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State Capture: What can Parliament do?  

The media has been awash with reports of questionable business dealings of the president. There are also reports that the President has applied for a state farm, a portion of Banyana Farms.

Are these matters of public concern and if yes, what should Parliament do? What is available to Members of Parliament (MPs) to get clarity on these matters and hold the President accountable? Does Parliament have the authority and ability to probe these matters?

A quick search on the Companies and Intellectual Property Authority (CIPA) website for a business entity named Arcee Propriety Limited, reveals that the firm’s shareholders are Mokgweetsi Eric K Masisi and Ramachandran Ottapathu, the President of the Republic and a known Indian businessman respectively. A further search for Arcee Propriety Limited yields annual financial statements/reports from Choppies Enterprises Limited and The Far Property Company Limited.

These documents disclose that Arcee Pty Ltd operates from a warehouse at Gaborone Block Three industrial owned by The Far Property Company Limited. The documents show that Choppies Enterprise Limited made payments to Arcee Pty Ltd (in 2017 & 2018) for goods and or services rendered.

As stated above, Arcee Pty Ltd operates from a premises owned by The Far Property Company (at least according to The Far Property Company’ 2019 integrated annual report). A quick search of The Far Property Company on the CIPA database reveals the shareholders to be a certain Farouk Ismail, Ramachandran Ottapathu, co-founders of Choppies, and a host of institutional investors; Botswana Public Officers Pension Fund (BPOPF) and Debswana Pension Fund (DPF). BPOPF and DPF are of particular interest because they represent a bulk of employed Batswana. These pension funds invest most of the funds under their portfolios externally. In the few cases that they invest locally it is mostly in large corporations that are already doing well and do not struggle to attract private capital.

Recently, Botswana Development Corporation (BDC) acquired a stake in KAMOSO at around P200 million, allegedly contravening competition principles and the law. A quick search of KAMOSO on the CIPA website reveals that a certain Ramachandran Ottapathu is a shareholder. BDC is a government owned investment arm supposedly driving government agenda of transforming the economy for greater citizen participation. Another eye sore regarding this acquisition is that the President has direct business dealings with Ramachandran Ottapathu, no matter how one tries to sanitize the deal, it does not look pretty at all. There are many red flags for state capture.

So what can Parliament do? MPs can ask ordinary questions or questions without notice or themes or ministers questions in terms of Standing Orders 36, 37 and 40(A).  Ordinary questions can be limiting for a weighty issue like this. Ministers questions or themes are better as they are allocated 45 minutes a question or half of the time if two such questions are in the order paper. They can only be asked on Fridays.

Ministers questions spark a mini-debate in which MPs can ask follow up questions or make quick comments. MPs are given 5 minutes to ask ministers questions or themes. The problem is that some ministers provide a long pointlessly detailed answer to steal MPs time, the effect being that few follow-up questions can be asked. The Speaker has to agree that a theme contains an urgent matter of importance and the Minister has to also agree to answer this question specially to indicate the time in which it can be put in the Order Paper.

MPs can write to the Speaker under Standing Order 40(B) and ask The Leader of the House/Vice President to explain these dealings and account on perceived conflict of interest and state capture. The Standing Orders, unlike in South Africa or United Kingdom where Botswana system was copied, don’t provide for President question time. Only ministers and the Vice President can answer questions in the House.

MPs can table a motion in accordance with Standing Order 44 to ask Parliament to resolve on this matter. Standing Order 50 can be utilized to move an urgent motion so that the House adjourns any Business it is dealing with at the time to urgently deal with a motion on the issue for exactly two hours. The challenge with this avenue is that first, the Speaker must agree that the motion is urgent and of public importance.

Second, if the ruling party doesn’t agree that there be an adjournment of Business to focus on the matter, the motion dies immediately. If the motion is debated, it can be negated or adopted. If negated, the process could only serve to sensitize the public with no tangible consequences. If it’s adopted, the Executive may decide to just ignore it, like it has done with many others. A motion can ask the House to resolve to probe the matter further through a Special Select Committees, or a Commission of Inquiry or to ask the House to resolve to ask the President to relinquish his business dealings. The motion can be crafted in any manner MPs deem fit to hold the President accountable.

