Botswana has in past expressed its desire to trial virtual courts. This is referenced from 2009 when the late Minister of Defence, Justice and Security Dikgakgamatso Seretse told parliament that Botswana courts were soon going digital.
It was indicated that the new technology would allow cases to be heard by Video Conferencing and give members of the public and lawyers access to court records at the click of a mouse. However, those that have been in the judiciary from then confirm that the plan has never been effected.
The 2022 annual report of the judiciary re-affirmed that the Judiciary has pledged to introduce Information and communications technology(ICT) in courts, which include e-documents; video conferencing; Real Time court reporting; e-Filing; revision of court Rules and Procedures to make the running of the courts efficient , and make dispensation of justice effective.
The report further states that it is critical that the system in place in the Administration Of Justice (AOJ) be revived and taken a step further by introducing other modules.
“In thinking of the future, it is also critical that consideration be given to how all court users could benefit from the revamped systems and/or technology. Amongst others are the unrepresented litigant or self-actors. Apart from slowing down justice, they too deserve to be part of the movement towards hi-tech courts,” stated the AOJ report.
Chief Justice Terrance Rannowane demonstrated through the report efforts by the AOJ to implement such initiatives, which includes a benchmarking exercise that was carried out during and after the COVID-19 pandemic and his directive to make use of technology during lockdown.
The report further explained; “The new approach adopted during the pandemic accommodated those cases that could be disposed of without the need for physical contact or convening of the courts. I issued directives guiding courts during that period to that effect, and courts were able to function albeit to a limited extent. Those temporary measures were put in place to take care of business at that time when courts were experiencing constraints brought about by the pandemic.”
However the situation as it is currently, legal observers suggests that the use of technology and IT systems in courts is far-fetched dream as there have been low or minimum implementation to the goals set by the Chief Justice.
The use of technology to trial cases is said to be the most efficient method to reduce the backlog of cases. Through Virtual courts, criminal cases can be trialed and disposed quickly.
This week, Francistown Principal Magistrate Tshepo Magetse emphasized that technology is the solution to child protection cases.
Magetse made the above deliberation through his speech titled “Child Protection; Creating a conducive Justice Environment Through Technology (Virtual courts)” at the 4th National Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Forum held by the Ministry Of Local Government And Rural Development under the department of social services.
Magetse revealed that the use of technology through virtual court has been exercised at his stock-theft court and has now taken a full advantage of the method to the children’s court.
The magistrate who uses WEBEX software for virtual court sessions indicated that the benefits enjoyed through this method include that children are not exposed to any sort of intimidation as they do not face the alleged perpetrators.
“Also the court environment can be very intimidating, but through the virtual court, the child can give witness from the other room, while the stakeholders are in another room.”
He further indicated that trials are expedited, as expects witnesses/ stakeholders are now a click away from court.
“Most of our experts are in Gaborone, some doctors are out of the country for further studies, but with technology we can have the experts give evidence virtually. Even when there is no funds to have them present in court to give evidence, we still proceed with our cases and they can give their evidence virtually.”
Dealing with Cyber security issues, Magetse revealed that WEBEX platform is sanctioned and all cyber security issues are managed by the government.
He assured that when children testify virtually, no one is allowed to join the meeting as passwords are only given to limited stakeholders.
Further, he indicated that challenges met through virtual courts include that child criminal justice system is slow to embrace technology as stakeholders still prefer physical appearance in court.
“Currently this project is self-funded. We spent around 15 to 20 Thousand up and running from our own pockets.”
He said that the virtual court is yet to develop guidelines for children and stakeholders.
“Children’s court only exists in paper, the closest we have had a children’s court is through signs at the magistrate court written Juvenile court that’s it. So currently what’s on ground is the child will be at the chambers but get destructed by activities outside the window. So that’s the challenge, we need to have proper facilities,” he quipped.
He further stated that they are working on connecting social workers for court mentions rather than physical appearances.
“We want to be able to connect with the Moshupa Boys Prison to cut down on long travelling distances just for court mentions. We want to be able to connect with Child Placement institution virtually”
He further urged for multi-sector technology enhancing collaborations with stakeholders.
FaR Property Company (FPC) Limited, a property investment company listed on the Botswana Stock Exchange, has recently announced its exceptional financial results for the year 2023. The company’s property asset value has risen to P1.47 billion, up from P1.42 billion in the previous year.
