President Ian Khama has accused the Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV and AIDS (BONELA) of making their petition to his office on the controversial Health Bill public through newspapers.
The Bill was recently passed by Parliament.
The result is that Khama will not meet the human rights organisation to hear concerns it raised and possibly send the Bill back to Parliament for further scrutiny and amendments.
In a letter dated 18 April 2013, signed by Senior Private Secretary to the President, Brigadier George Tlhalerwa, he states that “…this office is not in a position to take up the issues you have raised in your letter as you have already put them in the public domain, before discussing them with His Excellency, the President”.
But BONELA is not taking the blame that it made its position on the Health Bill public through the media lying down.
“Much to our extreme shock and disappointment, His Excellency has decided not to entertain our concerns because, in their own words, “you have already put them in the public domain, before discussing them with his Excellency, the president,” BONELA shot back in a statement signed by the organisation’s Executive Director, Uyapo Ndadi.
Ndadi is of the view that the OP is a public office and that there is no harm in letting the nation know that a matter of such grave importance which has tremendous human rights consequences has been placed before Khama to intervene.
He said the issues raised in the letter to Khama are common knowledge as “we have thoroughly debated them and as result they do not warrant secrecy”.
“We understand the Presidency to be saying that because you told the nation that you approached our office. We would not address your concerns. In the interest of transparency and freedom of expression, which includes receiving information, we consciously shared the fact that we have the matter in the hands of the President. And for that we are not remorseful,” said Ndadi.
The BONELA boss added that “imagine your parent saying that I will not listen to your genuine complaint because you have told others that you have reported the matter to me. That is it.”
Ndadi expressed happiness that they had exhausted all the possible avenues available before embarking on the looming legal route.
“We hope the National Aids Council joins the court proceedings because, contrary to what the Minister of Health said in Parliament about being about the Bill, it turned out not to be so at the recent April meeting,” said Ndadi.
In a brief interview, Ndadi said they intend to approach the court as soon as Khama signs the Bill into law and a commencement date is issued.
BONELA had written to President Ian Khama, urging him not to sign the Public Health Bill into law.
Should President Khama sign the Bill into law, it would mean, among other things, that HIV testing will soon become compulsory.
In the letter addressed to Khama, Ndadi expressed concern that several of the provisions in the Bill will potentially harm the people of Botswana.
“….BONELA hereby request Your Excellency to use your office to address this concern and send the Bill back to Parliament for further scrutiny and amendments,” reads the letter.
BONELA said Botswana has the legacy of protecting the right of people living with HIV.
“We also note that Botswana has played a role in the region in establishing best practices in dealing with HIV/AIDS pandemic, in particular dramatically scaling up access to treatment and thus ensuring that people living with HIV live longer and more productive lives,” states BONELA.
The organisation says it has seen more people coming forth to test for HIV, chiefly because of the conducive and enabling environment that the government has created.
“However, we believe that the enactment of the Public Health Bill will represent a step backwards for Botswana, casting a shadow over its momentous achievements in the areas of HIV/AIDS, health services and human rights,” said BONELA.