MPs can table a Private Bill to, for instance, prohibit the President from engaging in private business ventures or to not engage in anything which may present real or potential conflict of interest. The Leader of opposition can also make a short statement, if the Speaker agrees with the contents of his speech.

Parliamentary Committees are also one way in which questions can be asked. Committees such as Statutory Bodies Committee can inquire state owned enterprises and parastatals such as BDC, Botswana Unified Revenue Services (BURS) and Competition Authority, among others to explain.

When one examines the annual Financial Reports/Statements of Choppies Enterprises pty ltd, there exists a pattern of numerous transactions between it and a host of other companies whose Directors are either Ram or Farouk. Can BURS say with absolute certainty that the amounts declared as value of goods and or services provided by the multiple entities to Choppies enterprises are accurate? Is there transfer pricing going on here?

What specific pieces of legislation can be applied to deal with these likelihoods of transfer pricing and are these laws adequate and effective? This is what the Committee should investigate. A lot of the said transactions between Choppies Enterprises pty ltd and entities directly owned by either Ram and or Farouk, are reported as real expenditure and or income depending of the direction of the transaction, creating a situation where the balance sheet can easily be overstated.

Can the Botswana Stock Exchange (BSE) assure the public that the value at which Choppies Enterprises pty ltd stock trades is accurate and that potential investors and or current stock holders are not being deceived? It could be that Choppies pays tax amount of their liking because BURS cannot guard against transfer pricing that happens there. It is possible that the BSE cannot determine the true value of Choppies stock.

It is up to Parliament to find out. Is there a need for effective legislation to curb the ostensibly crooked Choppies business model? It is possible to short change other Choppies holders by cooking the books to reflect very small profits and move money to the suppliers Ram and Farouk own. Choppies, it is highly probable, operates in the wild wild west. Are these businessmen and entities getting protection for the President who is also their business partner? Is the state captured?

Whatever MPs chose, one thing is clear that MPs should focus on. The President of Botswana cannot be in private Business in a country where the state plays an important role in the economy. It is morally wrong, a recipe for corruption and bad corporate governance.

The state is a regulator, it collects taxes, it is the biggest buyer of goods and services, directly and indirectly, the economy revolves around the state. The President can’t compete fairly, as a businessman, with Batswana or foreigners doing business because the power to govern vest in him in terms of sections 47 of the Constitution.

The constitution provides that the President exercises his powers directly or indirectly through officers subordinate to him. How will his subordinates, at competition authority or any industry’s authority, regulate his businesses without fear or favour? He has immunity from civil and criminal proceedings according to Section 41 of the Constitution, so it’ll be difficult for business partners, competitors or regulators to litigate and enforce contractual matters. They may also just fear the President.

Those who offered shares to the President or ae in businesses with him should be prosecuted for bribery. They’ve offered and provided a valuable consideration to the President by being in business with him. They know that being with him in Business means public policy will be manipulated to favour their businesses. It is Parliament which should investigate the extent of the capture. Other businesses may be compelled to do business with a company that has the President as a shareholder.

Moreover, The President knows future government plans, he gets intelligence briefs and other vital economic related information that could advantage him and his business associates and disadvantage real or potential competitors. What the business people are doing by being with the President in a boardroom as a Director is what is called state capture-public policy decisions are made with clear intentions to benefit the politically connected elites in Business, political leadership and bureaucracy but not ordinary people. These business dealings are elite corruption at a grand scale, simple.

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Appendicitis: Recognising the Signs

29th March 2022

Many a times I get clients casually walking into my room and requesting to be checked for “appendix”.  Few questions down the line, it is clear they are unaware of where the appendix is or what to expect when one does have it (appendicitis). Jokingly (or maybe not) I would tell them they would possibly not be having appendicitis and laughing as hard as they are doing. On the other hand, I would be impressed that at least they know and acknowledge that appendicitis is a serious thing that they should be worried about.

So, what is Appendicitis?

Appendicitis is an inflammation of the appendix; a thin, finger-like pouch attached to the large intestine on the lower right side of the abdomen. Often the inflammation can be as a result of blockage either by the faecal matter, a foreign body, infection, trauma or a tumour. Appendicitis is generally acute, with symptoms coming on over the course of a day and becoming severe rapidly. Chronic appendicitis can also occur, though rarely. In chronic cases, symptoms are less severe and can last for days, weeks, or even months. 

