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Distressed miners, ex-miners want REWARDS

BOLAMA-Executive-Secretary-Kitsi-Phiri

Botswana’s US $1.6 billion mineral wealth has made it one of the richest countries in Africa, but remains as a deeply unequal and unfair nation, a report by Botswana Labour Migrants Association (BoLaMA) has said.

The country is discriminating particularly to the miners and former miners, who excavated minerals for many years, making the country the diamond hub it is today. The newly published titled “All Risk and No Reward” report on how government and mine companies fail to protect the right to health of miners and former miners in Botswana. The report has underscored how uneven and partial Botswana is to miners.

The report shares findings of the miners’ right to health project’s two year assessment of these workers. On the basis of its assessment, the project involved extensive desk-based legal and social science research and focus group discussions as well as key informant interviews with more than fifty stakeholders in Botswana.

According to the report, miners and former miners continue to suffer deprivations of their health. The report indicate that the workers suffer from preventable injuries and diseases due to insufficient health and safety measures, inadequate training and equipment, coerced labour under excessively dangerous conditions, and a lack of responsiveness on the part of mine companies to address these and other occupational health and safety hazards.

As a result, the report says health outcomes among miners, former miners and their communities are worse than the general population in Botswana, especially form injuries, respiratory illnesses such as tuberculosis and silicosis, chronic illness as well as HIV.

“Miners in Botswana undertake dangerous work, often living in poor conditions, at great risk to their health with incommensurate financial returns. In doing so, they experience significant deprivations of their right to health. Miners are especially vulnerable to occupational injury and disease, including bone fractures, repetitive strain injuries, loss of hearing and sight, spinal cord injuries, lung diseases, such as tuberculosis, and other communicable diseases, including HIV,” reads the report.

For example, while the national tuberculosis prevalence in Botswana in 2013 was 383 people with tuberculosis per 100,000 people, during the same year 741 per 100,000 people had tuberculosis at the BCL mine hospital in Selebi-Phikwe. By comparison, the two highest national tuberculosis prevalence rates in the world in 2013 were 715 and 559 per 100,000 people, respectively.

“In another example, the national HIV prevalence rate in Botswana in 2013 was 18.5%.3 During the same year, HIV prevalence rates in the mining communities of Selebi-Phikwe and Francistown were as high as 27.5% and 24.3%, respectively. By comparison, the highest national HIV prevalence rate in the world in 2016 was 27.3%,” the report states. The report indicates that mine companies interfere in miners’ health care, lowering the quality of their care and harming their health.  If further underlined that this creates a culture of compromised ethics at mine hospitals.

“Corporate interference significantly reduces the quality of health care miners receive in mine hospitals and leads to poor health among miners and ex-miners. Mine companies also violates ethical standards requiring physicians to “do not harm” and to make health care decisions based solely on the health and wellbeing of their patients,” the report says.

Corporate interference in health care involves both direct and indirect pressure to declare sick or injured miners “fit for duty” when they are not and to downgrade the severity of miners injuries for reporting purposes, according to the report. Poor mental health has been pointed out as one of the challenges former miners and their families experience at times.

The report stressed that this often leads to suicide. Research conducted by the group indicates that the social and economic impacts of the sudden closure of the government-owned BCL copper mine in Selibe-Phikwe and the Tati nickel mine near Francistown has led to anxiety and depression among former miners and their families.

“These conditions have also likely led to the suicides of BCL ex-miners. The suffering and suicides among BCL former miners and their families is further exacerbated by the critical dearth of mental health professionals and mental health services in Botswana,” notes the report.

In this report, miners and former miners in the country face a number of challenges in accessing health care. These include geographic barriers and difficulties traveling to clinics; the lack of specialist care at mine hospitals; the need to pay out-of-pocket for specialist services and second medical opinions at private clinics; long delays waiting for health care; the loss of health care upon termination or retrenchment as well as insufficient access to drugs due to periodic stock-outs at government health facilities.

Miners and former miners are not provided opportunities to participate in decision making about their health, the report said. These workers together with their unions as well as Department of Miners confirmed that miners and former miners are not directly involved in key decision-making processes on their health and safety in government, at mine companies or in the Chamber of Mines.

The report shared that miners and former miners and their family members often receive inadequate and unreliable compensation for occupational injuries, illnesses and work-related deaths, saying that factors contributing to this issue are the under diagnosis and under assessment of miner’s injuries and illnesses by mine doctors and insurance companies during incapacity designation;

the difficulty miners face in accessing their medical records to seek second medical opinions; the lack of miners and former miners’ participation in decision making processes related to compensation; and the narrow scope and outdated content of the Workers Compensation Act, 1998 that establishes the injuries and illnesses for which miners can obtain compensation.

The report suggest that the statistics are just part of the story: As the Critical Issues for the Right to Health of Miners and Ex-Miners in Botswana section of this report reveals, the miners and ex-miners that power the country’s economy experience severe deprivations of their right to health.

