The much-talked-about Green Scorpions, on whom the government will spend P208 million during this financial year, have no sting.
Some have been reduced to begging green criminals not to commit environmental crimes.
“The Scorpions are not performing as well as I thought they would,” says Gaborone mayor Harry Mothei.
To illustrate the ineffectiveness of these environmental police, the mayor offers a hypothetical yet plausible scenario of a Green Scorpion pouncing upon an elderly man urinating in public. The man rebukes and orders the Scorpion: “O ntibileng m’shiane k’wena? Leba kwa!” (Boy, what are you looking at? Look away!). Meekly, the Scorpion complies and the culprit nonchalantly proceeds to pound the ground in front of him with unrelenting urinal force.
When they are confronted with such aggression and resistance, Scorpions are powerless to take action against the offenders because they do not have powers of arrest. Mothei says that councils cannot empower the Scorpions because they do not have powers themselves.
The Green Scorpions programme is a national network of environmental law enforcement officers that was started late last year to combat environmental pollution. Each ward in the country has six Scorpions who are paid out of the Labour Intensive Works Programme under the Ministry of Local Government.
In copying the concept from South Africa, the Botswana government reproduced little more than name. South Africa’s Scorpions were established by an act of parliament and have a much more extensive law-enforcement capacity than do Botswana’s.
In terms of the act that establishes them, Green Scorpions across the border can enter premises to conduct routine inspections, check for compliance, seize evidence, question witnesses, take samples, mount roadblocks, arrest offenders and issue compliance notices. It is a criminal offence to give them false evidence or to hinder them in their duties.
For people who are supposed to enforce the law, Botswana’s Green Scorpions do not get sufficient training in that field. Gaborone City councillor, Nunu Lekau of Marulamantsi Ward hired Scorpions this January. By way of orientation, she stir-fried them for a few minutes on their duties before sending them out to patrol the streets. She accompanied them on several occasions and recalls coming upon an uncooperative green criminal in Block 9 who asked her to produce identification to prove that she was a councillor.
“Some members of the public are not cooperating and there is nothing Green Scorpions can do about it. Their reports are piling up at the city council but no action is being taken against culprits,” she says.
Keeping Gaborone clean is one of the challenges that the city council has yet to tackle and at some stage in the past, a delegation benchmarked against Windhoek, which is one of the cleanest cities in Africa. At one point, Windhoek encouraged residents to clean up their neighbourhoods and bought the waste from them. Mothei says that this idea met a lot of resistance when he bounced it off a full council meeting.
“The interesting thing is that in terms of expense, there is nothing fundamentally different from what we are doing presently. Instead of paying manual workers to clean up neighbourhoods, which has clearly not produced the desired results, we would use the same money to pay residents to clean up their surroundings,” says Mothei, adding that residents would be doubly motivated to do a much more thorough job.
This being a general election year, the mayor says that he would not even think of re-tabling the idea because he knows how much opposition there would be to it. Councillors, he suggests, would be apt to stress the importance of job creation over effective methods of cleaning up the environment.