Acute appendicitis is a medical emergency that almost always ends up in the operating theatre. Though the appendix is locally referred to as “lela la sukiri”, no one knows its exact role and it definitely does not have anything to do with sugar metabolism. Appendicitis can strike at any age, but it is mostly common from the teen years to the 30s.

Signs to look out for

If you have any of the following symptoms, go and see a Doctor immediately! Timely diagnosis and treatment are vital in acute appendicitis;

Sudden pain that starts around the navel and shifts to the lower right abdomen within hours

The pain becomes constant and increases in severity (or comes back despite painkillers)

The pain worsens on coughing, sneezing, laughing, walking or deep breaths

Loss of appetite

Nausea and vomiting

Fever

Constipation or diarrhoea

Abdominal bloating/fullness

Diagnosis

The doctor often asks questions regarding the symptoms and the patient’s medical history. This will be followed up by a physical examination in which the Doctor presses on the abdomen to check for any tenderness, and the location of the pain. With acute appendicitis, pressing on and letting go of the right lower abdomen usually elicits an excruciatingly unbearable pain. Several tests may be ordered to determine especially the severity of the illness and to rule out other causes of abdominal pain. The tests may conditions include: blood tests, a pregnancy test, urinalysis, abdominal  “How do ultrasound scans work?” ultrasound (scan), CT scan or MRI Scan.

Treatment

The gold standard treatment of acute appendicitis is surgical removal of the appendix known as appendectomy. Luckily, a person can live just fine without an appendix! Surgical options include laparoscopy or open surgery and the type will be decided on by the Surgeon after assessing the patient’s condition. Painkillers and antibiotics are also given intravenously usually before, during and after the surgery.

Complications

Appendicitis can cause serious complications such as;

Appendicular mass/abscessIf the appendix is inflamed or bursts, one may develop a pocket of pus around it known as an abscess. In most cases, the abscess will be treated with antibiotics and drained first by placing a tube through one’s abdominal wall into the abscess. The tube may be left in place for a few hours or days while the infection is clearing up but ultimately one would still have surgery to remove the appendix.

Peritonitis – without treatment, the appendix can rupture/burst. The risk of this rises 48–72 hours after symptoms start. A ruptured appendix spreads the infection throughout the abdomen (peritonitis). This is life threatening and requires immediate surgery to remove the appendix and clean the abdominal cavity.

Death – The complications of appendicitis (and appendectomy) can be life threatening, only if the diagnosis has been missed and no proper treatment has been given on time. This is rare though with the evolved medical care.

If you need further advice or treatment please call 4924730, email  HYPERLINK “mailto:info@themedicscentre.co.bw” info@themedicscentre.co.bw or visit www.themedisccentre.co.bw

Antoinette Boima, MBBS, BMedSci, PgDip HIV/AIDS, Cert Aesth Med is the Managing Director of The Medics Centre in Palapye.

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A degree of common sense

7th February 2022

Here’s a news item from last month you may have missed. In December 2021 the University of Staffordshire announced it would be offered a degree course in pantomime! Yes, that’s right, a degree in popular festive entertainment, the Christmas panto.

We used to have one here, put on by the Capitol Players, though it seems to have fallen away in recent times, but the spectacle is still alive and well in the UK, both in local ad-dram (amateur dramatic ) societies and on the London stage and most of the major cities, these latter productions usually featuring at least one big-draw name from the world of show business with ticket prices commensurate with the star’s salary.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the pantomime format, it consists of a raucous mixture of songs and comedy all based around a well-known fairy or folk tale. Aladdin and His Magic Lamp, Cinderella, Jack & The Beanstalk & Dick Whittington are perennial favourites but any well-known tall tale goes. There is no set script, unlike a play, and storyline is just a peg to hang a coat of contemporary, often bawdy, gags on, in what should be a rollicking production of cross dressing – there has to be at least one pantomime dame, played by a man and always a figure of fun, and a Principal Boy, ostensibly the male lead, yet played by an attractive young woman.

As an art form it can trace its roots back to 16th century Italy and the Commedia Del’Arte which used a mélange of music, dance, acrobatics along with a cast of comic stock characters so it has a long and proud theatrical tradition but you have to wonder, does that really qualify it as a suitable subject for a university? Further, what use might any degree be that can be acquired in a single year? And last but not least, how much standing does any degree have which comes from a jumped-up polytechnic, granted university status along with many of its ilk back in 1992, for reasons best known to the government of the time? Even more worrying are the stated aims of the course.