It further states that the Critical Issues to Finance the Right to Health in Botswana section of this report further demonstrates that the Government of Botswana and the mining industry fail to generate, allocate and spend sufficient resources to realize the right to health of miners, ex-miner and their communities.

According to the report, since the early 1980s, the mining industry has been the largest contributor to Botswana’s GDP, accounting for between 20% and 50%. It says mineral revenue continues to be the single largest source of revenue for the Government of Botswana. As of 2020, mineral revenue accounted for more than 30% of the country’s total revenue collected at approximately US $1.6 billion.

“In 2016, 90% of the country’s total export value was from the mining sector, with diamonds alone account for 85% and the remaining 5% from copper-nickel.7 In 2018, mining accounted for about 34% of gross value added to the Botswana economy.8 And in a country of with less than a million people of working age, more than 11,500 are employed in the mining industry.”

The mining industry’s immense share of the economy and the co-mingling of government and private ownership among the more than 20 mine companies in Botswana make the industry the most powerful in the country. Of these companies, Debswana Diamond Company Ltd. (Debswana) is perhaps the most powerful. Debswana operates four mines in Botswana in Orapa, Letlhakane, Damtshaa (OLDM) and Jwaneng.10 It is the largest diamond mining company in the country and the largest private sector employer with over 5,000 employees. Debswana is also the largest single contributor to the Government of Botswana’s revenues.

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Civil Service volatility: Democracy vs Bureaucracy

19th April 2021
President Masisi

Here is how one Permanent Secretary encapsulates the clear tension between democracy and bureaucracy in Botswana: “President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s Government is behaving like a state surrounded with armed forces in order to capture it or force its surrender. The situation has turned so volatile, for tomorrow is not guaranteed for us top civil servants.

These are the painful results of a personalized civil service in our view as permanent secretaries”. Although his deduction of the situation may be summed as sour grapes because he is one of the ‘victims’ of the reshuffle, he is convinced this is a perfect description of the rationale behind frequent changes and transfers characterising the current civil service.

The result of it all, he said, is that “there is too much instability at managerial and strategic levels of the civil service leading to a noticeable directionless civil service.” He continued: “Changes and transfers are inevitable in the civil service, but to a permissible scale and frequency. Think of soccer team coach who changes and transfers his entire squad every month; you know the consequences?”

The Tsunami has hit hard at critical departments and Ministries leaving a strong wave of uncertainty, many demoralised and some jobless. In traditional approaches to public administration, democracy gives the goals; and bureaucracy delivers the technical efficiency required for implementation. But the recent moves in the civil service are indicative of conflicting imperatives – the notion of separation between politicians and administrators is becoming blurred by the day.

“Look at what happened to Prisons and BDF where second in command were overlooked for outsiders, and these are the people who had sacrificially served for donkey’s years hoping for a seat at the ladder’s end. The frequency of the changes, at times affecting the same Ministry or individual also demonstrates some level of ineptitude, clumsiness and lack of foresight from those in charge,” remarked the PS who added that their view is that the transfers are not related to anything but “settling scores, creating corruption opportunities and pushing out perceived dissident and former president, Ian Khama’s alleged loyalists and most of these transfers are said to be products of intelligence detection.”

Partly blaming Khama for the mess and his unwillingness to let go, the PS dismissed Masisi for falling to the trap and failing to outgrow the destructive tiff. “Khama is here to stay and the sooner Masisi comes to terms with the fact that he (Masisi) is the state President, the better. For a President to still be making these changes and transfers signals signs of a confused man who has not yet started rolling his roadmap, if at all it was ever there. I am saying this because any roadmap comes with key players and policies,” he concluded.

The Ministry of Health and Wellness seems to be the most hard-hit by the transfers, having experienced three Permanent Secretaries changes within a year and a half. Insiders say the changes have everything to do with the Ministry being the centre of COVID-19 tenders and economic opportunities. “The buck stops with the PS and no right-thinking PS can just allow glaring corruption under his watch as an accounting officer. Technocrats are generally law abiding, the pressure comes with politically appointed leaders racing against political terms to loot,” revealed a director in the Ministry preferring anonymity.

The latest transfer of Kabelo Ebineng she says was also motivated by his firm attitude against the President’s blue-eyed Task Team boys. “The Task Team wants to own the COVID-19 pandemic and government interventions and always cry foul when the Ministry reasserts itself as mandated by law,” said the director who added that Masisi who was always caught between the crossfire decided on sacrificing Ebineng to the joy of his team as they (Task Team) were in the habit of threatening to resign citing Ebineng as the problem.

Ebineng joins the Office of the President as a deputy Coordinator (government implementation and coordination office).The incoming PS is the soft-spoken Grace Muzila, known and described by her close associates as a conformist albeit knowledgeable.

One of the losers in the grand scheme is Thato Raphaka who many had seen as the next PSP because of his experience and calm demeanour following a declaration of interest in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Secretary post by the current PSP, Elias Magosi.

But hardly ten months into his post, Raphaka has been transferred out to the National Strategy Office in what many see as a demotion of some sort. Other notable changes coming into OP are Pearl Ramokoka formerly with the Employment, Labour and Productivity Ministry coming in as a Permanent Secretary and Kgomotso Abi as director of Public Service Reforms.

