Items filtered by date: Tuesday, 16 February 2021 - Botswana Guardian

The ruthless sharp chopping axe which is always hovering at the government enclave on Tuesday landed and cut short the illustrious career of Commissioner of Prisons, Colonel Silas Motlalekgosi from the civil service.

Motlalekgosi was axed from his luxurious position this week and the bearer of the bad news was his boss, the Minister of Defence, Justice and Security, Kagiso Mmusi. In an interview Wednesday, Motlalekgosi said Mmusi called him to his office Tuesday morning and gave him his dismissal letter which pronounced that his services end with immediate effect since the appointing authority in President Dr. Mokgweetsi Masisi has decided to retire him with immediate effect.

Permanent Secretary to the President Elias Magosi signed the letter, which also specified that his deputy has been appointed to act in his position. “It was unfortunate that save for stating that I have to leave with immediate effect, the letter did not explain issues like when should I have vacated the official residence,” said a dejected Motlalekgosi. He added, “I however asked the Acting Commissioner to ask our principals on my behalf because even if I had a house obviously it must be rented out and as such I will need to give the occupant sufficient notice to vacate.”

The now former prisons boss says as much as he had wanted to know the reasons for being early retired with immediate effect he did not see the need for Minister Mmusi to furnish him with the reasons as the appointing authority (the President) has the right to appoint and un-appoint someone from office. He however described his relationship with Masisi as “great”, saying that he worked well together with the appointing authority. Motlalekgosi, the man credited for reshaping and improving conditions of service at the Botswana Prisons Service (BPS) did not have an easy walk on the park after being seconded to BPS for two (2) years in October 2008 by President Ian Khama from Botswana Defence Force where he was serving as Artillery Brigade Commander.

His mandate was to find ways in which BPS could restructure and re-energise. He took over from Commissioner Herman Kau, who had retired the previous year becoming the second soldier of the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) to head the prison warders. The other is the retired Brigadier Justice Bando Sebolao, who served from 1996 to 1998 after government had realised that there was a vacuum with the prisons management. In a press conference during his early days at prisons he described prison “as a microcosm of mankind” which should be a shared responsibility with all the stakeholders.

Subsequent to coming up with the recommendation on what ought to be done at the BPS, Motlalekgosi was made to retire at BDF in order to take over the Commissioner’s post on full time basis. The then Minister of Labour and Home Affairs, Lethogonolo Peter Siele appointed him to the position as he felt that he was better placed to address the issues that he identified.

Among his achievements was advocating for Parliament to pass the Ministry of Defence and Justice Budget proposal which included the procurement of radio equipment known as phone jammers. The equipment tracks mobile calls by handsets smuggled inside Prisons for use by inmates usually to organise gangs and drug deals and to harass crime victims and witnesses outside prisons. Motlalekgosi holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Public Administration from Lacrosse University in Louisiana, USA and a Certificate in Principles of Management from UB.

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The budget speech by Finance and Economic Development Minister, Dr. Thapelo Matsheka paints a picture of a wasteful past, says Executive Director of Botswana Council of Non-Governmental Organisations (BOCONGO), Monametsi Sokwe.

Sokwe contends that the budget speech tells us a story of a broke government which means that the little support that the government might have offered in the past is going to be limited. “If you zero into just the initial 37 percent which I believe is conservative, we have lost billions as a country and we should not be surprised to find ourselves where we are,” Sokwe says. He adds that as civil society they have for a long time called on the government to review its spending as it did not translate into national development. “Remember waste and corruption are synonyms and in Setswana they both mean tshenyo,” he worries.

BOCONGO has in the past called for the independence of oversight institutions but in Sokwe’s view, there is no political will to fight corruption and reduce waste. This according to the BOCONGO boss spells doom for the citizens more especially the low-income population. It also has a gender dynamic to it because women are majority in the informal sector and increasing costs of the product they sell in the streets is a challenge. Sokwe adds that the budget does not mention the much-needed shelters for victims of GBV, which is on the rise.

