The names of President Mokgweetsi Masisi have been dragged into a fierce dispute over a lease agreement that Gaborone City Council has with a locally owned company and a Non-Governmental Organisation.
The dispute is between the local company called Commodities Marketing and the non-profit organisation called Music for Life Society. It is for the control of a building in Bontleng ward that Gaborone Council had leased to Commodities Marketing.
The battle between the company and society reached a tipping point recently when the non-profit organisation wrote a letter to Masisi requesting him to terminate the Commodity Marketing contract with Gaborone City Council. In the letter submitted to Masisi dated 11th November 2021, Music for Life Society Chairperson Duduetsang Lekoma requested “the President to facilitate the termination of that contract immediately and allow us as a Nonprofit Organisation and community members of Bontleng and Gaborone to use the building to improve the livelihoods of our community and the city at large.”
In response, the President’s Office’s Permanent Secretary wrote a letter to the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development Molefi Keaja requesting him to mediate over a contract between Gaborone City Council and Commodities Marketing and Duduetsang Lekoma led society. The letter informed Keaja that the complainant (Lekoma) had been informed of the referral and expected feedback from his office.
“We will be grateful if you could share the conclusion of the case with us by close of business on 2nd December 2021 to close the file,” the letter from the Office of the President stated. In a letter dated 24th April 2021, addressed to Music for Life Society, Gaborone City Council states that “the Council’s Town Planning and Estate Division has not acceded to your request because the said plot has been leased to a private entity.”
In a letter addressed to Music for Life Society, Commodities Marketing Company through its director, Samuel Tebogo Sekgoma, wrote a “letter of intent to lease of building on plot 2114 by Music for Life Society from Commodities Marketing at a sum of P15 012 per month with a security deposit of an equivalent amount.”
“Commodities marketing will support the great initiative proposed by MUSIC FOR LIFE SOCIETY by leasing the proposed building to the society for a period of five years if they find sponsorship for the rent and security deposit,” said Sekgoma.
But the society was not happy with this resulting in it requesting “the President of the Republic of Botswana Dr Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi to resolve the lease agreement issues between Gaborone City Council and Commodities Marketing Pty (LTD), by Music For Life Society, a Non-profit responsible for an afterschool program targeting at-risk youth in Botswana between the age of nine (9) and 19.”
The society added that “We request the Council of Gaborone to allow us to use an abandoned building in Bontleng Plot 2114, which has been left vandalised for over 10 years if not 15.” The society said during a brief discussion it had with one of the officials at Gaborone City Council, “we put all this concern before him and stated reasons why as the youth of Bontleng with a registered Non Profit organisation should be allowed to use the building even though all information was already on the proposal before him which he said it was not important to read as the request is impossible.”
The society quoted the official saying that “the reason they could not assist us is that the Council of Gaborone has a contract with a private company Commodities Marketing”.
“We then wrote to the mayor of Gaborone but got another response from town clerk saying they are on a long term agreement with a privately owned company Commodities Marketing which is owned by Mr Samuel Tebogo Sekgoma, who has been in possession of the land/building for more than 20 years before being given another extension that is due in 2045 and as long as they honour that contract by paying what they are supposed to pay at the end of the year they are satisfied.”
The society said, “This was a very shocking statement because the City Council and Bye-Law enforcement are responsible for that building which has been in a bad state and poses a hazard to our community for so many years but has continuously turned a blind eye because they are continuously get paid.”
It said, “We contacted the director of o Commodities Marketing and explained to Mr Sekgoma our intention to lease the building for a community project of which he showed interest. We explained steps we will be taking before we sign the lease, which included a tour of the building to determine if it is in a good state to be renovated or needs to be demolished.”
According to the society, “Presently there is no fence, no doors or windows, no electricity and water connection but the private company is demanding a sum of P15 000.00 month even before all these issues are addressed. The private company is making unreasonable demands on an inhabitable state-building that has been neglected for more than 15 years previously used as shebeen/depot.”
It said that “We would like to know on which grounds was the private entity awarded the building and has it implemented whatever is proposed to and since well it’s evident that the building that the building has been neglected for more than 10 years was the purpose to turn it into a criminal habitat if not why has By-Law enforcement failed to call the company to book…with the building they have left in a terrible state but continue to pay and now poses a danger to the community.”
Botswana has made improvements on preventing and ending arbitrary deprivation of liberty, but significant challenges remain in further developing and implementing a legal framework, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said at the end of a visit recently.
Head of the delegation, Elina Steinerte, appreciated the transparency of Botswana for opening her doors to them. Having had full and unimpeded access and visited 19 places of deprivation of liberty and confidentiality interviewing over 100 persons deprived of their liberty.
She mentioned “We commend Botswana for its openness in inviting the Working Group to conduct this visit which is the first visit of the Working Group to the Southern African region in over a decade. This is a further extension of the commitment to uphold international human rights obligations undertaken by Botswana through its ratification of international human rights treaties.”
Another good act Botswana has been praised for is the remission of sentences. Steinerte echoed that the Prisons Act grants remission of one third of the sentence to anyone who has been imprisoned for more than one month unless the person has been sentenced to life imprisonment or detained at the President’s Pleasure or if the remission would result in the discharge of any prisoner before serving a term of imprisonment of one month.
On the other side; The Group received testimonies about the police using excessive force, including beatings, electrocution, and suffocation of suspects to extract confessions. Of which when the suspects raised the matter with the magistrates, medical examinations would be ordered but often not carried out and the consideration of cases would proceed.
“The Group recall that any such treatment may amount to torture and ill-treatment absolutely prohibited in international law and also lead to arbitrary detention. Judicial authorities must ensure that the Government has met its obligation of demonstrating that confessions were given without coercion, including through any direct or indirect physical or undue psychological pressure. Judges should consider inadmissible any statement obtained through torture or ill-treatment and should order prompt and effective investigations into such allegations,” said Steinerte.