One of the ousted senior officers in the Office of the President warned that there are no signs that the changes and transfers will stop anytime soon: “If you are observant you would have long noticed that the changes don’t only affect senior officers but government decisions as well. A decision is made today and the government backtracks on it within a week. Not only that, the President says this today, and his deputy denies it the following day in Parliament,” he warned.

Some observers have blamed the turmoil in the civil service partly to lack of accountable presidential advisers or kitchen cabinet properly schooled on matters of statecraft. They point out that politicians or those peripheral to them should refrain from hampering the technical and organizational activities of public managers – or else the party (reshuffling) won’t stop.

In the view expressed by some Permanent Secretaries, Elias Magosi, has not really been himself since joining the civil service; and has cut a picture of indifference in most critical engagements; the most notable been a permanent secretaries platform which he chairs. As things stand there is need to reconcile the imperatives of democracy and democracy in Botswana. Peace will rein only when public value should stand astride the fault that runs between politicians and public managers.

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Morupisi fights for freedom in court

19th April 2021
morupisi

Former Permanent Secretary to the President, Carter Morupisi, is fighting for survival in a matter in which the State has charged him and his wife, Pinnie Morupisi, with corruption and money laundering.

Morupisi has joined a list of prominent figures that served in the previous administration and who have been accused of corruption during their tenure in office. While others have been emerging victorious, Morupisi is yet to find that luck. The High Court recently dismissed his no case to answer application.

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Pressure mounts on Biden to suspend Covid-19 vaccine patents

19th April 2021
Joe Biden

United States President, Joe Biden, is faced with a decision to make relating to the Covid-19 vaccine intellectual property after 175 former world leaders and Nobel laurates joined the campaign urging the US to take “urgent action” to suspend intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines to help boost global inoculation rates.

According to the world leaders, doing so would allow developing countries to make their own copies of the vaccines that have been developed by pharmaceutical companies without fear of being sued for intellectual property infringements.

“A WTO waiver is a vital and necessary step to bringing an end to this pandemic. It must be combined with ensuring vaccine know-how and technology is shared openly,” the signatories, comprising more than 100 Nobel prize-winners and over 70 former world leaders, wrote in a letter to US President Joe Biden, according to Financial Times.

A measure to allow countries to temporarily override patent rights for Covid related medical products was proposed at the World Trade Organization by India and South Africa in October, and has since been backed by nearly 60 countries.

Former leaders who signed the letter included Gordon Brown, former UK Prime Minister; François Hollande, former French President; Mikhail Gorbachev, former President of the USSR; and Yves Leterme, former Belgian Prime Minister.

In their official communication, South Africa and India said: “As new diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines for Covid-19 are developed, there are significant concerns [about] how these will be made available promptly, in sufficient quantities and at affordable prices to meet global demand.”

While developed countries have been able to secure enough vaccine to inoculate their citizens, developing countries such as Botswana are struggling to source enough to swiftly vaccine their citizens, something which world leaders believe it would work against global recovery therefore proving counter-productive.

Since the availability of vaccines, Botswana has been able to secure only 60 000 doses of vaccines, 30 000 as donation as from the Indian government, while the other 30 000 was sourced through COVAX facility.  Canada, has pre-ordered vaccines in surplus and it will be able to vaccinate each of its citizens six times over. In the UK and US, it is four vaccines per person; and two each in the EU and Australia.

For vaccines produced in Europe, developing countries are forced to pay double what European countries are paying, making it more expensive for already financially struggling economies.  European countries however justify the price of vaccines and that they deserve to buy them cheap since they contributed in their development.

It is evident that vaccines cannot be made available immediately to all countries worldwide with wealthy economies being the only success story in that regard, something that has been referred to as a “catastrophic moral failure”, head of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The challenge facing developing countries is not only the price, but also the capacity of vaccine manufactures to be able to do so to meet global demand within a short time. The proposal for a patent waiver by India and South Africa has been rejected by developed countries, known for hosting the world leading pharmaceutical companies such US, European Union, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland.

According to the Financial Times, US business groups including pharmaceutical industry representatives, have urged Biden to resist supporting a waiver to IP rules at the WTO, arguing that the proposal led by India and South Africa was too “vague” and “broad”.

The individuals who signed the letter, including Nobel laureates in economics as well as from across the arts and sciences, warned that inequitable vaccine access would impact the global economy and prevent it from recovering.

“The world saw unprecedented development of safe and effective vaccines, in major part thanks to US public investment,” the group wrote. “We all welcome that vaccination rollout in the US and many wealthier countries is bringing hope to their citizens.”

“Yet for the majority of the world that same hope is yet to be seen. New waves of suffering are now rising across the globe. Our global economy cannot rebuild if it remains vulnerable to this virus.”
The group warned that fully enforcing IP was “self-defeating for the US” as it hindered global vaccination efforts. “Given artificial global supply shortages, the US economy already risks losing $1.3tn in gross domestic product this year.”

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