BOCONGO worries a great deal about the increase of taxes - 2.5 percent increase in the price of fuel, two percent increase in vat and more levies. The organisation believes that the inefficiency within government is not being addressed but Batswana are being asked to pay for it. They strongly believe that there is a need for government to review the way it conducts its business and plug out tax collection processes. “As a country that has been grey listed we would deal with such illicit financial flows before asking Batswana to pay for it.”

According to Sokwe, there is also a need to have a Corporate Social Investment Act because a lot of profits are repatriated outside and are used to develop other countries. This will incentivise private sector participation in development and improve lives of communities. Sokwe is surprised that there was no mention of funding for at least initial processes of the constitutional review process. This to them is an area key to inclusive democratic government. “The current constitution recognises and glorifies colonialism and does not recognise the cultures and traditions of Batswana as a means to socio-economic development,” Sokwe is convinced.

He believes that the current constitution leaves out Batswana and this is evidenced by the current set up where Batswana are spectators in the economy. Civil society sector particularly NGOs are run and controlled by Batswana and it is surprising the budget speech never mentioned the participation of CSOs as partners in development. Basically, the sector that is owned by Batswana for Batswana is not being mentioned. This, according to Sokwe is another indication that “we are a self-loathing nation with a strong belief that only outsiders are worthy of participation in the development of Batswana”.

BOGONGO also worries that government never acknowledges and makes mention of the number of people employed by civil society, their contribution to the national funding through numerous projects and funders.
In BOCONGO’s view, the 2021/22 budget could have prioritised COVID-19 but with involvement of Batswana. Sokwe is convinced that the Botswana Police and Botswana Defense Force should not be at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19 as it is the case now. “If we are to move into upper middle we need to empower the nation instead of policing the nation. We are denying Batswana an opportunity to take greater responsibility for their issues and this also results in a lot of unnecessary spending,” Sokwe says.

The other priority, according to Sokwe should be agriculture. In his view, food security is key and the government needs to facilitate access to farmlands by improving roads and infrastructure. This, according to him will fight hunger and create the much-needed jobs whilst creating wealth for Batswana. “Currently the World Food Programme reports that Botswana imports 86 percent of its cereals and we have 600 000 Batswana or 26 percent with insufficient food consumption, this is unacceptable and has adverse impact on health and education indicators,” Sokwe says.

BOCONGO also believes that another sector that needs priority is manufacturing so that people have means of production and are able to participate in the supply chain that has largely left them out. Turning to the country’s civil society, Sokwe says they increasingly recognise the need to work together if they are to be a meaningful development partner. BOCONGO and the Botswana Association of Local Authorities (BALA) recently sealed a deal to work together with the assistance of a massive cash injection of P2.4 million from the European Union Commission. According to Sokwe, when policy makers and communities work together, it creates a greater avenue for people-centered policies at local level. The reason BOCONGO and BALA have been failing to work well together, according to him has largely been a matter of timing.

“Civil society organisations in Botswana including BALA and BOCONGO are developing”. He however, is optimistic that with more understanding and increased clarity of mandates within the organisations, this will be followed by a natural affinity to work together. Sokwe adds that national and global socioeconomic shifts including common issues of climate change, human rights and pandemics call for urgent need to collaboration as “we are all serving one individual”. The non-governmental organisations’ mother-body is currently grappling with a myriad of challenges that are hindering it from effectively carrying out its mandate.

Firstly, there is lack of understanding of the civil society within the citizenry and some people in positions of power. This, according to Sokwe has led to limited involvement of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in some sectors and lost opportunities for community participation in development. Another challenge is the growing frustration among citizens, as they don’t see themselves involved meaningfully in development through these organisations.
Civil society is also plagued with financial challenges, as there is limited appetite for financing civil society coordination.

“This has led to BOCONGO in some instances finding itself in implementation space to the frustration of its members,” Sokwe says. To resolve some of their challenges, Sokwe says they are formalising relationship with other institutions like BALA, University of Botswana (UB), Trade Unions and Business Botswana among others. The Memorandum of Understanding that BOCONGO recently signed with BALA   will allow the organisations to share expertise. Sokwe who leads the 220 member-organisation regrets the turn of events as a result of COVID-19. The pandemic has brought the organisation to its knees, he says.

