We have read with a great measure of satisfaction an article in the Mmegi newspaper in which Minister of Communications, Science and Technology, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, announced that the ongoing privatisation of the Botswana Telecommunications Corporation will not be wholesale.
Some assets of the corporation will not form a part of the privatisation transaction.
As a newspaper, we have in the past repeated the assertion that while BTC should indeed be privatised by way of joining hands with a strategic partner, it should be explicit in all the instruments of its privatisation that government will expressly retain a controlling stake in the corporation.
Retaining such control is not only important for fiduciary and governance purposes, they are a way of safeguarding Botswana’s interests going forward.
We should never be under any illusion that foreign investors come to Botswana because they love us.
They come here because they are convinced they are likely to make money.
The moment the possibility of making money from here stops to exist, foreign investors will be the first to leave.
And when they leave, their natural inclination is to make the most returns from the sale of such assets they would have bought, even if it means stripping such assets.
That is what should be uppermost in the minds of government as they go about privatising the BTC.
We do not want a situation where such important national telecommunication infrastructure as that owned by BTC to be stripped bare by departing investors who hold no regard for the interests of the country.
Our view is informed by the fact that BTC is an asset with far reaching national security implications.
Government should not leave any measure of doubt in anybody’s mind, least of all among the BTC suitors, that the entire corporation is up for grabs.
Thus the statement by minister Venson-Moitoi could not have come at a more opportune time.
While still on the subject, we should highlight President Ian Khama’s past statements that underlined the important point about how BTC would be privatised… if at all.
Sunday Standard has said it many times before that while we support privatisation, our support for the process is in no way unconditional.
We will continue to lend our support to privatisation only for as long as it is in line with the aspirations of the majority of Batswana, more especially if the process promises to uplift a sizeable amount of our people from poverty while also bringing about reform, increased productivity and innovation from within the realms of the public sector.
A privatisation process that does not explicitly take into consideration the country’s peculiar national interests such as security will not have our support.
It is in that spirit that we publicly welcome and endorse these continuing assurances from Minister Venson-Moitoi and President Ian Khama about how BTC will be privatised.
Ombudsman recommends human rights commission
In his Annual Report of 2006-7, the Ombudsman explicitly calls for the government of Botswana to consider establishing a human rights commission.
According to the Ombudsman, the commission or a similar instrument will ensure prompt attendance to allegations of human rights violations and provide a speedy and cheap mechanism for resolution in an elaborate manner.
In addition, the Ombudsman says such a commission would most likely take Botswana’s ratings higher, especially with regard to our not so tainted an image.
“We need to jealously guard against occurrences which have the effect of painting our state of governance red,” says the Ombudsman in conclusion.
We quote the report at length not just because we agree with what the Ombudsman is suggesting, but more importantly because the advice in this instance happens to emanate from an office which, thankfully, a sizeable number of Batswana still look at with some semblance of trust.
The last few months have seen a rising number of complaints against security agencies. Such complaints and allegations range from abuse to outright inhuman acts of torture.
In some of the worst cases, allegations of cold blooded murder have also been made.
If not addressed these have the potential to dent Botswana’s international standing.
What is important is a public assurance from government to the nation that it does not condone any acts of such violations, and that such abuses, if proved, will be punishable by law.
There is no need to emphasise the fact that agents perform such heinous crimes in the name of the state.
Whether government condones it or not is immaterial. If such a culture is not tackled, it will spread so much that it will ultimately be viewed as acceptable among the security agents.
The Ombudsman puts it so succinctly: “It matters not that the government was not aware of an alleged violation, but the expectation is that with its state apparatus it should be able to handle such situations.”
It is still our hope that the government does not want to leave behind a legacy of torture.
It behoves them to heed the advice of the Ombudsman.