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Why Parliamentary Committees must sit 

Most Parliamentary Standing and Portfolio Committees have not held meetings besides their elections of Chairpersons since the start of the twelfth-parliament.

No training of MPs on oversight or on Committee works have been held. COVID-19 pandemic can only be partly to blame. The most notable Committee which has sat since 2019 elections is the Finance and Estimates over budget matters.

More serious is the fact that no Committee has held hearings since COVID 19 outbreak to oversee related matters. Behind the scenes, the Leader of Opposition and Chairpersons of Committees, especially from the opposition, have been pushing for Committees to meet.

There have been two contradicting legal interpretations from Parliament legal team over whether Committees could sit or not, the latest being that they can go ahead. The Speaker had, in the last two weeks, given a go ahead for the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to meet.

Parliamentary Committees such the Health Committee, Finance and Estimates, Statutory Bodies and PAC should have been allowed to meet during COVID-19 State of Public Emergency. They didn’t meet because of the negative attitude that the executive has on the oversight mandate of Parliament.

Accountability achieved through these committees is unimportant to the government. It was imperative that when Parliament agreed at its last meeting to amend the COVID-19 Emergency Powers Regulations to permit certain meetings to straightaway begin Committees hearings.

The lockdown restrictions have since been relaxed and there is absolutely no excuse for these Committees not to meet. Moreover, Cabinet has been meeting and even the ruling party Central Committee has met during lockdown. Schools have been reopened and churches are also allowed to meet.

Members of Parliament in oversight Committees were scheduled to be workshopped from the 15th to the 19th June. However, the event was postponed due to last week’s short-lived lockdown and a misinterpretation of the Emergency Regulations on the conduct of Parliament Business.

A virtual workshop has now been organized from around the 22nd.  PAC was to start its proceedings from the 23rd but it would appear that its meeting may be delayed by a week or two. PAC has a backlog of two financial years.

According to Standing Order 106, it is the duty of the Finance and Estimates Committee to examine whether the funds are well allocated within the limits of the policy implied in the Estimates and to suggest alternative procedures in order to bring efficiency and prudent management.

This Committee should have examined the allocation of COVID-19 budget so as to understand how much was needed and for what purpose. It could have scrutinized envisaged procurements.

The Committee is known to have occasionally met on emergencies and did its work swiftly, for instance during supplementary Estimates proposals. So, the excuse of the need for expedited decisions during COVID-19 cannot hold. Decisions could have still been made quickly with the Committee involved.

The pitfalls of Botswana’s parliament have been extensively discussed. It is in a nominally democratic country such as this where weighty health issues can be dealt without a slightest input of the Health Committee. This Committee should have been the eyes and ears of the Public on COVID-19 policy matters.

There are so many unanswered questions, slip-ups, ambiguities, falsehoods and procrastinations by the COVID-19 task force. The task force has lost integrity, public trust and confidence and has somewhat become a joke. The mendaciousness of its members is told in part by the body language of the Director of Health Services and the equivocation of the leader of the team.

The COVID-19 committee only tells the nations what it wants them to hear. It only properly accounts to the executive, it would seem. Its recommended policy decisions and legislation, e.g. for the regulations, should have been first examined by the Health Committee.

It is the Health Committee which should have subpoenaed Gaborone Private Hospital, Ministry of Health and the COVID-19 Task Force to account for the false alarm which resulted in the greater Gaborone being on lockdown for a few days. The Health Committee should have investigated the scandalous issue of the nurse who triggered all Members of Parliament to be quarantined for 14 days.

What really happened on these two matters remains a mystery. Batswana have little idea on what is available and not available regarding COVI-19 health materials; the extend of the country’s capacity is unknown.  Do we have enough test kits? Are there rapid test kits, if not why and what are the merits and demerits of having them? What is our public health and private health capacities?

The absence of the Committee sittings has resulted in rise to speculations, rumors and innuendoes. The Health Committee was supposed to clarify all these matters. There is nothing that should be secretive about COVID-19.

The pandemic management can’t be a preserve of the Executive. That is not what the framers of the Constitution and other Botswana laws such as the Standing Orders had imagined.

There are ordinary parastatals and State-Owned Enterprises which remained active during COVID-19 lockdown. University of Botswana (UB), especially its Faculties of Science and Engineering and School of Medicine, Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST), Water Utilities Corporation (WUC), Botswana Power Corporation (BPC) and a few others remained open.

BPC and WUC did so because of their importance to the day-to-day life. BPC increased its tariffs by 22% during lockdown and load shedding has become a new normal.  Crucial and controversial water projects decisions have been taken during the State of Emergency.

In fact, a project previously rejected by Parliament is back on track through a direct appointment. It should have been the responsibility of the Statutory Bodies Committee to gather all the facts and inform Parliament and Batswana about these matters.

The other reason why it was and is still important for Committees to meet is that Parliament has not met for a long while. In other words, there has been no Private Members motion on COVID-19 related matters or a question or theme or Bill.

So, health policy decisions, procurement and other related matters were dealt with entirely by the executive, which only called Parliament twice to rubberstamp their decisions. Committees should have provided oversight and clarified matters. The continuous errors and fumbling of the COVID-19 task force should have been dealt with and more accountability achieved through Parliamentary Committees.

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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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