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Condemn The Treatment Of Our Soldiers And Police Officers

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OPEN LETTER TO MINISTER MORWAENG

You need to understand that the security of this country and its citizens depends on our law enforcement agencies. It depends on how ethical we are and how well we respect what the mandates of these agencies stipulates. Our security depends on how we treat the people.

COVID-19 AS AN OBVIOUS THREAT
COVID-19 is an obvious threat and we need to be on top of things as “A United, Proud & Proactive Nation.” And a nation, we also owe a great deal of debt to front line nurses, doctors and other healthcare experts. Credit is due also to all the citizens who have been obeying the rule of law and practising social distancing measures.

But I have come across a few disturbing articles in The Patriot and The Botswana Gazette newspapers regarding treatment of our front line army and police officers. I am not sure about the members of the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS). COVID-19 is a national fight, which validates my approach to you.

The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health and Wellness Mr. Solomon Sekwakwa together with his Deputy Permanent Secretary Dr. Morrison Sinvula, were relieved of their duties by the President of the Republic as officially communicated by the Office of the President on Wednesday April 22nd, 2020. The public subsequently demanded answers, and if I remember correctly, you Rre Morwaeng said it publicly that the public is not owed any explanation. Though I disagree with that, I really hope you mean well with everything you do or say, which is why I have a feeling you will pay attention to this.

In addition to the articles I read, I also had a chat with a few officers from the Botswana Defence Force and the Botswana Police Service.

Below is what I have picked up and understand:

  1. I know that in law enforcement “an order is an order,” but that should not have to override the need to treat our soldiers and police officers with dignity. Why? Because their wellbeing is our national security.
  2. Our soldiers and police officers were forced to contribute to the COVID-19 Relief Fund. What I gather is that their contributions are not exactly voluntary. When they complained, a form was introduced for them to fill out and make it look like their contributions were voluntary. Is this because in the ‘law enforcement’ context of the BDF, BPS and DISS, an order is an order? If you are not in the loop, talk to the lowest ranking members of the BDF, BPS and DISS and work your way up and compare information. Somewhere in there there is “truth.”
  3. In the spirit of socioeconomic security during this fight against the devastating Coronavirus, you cannot be taking money from citizens who are counting on your office for their own survival when your office can always look to foreign reserves. Public officers were promised a salary increase of 6% but this promise has been broken. You withhold the increment, then have our frontline officers contribute to the COVID-19 Relief Fund. Does this make any socioeconomic sense to you?
  4. Our soldiers and police officers are made to walk around and enforce this lockdown with no proper gear. They are forced to wear raincoats to protect themselves from cold weather instead of proper jackets for warmth. Today there was a police road block in my neighbourhood but when the rain with a thunderstorm, the officers left because they had no tent for shelter.
  5. The Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Dr. Thapelo Matsheka, about a week or so back, mentioned that the Government of Botswana “has spent P2.4 billion on Chinese medical supplies”. I wonder what kind of medical supplies cost P2.4 billion because this has not been communicated to us clearly.

MY THINKING
I) Why cut salaries and throw away our money to China? If we are that empathetic as leaders, why not divert some of the funds to proper treatment of our army and police officers?
II) As these people are on the ground enforcing your orders, they must eat but no food is provided for them. They are not even given water – metsi a mma metsi. They have to go to a nearby house for water, thus breaking the social distancing rules. Some of them even have to use used 2-litre bottles of fizzy drinks to store and share tea As we preach taking care of ourselves during this battle against the Coronavirus, would we not say this is a health hazard for these people who are made of flesh and blood just like us?
III) They spend days working and walking around without proper protective gear (facemasks, gloves, etc).
IV) I have also picked up that they have been told that they will be accommodated in schools and college hostels and classrooms. Imagine more than 100 men sharing a few bathrooms right in the middle of this life-and-death situation! How is this in sync wit extreme social distancing?
V) If our soldiers and police officers get infected themselves because they are not protected, who is going to defend and protect this nation? Where is our compassion and our vision?
VI) If they have been made to contribute a part of their salaries to the COVID-19 Relief Fund, where is their money going if they cannot be given food, water, protective gear, and shelter to execute their job well?
VII) .Some of the officers have observed that their bosses go past roadblocks with their families without permits but to complain about it is a problem. This to me is abuse of office in the face of a virus that does not discriminate and infected even the Prince Charles of Wales while the British Prime Minister had to go through intensive care battling the virus. This thing is that serious. Our leaders MUST lead by example as a part of their own protection.
A good leader gets up and lends a helping hand. Good leaders are empathetic and ask people to do what they know they can do. They treat people how they would want to be treated. They treat every human being with dignity. How is it logical to mistreat people who work for us? Do we honestly think mistreating people will make them deliver what we ask of them?
VIII) .As I said, I know that in law enforcement an order is an order. In this situation, it is as though these human beings have been ordered to go and die. And they are also not allowed to complain.

CONCLUSION AND WAY FORWARD
Please give these people the proper treatment that they deserve. Listen to their complaints. Protect them. Give them food and water. Give them proper accommodation for sleeping and rest. Give them proper shelter for all conditions when on duty, including at the road blocks. They should not feel threatened by any weather. Whatever you do, do NOT cut their salaries. Please reverse that decision.

We cannot compromise our national security and our citizens’ health by making our protectors unhappy. Every citizen of Botswana deserves peace of mind and happiness. This is why I still call for a comprehensive plan that addresses every citizen’s income. Obviously, the economy is shocked at the present moment and we must replace any lost income to stay afloat. All industries and businesses that have been directly affected must be given a boost. It should not appear as if only businesses owned by the Indian community are benefiting like all these fast food places like Chicken Licken, Nandos, KFC, and Chicken Express. Please do not let the COVID-19 situation make us feel as if it is being exploited to benefit a few.

I want equal opportunity and health for every true citizen of Botswana regardless of colour, ethnicity or national origin. We have a nation to build, grow and protect together and our leaders must lead by putting themselves last.

Safie Sekgwa
E-mail: safie.sekgwa@gmail.com

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