The Director of Health Services Dr Malaki Tshipayagae who was hitherto potentially the most powerful unelected man in Botswana has been stripped of his might.Dr Tshipayagae has been redeployed to a less powerful post and dropped from the influential Covid-19 Presidential Task Force.The position of Director Health Services is a de jure centre of power in Botswana’s fight against the corona virus. While the president can with reference to parliament declare a State of Emergency, the Director Health Services is the only citizen who can declare a health emergency that may curtail some entrenched citizen rights, without reference to parliament or any authority.Had parliament refused to extend President Masisi’s declaration of a State of emergency, Dr Tshipayagae would have emerged as the country’s legitimate captain in the fight against the pandemic.
Sunday Standard investigations have turned up information that Tshipayagae will be redeployed to the less powerful post of consultant surgeon at Princess Marina Hospital.Tshipiyagae will also be dropped from the Presidential Covid -19 task force which has burrowed itself into President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s inner circle, plunging the government enclave into a turf war, mired in conflict and discord.Tsipiyagae’s redeployment is part of an ongoing shakeup at the Ministry of Health that also includes the Department of Health Management Team (DHMT).While he would not name names, Permanent Secretary Kabelo Ebineng has confirmed that a new Director of Health Services will take over from Tshipayagae.
“We will make an official announcement soon,” Ebineng said.The PS would not be drawn into discussing reasons behind Tshipayagae’s removal from office at a time when the Ministry and the COVID-19 TASK FORCE are faced with a surge in Coronavirus cases.Tshipayagae alongside, Coordinator of the Covid 19 Task Force Dr Kereng Masupu and deputy Coordinator Professor Mosepele Mosepele have emerged as the three most visible faces of Botswana’s fight against coronavirus. The trio has however also been locked in a bruising turf war with the government enclave’s powerful (Performance Improvement Committee) PIC Force headed by Permanent Secretary to the President (PSP) Elias Magosi.It was however Dr Tshipayagae who came across as the lightning rod of controversy in the raging power struggle. Former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health Solomon Sekwakwa singled out Dr Tshipayagae as the invisible hand behind is dismissal and that of his deputy Morrison Sinvula, earlier this year.
The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in Botswana thrust Dr Tshipayagae into a position of power that overshadowed that of his permanent secretary.The PS and his deputy’s dismissals were largely attributed to the power struggle between Sekwakwa and Tshipayagae. The tug of war culminated in Sekwakwa illegally withdrawing Dr Tshipayagae’s Savingram at the beginning of March this year (2020) calling for mandatory quarantine of travellers.Tshipayagae had written to HATAB advising that travellers from outside be placed under mandatory quarantine.
“Following the latest advice from the World Health Organisation (WTO) on international travel and as per the Public Health Act in control of communicable diseases, the Ministry of Health and Wellness has taken a decision to enforce mandatory self-quarantine of all arriving travellers from affected countries,” read the Savingram. The decision was aimed at controlling the spread of imported COVID-19. A subsequent Savingram signed by Sekwakwa reversed the decision.“The Ministry wishes to withdraw the correspondence with immediate effect. If there are any further developments you will be notified accordingly.”
The decision by the Permanent Secretary meant returning travellers from affected countries were allowed to join the rest of the society resulting in multiple confirmed cases of imported Coronavirus leading to local infections at the time.The decision to fire the Sekwakwa and his Deputy in the midst of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic came as a shock to the nation. It still remains anyone’s guess why the two were dismissed. Opposition Leader Dumelang expressed reservations at the government’s failure to share reasons behind their sudden removal from office.“We are in the middle of a war. We cannot have the President dismissing an army commander and his deputy without offering any form of explanation as to why the decision was made.”Government Spokesperson Andrew Sesinyi had announced the decision in a press release that President Masisi had relieved the Permanent Secretary and his Deputy of their duties without disclosing reasons for the dismissals.They were dismissed from office with immediate effect, effective April 21st, 2020.
Indications, however are that the all-powerful Presidential Task Force was however pregnant with the seeds of its own destruction. Contrary to the popular view, President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s State of Emergency did not emasculate the Director of Health Services and annul the Public Health Act. What the President did, by Regulations 13 to 16 of the Emergency Powers (COVID 19) Regulations and as empowered by Section 3(3) of the EPA, was to empower the Director Health Services and the Presidential Task Force to make orders and rules for any of the purposes for which such regulations are authorised, and put in such incidental and supplementary provisions as appear to the President to be necessary or expedient for the purposes of the regulations.
This sowed the seeds of a power struggle between the Director of Health Services and other members of the Presidential Task Force.A few days before Tshipayagae’s dismissal, the Director of Health Services seemed to be caught up in a Covid-19 travel restrictions internal battle with the Coordinator of the COVID 19 Presidential Task Force that harks back to the one between Tshipayagae and Sekwakwa earlier this year.This time, however Tshipayagae emerged at the losing end of the dust up. Last week, on the eve of Botswana’s independent celebrations, the Coordinator of the Presidential Task Force Dr Kereng Masupu publicly revoked an announcement by Tshipayagae that those who would be travelling within the country during the Independence Day holidays would need to apply for permits, and that all current active permits had been revoked. Dr Tshipayagae had advised those who required permits to re-apply online.
Dr Tshipayagae said the decision was prompted by the rising number of cases and a potential surge in light of the upcoming holiday.In a move that suggested discord inside the Presidential Task Force, the ink on Tshipayagae’s statement had hardly dried when Dr Masupu issued a counter statement.On September 27th Dr Masupu issued a new statement revoking Dr Tshipayagae’s earlier announcement. Dr Masupu stated that local holidaymakers would be allowed to travel within zones during the Independence Day holiday in an effort to boost local tourism that has been heavily affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr Masupu told travellers that they would be required to produce their booking confirmations at zonal checkpoints with law enforcement authorities.Both the Director of Public Health Services and the COVID 19 Presidential Task Force have been empowered by President Mokgweetsi Masisi under the Emergency Powers Act to issue orders that may help the country advance the fight against the pandemic.
Tshipayagae’s redeployment comes a couple of weeks after TASK FORCE Deputy Coordinator Professor Mosepele Mosepele’s resignation from the team. Mosepele however withdrew his resignation letter following discussions with President Masisi. The President had refused to accept the resignation. “The president has not accepted Professor Mosepele’s resignation and has scheduled a meeting with him tomorrow”, read a press statement from the President’s spokesperson Batlhalefi Leagajang. Professor Mosepele, believed to be the brains behind Botswana’s Covid-19 response strategy, was said to have been “unhappy” amid growing tensions inside the government enclave over its handling of the coronavirus crisis.