Sunday, September 20, 2020

Playing politics with Covid-19 does not show patriotism much less statesmanship

The Covid-19 Presidential Task Force must have all eyes on the ball.

Any distraction could prove catastrophic. That is perhaps the only thing that is certain in their mandate.

And more to the point, the Covid-19 Presidential Task Force should follow Science and not seek to dabble in power politics, no matter how big the temptation.

Some of us are already worried at the enormous power the Task Force wields over our lives.

First and foremost they are unelected and thus unaccountable.

Yet so much in this country today rests with them.

They do not have to tell us who they are, who they consult. And how they reach their decisions.

The pandemic is putting our country to the test.

We always knew that overreliance on diamonds was risky. But it never occurred to us that there were other bigger risks.

Signs of cracks between the Presidential Task force and the Ministry of Health have been badly handled.

When they emerged early on, the president responded by sacking the then Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Somolon Sekwaka.

You can blame him for anything, but Sekwakwa’s professionalism and adherence to government procedures are beyond reproach. Sekwakwa was a fall guy in a duel between a bureaucracy that defended its turf and rules when a new favorite kid, the Presidential Task Force wanted to overrun everybody and every rule.

The fight was badly handled by those in charge.

The sacking of Sekwakwa was unfortunate. But it achieved not much because as soon as he left a like-minded official would fill the void. For the president to succeed in his policy of sacking he had to fire not just Sekwakwa but the entire civil service.

Thus the approach was wrong. Also wrong was the selection and ultimate makeup of the Covid-19 Task Force. There is no rationale why its key members had to be exclusively from outside Government.

By bringing outsiders, the president was unwittingly sowing the seeds of the fight we are now witnessing between the government machinery and the Task Team they see as outside usurpers.

This is how a knowledgeable hand put it this week when news broke out that the deputy Coordinator of Task Force Professor Mosepele Mosepele had resigned amid frustration: “the government machinery while generally lethargic moves with brutal efficiency to remove anyone who is seen as usurping its authority. It does not matter whether or not it can perform the particular task well. Once they put you in their cross hairs you will have it tough.”

No doubt Professor Mosepele and Co. have been seen as usurpers by the government machinery.

But Professor Mosepele has no time, much less patience to engage in turf wars.

He is one of the finest medical doctors in the world. And would get a job anywhere he went. Thus he was the first one out. But the problem or fault is not so much with the bureaucracy. It is with political leadership.

A few years ago government brought in an economic consultant called Cypionka. He suffered the same fate. He was seen as an outsider who wanted to disrupt events inside government.

He was closed out. And ultimately sent off.

The president might be able to convince Professor Mosepele to change his mind, stay and finish this all too important service to his nation.

But without resolving the dispute amicably, Professor Mosepele will go back to the same problems that led to his resignation.

It is clear that our leaders are seeking and even angling for glory from Covid-19.

That is seen by the way they are slapping their names onto the task Force. And also the way other sectors like the private sector have been left out.

This monopolizing the fight against Covid-19 is abhorrent.

Just a few weeks back, members of Botswana’s Covid-19 Task force were gleefully embracing accolades that Botswana is among the best in the world when it comes to fighting Covid-19.

That was clearly done with coordination by the political leadership.

That should never happen again. We are in this together as a nation.

When we succeed we do so together. When we fail, we do so together.

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Sunday Standard September 20 – 26

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 20 - 26, 2020.