Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Masisi’s dubious appointment raises eyebrows

President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s high profile appointment of Professor Nelson Torto who recently left the Kenya based African Academy of Sciences (AAS) under a cloud has raised eye-brows.

In a curious development, President Masisi who won the 2019 election with the promise of fighting corruption and turning Botswana into a knowledge-based country recently appointed Professor Torto as Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education and Skills Development a few days after the academic was suspended by The African Academy of Sciences (AAS) from the position of Executive Director.

The AAS is helping Botswana transition to a knowledge-based country. The AAS earlier this month confirmed that it had suspended Professor Torto and replaced him with an interim head. In a media statement, The AAS said Catherine Ngila, an AAS fellow was appointed in an interim role after the recent election of new members to the academy’s governing council and board. The AAS was quoted saying, “the newly elected Governing council, Board did suspend the AAS Executive Director to pave way for the commencement and completion of an independent audit.

The AAS is preparing to undertake an audit and we would be happy to provide more details once the audit has been completed as it would be inappropriate to comment further until we receive a report on the audit exercise.”

The nature of the audit in currently unclear. President Masisi’s peculiar appointment of an AAS boss while on suspension is seen as a slap on the face against the Kenya based NGO which has partnered with Botswana to help transform the country into a knowledge-based economy.

A high-ranking delegation from the AAS was in Botswana earlier this year on a mission to empower innovation leaders and researchers in the various natural sciences fields to gain access to research funding. AAS officials also wanted to introduce Botswana research and innovation leaders to a global network of fellow researchers and to institutions and individuals who could fund Botswana’s innovations to the commercialisation stage. The mission agreed on setting up a Task Force to advice government on how best to position research and innovation institutions in Botswana to benefit from the Grand Challenges and the Developing Excellence in Leadership Training and Science in Africa (DELTAS) initiatives run by the AAS throughout the African continent.  The meeting also agreed to establish a Grand Challenges Botswana to link researchers and innovators to existing networks of researchers as well as research and innovation funding bodies.

President Masisi had earlier appointed Professor Torto to the National Transformation Strategy Team. 

The National Transformation Strategy Team “has been set up as detailed in the Vision 2036 document to lay out the foundation changes needed in policy, institutions and mindset needed to transform Botswana from an economy based around management of windfall gains from minerals to one based on competitiveness, productivity, efficiency and openness to the world.

The team of sixteen, which experts from different backgrounds has been mandated to come up with bold and ambitious changes that will be entailed in the National Transformation Strategy to propel Botswana to a high-income country status.”

Professor Torto who was the founding Chief Executive Officer of the Botswana Institute for Technology Research and Innovation (BITRI) and an academic at University of Botswana and Rhodes University in South Africa takes up his appointment as Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education after his predecessor Theophilus Mooko was dropped under unclear circumstances.

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The Telegraph September 23

Digital edition of The Telegraph, September 23, 2020.