FPC has a diverse portfolio of properties, including retail, commercial, industrial, and residential properties in Botswana, South Africa, and Zambia. The company owns a total of 186 properties, generating rental revenues from various sectors. In 2023, the company recorded rental revenues of P11 million from residential properties, P62 million from industrial properties, and P89 million from commercial properties. Overall, the company’s total revenues increased by 9% to P153 million, while profit before tax increased by 22% to P136 million, and operating profit increased by 11% to P139 million.
One notable achievement for FPC is the low vacancy rate across its properties, which stands at only 6%. This is particularly impressive considering the challenging trading environment. The company attributes this success to effective lease management and the leasing of previously vacant properties in South Africa. FPC’s management expressed satisfaction with the results, highlighting the resilience of the company in the face of ongoing macroeconomic challenges.
The increase in profit before tax can be attributed to both an increase in income and effective control of operating expenses. FPC managed to achieve these results with fewer employees, demonstrating the company’s efficiency. The headline earnings per linked unit also saw an improvement, reaching 26.92 thebe, higher than the previous year.
Looking ahead, FPC remains confident in its competitiveness and growth prospects. The company possesses a substantial land bank, which it plans to develop strategically as opportunities arise. FPC aims for managed growth, focusing on consumer-driven developments and ensuring the presence of supportive tenants. By maintaining this approach, the company believes it can sustainably grow its property portfolio and remain competitive in the market.
In terms of the macroeconomic environment, FPC noted that inflation rates are decreasing towards the 3% to 6% range approved by the Bank of Botswana. This is positive news for the company, as it hopes for further decreases in interest rates. However, the fluctuating fuel prices, influenced by global events such as the war in Ukraine and oil output reductions by Russia and other Middle Eastern countries, continue to impact businesses, including some of FPC’s tenants.
FPC’s property portfolio includes notable assets such as a shopping mall in Francistown with Choppies Hyper as the anchor tenant, Borogo Mall located on the A33 main road near the Kazungula ferry crossing, and various industrial and commercial properties in Gaborone leased to Choppies, Senn Foods, and Clover Botswana. The company also owns a shopping mall in Mafikeng and Rustenburg in South Africa.
The majority of FPC’s properties, 85%, are located in Botswana, followed by 12% in South Africa and 3% in Zambia. With its strong financial performance, competitive position, and strategic land bank, FPC is well-positioned for continued growth and success in the property market.
The Botswana Power Corporation (BPC) has taken a significant step towards diversifying its energy mix by signing a power purchase agreement with Sekaname Energy for the production of power from coal bed methane in Mmashoro village. This agreement marks a major milestone for the energy sector in Botswana as the country transitions from a coal-fired power generation system to a new energy mix comprising coal, gas, solar, and wind.
The CEO of BPC, David Kgoboko, explained that the Power Purchase Agreement is for a 6MW coal bed methane proof of concept project to be developed around Mmashoro village. This project aligns with BPC’s strategic initiatives to increase the proportion of low-carbon power generation sources and renewable energy in the energy mix. The use of coal bed methane for power generation is an exciting development as it provides a hybrid solution with non-dispatchable sources of generation like solar PV. Without flexible base-load generation, the deployment of non-dispatchable solar PV generation would be limited.
Kgoboko emphasized that BPC is committed to enabling the development of a gas supply industry in Botswana. Sekaname Energy, along with other players in the coal bed methane exploration business, is a key and strategic partner for BPC. The successful development of a gas supply industry will enable the realization of a secure and sustainable energy mix for the country.
The Minister of Minerals & Energy, Lefoko Moagi, expressed his support for the initiative by the private sector to develop a gas industry in Botswana. The country has abundant coal reserves, and the government fully supports the commercial extraction of coal bed methane gas for power generation. The government guarantees that BPC will purchase the generated electricity at reasonable tariffs, providing cash flow to the developers and enabling them to raise equity and debt funding for gas extraction development.
Moagi highlighted the benefits of developing a gas supply industry, including diversified primary energy sources, economic diversification, import substitution, and employment creation. He commended Sekaname Energy for undertaking a pilot project to prove the commercial viability of extracting coal bed methane for power generation. If successful, this initiative would unlock the potential of a gas production industry in Botswana.