Staffordshire University claims it is a world first and the masters course is aimed at people working inside as well as outside the industry. Students on the course, due to start in September 2022, will get practical training in the art form as well as research the discipline.

“We want to see how far we can take this,” Associate Professor of Acting and Directing Robert Marsden said. The role of pantomime in the 21st Century was also going to be examined, he said, “particularly post Me Too and Black Lives Matter”. Questions including “how do we address the gender issues, how do we tell the story of Aladdin in 2021, how do we get that balance of male/female roles?” will be asked, Prof Marsden added.

Eek! Sounds like Prof. Marsden wants to rob it of both its history and its comedic aspects – well, good luck with that! Of course that isn’t the only bizarre, obscure and frankly time and money-wasting degree course available. Staying with the performing arts there’s Contemporary Circus and Physical Performance at Bath Spa University. Sounds like fun but why on earth would a circus performer need a university degree?

Or how about a Surf Science and Technology degree at Cornwall College (part of the University of Plymouth). Where the one thing you don’t learn is….how to surf!

Then there is a  degree in Floral Design at University Centre Myerscough. No, I hadn’t heard of it either – turns out it’s a college of further education in Preston, a town that in my experience fits the old joke of ‘I went there once…..It was closed’ to a ‘T’!

Another handy (pun intended) art is that of Hand Embroidery BA (Hons), offered at the University for the Creative Arts. Or you could waste away sorry, while away, your time on a course in Animal Behaviour and Psychology. This degree at the University of Chester teaches you about the way animals think and feel. Cockroaches have personalities according to the subject specs– you couldn’t make it up.

Happily all these educational institutes may have to look to their laurels and try to justify their very existence in the near future. In plans announced this week, universities could face fines of up to £500,000 (P750m), be stripped of their right to take student loans or effectively shut down if they cannot get 60 per cent of students into a professional job under a crackdown on ‘Mickey Mouse’ courses. Further, at least 80 per cent of students should not drop out after the first year, and 75 per cent should graduate.

The rules, published by the Office for Students (OfS), aim to eliminate ‘low-quality’ courses by setting new standards & requiring courses to improve their rating in the TEF, the official universities ratings system. Universities not meeting the new standards will not be able to charge full annual fees of £9,250. Unconventional courses that could fall victim to the new rules could include the University of Sunderland’s BA in Fashion Journalism, where students learn essential’ skills such as catwalk reporting and the history of Chanel.  They have only a 40 per cent chance of entering highly skilled work 15 months after leaving.

At University College Birmingham, BSC Bakery and Patisserie Technology students – who learn how to ‘make artisan bread’ – have a 15 per cent chance of a professional job within 15 months. Universities minister Michelle Donelan welcomed the move, saying ‘When students go to university, they do so in the pursuit of a life-changing education, one which helps pave their path towards a highly skilled career. Any university that fails to match this ambition must be held to account.’

OfS found that at 25 universities, fewer than half of students find professional work within 15 months.  Business and management courses at the University of Bedfordshire (14.8 per cent) were among the least likely to lead to graduate-level jobs.  Asked to comment, the University of Sunderland said it always looked ‘to find ways to improve outcomes’; University College Birmingham said data on graduates and definition of ‘professional work’ was limited. I’ll bet it is! As the saying goes, ’what the eye doesn’t see, the heart doesn’t grieve over’. What a pantomime!

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Why regular health checks are important!

7th February 2022

With the world still reeling from the negative impact of the Coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19), and the latest Omicron variant (which is responsible for the ongoing global forth wave) on everyone’s lips, we should not forget and neglect other aspects of our health.

While anyone can get infected with corona virus and become seriously ill or die at any age, studies continue to show that people aged 60 years and above, and those with underlying medical conditions like hypertension, heart and lung problems, diabetes, obesity, cancers, or mental illness are at a higher risk of developing serious illness or dying from covid-19.

It is a good habit to visit a doctor regularly, even if you feel healthy. Regular health checks can help identify any early signs of health issues or assess your risk of future illness hence prompting one to take charge and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Heart disease, diabetes, some cancers and other non-communicable diseases (even communicable) can often be picked up in their early stages, when chances for effective treatment are high.

