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BVI and BIUST collborate to boost research

Professor Otlogetwe Totolo

The General Manager of Botswana Vaccine Institute (BVI) Andrew Madeswi and Vice Chancellor of Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST) Professor Otlogetwe Totolo last week signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to cement their collaboration in areas of research and development in the fight against transboundary diseases and other diseases of public health and socio-economic importance in Botswana.

Speaking at the MoU signing, Madeswi explained that the collaboration with BIUST was enshrined in BVI’s mission statement, which articulates that the vaccine institute will collaborate with its partners to research and manufacture targeted vaccines for the management of infectious diseases regionally and internationally.

“As BVI we are keen on this collaboration with BUIST because it is an esteemed research institution. As a self-funding Institute, we consider collaborations that will drive our strategic business focus and support the delivery of solutions to our nation and other customers around the world. Our choice in BIUST meets these expectations,” said Madeswi.

For his part, Professor Totolo said BIUST attaches a lot of value to collaborating and partnering with like-minded organizations as that will place them at a vantage position to reach unprecedented levels of success.

He described BVI as one of the most established institutions in the country, with a long and attractive track record in the field of scientific research.

“Fairly a new university, BIUST stands a great opportunity to learn from the BVI story, particularly in the pursuit of sustainable animal health solutions which have created a solid anchor for the production of particularly cattle vaccines over long decades,” he said.

Over the last four years, the two institutions have collaborated on human capital development, through which BVI hosted BIUST undergraduate and post-graduate students for workplace experience internships.

“This is one gesture will go a long way in exposing our new talent to the real world of work and research which we greatly appreciate as an institution,” said Professor Totolo.

Scientific experts at BVI also sit on BIUST’s Industrial Advisory Board, which gives input on the development of curricular at the university so as to align academics with industry expectations.

Said Professor Totolo: “BVI experts play a pivotal role in the co-supervision of our students, another act of collaboration which facilitates cross-pollination of ideas and helps BIUST produce industry ready graduates.”

One of the flagship projects under the MoU is research and development on the production and characterization of a recombinant Newcastle Disease Virus Vaccine. In recognition of the steady growth of the poultry sector in Botswana, BIUST and BVI have resolved to produce various poultry vaccines locally. Madeswi and Professor Totolo expressed confidence that their joint expertise and resources will help them deliver the poultry vaccine and support the local poultry business, in which a substantial number of small and subsistence farmers are participating.

“This effort will also go a long way in supporting the Government’s poverty eradication initiatives in poultry production,” said Madeswi and Professor Totolo.

BVI and BIUST have also collaborated through exchanges and visits, including support towards BIUST’s Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) festival. The Research Team at BVI has also assisted a BIUST MSc student to complete her research on development of a PCR Assay to help detect Southern Africa Territories FMD strains.

“The success of such a development which we are considering for commercialization, will improve diagnosis of foot of mouth disease in Botswana and in Africa,” said Madeswi.

BVI was founded in 1978 with the strategic mandate of ensuring the sustainability of Botswana’s beef industry by controlling trans-boundary animal diseases as well as diseases of public health concern. Through strict adherence to international vaccine standards set by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) as well as to Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP), sound quality management systems and a customer-centric approach, BVI has grown into a global provider of sustainable animal health solutions that produces and exports vaccines to over 15 countries in Africa and the Middle East.

BIUST on the other hand is a research-intensive University that specialises in Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM) at both undergraduate and post-graduate level. It aims to increase competitiveness, economic growth and sustainable development; address the shortage of skilled scientists and technologists; increase movement of skilled people across national boundaries; stimulate research, innovation, and technology transfer; improve society’s aspirations to improve health, wealth and well-being; address increased demand for access to tertiary education; and enable a more competitive and innovative tertiary education sector.

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13 AUGUST 2022 Publication

12th August 2022

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DIS blasted for cruelty – UN report

26th July 2022
DIS BOSS: Magosi

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.

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Stan Chart halts civil servants property loan facility

26th July 2022
Stan-Chart

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.

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