An informative consultative COVID-19 food relief meeting organised by the Francistown City Council (FCC) in consultation with the Ministry of Local Government nearly started off on a rough patch. This was so after the media was told that they would be barred from some of the council sessions. The Monitor Staffer Lebogang Mosikare and Correspondent Lesedi Mkhutshwa report
FRANCISTOWN: Before the meeting started, expectations were high that sparks would indeed fly between the Member of Parliament for Francistown West, Ignatius Moswaane and the assistant minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Sethabelo Modukanele.
This, following a video that went viral on social media platforms, which showed a woman who had collapsed at Moswaane’s home claiming she went to ask for help after she allegedly went without food from social services.
The government later published a press release denying the woman’s allegations.
In an unexpected turn of events, the meeting progressed smoothly much to the disappointment of some that anticipated a war of words between the Moswaane and Modukanele.
Fireworks were deadened for the moment over accusations and counter-accusations that ensued between Moswaane and the office of the local government ministry after publication of the press release.
The press release played into the blame game that had gathered steam between Moswaane and the permanent secretary in the local government ministry, Boipelelo Khumomatlhare, who had released a statement that urged the public not to take the video seriously because it was misleading and false.
After the media reports of the presser, Moswaane went to a private radio stations and stuck to his guns.
Before the meeting started, the day for the media eager for a ‘Moswaane versus Modukanele duel’ was as good as ruined with no such fireworks. This was the case after district commissioner Chabongwa Matseka, who chaired the proceedings, announced that journalists would not be permitted to hear deliberations of the Francistown District COVID-19 Relief Report.
The line-up of speakers included the Town Clerk, Lopang Pule, who talked about the Francistown District COVID-19 relief report, legislators of Francistown East, West and South, Buti Billy, Moswaane and Wynter Mmolotsi respectively, who gave feedback on how the handing of food hampers was progressing in their constituencies, and Modukanele, who deliberated over the food relief, and Billy, who gave closing remarks.
Locking out the press was, if successful, going to be reminiscent of the days of former president Ian Khama, when he blocked journalists from attending a council session a few years back.
The journos finally got reprieve after one scribe informed Moswaane of what Matseka had said prior to the legislator’s arrival at the chambers on media barring.
Moswaane then told Matseka that locking journalists out of the chambers during some of the deliberations would not bode well for council, especially after government had earlier on assured the public that there would be nothing ‘secretive’ about deliberations over COVID-19 even at Parliament level.
“The government has pronounced that COVID-19 deliberations will be done in a transparent manner in the interest of the public. So I don’t see any reason why members of the media should not be allowed inside the chamber during some of our deliberations,” Moswaane said.
“There is no use to do so because even in Parliament, journalists are allowed during Parliament proceedings because they are also a vital stakeholder in our fight against this coronavirus pandemic.”
Matseka conceded to Moswaane’s logic to have journalists inside the chambers, but only after he insisted that they hold a brief consultative meeting with top table panellists consisting of Matseka, Modukanele, Mayor of Francistown Godisang Radisigo, and coordinator of the COVID-19 food relief programme, Gabriel Seeletso. He said members of the press would be free to ask any questions afterwards.
Most of the presentations were similar – the popular theme being that government accepts and acknowledges the monumental task of supplying food to members of the public since the outbreak of COVID-19 was always going to have teething problems, it was an unprecedented occurrence.
Radisigo, Modukanele, Pule, Billy, Moswaane and Mmolotsi also sang from the same hymnbook when talking about the need for better communication channels.
The need for open communication between civic leaders and the powers-that-be at FCC and local government ministry, they argued, would better serve the people
The three legislators decried the fact that some people assessed by social workers to determine whether or not they qualified for the food aid were not provided with food baskets even though they qualified.
In the case of those who were rejected, the legislators said some of their constituents were not furnished with reasons as to why they were rejected.
Another major issue that recurred during the deliberations was of family that lived in the same compound, but did not eat food together.
Although Modukanele and Seeletso admitted that there may have been some circumstances that warranted some families to be given food separately, the duo advised Pule to tell social workers to be vigilant when they encounter such issues because other people may abuse the system for selfish ends.
There was also consensus from all sides of the equation that there was a need to reassess some people who were rejected as soon as possible.
Another hot potato was the issue of some suppliers who were not paid since starting food provision services to support the municipality last month.
Pule said delays in paying the suppliers were in some instances caused by bottlenecks in the municipality’s invoicing process.
Pule assured that most of their workers have since become familiar with council’s processes adding that the payment procedure was now progressing as expected. As highlighted earlier, Moswaane asserted that the issue of the Monarch woman video was not staged as members of the public were led to believe by Khumomatlhare.
Moswaane even challenged all those in doubt to ask other witnesses that were present at the time to corroborate the woman collapsing because of hunger.
Moswaane pleaded with Modukanele and Seeletso to tell Khumomatlhare to withdraw his press statement. He said the press release had the potential to make members of the public believe he was playing political games to win electoral favour while this was not the case.
What transpired in the video clip, Moswaane insisted, was true and was not staged as some were led to believe.
“Khumomatlhare should withdraw the press release because it is putting government’s image, both locally and internationally, into disrepute in a time of crisis,” Moswaane added.
Many in the chambers expected the response from government to directly address the Monarch woman’s issue as expressed in the video, but the State did not even entertain the matter.
One would not be off the mark if they were to think that government officials, especially Seeletso, made veiled attempts to sidestep the issue of the video of the Monarch woman, which was treated as not worthy of any sort of attention.
Seeletso instead implored legislators to be wary of the fact that disclosing one’s illness through any medium may stigmatise them in the eyes of certain members of the public.
“The issue of disclosing patients’ illnesses is a matter of patients and medical practitioners (doctors and nurses).
Let us desist from disclosing other peoples’ medical conditions because by so doing, we are breaching the confidentiality that they have with their doctors,” Seeletso said.
“In the advent of social media, many people around the world would become aware of one’s illness if it is disclosed on social media,” he added.
On the sidelines of the meeting, Modukanele said he was not aware if government was looking into the Monarch video incident to determine if it is genuine or not.
On Tuesday, the woman in the video, Boitumelo Chibute, told The Monitor that plain-clothed police officers came to her home to interrogate her over the video clip that went viral on social media and other related matters.
Moswaane also fuelled speculation over the video when he said that state security agents are conducting an investigation after he told a private radio station the Directorate of Intelligence and Security had questioned Chibute following the clip.