coat of arms 600x400  Parliament of Botswana 

 

HONOURABLE DUMELANG SALESHANDO

Statement to Parliament by Leader of Opposition in terms of Standing Order 9.3.2

15 July 2021

Mr Speaker, 

Two days ago, His Excellency President Mokgweetsi Masisi addressed the nation on what was expected to be an update on the Covid 19 situation in the country. The President in the main reported the following;

  1. Covid cases have rapidly increased in the last five months.
  2. Deaths due to Covid have increased with 1,253 deaths recorded to date, compared to 300 deaths 5 months ago
  3. The vaccine rollout continues at a snail pace and some may only get their vaccine in late 2022
  4. We should expect the Covid 19 situation to get worse before it gets better
  5. In the absence of a plan to flatten the curve, the nation has been called upon to pray for divine intervention.

It has become clear that the address by the President left many questions unanswered.  He simply stated what the country already knew.  The dire situation in our hospitals was ignored by the address.  Botswana only has 115 intensive care beds that are all fully occupied as reported by Assistant Minister of Health.  There are no additional beds for admission of the critically ill and Emergency Sections in hospitals are turning patients away as they are over stretched.  Mortuaries in hospitals are also not coping with the numbers coming through.  Isolation centres contracted by government for Covid positive patients lie empty due to governments inability to pay the contracted service providers at the time when we have 8,970 active cases.  Some of the active cases reside in high density residential areas and are being sent back to fuel the spread of the virus instead of being isolated.

There is no doubt that the leadership has no plan to guide the nation through the biggest threat to our existence since independence.  To this end, I choose not to focus on the glaring and multiple deficiencies of the speech.  I have chosen to provide counsel to the ruling party on behalf of the opposition and hope that for once, they will listen and not opt to demonise us as if our membership of the National Assembly is less inferior to theirs.

What needs to be done?

  1. Admit Mistakes and Avoid Repeating them

Let’s admit our shortcomings and agree to join hands as we now start the difficult journey of defeating Covid, lest we all perish across the political divide.  A number of monumental mistakes were committed which we should pledge to never repeat.  We subjected the country to a hard lockdown and lengthy State of Public Emergency.  No country in the world has resorted to such extreme measures like a lengthy State of Emergency as a response to Covid 19.  A hard lockdown is a temporary measure to slow down the virus while the health sector is capacitated and prepared for the worst-case scenario.  In the case of Botswana, huge amounts of funds were deployed for the fight against Covid19 but the health sector remains as weak as it was before the advent of Covid 19. 

Only now is the Ministry of Health and Wellness frantically trying to convert wards at Masunga, Serowe and Mmadinare hospitals into high care units. Only now, the same Ministry is talking of floating a tender for oxygen supply in public hospitals.  These tasks should have been done and completed more than a year ago when Covid donations were pouring in from the private sector?

Let us make a commitment today that we will do all that is possible to make sure that there is full accountability for the funds that were disbursed for Covid related procurements. How did such huge amounts not transform our health sector.

  1. Ramp up Vaccination

The vaccine roll-out has to be the top most priority of our priorities.  The President has to personally lead in securing the vaccines for the nation in the same way former President Mogae championed access to ARV to curb the HIV AIDS related deaths.  For our population size and the cordial relations we have with leading countries that manufacture vaccines, we can definitely do better than we are currently performing.  Botswana needs to vaccinate all those that need to be vaccinated before the end of 2021 and not 2022 as proposed by the President.  If we all put our minds to it, we can fully vaccinate the nation by end of 2021, Its Possible.  

The President needs to slow down on foreign trips aimed at securing the SADC job for the Ambassador at Large and focus on securing vaccines.  How does a country like Zimbabwe that is under sanctions manage to secure vaccines and are currently vaccinating 40,000 people daily when we have only managed to fully vaccinate 108,000 since vaccinations started in March 2021.

There is evidence to show that our vaccination plan is in shambles. The President in his address stated at paragraph 12 that we are expecting total of 550.000 vaccines by December 2021.  On the other hand, the Assistant Minister of Health and Wellness reported to Parliament less 24 hours after the address by the President that they are expecting over a million vaccines before the end of the year.

Furthermore, the President expects us to attain herd immunity by end of 2022.  The Minister on the other hand expects 80% of the nation to be vaccinated by March 2022. Clearly the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing and this will lead to unnecessary deaths. 

