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Why Private Bills are scarce

There is an ongoing debate on whether Botswana Members of Parliament (MPs) are policy makers/law makers or rubberstamps.

The pitfalls of Botswana’s Parliamentary democracy are widely documented and are accepted even by those who led it in the past. Two of the former Speakers of the National Assembly have penned interesting pieces on democratic deficit in the legislature.

One of the occasionally cited features of this House, which substantiates the rubberstamp argument, is the fact that this House seldom debates and passes Private Members Bills. Parliament hardly initiates policy documents or proposals which impact on public policy.

It is very rare that executive proposals are declined by this parliament. Why are Private Bills rare in Parliament? Is the phenomenon unique to Botswana?

A Bill is a draft legislative proposal which if accepted by the House becomes a law, after executive assent. There are usually few types of Bills; money Bills/ financial Bills, ordinary Bills and constitutional amendment Bills.

If Parliament sanctions borrowing of money by the government from International Financial Institutions such as the World Bank or International Monetary Fund (IMF) or African Development Bank or approves local borrowing from a local bank or accepts a loan from a foreign government, or endorses a loan guarantee, or deals with legal proposal on taxation or appropriation from the consolidated fund, such Bills can be categorized under money or financial Bills.

Constitutional amendment Bills deal with changes to the mother of all laws, the constitution. It depends on whether a proposed change is for an entrenched clause or not. If it’s not, it may require just a simple majority of the votes, if it is, it may require a referendum and or two-thirds majority, depending on jurisdiction.

In Botswana, some changes have been made recently, like the increase of specially elected MPs, which didn’t require a referendum or two-thirds majority of the vote.

A Private Members Bill in a parliamentary system, such as that of Botswana legislature, is a Bill or a proposed law tabled and or presented in the House by an individual legislator who is not a Minister and is not acting on behalf of the executive arm. All the Bills, government or private, must conform with Section 88 and 89 of the constitution.

Section 88 deals with financial implications of Bills and provides that they must be sanctioned by the President, through a Vice President or a Minister. Section 89 deals with gazetting of the Bills and other qualification standards.

Section 89 is a very weighty provision in that Parliament can’t just decide to make laws which have financial implications without the input of the executive. The provision takes away Parliament’s independence and presuppose that it is not competent to make financial laws without guidance of the executive.

Most Bills that are debated and passed are government-initiated Bills. They’re either amendments to existing Bills or new legislation and or re-enactment. In fact, most of Parliament Business is government rather than private. Private Business, such as questions, help to hold the executive accountable.

Motions are routinely a waste of Parliament time; the executive seldom implement resolutions emanating from motions. They actually turn the House into a frivolous talk show. The objective of motions for most MPs, it would appear, is for the public to notice that there is an issue of public importance that their MP has raised or proposed a solution to.

The executive in Botswana is very allergic to advice that comes from outside it. It seldom accepts it, if it does appear like it’s listening, it rarely implements such resolutions. Even if these proposals emanate from the backbench, especially if they are without initial blessing of the executive, they are either rejected in the House or are accepted on the surface but ignored for implementation.

During the 10th Parliament there were few Private Bills including on Freedom of Information and tenure of MPs. During the 11th Parliament, six Private Bills were presented and the House accepted only one.

These included three Bills on conditions of service of members of the security organs, proposed repeal of the Media Practitioners Act, Marriage Amendment Act Bill and Electoral Act Amendment (repeal) Bill.

Parliament uncharacteristically accepted the Bill by an opposition MP to repeal a law that introduced Electronic Voting Machine (EVM). It was fortuitous. The executive had no choice, there was a law suit which sought to challenge the constitutionality of the EVM and the government lost an opportunity to timely procure the machines.

It was not possible that a procurement could proceed because an opposition party, Botswana Congress Party, had interdicted the planned purchase of the appliances from India pending finalization of the case.

The executive, it must be stated, didn’t accept the proposal because it believed in the principle of non-usage of the machines for voting, but because they had no choice because they couldn’t implement the EVM law before the 2019 elections, they had to revert to the old law.

In fact, the executive preposterously attempted to bring a similar proposal around the same time, so that it could reject one brought by the opposition and approve its own. Someone must have whispered to them that it was hopelessly ridiculous to bring basically one Bill twice to the House.

As said above, parliament or the ruling party majority, rejected a Bill to repeal the Media Practitioners Act brought by the opposition in April 2019. Shortly afterwards, the ruling party told Batswana during the 2019 election campaign that the new administration detests the law and sought to repeal it.

When commemorating Press Freedom Day in 2020, the President indicated his plans to repeal the draconian media law. However, no one reminded him that it is the same law that his government refused to remove when it was asked to do so by the opposition, a year after he assumed Office.

At the time of making the promise of repealing the law, the President should to have known that the opposition had already Gazetted the Bill and presented it for first reading and ready for a debate in July 2020. It would be interesting to see what will happen, whether the ruling party will reject it and bring its own repeal Bill.

Apart from not being independent, that is its dependency on the executive for budget and staff, Parliament is legally advised by the Attorney General, the same officer who sits in cabinet and the Judicial Service Commission.

Parliament is practically legally advised by a Parliamentary Counsel (PC), who is an officer seconded from the civil drafting division of the government law firm. PC is assisted by an assistant who is also a lawyer.

He or she can be transferred at any time by the principals at the Attorney General. There are only two legal officers who service Parliament. PC advise almost all Parliamentary Committees. His/her office legally assist all MPs.

It does legal research and drafting for Parliament. The duo are employees of the executive and not Parliament. They are deployed by the executive to Parliament. Naturally they’d be inclined to bend towards the executive.

Two officers who held the position in the past left unceremoniously, basically kicked out, for showing signs of independence.

Drafting a law is a rare skill. Ordinary MPs can’t do it alone. Most MPs are not lawyers and those that are lawyers, don’t have legislative drafting skills. They need a fully-fledged Parliament legal division to assist them. Most MPs rely on lawyers sympathetic to their objectives or lobbyists with access to legal counsel.

For example, NGOs such as the Southern African AIDS Trust (SAT), were influential in lobbying for the ‘Romeo and Juliet’ clause in the Penal Code when the age of consent was raised from 16 to 18 years. The NGO also assisted with drafting of the Bill on protecting children under 18 years from entering into marriage contacts. The Bill was deferred during the 11th parliament.

Parliament, until it becomes independent and well-resourced with skilled personnel, will remain feeble. Private Bills will continue to be a rarity. MPs can’t draft legal proposals on their own, it’s a highly technical process.

Without a well-functioning office for the purpose, equipped with adequate number of skilled lawyers, it’s difficult to see Private Bills being debated or passed.

Whilst even in other democracies Private Bills are rare, they are important in putting certain issues on the agenda of public discourse. They are also a way to get the executive to pay attention to some important issues needing legislative reform.

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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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