Thursday, July 9, 2020

In Gantsi, disciplinary action awaits whistle-blowing cleaner

Despite our best efforts, we weren’t able to speak to the Gantsi District Commissioner about an electoral matter that he is also involved in as a witness.

The DC comes to be involved in this matter after a cleaner in the District Administration Office alleged that she discovered a stash of ballot boxes in a toilet in the executive suite. In no time, what she believed to be dynamite intelligence was relayed to Noah Salakae, who had contested in the October 23, 2019 general election as a Gantsi North parliamentary candidate for the Umbrella for Democratic Change. Salakae had been trounced by Johane Thiite, the Botswana Democratic Party candidate.

In an affidavit that she would later depose to, the cleaner stated: “In the District Commissioner’s toilet, which is situated in his office, I found some boxes and these were five transparent boxes that contained the used voting ballots for the Botswana General Elections.” However, it would later turn out that the consignment consisted of sealed ballot boxes, ballot papers, voters’ roll, verification sheets, and other elections stationery for the Gantsi constituencies. The consignment’s conveyance to Gaborone was routine and in compliance with electoral law. Understandably, its safekeeping in a toilet was eyebrow-raising but no wrongdoing has been proven.

Perhaps the most dramatic phase of this saga was when the truck carrying the ballot boxes was chased after by Salakae’s comrades, driving their own cars from Gantsi Township to Gaborone. They followed the truck all the way into Gaborone and to Indaba Lodge in Village where, it would seem, the driver spent the night.

Immediately thereafter, Salakae secured the services of two marquee law firms – Bayford and Associates and Monthe Marumo Attorneys – to intercede on his behalf. The result was an urgent application asking that “The Commissioner of Police, in the full sight of the Applicant, any person appointed by him and any other interested party, should seize the contents of motor vehicle B305 AWA and place same in the hands of the Registrar of the High Court for same to be kept in the safe custody under lock and key.” The application was successful and ahead of a case in which Salakae alleged chicanery on the part of the DC, the Independent Electoral Commission and the ruling Botswana Democratic Party, his lawyers made another application. They wanted Salakae to be allowed access to the ballot boxes in order that he could inspect them. At this point, another star lawyer, Advocate Duma Boko, had been added to Salakae’s team. This application succeeded as well and the Registrar gave UDC activists access to the boxes.

However, there was an anti-climax last Thursday when the matter came up for argument. Salakae’s lawyer, Boingotlo Toteng, told a three-judge panel that his client no longer wished to pursue the matter any farther.

“The petitioner wishes to withdraw his petition,” Toteng told the court. “My client informs me, if it may please the court, that it is a political decision and his withdrawal is in no way a reflection of lack of confidence in his own prospects.”

What that means is that the case is officially over but in Gantsi, legal trouble just started for the cleaner. A senior labour officer who is more than familiar with the General Order says that the cleaner who blew the whistle will definitely face disciplinary action. The General Order is the public service’s published rules that is binding upon all civil servants and has the force of law. As civil servant, the cleaner, is in terms of Section 37, “not supposed to disclose or use for private purposes” any information or document that comes to her knowledge in the course of her duties or in her official capacity other than in the proper discharge of her duties and as authorised by law or by competent authority.

There is an even more interesting aspect. According to the labour officer, even if Salakae had indeed proven his case beyond reasonable and won it, the cleaner would still not have been off the hook because she unlawfully shared confidential information. 

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Sunday Standard July 5 – 11

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of July 5 - 11, 2020.