During a health check, your doctor will take a thorough history from you regarding your medical history, your family’s history of disease, your social life and habits, including your diet, physical activity, alcohol use, smoking and drug intake. S/he will examine you including measuring your weight, blood pressure, feeling your body organs and listening to your heart and lungs amongst the rest. Depending on the assessment, your doctor will notify you how often you need to have a health check. If you have a high risk of a particular health condition, your doctor may recommend more frequent health checks from an early age.

Diet – a healthy diet improves one’s general health and wellbeing. It is recommended that we have at least two serves of fruit and five serves of vegetables daily. Physical activity – regular physical activity has significant health benefits on one’s body, mind & soul. It contributes to preventing and managing non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, cancers and diabetes, reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, enhances thinking, learning, and judgment skills and improves overall well-being. According to the world health organisation (WHO), people who are insufficiently active have a 20% to 30% increased risk of death compared to people who are sufficiently active. Aim for 30 minutes to an hour of moderate physical activity at least four days in a week. Examples of moderate physical activity include brisk walking, gentle swimming and social tennis.

Weight – maintaining a healthy weight range helps in preventing long-term complications like cardiovascular disease, diabetes and arthritis. It is also vital for one’s mental wellbeing and keeping up with normal activities of daily living. Ask your doctor to check your body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference annually. If you are at a higher risk, you should have your weight checked more frequently and a stern management plan in place.

Alcohol – as per WHO reports, alcohol consumption contributes to 3 million deaths each year globally as well as to the disabilities and poor health of millions of people. Healthy drinking entails taking no more than two standard drinks per drinking day with at least two alcohol-free days in a week.

Smoking –Nicotine contained in tobacco is highly addictive and tobacco use is a major risk factor for cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, many different types of cancer, and many other debilitating health conditions. Every year, at least a whopping 8 million people succumb from tobacco use worldwide. Tobacco can also be deadly for non-smokers through second-hand smoke exposure. It is not ‘fashionable’ if it is going to cost you and your loved ones lives! If you are currently smoking, talk to your doctor and get help in quitting as soon as possible to reduce the harm.

Blood pressure: Hypertension is a serious medical condition and can increase the risk of heart, brain, kidney and other diseases. It is a major cause of premature death worldwide, with upwards of 1 in 4 men and 1 in 5 women – over a billion people – having the condition. Have your blood pressure checked annually if it is normal, you are aged under 40 and there is no family history of hypertension. You might need to have it checked more frequently if you are over 40, your blood pressure is on the high side, or you have a personal or family history of high blood pressure, stroke or heart attack. Your doctor will be there to guide you.

Dental care – eating a low-sugar diet and cleaning and flossing the teeth regularly can reduce one’s risk of tooth decay, gum disease and tooth loss. Visit a dentist every six months for a dental examination and professional cleaning, or more frequently as per your dentist’s advice.
Blood tests – annual to five-yearly blood tests may be done to further assess or confirm risk of disease. These may include blood sugar levels, cholesterol levels, kidney function, liver function, tumour markers, among other things. They may be done frequently if there is already an existing medical condition.

Cancer screening – various screening techniques can be done to detect different cancers in their early or pre-cancer stages. These include; skin inspections for any suspicious moles/spots, two-yearly mammograms for those at risk of developing breast cancer, Pap smear or the new Cervical Screening Test (CST) every five years, stool tests and colonoscopy (every five years) for those at most risk of bowel cancer, prostate cancer screening for those at risk (over 45 years of age, family history of cancers etc.). Discuss appropriate tests with your doctor.

Vaccinations – You should discuss with your doctor about the necessary routine immunisation, in particular; the Covid-19 vaccines, an annual flu shot, a five-yearly pneumococcal vaccine if you have never had one or you are immunocompromised and any other boosters that you might need.

If you need further advice or treatment please call 4924730, email HYPERLINK “mailto:info@themedicscentre.co.bw” info@themedicscentre.co.bw or visit www.themedisccentre.co.bw

Antoinette Boima, MBBS, BMedSci, PgDip HIV/AIDS, Cert Aesth Med is the Managing Director of The Medics Centre in Palapye.

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