Fighter for free expression
Prolific trial attorney, Mboki Chilisa was recently elected Chairperson of the Botswana Chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA).
Chilisa, 36, took the baton from Modise Maphanyane who was at the helm of the press freedom advocacy, nongovernmental organization since 2011.
The pint sized lawyer who shot to fame through his involvement in major collective labor law disputes graduated from the University of Botswana (UB) Law School in 2005 and joined Peter Collins to start Collins Chilisa legal consultants.
He however later branched out to set up his own law firm and went on to handle major cases including that of the controversial primary elections where the unions had taken the Permanent Secretary to the President (PSP) to court after the 2013 directive from the PSP prohibiting all public officers from participating or voting in political parties primary elections.
The Voice reporter SHARON MATHALA tracked down the charismatic lawyer to the heart of the city where his office is located for an interview.
Q. What would you say has been your most memorable day in court?
A. It would have to be the very first case I ever did, I was doing my third year around 2003, I represented a lady who was employed as a security guard and was asked to undergo an HIV test, she refused and she was dismissed from work.
I took up the case on her behalf and I argued that it was a breach of her right to privacy.
That she was subjected to degrading treatment.
It was my first big case and I was sparring against a senior counsel and I raised interesting arguments so it would qualify as my most memorable because I got my client reinstated at work.
Q. As a lawyer do you ever get to a point where you feel you have lost a case, which you shouldn’t have?
A. Yes there are many times where we know that our chances are good, but in some instances, you may think you are going to lose and that you don’t have strong points but you end up winning the case.
There are times where you think you have a strong case and you find that the judges are not quite with you, a lot of the time the outcome depends on the philosophy of the judges.
I mean if there are conservative judges then the outcome will be conservative.
Q. Are there certain judges you prefer not to appear before, without necessarily mentioning names?
A. there are certain judges of course that I prefer not to appear before.
There are judges whose matters move very slowly, they take way too long to deliver judgment and sometimes you wait up to 12 months for an outcome.
There are some whose reasoning is such that if you have a matter, which raises novel issues you are unlikely to be successful and there are judges who generally seek to maintain the status quo so if you challenge the status quo you are unlikely to receive a warm reception.
And there are those who get overly excited, those that are progressive and those who are very liberal and open-minded, those are the kind of judges I like.
Q. Your take on the death penalty?
A. It has been conclusively demonstrated that it serves no deterrent effect.
We should not end up with situations where innocent people have been sent to the gallows and cannot be brought back to life.
I mean we have instances where people have been sent to jail and when new evidence surfaces they are freed.
I do not believe in the death penalty and I support its abolishment.
Q. Do you believe there is political interference within our justice system?
A. Our system allows for political interference. There are no laws in place to ensure that the process of appointment is transparent, we have people appointed to the Court of Appeal when vacancies for those positions were never advertised.
These people wield a lot of power and the public ought to be given the opportunity to know who they are and what they stand for, the public ought to be satisfied that your appointment was not as a favor but that you are appointed on merit.
This lack of transparency opens room for political interference.
Q. Why MISA Botswana?
A. I am very passionate about media freedom, about freedom of expression, as I believe it’s what gives energy to our democracy.
The media should be able to do its work so that people are fully informed.
It was a natural attraction for me to want to serve in that regard.
Q. MISA Botswana has been relatively off the media radar of late, what has been happening?
A. This is why we are here, we seek to revitalize MISA and give it new energy; it has not been as active as it was in the past.
It needs to assume its advocacy role.
The visibility has not been as strong as most members would want it to be.
I intend to make it more relevant.
Q. What are priority areas for the first days?
A. We have actually just met with the board to map out what our priorities will be.
So we will improve relations between various media bodies such as the Botswana Media Workers Union (BOMAWU), Editors Forum Botswana and the Press Council of Botswana.
We would like to see all these bodies working together.
We have also talked about improving relations with government.
We will also try and put in place training programmes.
We have received offers for training so that we can try and elevate the standards of journalism.
We will also try to get senior journalists to mentor less experienced journalists.
Q. Even though the government has denied placing the advertising ban on local private media, reports suggest otherwise, your view?
A. The media at the moment is reeling from the advertising ban; the government has not been as supportive as it used to be to the private media.
We want to reach out and find out what the concerns were so that we bridge the gap with the hope to revitalize local media houses.
As you might have realized, a few have gone through restructuring phases and the advertising ban is partly to blame.
Q. What would you say is the level of media freedom in Botswana?
A. I think media in Botswana is generally free relatively speaking if you compare with other countries.
I mean in other countries’ TV stations were shut down, court orders granted and not complied with.
On a scale of 1 to 10, I would say we are on a 7. I would say the biggest obstacle would be lack of access to information.
And of course one or two archaic and outdate laws like that of Sedition.
Q. Any plans to bring back to debate the media freedom bill that was once tabled in parliament?
A. There is an intention to bring reform, but we have not yet discussed it. as the Board.
Q. You were recently spotted at the launch of the breakaway party- Alliance for Progressives (AP), are you a progressive?
A. I do not affiliate with any political party.
The only party I ever took membership of was many years ago because my classmate then was contesting for primary elections, and I only took the membership for that reason.
Generally, I do not take a strong interest in political parties, I do believe that it is good to have very strong opposition; I naturally gravitate towards supporting opposition because it is good for democracy.
Q. Are you a family man?
A. I have two children a boy and a girl both in primary school.
Q. TGIF, what are you up to this Friday?
A. I will be playing chess, I am bit hopeless but I will be playing chess at home with friends.