“COVID-19 has led to shrinking civic space because the mitigation measures mean we can’t come together in action for example,” he says, adding “civic space is key to liberty and is our right, however the pandemic has led to state control of our lives.” COVID-19 has also stretched the services of NGOs due to rise in social ills including rise in Gender Based Violence (GBV), hunger, psychosocial challenges and corruption that forces NGOs to do more with so much less.

While under normal circumstances NGOs would look further afield for alms to continue their work, currently international donor community is looking internally to support challenges within their own countries and that has cut local NGOs off their traditional donors. Unfortunately, according to Sokwe, there are no plans to help non-governmental organisations to survive the harsh economic conditions that prevail now.
BOCONGO is currently encouraging member organisations to learn to adapt to the current situation by adapting their programming to include technology

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The Ministry of Health and Wellness has spent over P71 million in outsourcing the services of air ambulance from private companies in the past five years. But this amount notwithstanding, government currently has no plans whatsoever to acquire air ambulance, but is instead strengthening ground ambulance capabilities.

Assistant Minister of Health and Wellness, Sethomo Lelatisitswe told Parliament this week that a total P71, 356, 550.00 was used in the past five years for air patients transport services. Lelatisitswe said that his ministry does not have plans to acquire air support services (helicopter) to assist EMS operations. Given financial and other operational resource-constraints, Lelatisitswe said his ministry relies on outsourcing air support services to the private emergency medical service providers as and when the need arises.

He said it is worth noting that the establishment of air support services is dependent on the strong and solid ground ambulance services. “Currently, our ground ambulance is still at infancy stage. Once this improves, the ministry will consider the cost-effectiveness of acquiring the air ambulance services,” the minister said. Lelatisitswe was answering a question from MP for Bobirwa, Taolo Lucas who had asked the minister to update the House on the geographic spread of the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) bases in the country and state if such bases are equitably spread out in the country and if not, what he intends to do to remedy the situation.

Lucas also wanted to know if there are any immediate plans to establish EMS bases in Ghanzi, Tsabong and Shakawe or if the Minister has any plans to acquire air supporting services (helicopter) to assist EMS operations to save lives and how much was incurred in the past five years in hiring air support service (helicopters) from private emergency medical service providers.

Lelatisitswe revealed that his ministry runs nine EMS bases in Gaborone, Lobatse, Mochudi, Mahalapye, Selebi Phikwe, Francistown, Kasane and Maun, which he admitted are not equitably spread out in the country. The minister said that except for Kasane and Maun, all other bases are along the eastern corridor, or in close proximity to the A1 Road as a function of the high number of motor vehicle crashes along the A1 road in the years prior to 2011.

To correct and promote wider access, the ministry is in the process of setting up and opening EMS bases in other places in Botswana. He said this will be done in phased approach owing to budgetary constraints. The minister said his ministry plans to establish an EMS base in Ghanzi in the financial year 2021/2022, but that is subject to availability of resources. The same applies to the establishment of EMS bases in Tsabong and Shakawe, which will be considered in the future owing to availability of resources.

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The findings of a road accident investigation in which seven (7) Matsha College students perished after their truck overturned in 2015 reveals that there are a number of shortcomings that were not addressed.

The students were rural dwellers and were returning to their various home settlements after writing their final Form 5 examinations at Matsha College in Kang where they were boarding. Answering a question in Parliament Assistant Minister of Basic Education, Nnaniki Makwinja said the major findings were that the school had no records of the names or numbers of students eligible to receive Government-provided transport.

The Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development through the Kweneng District Council’s Department of Social and Community Development (S&CD) is responsible for transporting needy learners to and from school at the beginning and end of each school term.

The school had no policy requiring a representative to monitor boarding of S&CD vehicles by students. The school did not assign anyone to oversee the departure of Form V boarders on that fateful day. The school has no such policy requiring a representative to monitor the departure of Form V students, boarders in particular.

The school had no such policy governing the collection and transportation of students from school to their homes. The Ministry of Education and Skills Development has advocated for the use of buses as opposed to open trucks for transporting students. But at the time there was no formal written policy or other document instructing on this.