One of the group’s main concern was the DIS held suspects for over 48 hours for interviews. Established under the Intelligence and Security Service Act, the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) has powers to arrest with or without a warrant.
The group said the “DIS usually requests individuals to come in for an interview and has no powers to detain anyone beyond 48 hours; any overnight detention would take place in regular police stations.”
The Group was able to visit the DIS facilities in Sebele and received numerous testimonies from persons who have been taken there for interviewing, making it evident that individuals can be detained in the facility even if the detention does not last more than few hours.
Moreover, while arrest without a warrant is permissible only when there is a reasonable suspicion of a crime being committed, the evidence received indicates that arrests without a warrant are a rule rather than an exception, in contravention to article 9 of the Covenant.
Even short periods of detention constitute deprivation of liberty when a person is not free to leave at will and in all those instances when safeguards against arbitrary detention are violated, also such short periods may amount to arbitrary deprivation of liberty.
The group also learned of instances when persons were taken to DIS for interviewing without being given the possibility to notify their next of kin and that while individuals are allowed to consult their lawyers prior to being interviewed, lawyers are not allowed to be present during the interviews.
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention mentioned they will continue engaging in the constructive dialogue with the Government of Botswana over the following months while they determine their final conclusions in relation to the country visit.
Standard Chartered Bank Botswana (SCBB) has informed the government that it will not be accepting new loan applications for the Government Employees Motor Vehicle and Residential Property Advance Scheme (GEMVAS and LAMVAS) facility.
This emerges in a correspondence between Acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance Boniface Mphetlhe and some government departments. In a letter he wrote recently to government departments informing them of the decision, Mphetlhe indicated that the Ministry received a request from the Bank to consider reviewing GEMVAS and LAMVAS agreement.
He said: “In summary SCBB requested the following; Government should consider reviewing GEMVAS and LAMVAS interest rate from prime plus 0.5% to prime plus 2%.” The Bank indicated that the review should be both for existing GEMVAS and LAMVAS clients and potential customers going forward.
Mphetlhe said the Bank informed the Ministry that the current GEMVAS and LAMVAS interest rate structure results into them making losses, “as the cost of loa disbursements is higher that their end collections.”
He said it also requested that the loan tenure for the residential property loans to be increased from 20 to 25 years and the loan tenure for new motor vehicles loans to be increased from 60 months to 72 months.
Mphetlhe indicated that the Bank’s request has been duly forwarded to the Directorate of Public Service Management for consideration, since GEMVAS and LAMVAS is a Condition of Service Scheme. He saidthe Bank did also inform the Ministry that if the matter is not resolved by the 6th June, 2022, they would cease receipt of new GEMVAS and LAMVAS loan applications.
“A follow up virtual meeting was held to discuss their resolution and SCB did confirm that they will not be accepting any new loans from GEMVAS and LAMVAS. The decision includes top-up advances,” said Mphetlhe. He advised civil servants to consider applying for loans from other banks.
In a letter addressed to the Ministry, SCBB Chief Executive Officer Mpho Masupe informed theministry that, “Reference is made to your letter dated 18th March 2022 wherein the Ministry had indicated that feedback to our proposal on the above subject is being sought.”
In thesame letter dated 10 May 2022, Masupe stated that the Bank was requesting for an update on the Ministry’s engagements with the relevant stakeholder (Directorate of Public Service Management) and provide an indicative timeline for conclusion.
He said the “SCBB informs the Ministry of its intention to cease issuance of new loans to applicants from 6th June 2022 in absence of any feedback on the matter and closure of the discussions between the two parties.” Previously, Masupe had also had requested the Ministry to consider a review of clause 3 of the agreement which speaks to the interest rate charged on the facilities.
Masupe indicated in the letter dated 21 December 2021 that although all the Banks in the market had signed a similar agreement, subject to amendments that each may have requested. “We would like to suggest that our review be considered individually as opposed to being an industry position as we are cognisant of the requirements of section 25 of the Competition Act of 2018 which discourages fixing of pricing set for consumers,” he said.
He added that,“In this way,clients would still have the opportunity to shop around for more favourable pricing and the other Banks, may if they wish to, similarly, individually approach your office for a review of their pricing to the extent that they deem suitable for their respective organisations.”
Masupe also stated that: “On the issue of our request for the revision of the Interest Rate, we kindly request for an increase from the current rate of prime plus 0.5% to prime plus 2%, with no other increases during the loan period.” The Bank CEO said the rationale for the request to review pricing is due to the current construct of the GEMVAS scheme which is currently structured in a way that is resulting in the Bank making a loss.
“The greater part of the GEMVAS portfolio is the mortgage boo which constitutes 40% of the Bank’s total mortgage portfolio,” said Masupe. He saidthe losses that the Bank is incurring are as a result of the legacy pricing of prime plus 0% as the 1995 agreement which a slight increase in the August 2018 agreement to prime plus 0.5%.
“With this pricing, the GEMVAS portfolio has not been profitable to the Bank, causing distress and impeding its ability to continue to support government employees to buy houses and cars. The portfolio is currently priced at 5.25%,” he said. Masupe said the performance of both the GEMVAS home loan and auto loan portfolios in terms of profitability have become unsustainable for the Bank.
Healso said, when the agreement was signed in August 2018, the prime lending rate was 6.75% which made the pricing in effect at the time sufficient from a profitable perspective. “It has since dropped by a total 1.5%. The funds that are loaned to customers are sourced at a high rate, which now leaves the Bank with marginal profits on the portfolio before factoring in other operational expenses associated with administration of the scheme and after sales care of the portfolio,” said the CEO.