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The constitution is very clear that no one should be punished twice for the same offence but for the past several years, the state-owned Botswana Daily News participated in the second punishment of motorists convicted of drunken driving.
The paper’s participation was by way of publishing names of convicted motorists to basically shame them. A teetotaler, former president Ian Khama started waging a war on alcohol on his very first day in office when the Liquor Act went into effect. The law prescribes the punishment that should be meted out on drunken drivers. Obviously deeming such punishment inadequate, Khama also wanted to claim some scalps in parallel extra-legal effort to fight alcohol abuse. Midway his presidential term, the Daily News started publishing names of convicted drunken drivers. However, that practice has since stopped following Khama’s retirement on April 1 this year.
Unlawful double punishment aside, another legal issue that lawyers raise is that with drunken driving cases being decided through a clearly laid out legal process, sanctions are prescribed by courts of law. The argument is that whatever punishment the convicted suffer should be restricted to the verdict that the magistrate pronounced in court. No Botswana magistrate has ever ordered that the name of a convicted drunken driver should be published in any newspaper and to that end, the publication of the names had no legal sanction.
The irony of it all is that the list that was published in the newspaper was compiled at the Ministry of Justice, Defence and Security - which is custodian of all Botswana laws and should therefore comply with them.
In President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s second month in office, Sunday Standard sought to find out from the ministry if it would continue to publish names of motorists convicted of drunken driving. The questions also raised the issue of the legality of double punishment, of courts never having ordered that names of convicted people should be published in newspapers, whether any good had come out of this practice, whether the ministry had considered the possibility of this extra-judicial punishment having adverse social, emotional and psychological effect on the concerned people and why it didn’t publish names of people convicted of more serious criminal offences like murder, corruption, rape and child molestation.
The response never came and a month later, the ministry informed Sunday Standard that it had referred the questions to the Botswana Government Communication and Information Systems which, to date, has not tendered a response itself. It is not too difficult to understand the reason why - there is no way the practice in question can be justified with reason. Likewise, there was no way the practice could be retained under a president who reaffirmed fidelity to the rule of law when he was sworn in, engages with the media and, so far, appears to have a common sense approach to problem-solving.
The law aside, the naming and shaming of people who had already been legally punished was ill-suited to a dispensation in which the president had unveiled a 5Ds roadmap with a “dignity” signpost. In itself and whatever its basis, the naming-and-shaming practice robs people of their dignity.