Sekaname Energy CEO, Peter Mmusi, emphasized the multiple uses of natural gas and its potential to uplift Botswana’s economy. In addition to power generation, natural gas can be used for gas-to-liquids, compressed natural gas, and fertilizer production. Mmusi revealed that Sekaname has already invested $57 million in exploration and infrastructure throughout its resource area. The company plans to spend another $10-15 million for the initial 6MW project and aims to invest over $500 million in the future for a 90MW power plant. Sekaname’s goal is to assist BPC in becoming a net exporter of power within the region and to contribute to Botswana’s transition to cleaner energy production.
In conclusion, the power purchase agreement between BPC and Sekaname Energy for the production of power from coal bed methane in Mmashoro village is a significant step towards diversifying Botswana’s energy mix. This project aligns with BPC’s strategic initiatives to increase the proportion of low-carbon power generation sources and renewable energy. The government’s support for the development of a gas supply industry and the commercial extraction of coal bed methane will bring numerous benefits to the country, including economic diversification, import substitution, and employment creation. With the potential to become a net exporter of power and a cleaner energy producer, Botswana is poised to make significant strides in its energy sector.
It is not clear as to when, but before taking a festive break in few weeks’ time UDC leaders would have convened to address the ongoing deadlock surrounding constituency allocation in the negotiations for the 2024 elections. The leaders, Duma Boko of the UDC, Mephato Reggie Reatile of the BPF, and Ndaba Gaolathe of the AP, are expected to meet and discuss critical matters and engage in dialogue regarding the contested constituencies.
The negotiations hit a stalemate when it came to allocating constituencies, prompting the need for the leaders to intervene. Representatives from the UDC, AP, and BPF were tasked with negotiating the allocation, with Dr. Patrick Molotsi and Dr. Philip Bulawa representing the UDC, and Dr. Phenyo Butale and Wynter Mmolotsi representing the AP.
The leaders’ meeting is crucial in resolving the contentious issue of constituency allocation, which has caused tension among UDC members and potential candidates for the 2024 elections. After reaching an agreement, the leaders will engage with the members of each constituency to gauge their opinions and ensure that the decisions made are favored by the rank and file. This approach aims to avoid unnecessary costs and conflicts during the general elections.
One of the main points of contention is the allocation of Molepolole South, which the BNF is adamant about obtaining. In the 2019 elections, the UDC was the runner-up in Molepolole South, securing the second position in seven out of eight wards. Other contested constituencies include Metsimotlhabe, Kgatleng East and West, Mmadinare, Francistown East, Shashe West, Boteti East, and Lerala Maunatlala.
The criteria used for constituency allocation have also become a point of dispute among the UDC member parties. The issue of incumbency is particularly contentious, as the criterion for constituency allocation suggests that current holders of UDC’s council and parliamentary seats should be given priority for re-election without undergoing primary elections. Disadvantaged parties argue that this approach limits democratic competition and hinders the emergence of potentially more capable candidates.
Another disputed criterion is the allocation based on the strength and popularity of a party in specific areas. Parties argue that this is a subjective criterion that leads to disputes and favoritism, as clear metrics for strength and visibility cannot be defined. The BNF, in particular, questions the demands of the new entrants, the BPF and AP, as they lack a traceable track record to support their high expectations.
The unity and cohesion of the UDC are at stake, with the BPF and AP expressing dissatisfaction and considering withdrawing from the negotiations. Therefore, it is crucial for the leaders to expedite their meeting and find a resolution to these disputes.
In the midst of these negotiations, the BNF has already secured 15 constituencies within the UDC coalition. While the negotiations are still ongoing, BNF Chairman Dr. Molotsi revealed that they have traditionally held these constituencies and are expecting to add more to their tally. The constituencies include Gantsi North, Gantsi South, Kgalagadi North, Kgalagadi South, Good Hope – Mmathethe, Kanye North, Kanye South, Lobatse, Molepolole North, Gaborone South, Gaborone North, Gaborone Bonnignton North, Takatokwane, Letlhakeng, and Tlokweng.
The resolution of the contested constituencies will test the ability of the UDC to present a united front in the 2024 National Elections will depend on the decisions made by the three leaders. It is essential for them to demonstrate maturity and astuteness in resolving the constituency allocation deadlock and ensuring the cohesion of the UDC.