Botswana government departments are being tricked into deals that promote the tobacco industry, violating the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Protocol to which Botswana is a signatory ÔÇô it emerged this week. Botswana Unified Revenue Service (BURS) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Tobacco Institute of Southern Africa (TISA) much to the chagrin of the local anti-tobacco lobby. BURS were earlier this year forced to cancel their MoU with TISA following intervention by the Ministry of Health. This comes after Botswana Police Service (BPS) was slammed for violating the protocol by accepting a vehicle from the British Tobacco Company.
The Anti Tobacco Network (ATN) has warned local public organisations against falling prey to the machinations of the tobacco industry disguised as social responsibility interventions. ATN expressed disappointment with the decision by BURS to enter into agreement with TISA pointing out that the MoU was contrary to provisions of the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products. In a strong worded letter ATN, Interim Executive Director, Bontle Mbongwe condemned BURS for the lapse. “Botswana is a signatory to this Protocol and therefore obliged to ensure that its public bodies do not consort unwittingly with entities that advance the interest of the tobacco industry. TISA is an entity of the Tobacco industry representing tobacco growers, leaf merchants, leaf processors, manufactures, importers and exporters of tobacco products in South Africa. There can be no legitimate shared interests between TISA and BURS whose mandate is to perform tax assessment and collection functions on behalf of the government and to take appropriate measures to counteract tax evasion on the one hand and improve taxpayer service to a much higher level.” Mbongwe argued that the MoU entered into by the two was advancing the interest of the Tobacco industry contrary to the provisions of the FCTC.
She expressed concern that the deal between the two was an unethical lapse that needs to be redressed. “Botswana government as a signatory to the protocol on illicit tobacco trade, the FCTC and the public health legislations place an obligation on all public bodies to avoid any act or omission that advances the interests of the tobacco industry. There is no point of convergence between the interests of the two parties because tobacco is one of the public health threats,” added Mbongwe. Mbongwe also referred to the earlier donation of a vehicle to the Botswana Police Service by British American Tobacco. ATN condemned the donation and asked Botswana Police to return the vehicle. BURS say they withdrew from the MoU in February this year following advice from the Ministry of Health, who are the custodians of the Protocol on the Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products.
BURS, Commissioner of Customs and Excise, Phodiso Valashia stated that they signed the MOU March 2012 and cancelled it on February 2013. He explained that they signed the MoU because Botswana has a problem with tobacco products coming into the country illegally. Valashia said that Botswana is used as transit point for tobacco products to South Africa and they received valuable information from TISA which led to them intercepting the illegal activities. “We then after sometime thought we could establish a formal framework where intelligence can be shared. But we later cancelled it because it went against the ideals of the protocol to which Botswana is a signatory.” He stated that the reason why BURS withdrew is because the Ministry of Health advised that in terms FCTC, Botswana has undertaken not enter into such agreements.
“We have a problem of cigarettes being smuggled at un-gazetted points and we don’t have the capacity to destroy these products. TISA came onboard to assist in disposing these products,” said Valashia. Botswana Police Service, Spokesperson, Dipheko Motube on the other hand would not disclose whether Botswana Police Service has returned the car which was donated to them.