Controversial eavesdropping bill irks unions


FRANCISTOWN: The rumour mill recently went into overdrive after Parliament this week approved the Criminal Procedure and Evidence (Controlled Investigations) Bill (2022) to be debated as a matter of urgency.

The Bill seeks to enable law enforcement agencies to use undercover operations to intercept communications, access computer systems and use controlled devices in undertaking investigations of money laundering and associated crimes. It was brought to Parliament on a certificate of urgency by the Minister of Defence, Justice and Security, Kagiso Mmusi seeking to allow the agents to carry fake passports and National Identity cards (Omang).

When requesting for the Bill to be brought on urgency, Mmusi said there was need to have a law that could plug legal gaps relating to issues of money laundering and financing terrorism. He added that the gaps flouted the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) recommendations which Botswana was found to be not fully compliant with (Recommendation 31 of the FATF Standards). As expected, ruling party legislators were in support of the Bill being brought on urgency while the opposition were of the view that it was not urgent.

While expectations are that the Bill will finally become law because the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) has a majority in the August House in contrast to the combined opposition, there is already debate and outcry on social media and other platforms about whether it will be used in its letter and spirit or not once it is passed into law.

Although how the Bill will be implemented once it is passed into law in Parliament remains a canard, some sections of society who are against it are of the view that it will be used to subjugate sections of society who hold different views to those of government. But spokesperson of Botswana Federation of Public, Private and Parastatal Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU), Ketlhalefile Motshegwa said to all intents and purposes, the Bill will not serve the greater public good once it is passed into law. “When President Mokgweetsi Masisi regime came to power, many Batswana expected it to break with the past. Batswana had hoped that the current regime would correct things that the Ian Khama administration did. The allegations of surveillance and interception of communication of citizens is a very serious concern.

BOFEPUSU maintains that passing the Bill into law will be a serious disregard to peoples’ liberties and their democratic right to communicate freely and enjoy their democratic space,” he said, adding that the world is replete with countries that had abused surveillance technology to the detriment of their citizens which left the populace living in fear. “In some countries devices that are used to monitor how people are communicating are used to silence or crush political opponents, citizens who are active in social media platforms who want the government to account for its decisions, whistle blowers, media and informants,” Motshegwa bemoaned. “Organisations and group of persons listed above will feel threatened and uncomfortable to report issues of corruption, maladministration or any other excesses that the State feels is a threat to its existence.

Our view as BOFEPUSU is that the envisaged Bill should be used to counteract external threats to the nation and not be used for internal repression and to police the nation.” Motshegwa expressed fear that Batswana are people who are used to the culture of open engagement adding that if the Bill is passed into law, it will induce fear in the minds of those people which will ultimately force them to meet physically whenever they want to discuss things that the State may view as being unfavourable to it. “If people meet physically, they will incur very expensive costs.

As BOFEPUSU, we are of the view that the Bill is unnecessary and comes at a time when Batswana are struggling with economic hardships as a result of increased tax, electricity, food prices, bus fare and other socio-economic hardships,” Motshegwa lamented.

Regarding the other aspect of the Bill that proposes to allow State security agents to use fake identity cards (Omang) and passports, Motshegwa said that will open a can of worms. “This Bill will induce some people to impersonate State security agents and ultimately swindle innocent members of the public out of their hard gained properties and money. In our view, the overarching aim of security agents to carry fake national identity cards and passports will exacerbate the already increasing crime rate in the country. In light of the above, BOFEPUSU will soon meet and come up with ways that will counteract this undemocratic Bill which also infringes on the basic human rights of the people,” said Motshegwa.

Meanwhile, secretary general of the Botswana Federation of Trade Unions (BFTU), Thusang Butale also expressed qualms about the Bill. He said as a federation they do not only take care of the interests of their members, but also of the general public. “We have noted the Bill... Essentially, the Bill will encroach on the civil liberties of Batswana. We are however not getting the gist of what prompted the Bill to be conceived. We have heard that there are some elements that prompted the Bill to be conceived. We have also noted that countries around the world and in our region that have similar laws is that some of these countries are now repealing these laws,” said Butale. Butale added that some of the countries that have similar laws to the Bill have stronger institutions that safeguard and protect the civil liberties of their citizens. “If you look at our manifesto, we have long advocated for the country to have strong institutions that will have checks and balances and guard against the excesses of the state. However, in Botswana institutions that are supposed to protect civil liberties of Batswana and everyone who is in Botswana are not independent and efficient.

This therefore means that they are not carrying out their mandates as expected. In essence, we are against the Bill because there were no consultations when the Bill was conceived,” Butale regretted. He added that during the (Ian) Khama administration, Batswana were afraid to speak freely using electronic communication devices because they felt that their conversations were being listened to by agents of the Directorate of Security and Intelligence (DIS). “As a federation we intend to engage with other stakeholders such as civic society organisations and BOFEPUSU to map a way forward because we have a good working relationship with these stakeholders.

The BFTU board will be meeting next week to deliberate about this bill,” Butale stated. Still on the matter, Member of Parliament for Okavango Kenny Kapinga who is a former high ranking police officer and is an attorney by profession, said that Batswana’s outcries on the Bill are genuine. “The problem with our current government is that it cannot be trusted with a law like (if the Bill ultimately becomes law).

The integrity of the government has been seriously compromised,” he said. The public is having reservations about the Bill, Kapinga said, because it was not consulted when the bill was conceived.

He therefore said the public has been left in limbo because it does not understand what the Bill proposes to achieve. “The public sees the Bill as a ruse to invade their privacy and it has the right to raise such fears. The right to privacy is a very important right under our Constitution. My view is that the State should have given itself time to explain the objectives of the Bill, why it was conceived and assured the nation that the law will be used responsibly,” Kapinga said.

“The also public wants to know and be assured that whoever abuses the law for whatever interests and eavesdrops on conversations that he/she is not supposed to listen to will be dealt with seriously,” he added.

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