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Will Parley legislate on electoral reforms? 

During the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) hearings, Permanent Secretary to the President was subpoenaed to answer tough questions from Members of Parliament (MPs) about the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) among other things. The matter was escalated to both the former and acting Secretary and the Chairman of the electoral management body. What did MPs really want to know about the IEC? Will the 12th Parliament legislate on electoral reforms?

The President and his party have promised to begin a process of review of the constitution after many years of opposing calls by the opposition political parties and other commentators. They often asked during those years “if it’s not broken, why fix it”, implying that the document has served the country well and that there was no need to reform it wholesale. There are debates about the need to reform the electoral process alongside the holistic review of the constitution.

The PAC had some years ago discovered that the Auditor General was employed under terms not provided for by the constitution or that the terms were potentially ultra vires the constitution. The constitution specifically provided for security of tenure of the Auditor General. However, it became clear that she was hired on a short-term contract. The 12th Parliament delved beneath the surface and probed this matter further and discovered that even the IEC Secretary was employed under a contract, was transferable within the public service and that she could be fired with a notice of three months.

This chilling discovery shocked not only MPs but the Chairman of the IEC. In fact, the former IEC head’s contract wasn’t renewed by the appointing authority. The body is without a substantive Secretary. It remains to be seen what the PAC will recommend to Parliament on the matter. Other heads of oversight institutions were not in better employment terms either.

The Chairman of the IEC was clear that the commission was not independent. He reminded the committee that there is a draft Bill at OP in which reforms were proposed. It was a little surprising how the chairman did not equivocate on his answers about the lack of independence of the IEC. The Secretary is appointed by the President, it is not provided for in any law that he should consult anyone. The Commission staff are civil servants under the office of the President.

Botswana’s first elections were run by the British colonial masters. Subsequent polls were administered by the Office of President-Permanent Secretary to the President and or Supervisor of Elections. After calls by mainly the opposition, the IEC was created alongside constitutional amendments to permit 18 year olds to vote and Presidential term limit of ten years in 1997. So far the body has run five polls and has not reformed.

The opposition brought more than 16 electoral petitions after the 2019 general elections. Their position is that the vote was stolen. The finger the intelligence agency, the ruling party and IEC as important enablers of the rigging. The opposition cases were dismissed on technicalities without the merits of their arguments heard by the courts.

The superior court of record also dismissed the opposition citing jurisdictional limitations. This was unprecedented. How did the Court of Appeal lack jurisdiction on a matter that was decided by the lower courts? Why did the judicature keep away from the merits of the case? If this jurisprudential posture persists, it has potential to drive petitioners to extra judicial means to express their dissatisfaction.

Fortunately, the political culture has for a longtime been that of lukewarm peaceful protests to almost docility of civic organisations and political parties. Parliament should therefore seriously consider post-election dispute resolution mechanisms that would ensure transparent, objective, fair and credible process of dealing with conflicts. The IEC depends on the constitution and the Electoral Act as there are no regulations under the Act. This is a serious limitation as many grey areas could be covered by a Statutory Instrument in the form of Election Regulations.

Parliament should begin debating electoral reforms for purposes of democratizing Botswana further. Democracy is a continuum, it is not static and must be nourished more and more to build strong institutions for transparency, accountability and service delivery to the people. The starting point should be the demarcation of electoral districts by the Delimitation Commission following the population census.

This process is largely seen by the opposition and some in the civil society as lacking credibility and unresponsive to the specific requirements of the people. The process has failed to deal with vast constituencies of hundreds of kilometers radiuses so that more constituencies were created in line with population growth and geography. Gerrymandering has been alleged and such insinuations cannot be ignored. That the process can’t be challenged, especially because as soon as the committee hands its report it stands dissolved, is a problem.

The electoral system of first-past-the-post has obscured the gains of most parties and calls for a hybrid system of both the winner takes all and proportional representation should be considered. These are however not attractive to the ruling party as they could accelerate its removal from power. Possibilities of successful pre-electoral and post-electoral coalitions exists in this proposed hybrid systems.

The proposed hybrid system is conducive for marginalized groups who have been underrepresented in political decision making institutions such as parliament and councils. For example, women don’t make up 10% of Botswana Parliament. Parliament should subject the debate on the floor crossing to more public consultations and scrutiny. It should form part of the comprehensive constitutional review process and not rushed as a cure for internal wrangling of the ruling party.

Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) should be abandoned; the country was almost split in half in terms of opinion when it was attempted. The reasons have been advanced and haven’t changed. The opposition has been clear that they would fight all attempts to bring EVM, with or without Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT). Such strongly divisive reforms should not be attempted, especially when the sky won’t fall without such changes.

The fact that the IEC is not fully in charge of the database is a source for concern. The system from which the roll is generated is housed in a different ministry of communication and not in the custody of the Commission. There is need to improve the electoral process in line with the SADC-Parliamentary Forum Model Law on Elections, SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections and other international instruments.

Funding of parties, translucent ballot boxes, better management of diaspora voting, security, protection of presidential candidates, counting at polling stations, the use of identity documents such as IDs, passports and drivers’ license should be seriously considered by the 12th Parliament. Election registration should be eased to broaden suffrage. Why should someone be disenfranchised on account of expired ID, or lost election card when they appear on the roll and have other national identity documents? It is rigidly unreasonable and absurd.

Why should a young 17 year old be denied registration when it’s clear they would be 18 on Election Day? Why can’t those registered remain in the roll forever, unless deceased, but only be permitted to transfer if they relocate? These are questions that parliament should ponder on and answer honestly.

Resistance to electoral reforms is one of the greatest threats to Botswana’s peace and stability. Elections in Botswana are extremely difficult, prohibitively exorbitant for candidates and for that reason very unfair and lack credibility. Calls for reforms have fallen on deaf ears for a very long time. Even the most enfeeble, docile and very obedient societies have engaged in massive civil disobedience or mass protests which in some cases has resulted in a complete change of order. This was after many years of suppression.

Some countries have plunged into political and economic crises after these revolutions. The Arab Spring is a case in point. What makes Botswana immune? Parliament of 2019-2024 is unlikely to enact major reforms which the ruling party view as unfavorable to their political objectives of staying in power for long. They are likely to legislate on cosmetic changes which are inconsequential. Pressure must be however exerted from all angles to make the country more democratic by having free, fair and credible elections.

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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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