Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Government enclave power struggle undermines Botswana’s Covid-19 response

The power struggle between the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) and the Presidential Covid-19 Coordination Task Team is undermining Botswana’s response to the pandemic – documents passed to the Sunday Standard have revealed.

A letter from the Coordination Task Team dated 4th January 2021 and addressed to the former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health and Wellness Kabelo Ebineng suggested that the ministry was withholding crucial information about the pandemic from the Task Team. The Team was established by President Mokgweetsi Masisi to coordinate Botswana’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

It emerged from the letter that as the country was reeling from the festive season power spreader, the Covid-19 Coordination Task Team was in the dark about the extent of the pandemic because the Ministry of Health and Wellness had not shared the information with them for “almost two months.”

In the letter, the Coordination office complained that it “had not received reports from District Health Management Teams (DHMTs) for almost two months.

In another letter dated 7th March 2021 and addressed to the former Permanent Secretary to the President Elias Magosi, the Task team complained that, “the lack of cooperation by the Ministry of Health and Wellness to fully automate sampling and releasing of COVID19 results to patients and share outbreak information timeously, undermines effective disease response. The current disease reporting is substandard; there is a significant dip in cases during weekends (trend shared with MOHW in October 2020), indicating lack of contact tracing during these times. Similarly, with the roll out of rapid antigen testing, cases are reported late; new case reports have ranged from 1000 to over 2000 in the past 1-2 weeks owing to dumping of bulk, delayed reporting of cases. The COVID19 Coordination Office is of the view that there should be clear and timely direction on how to facilitate availability of such information to the COVID19 Coordination Task team Office.”

The letter further laments” reluctance by the Ministry of health and Wellness to consult the COVID19 Coordination Office in relation to statutory instruments intended to curb the spread of COVID19. This lack of consultation often results in confusion amongst stakeholders and loss of credibility for the COVID-19 Task Force.”

The COVID-19 Task Force is chaired by President Mokgweetsi Masisi and has among its members Minister of Health and Wellness, Minister ofInvestment, Trade and Industry and the Minister of Finance and Economic Development.

The letter from the Task Team pointed out that, “for instance, Statutory Instrument No.74 of 2021 indicated that the restrictions would start on 01st March 2021 as announced by his Excellency the President during his national address, yet they began on 28th February 2021 as per the date of the instrument. Therefore, it is important that all stakeholders be consulted, especially the COVID19 Coordination Task team.”

Covid 19

In another letter dated 28th March 2021, addressed to the former Permanent Secretary to the President Elias Magosi, it emerges that the Ministry of Health and Wellness closed the task team out of the Arm Ready vaccination event. “However, we regret to inform you that the Ministry of Health and Wellness continues to attend to COVID-19 matters without involving the Coordination Office. A case in point is the recent launch of the Arm ready vaccination event, which the Coordination Office was not aware of until it became public. The Arm ready even has subsequently not been supported by a communication plan as indicated by questions arising from the public.

“The various activation events for the vaccination exercise were also not shared with the Coordination Office. Dr Masupu and Dr Matshaba were invited at the last minute to lend support to the vaccination activation programme and they attended to save Government from embarrassment.

“In relation to the procurement unit supervision, it is our considered view that set protocols and procedures should be documented to direct that only COVID-19 related material and/or services, as approved by the COVID-19 Coordination Office, may be procured by the Office of the President established procurement office.”

The former Permanent Secretary to the President was also sucked into the power struggle as he seemed to fight the Ministry of Health’s corner.

In a letter dated 24th March 2021 addressed to the Task Team, Magosi tried to come up with new terms of reference for the COVID-19 Presidential Task Team that would stop them from reporting directly to President Masisi. Magosi shared Ebineng’s argument that there was no Cabinet Directive which outlined the authority of the Coordination Office. A fresh row broke out between Magosi and the Task team as they pointed out that, “it is also our understanding that your good office does not have the legal or administrative authority to replace or amend the original Terms of Reference of the Presidential COVID-19 Task team Coordination Office. Neither can it reassign roles as your letter purported to do by directing that the Coordinator of the Presidential COVID-19 Task Team Coordination Office should now report to yourself and the Director of Health Services, who amongst her duties/responsibilities, is part of the Coordination Team led by the former.

We hold that the Presidential COVID-19 Task Team Coordination Office reports to its appointing authority, His Excellency the President of the republic of Botswana, Dr Mokgweetsi E.K Masisi, and the Presidential COVID-19 Task Force which he chairs. The relationship between the Presidential COVID-19 Task Team Coordination Office and the Office of the Permanent Secretary to the President is operational to ensure that the mandate of the Presidential COVID-19 task Force is fulfilled.

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