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Botswana Gazette takes water utility to court on access to information

In 2014, the Sunday Standard newspaper carried a story entitled “The rich blocking water flow in Gaborone dam”, wherein it was reported that the WUC commissioned a study which allegedly revealed that dams are blocking the flow of water into the Gaborone Dam, resulting in lower water levels and water rationing.

The Sunday Standard became aware that the Directorate of Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) had been investigating the Director-General of the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services on suspicion of various economic crimes (including corruption and money laundering). It appeared that although the Director-General was under investigation, no moves to suspend him had been taken and that the investigation was stalling. The newspaper believed that the Director-General was receiving preferential treatment and that it was possible that he would be protected from criminal charges. The newspaper felt that it was in the public interest that it report on these investigations because the public was entitled to know that a senior government official was suspected of committing serious crimes.

A provision in the Corruption and Economic Crimes Act (which creates the DCEC) prohibited any disclosure of information relating to an investigation undertaken by the DCEC. Under this provision, the Sunday Standard would be prevented from reporting on the investigation into the Director-General. The newspaper launched an application seeking a declaration that the provision was unconstitutional because it violated the right to freedom of expression and should be struck down.

The Water Utilities Corporation’s functions include supplying water and taking measures to secure adequate water supplies. As part of its functions, the WUC operates the Gaborone dam located south of Gaborone along the Gaborone-Lobatse Road and provides water for both Gaborone and Lobatse. The effective catchment area covers 225 square kilometres drained by the Notwane, Taung, Metsemaswaane and Nywane rivers.

Botswana is highly vulnerable to climate variability and changes due to its high dependence on rain-fed agriculture and natural resources, high poverty levels – particularly in rural areas, and a low adaptive capacity to handle these expected changes. Climate change challenges are centred around water resource availability, changing precipitation patterns, accelerated evapotranspiration rates and increasing population demands making communities vulnerable to food insecurity and precarious livelihoods and unsustainable agroecological systems, crop failure and unproductive rangelands.

Water quality and availability changes will predominantly impact Botswana in future climate scenarios. Current models estimate that by 2050, climate change will decrease water inflow into dams by 3.5 to 19%, representing an actual loss of 34 to 75 Mm3 by 2050. Given this significant strain on water inflow to dams, it is in the public interest to know when further inflow encroachments occur.

The Botswana Gazette is represented by Tshiamo Rantao from Rantao Attorneys and supported by the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC).

The case was heard before Judge Motumise J. on Wednesday, 24 May 2023, at 9.00 am in the Gaborone High Court. Judgment was handed down on 26 September 2023 dismissing an application reviewing the Water Utility Company (WUC)’s refusal to release a report which researched water flow into the Gaborone Dam.

High Court judgment

News Releases
26 September 2023 – Botswana High Court ignores Constitution and rules.
22 May 2023 – Access to information on the spotlight in Botswana High Court.

SALC in the News
22 May 2023 – Botswana newspaper court battle with country’s water utility.