Following the approval of extra six months of State of Public Emergency (SoPE) by Parliament, analysts are of the view that the President Mokgweetsi Masisi should have done better to motivate the need for extension.
They argue that Masisi ought to have addressed the nation on evaluation of SoPE to enable dialogue that would ultimately act as motivation for the said extension.
Even though the analysts believe that the extension will help to curb the spread of coronavirus, they say accountability to the nation was very important more so that the economy was being negatively affected.
The analysts further say some businesspeople should be engaged before drastic decisions were taken so that they had an input.
Currently the country has recorded 1,968 confirmed cases, 1,242 active ones, 710 recoveries, 16 deaths and 251 new positive test since September 21. Out of 251, a total of 238 are Batswana while 13 are foreigners.
“I think before we could assert anything, we should appreciate that there has not been evaluation of the current SoPE. A proper cost-benefit analysis has not been outlined to inform whether or not an extension is necessary,”
“But from a glance, one reckons deficiency of public health education. In some places, compliance to protocols has not been effective, sometimes almost impossible like in the informal and transportation sectors. This was probably necessary to balance the need to sustain the sectors versus absolute implementation of the protocols,” Political Science lecturer, Keaoleboga Dipogiso regretted in an interview this week.
He said it appeared that despite the existence of the SoPE, the disease had spread rapidly.
“Additionally, given the uncertainty of a COVID-19 future, and further economic disruptions occasioned by the disease, in principle the SoPE may provide authority for those responsible for managing the pandemic.
“That doesn’t mean they will deploy it in the positive light, though,” he further noted. University of Botswana law lecturer, Professor Tachilisa Balule was diplomatic in his comments. While suggesting it was evident that the country needed the SoPE extension, he equally bemoaned and identified the problems as accountability and failure by the President to address the nation about achievement and failures a month earlier. “There are the good and the bad that SoPE has brought about. Again it has to be known that at times the country has no choice but to save lives instead of people losing jobs. Of course a balance must be struck so that the economy does not go down. What is important is for the State to be aware that prolonging the SoPE may cripple the economy of the country and therefore take appropriate action to avoid such as situation.
“Cabinet must ensure that rules and regulations are followed by all companies and stiff action is taken against employers who benefit from government but fail to pay or keep on retrenching staff. Public education is also crucial and government must start campaigns to sensitise people on how to take care of themselves to avoid further spread of the virus,” Balule said.
Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) spokesperson Kagelelo Kentse was forthright in his support for the extension arguing: “We have not yet overcome the worst of COVID-19, for which SoPE was sought. Therefore, government may occasionally have to pronounce some emergency laws/pronouncements aimed at controlling the risks of COVID-19.
Addressing Parliament on Monday, President Masisi said much has been achieved in the last six months under the SoPE. He said: “Allow me to take this opportunity to underscore the fact that much has been achieved during the six months of the State of Public Emergency. The decision to invoke the State of Public Emergency legislation was not taken lightly as it was perceived from some quarters that it could infringe on the individual freedoms of our people. To the contrary, it allowed Government to respond swiftly and effectively to contain the pandemic without injury to any rights of our people,”
He said the SoPE allowed Government to restrict movement of people and operations of businesses to prevent the exposure of people to the coronavirus, thereby, containing its rapid spread and transmission. “The containment of the spread of the virus paved the way for the exit from the lockdown and the easing of some of the restrictions. The State of Public Emergency has also allowed Government to put in place the communication mechanisms necessary for a pandemic of this magnitude and increase the uptake of the use of technologies by individuals, the private sector and Government. It ignited our creative reserves as a nation and provided opportunities for us to develop innovative solutions to address the effects brought about by COVID-19.”
Still on the matter, the President said they had challenges that included an exponential rise in local transmissions after the lifting of movement restrictions on May 22 this year, mainly in the Greater Gaborone Zone. “Particularly disturbing, is that from July to August 2020, the number of local transmission cases surpassed the number of imported ones. Other parts of the country have also started recording COVID-19 cases. Indeed, COVID-19 has now become a national health and security threat. Now more than ever, it has become necessary to strengthen our national,” Masisi noted. Masisi said the challenge with a declaration of an emergency under the Emergency Powers Act, on the one hand is that, it envisages a short-term emergency situation.
“Section 23 (2) (C) provides that such declaration shall be for a period not exceeding seven (7) days. I do appreciate, however, that the Act allows for an extension of the period should the Director deem it necessary to do so.”
SoPE regulations include controlling the movement of people, restricting public gatherings, the prohibition of entry into the Republic by non-citizens, suspension of retrenchments of workers and certain laws, as well as, the provision for payment of people affected by the regulation.
These instruments are necessary to contain the pandemic. Unfortunately, they are not within the powers of the Director of Health Services, the President said.