriage is about making a conscious choice to love and care for your spouse-even when you do not feel like it.

Seldom can one love someone for whom we have no respect. This also means that we have to learn to overlook and forgive the mistakes of one’s partner. In other words write the good about your partner in stone and the bad in dust, so that when the wind comes it blows away the bad and only the good remains.

Paramount of all, marriage must be based on the teachings of the Noble Qur’an and the teachings and guidance of our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). To grow spiritually in your marriage requires that you learn to be less selfish and more loving, even during times of conflict. A marriage needs love, support, tolerance, honesty, respect, humility, realistic expectations and a sense of humour to be successful.

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Chronic Joblessness: How to Help Curtail it

30th November 2020
Motswana woman

The past week or two has been a mixed grill of briefs in so far as the national employment picture is concerned. BDC just injected a further P64 million in Kromberg & Schubert, the automotive cable manufacturer and exporter, to help keep it afloat in the face of the COVID-19-engendered global economic apocalypse. The financial lifeline, which follows an earlier P36 million way back in 2017, hopefully guarantees the jobs of 2500, maybe for another year or two.

It was also reported that a bulb manufacturing company, which is two years old and is youth-led, is making waves in Selibe Phikwe. Called Bulb Word, it is the only bulb manufacturing operation in Botswana and employs 60 people. The figure is not insignificant in a town that had 5000 jobs offloaded in one fell swoop when BCL closed shop in 2016 under seemingly contrived circumstances, so that as I write, two or three buyers have submitted bids to acquire and exhume it from its stage-managed grave.

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