- BDP says it needs no permit to meet
- Health director says it is up to the police to enforce COVID-19 regulations
- Police acknowledge it is their duty to enforce the law even without anyone reporting violation
Despite enforcing the law on prohibition of people being in excess of certain numbers and arresting many Batswana in the process, the Botswana Police Service (BPS) ignored a widely publicised meeting of the central committee of the Botswana Democratic Party that took place at State House on 9 May 2020.
The Director of Health Services, Dr Malaki Tshipayagae, recently said that anybody who felt aggrieved could report the matter to the police. The BDP meeting acted against Regulation 16 of State of Public Emergency Act which outlaws gatherings of more than 20 people except for meetings of the cabinet, Parliament, councils and the COVID Task Team.
In an interview with The Botswana Gazette, the Secretary General of the BDP, Mpho Balopi, effectively put the BDP above the law when he said the ruling party does not need a permit to meet and that they can meet as and when they want as the country’s leadership. Balopi noted that the meeting was called by the President to brief the party leadership on progress and challenges in the fight against COVID-19, among other things.
“We are not just any institution or political party,” he said. “We are the ruling party and we can meet as and when we want in response to our people’s challenges. What matters is that we observed the COVID-19 protocols.”
Asked whether the police had asked them anything about the meeting, Balopi responded: “No. For what?” However, a spokesman of BPS, Near Bagali, has acknowledged that it is the duty of the police to prevent, investigate and punish violation of the law regardless of whether anyone has reported it. “The Botswana Police Service has initiated investigations in so many cases where the culprits have been brought to book,” he said. “It is part of crime prevention strategies.” Even so, when the matter of the BDP meeting was put to him, Bagali asked for a questionnaire to be shared with the Commissioner of Police. When The Botswana Gazette sent questions to the Commissioner himself, Keabetswe Makgophe ignored them.
Police Act, Cap 21:01 at Section 6 (1) mandates the police to detect crime, protect life and property, prevent and detect crime, repress internal disturbances, maintain security and public tranquillity, apprehend offenders, bring offenders to justice, enforce all written laws and generally to maintain law and order.
The official opposition, the Umbrella for Democratic Change, has described the conduct of the BDP as shameful coming from a ruling party and the President. The Secretary General of the UDC, Moeti Mohwasa, said all responsible people and organisations were expected to comply with the message of health authorities regarding meetings under one roof. “More worrying is that the BDP Central Committee meeting was held at State House,” Mohwasa pointed out. “Use of state property and resources for narrow political interests is outright corruption and clear abuse of office.
“The meeting by the BDP leadership at a time when gatherings are restricted clearly demonstrates lack of commitment to the fight against COVID-19. The failure to use technology for such meetings shows that the ruling party is still far from embracing the 4th Industrial Revolution. We request the leadership of various organisations and Batswana in general to focus on the fight against COVID-19 with great abidance to measures as advised by health officials.”