The Botswana Telecommunication Amendment Bill passed its second reading in Parliament last Monday. The bill proposes that Botswana Telecommunication Authority (BTA) be put under the control of the Science, Communication and Technology Ministry, removing its independent status.

The bill gives the minister powers to set licensing fees and approve all decisions on the licensing of fixed line and cellular telephone lines by BTA. Palapye MP Boyce Sebetela dismissed allegations that he initiated the bill when he was Minister of Science Communications and Technology to serve his own interests. Sebetela has been accused of coming up with the bill so that he could control the BTA when he was minister and to serve his business interests.

He acknowledged BTA's sterling performance but argued that the government should review its statute to improve operational efficiencies in line with international standards. He argued that BTA cannot be left to regulate itself yet it is not answerable to anyone. He said this does not happen in countries that Botswana has been ranking itself with when it comes to public sector reforms.

Despite what the Minister says, it is unusual for independent regulators to be directly under Ministerial directive. Government sets policy and independent regulators interpret and determine it. Of those countries in Africa with fully developed independent regulators only South Africa currently has a structure where Government effectively controls the regulatory function.