  1. Local Manufacture of Vaccines

Botswana needs to urgently undertake to explore the manufacture of vaccines.  Viruses such as Covid 19 will forever remain part of our reality and pose threats to human beings.  If Botswana can successfully operate Botswana Vaccine Institute that manufactures and exports cattle vaccines to other countries, why should Botswana not position itself as the main SADC manufacturer of vaccines such as the ones used for Covid?  What is the value of our exceptionally cordial relations with more developed countries if we cannot leverage on their experience and technology to manufacture critical vaccines and drugs for Africa?

  1. Vaccination of Teachers and other front liners

We support the decision to close schools.  It is a pity that the President only yielded to the pressure for schools to be closed after more than 60 deaths of teachers and threat of court action.  There was clear evidence that our schools had become super spreaders and the advent of winter exacerbated the spread of the virus in schools.  Government needs to now act with haste and vaccinate all teachers as well as non-teaching staff in schools irrespective of age before schools reopen.  Failure to do this will only result in a possible crisis for the education sector.  We need to assure the teachers that they will be vaccinated before schools reopen.  Other front liners like the Police and Immigration workers at points of entry also need to be vaccinated within the shortest possible time.

  1.   Ivermectin Deployment

Since the outbreak of Covid 19, there has been debate on the medical use of Ivermectin for Covid patients.  Experts in countries like the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain and Japan have published reports that show how the drug significantly reduces mortality.  An increasing number of countries are approving the use of the drug for Covid patients, including South Africa and Zimbabwe.  Why is Botswana not considering the use of the drug given the uncontrollable increase in infection? 

  1. Saving Businesses

Business confidence is possibly at its all-time lowest level.  Industries are not able to plan for the future given the uncertainties that are occasioned by the virus.  It is important that government should avoid escalating the uncertainties that we all face.  The ban on sale of alcoholic beverages should be time bound and not indefinite.  This will allow the industry to plan better and possibly avoid unnecessary loss of jobs.  The State of Public Emergency should now be terminated.  Countries like the USA that we depend on for the inflow of tourists are discouraging their citizens from travelling to Botswana on account of the unending State of Public Emergency.  President Masisi should terminate the State of Emergency forthwith as it has no impact in curbing the transmission of the virus.  The only industry that benefits from the State of Emergency is corruption.

  1. Stability in Public Service

Since the outbreak of Covid 19, the Ministry of Health and Wellness has experienced unending staff movements at the top level.  Ministers have changed, permanent secretaries have changed at least 3 times and so has the Director of Public Health.  This is not the way to fight a health pandemic.

There is also a need to avoid creating new positions at the drop of a hat.  We recently created a position that adds no value to the interests of the country called Ambassador at Large.  Do we really need this post?  We have increased the number of Assistant Ministers at the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development to 3 so as to reward Hon. Pono Moatlhodi for defecting to the BDP.  Is this prudent utilization of dwindling national resources?

The decision to create a position of Chief of Staff should be reconsidered.  What has necessitated the creation of this post?  The Office of the President has a Permanent Secretary to the President, and other permanent secretaries with deputies.  

  1. National Covid Pitso

There is need for the President to reach out to all stake holders and consult on coming up with a workable plan to avoid the route to increasing Covid deaths.  The address confirmed that there is no plan in place.  The President needs to appreciate that the nation is in a pensive and uneasy mood.  Relatives are queuing up to collect lifeless bodies from mortuaries, others are in ques for admission to non-available hospital beds.   We need to come together as a nation to protect ourselves against a common enemy.  There is need for the nation to be reassured that politicians from across the political divide, trade unionists, the business community, community-based organizations as well as the clergy are holding hands to save the nation.

When the nation comes together to pray, it should not be praying for a miracle, but for the success of a plan that has benefitted from the wisdom of all the leaders.

Conclusion

Botswana can defeat Covid-19, all it takes is leadership. Countries with weak financial background like Greece have done exceptionally well in combating the virus, while a super power like America performed badly. It is about leadership, not financial power. Repressive regimes like Vietnam are also turning the tide successfully, it is not about being the envy of the world, it is about leadership that is focused.

Mr. Speaker, I wish to call upon all Batswana to remember that we all need to play our part in defeating Covid.  Let us all reflect deeply each time we decide to travel out of our homes.  Stay home if the trip you had wanted to undertake is not critical.  Let us wash our hands frequently, wear masks in all public places and follow appropriate social distancing rules.  Together we can defeat Covid 19.