The Minister of Presidential Affairs and Administration in the Republic of Botswana, Hon. Masisi, recently withdrew the country’s draft HIV/AIDS Policy from the country’s Parliament where it was set for debate. The Minister’s action, which is unprecedented and laudable, came in the wake of disagreements over the letter and the spirit of the envisaged policy.
Among the thorny issues of the proposed policy are men who have sex with other men, the provision of condoms in the country’s prisons, access to life-prolonging HIV treatment to non Batswana and decriminalisation of sex work. After taking note of the divergent views held by various stakeholders who included lawmakers and civil society organisations, the Minister withdrew the policy from debate and organised a workshop for all of the country’s Parliamentarians regardless of their political affiliation.
The objective of the workshop was to increase the capacity of the lawmakers to interrogate laws and policies brought before them for endorsement on the basis of sound evidence. And so it came to pass that for two days approximately 30 Parliamentarians and a few cabinet Ministers met to learn how to ask the right questions, demand counter factual evidence and insist on systematic review of any evidence so that policies or laws are made, reviewed or implemented on the basis of sound evidence. Independent facilitators in the form of distinguished Professors from different parts of the world with many years of experience in gathering and analyzing evidence were on hand to walk the lawmakers through the intricacies of evidence-based decision making. This was the first time that any Parliament in Africa sought to empower its lawmakers in this manner. Our hearty congratulations to the Republic of Botswana for taking such a bold step.
We are encouraged by the enthusiasm with which the Parliamentarians who attended this workshop embraced it. We can only hope that this workshop - which should be the start of a process and a culture of enquiry - will improve the quality of debate in Parliament so that in the end, what is passed is in the national interest. In an era in which resources are few and far between, it makes sense to take decisions on the basis of evidence. That is how we can ensure that our interventions bring the greatest good to the greatest number of people at the best cost possible. We look forward to other countries taking Botswana’s route. This edition of New Dawn captures the proceedings at this important workshop. Happy reading and merry Christmas!