Tuesday, October 26, 2021

British Labour Party joins Bennett’s corner in visa row

The United Kingdom’s man opposition, the Labour Party is following with keen interest Botswana’s decision to place Basarwa’s London based lawyer Gordon Bennett on a list of United Kingdom Citizens who require visa to enter Botswana.

Sunday Standard has learnt that despite concerted efforts by Basarwa of Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) to have Bennett represents them in their fresh legal battle with government; the Ministry of Immigration has rejected his visa application twice. 

Labour Party Member of Parliament Kate Osamor who is also the Shadow Secretary of State for International Development states in her letter in support of Bennett’s visa application that “I understand that the sole purpose of Mr Bennett’s visit would be to provide legal support to residents of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve who have specifically asked for his help.”

She said Bennett is well known to the residents through previous court actions in which he acted on their behalf, and they are most anxious to discuss with him a number of legal issues to do with their rights inside the Reserve. 

“I know that, like the United Kingdom, Botswana is a firm believer in the rule of law, a central tenet of which is that people should be allowed to take advice from the counsel of their choice.  In keeping with this principle I very much hope that the Government of Botswana will issue Mr Bennett the visa he requires,” she said.

Responding to Sunday Standard queries Bennett confirmed that he was not given any reasons why his application was rejected.

“I can confirm that I was given no reason, and cannot speculate as to what it might have been.  I only know that the result has been to deny the residents of the CKGR access to the lawyer of their choice,” he said.

Bennett whose application was rejected by the Ministry of Immigration through Botswana’s embassy office in London in February this year states that he last applied in June 2013, in order to represent those residents of the CKGR who had been removed from their homes in 2002 and had not been able to return, because they were not among the 189 applicants named in the Roy Sesana case.

“They wanted me to act on their behalf at a hearing in which they would ask the Court to be allowed to go back to the CKGR to join the named applicants, but I was refused a visa.  I was not given any reason,” he said.

In the past government had defended its decision to place Bennett on the list of British citizens who require a visa to enter Botswana saying Basarwa have a choice to engage local lawyers. But insiders at the government enclave are accusing the government of hypocrisy saying it continues to outsource legal service to advocates from South Africa instead of engaging local attorneys.

They cited Minister of Defence, Justice and Security, Shaw Kgathi’s recent briefing to  Parliament that government paid thousands of Rands in legal costs awarded against government and fees paid in matters that were outsourced to various law firms especially those from South Africa.

Kgathi said R288 300 was paid to Advocate Tim Bruinders in matter involving government and Botswana Land Board & Local Authorities & Health Workers Union (BLLAHWU) and made a payment of R143 707.28 to Advocate M.A Albertrusi and R86 489.69 was paid to Advocate Grant Quixley.

Government further paid R124 380.40 to Advocate Wim Trengove and a further R64 080.00 to Advocate Isabella Kentridge.

Still in a matter involving Manual Workers Union against the Attorney General’s Chamber, government paid R124 380.40 to advocate Wim Trengove and R64 080 to Advocate Isabella Kentridge respectively.

Kgathi said government paid R227 144.58 to Advocate Isabella Kentridge in matter involving BOPEU and Manual Workers against the Attorney General Chambers.

Member of Parliament for Francistown South Wynter Mmolotsi had asked the minister to state the number of cases heard at the Courts involving government and Trade Unions in the past three years and how much government spent per case.

He also wanted to know whether government engaged any private law firm in any of the cases, and if so, which ones and how much was paid to each law firm.

 At the time of going to press, Head of Public Relations at the Ministry of Labour, Hannah Ramorogo, had not responded to Sunday Standard questionnaire.

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