Makwinja was answering a question asked by Member of Parliament for Sefhare- Ramokgonami, Dr. Kesitegile Gobotswang who had asked the Minister of Basic Education to update the House on the results of the investigations into the fatal truck accident involving Matsha College students and state what action was taken following the recommendations of the investigations.

The fatal truck accident involving Matsha College students occurred on the 13th November 2015. Makwinja said that an investigation was conducted by the then Ministry of Education and Skills Development officers to ascertain, but not limited to; how many students in the Social and Community Development (S&CD) programme as per the school records were registered to travel by means of Government-provided transport on the 13th November 2015.

What is the standard procedure/practice for collection of S&CD programme Form V boarders from the school following the completion of their examinations, what is the role of the school representative and that of the S&CD programme representative in ensuring safe boarding of the vehicle by the students, who within the school management would be/ was assigned to oversee the departure of the Form V boarders following the completion of their examinations on that day. 

The investigation set out to find if any protocols, policies, practices etc exist, that govern the collection and transportation of students from schools to their homes and if they were adhered to on that fatal day. Makwinja said in addition, the police conducted an investigation into the cause of the accident which pointed to the fact that the vehicle was heavily overloaded. Subsequent to this tragic accident, she said that her ministry has stipulated that children travelling on trips must travel by sustainable buses or mini-buses. The Department of Social and Community Development (S&CD) continues to use trucks to transport children who reside in remote and less accessible locations.

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The Ministry of Infrastructure and Housing Development has over time decried delays in starting some projects as a result of some unsatisfied unsuccessful bidders who approached courts of law for intervention.

The Ministry that is mandated to deliver public infrastructure for beneficial use by Batswana this week welcomed the decision by the Administration of Justice to treat all cases relating to public tenders before the High Court of Botswana as urgent. While the Ministry respects the rights of any bidder to seek relief from the courts if not satisfied with a tender award process, Ministry Public Relations Officer, Christopher Nyanga says it was always frustrating when such cases took too long to be resolved.

This meant that Batswana, who are the ultimate beneficiaries of any public infrastructure project, would wait for years before they could have a hospital, school or police station built in their area. The Chief Justice Terrence Rannowane last week directed through a Practice Directive that cases relating to public tenders be deemed to be of exceptional public importance and be treated as urgent applications. The Practice Directive that came into effect at the beginning of this week also mean that all such cases will be given an expedited management, set downs, disposals in the High court.

Such cases according to the Chief Justice will be prioritised and also removed from the normal track of other cases. This comes after an observation that cases relating to public tenders take inordinately long to be resolved culminating in delays in project implementation and infrastructure development, cost overruns and associated hardships such as inability to timeously provide much-needed development and services to the prejudice and detriment of the communities intended to benefit from such projects.

“In order to address this undesirable situation, I have determined that cases relating to public tenders are of exceptional public importance and must be treated as urgent applications,” said Chief Justice Rannowane. Nyanga adds that the Infrastructure Ministry is however, aware that this directive does not affect the Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Board (PPADB) and the Court of Appeal, which are also legal bodies where appeals by unsatisfied unsuccessful bidders can also be lodged.

“It is the desire of the Ministry to see these other entities also adopting the same position as the High Court of Botswana in order that delayed disposal of all cases relating to award of public tenders are given high priority in all areas where such cases are lodged”. According to the latest PPADB Annual report 2019/20, the total number of cases brought before the courts were 24. Eleven have been dismissed, one upheld, one withdrawn and the remaining 11 are yet to be concluded.

The PPADB alone registered a total of 200 complaints in the year 2019/20. Eighty were made to the Board against Ministerial Tender Committees (MTCs) and District Administration Tender Committee (DATCs) decisions. Eleven including three on Integrated Procurement Management Systems (IPMS) were lodged against PPADB. The remaining 109 were MTCs, DATCs, Parastatals, Landboards and Council complaints copied to the Board. A total of 10 appeals were taken to Independent Complaints Review Committee (ICRC).

In addition, the Board handed 91 complaints with 48 resolved within the prescribed 14 days. Out of 91 complaints, the Board dismissed 62, upheld 12, while 10 were brought before the ICRC and the remaining seven were still outstanding.

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