The COVID-19 Task Force should be relieved of its mandate and the same transferred to NAHPA for emergency expertise, writes Brother Chairman of the Real Alternative Party, GAONTEBALE MOKGOSI
The Real Alternative Party supports the call made by Kgalagadi Breweries Limited to bring the attention of the BDP government to its neglect of economic and social rights during the public state of emergency. As a disclaimer, we hasten to set the record straight that the basis of our stance has nothing whatsoever to do with KBL or any of its products.
Our stance is fuelled by our party principle of political vanguardism, i.e. the duty to defend the very lives of the people (that is the working class) for whom the unilateral measures are being taken. Our stance is more than just a philosophical or ideological debate about democracy or human rights but is premised on the spirit of candour, concern, compassion and empathy.
The Real Alternative Party shares the sentiments of KBL that protecting human life and dignity and prohibiting discrimination in situations of emergency is indispensable to the survival of the population. We consider the stance taken by Masisi`s presidency towards KBL to be less than ideal. We find that most of the emergency regulations and measures adopted by the BDP state to stop the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic to be vague when it comes to human rights protection, especially the non-derogable rights.
The state of emergency has been imposed without respecting due process in guaranteeing the economic and social rights and the very right to life. If anything, the state of emergency has reinforced the trend of a “constitutional dictatorship” and vertical governance that characterise the BDP state style of ruling.
Its implementation is marked by the absence of consultation processes with Parliament, as well as with independent consultative bodies such as the private sector, local authorities and civil society organisations. We strongly suspect that even justice and reconciliation institutions such as the Ombudsman and the Department of Justice are kept in the dark in terms of the implementation of emergency regulations and measures. Clearly President Mokgweetsi Masisi has failed to outline measures to provide for rigorous checks and balances and to take appropriate corrective measures in order to mitigate the negative effects of state of emergency in the midst of COVID-19.
While we acknowledge that measures and regulations of the State of Emergency were taken to prevent the further spread of the virus, implementation of these measures has complicated existing challenges and exacerbated the economic and social rights of citizens. Botswana, being a country that has internationally propagated itself as a leading example of democracy in Africa, acts contrary to the International humanitarian law, i.e. the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. According to this covenant, during emergencies, states need to take measures to enable individuals to fulfill their economic and social rights themselves or, if necessary, to ensure direct provision of certain goods and services to ensure adequate conditions of life for the civilian population with regard to matters such as health, food, relief assistance, work, employment and education. This is not happening in Botswana.
What obtains is that COVID-19 State of Emergency procedures do matter, given that the epidemic presents a real danger to every human community. However, such procedures must ensure soundness and protect against potentially arbitrary decisions, contribute to stability and solidity of social welfare, safeguard checks and balances and provide for accountability mechanisms. In essence, the measures taken to counter the crisis must be proportional to the gravity of the emergency situation.
The political principle of RAP is that economic and social rights are inviolable and must remain non-derogable under any circumstances, including in the event of a state of emergency. For us, health security does not necessarily supersede economic security as the two are mutually inclusive. Declaring a state of national disaster to preserve the health of the population has to ensure that it does not endanger their economic security at the same time, otherwise the COVID-19 restrictions become self-defeating. Such a State of Emergency risks becoming a human rights disaster.
Moreover, the state of emergency does not authorise those in power to act in disregard of compassion, concern and empathy, or to be used as a justification for unilateral sanctions. A candid government ought to take advantage of a state of emergency to provide for the most vulnerable of the population and not for self-serving purposes. In substance, a state of emergency must apply in proportionality to the area of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Hence, by issue of this statement, RAP urges the BDP state to convey a sense of compassion and willingness to hear from KBL and understand their concerns instead of adopting an adversarial role.
Managing the COVID-19 crisis requires cooperating with non-state systems of governance to ensure an effective crisis response. It is high time that the BDP state took steps to forge partnerships and provide avenues in responding to the corona crisis. As a part of the solution, a unified approach is long overdue.
We advise President Masisi and his government to emulate former President Festus Mogae during his tenure in office wherein he successfully employed district multi–sectoral approach to combat the HIV/AIDS pandemic and to involve various groups, such as the private sector, civil society, youth, community leaders and the media as partners in response to the pandemic.
Opportunities must be provided for different publics to come together proactively to share lessons learned from this pandemic and prepare for more prudent interventions. It is vital to forge public partnerships for community engagement. Above all, these measures should anchor a holistic perspective that enables consideration of the economic and social rights of citizens in the context of the state of emergency. The BDP state must use the crisis as an opportunity for Botswana to design a real multi-sectoral integration project, building societal resilience by placing human security at the centre of the response to the pandemic.
The COVID-19 Task Force ought to be relieved of its mandate and the same transferred to NAHPA for emergency expertise and overseeing the process for providing some scientific legitimacy to the measures that need to be taken. Termination of the COVID-19 Task Force has to be done in light of prudent use of public funds, given that NAHPA has equally competent human resource matching that of the Task Force. This should not be misconstrued as seeming to discredit the expertise of the taskforce.
On the contrary, we applaud them for their dedication and diligence in their task. However, we are of the view that it is more intelligent to render NAHPA their mandate, given the resurgence cases of the scourge and the fact that it does not seem the fight against it will be won any time soon.
In the final analysis, the BDP government needs to seize this crisis as an opportunity to rethink the urgent need for diversifying the economy and step up efforts to reverse its status of net importation of goods and its dependency on tourism, export of raw materials and to improve future access to food, commodities, finance and markets for both individuals and local companies as well as to address acute crisis of employment facing Botswana. A show of emotional appeal, fear-based and anger-based sanctions from the Office of the President will not help but will only lead to deleterious effects!
Real Alternative Party