Returning BDP backbenchers draw first blood on Masisi
The ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) backbenchers who are returning to parliament, have this week drawn first blood following newly elected President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s cabinet appointments.
Masisi announced on Wednesday that he has elevated 18 Members of Parliament to the cabinet positions including 7 Assistant Ministers summing to 25 out of the 44 pool of ruling party legislators available at his disposal. The backbench is now left with a paltry 19 members in which those returning to parliament are Liakat Kablay, Ignatious Moswaane, Paulson Majaga and Mephato Reatile while opposition members from different parties are also 19.
Some of the returning backbenchers told Weekend Post this week that they have sharpened their ammunition ready to shake the current parliament. Former Chief Whip in the last parliament sitting and Letlhakeng/Lephephe Member of Parliament Liakat Kablay, has expressed disappointment for not making it to the new cabinet appointments, stating that it appears they have only been cut for the backbench.
“Clearly we belong to the backbench. We know it’s the President’s prerogative to appoint Ministers. So, if he doesn’t see us fit enough to be in cabinet, there is nothing we can do really, but just to go back to the backbench,” he fumed. The BDP MP further observed that they find solace in the fact that most Ministers in recent years have been losing elections either at primary elections or national level and therefore it’s also a blessing in disguise not to be in cabinet.
“Some of them lost because they ended up neglecting their constituencies in favour of cabinet responsibility. And some when they get there they don’t listen to both of us and the people especially constituents,” he lashed out. However, the Letlhakeng/Lephephe lawmaker continued: “it’s still fine as people elected us to be legislators anyway. We are not really sad because we are MP’s after all and we are happy to at least represent our constituents.”
Another backbencher, also returning to parliament, Francistown lawmaker Ignatious Moswaane, who also concurred with Kablay, stated that MPs in ministerial positions are conflicted. He observed: “I believe MPs should not be Ministers because they are conflicted. As we know the three Arms of Government are; Executive, Parliament and the Judiciary. An MP plays both roles of MP and that of the Executive, hence there is no separation of powers in our instance.”
That’s why, he added that he believes cabinet members must be appointed from outside parliament. In addition, the backbencher highlighted that cabinet Ministers must also be paid equal to their peers in the Executive to entice the Parliamentarians. “If you can realise the issue of salaries also divide the MPs and the Executives, because Ministers are paid P20 000 more than the Parliamentarians and so MPs see cabinet posts as promotion,” he pointed out.
Above all, Moswaane stated that Ministers in Botswana also outnumber the backbench and that’s not good for democracy. “If this happens, it will easily rubber stamp the decision of the Executive, since the Executive would overpower them in numerical strengths,” he asserted.
According to the maverick lawmaker, this may make sense to other countries because their legislators are more than 200 with their MPs being in the region of 40 or so and this enables them to hold the Executive easily accountable.
His conviction is that: “I believe there must be a strong backbench to give oversight to the Executive and hold it accountable.” The Francistown West MP also made mention that not being in cabinet will also make him speak his mind as an independent parliamentarian. “So if am not cabinet, my role as a backbencher will give me mileage in politics,” he said.
‘My role and mandate is to be an MP and that is what the people have sent me to parliament for’, Moswaane explained, while stressing that he acknowledges that the President chooses those he thinks can assist him in delivering his mandate, so as MPs they should allow the President to elect a team that he believes in. Meanwhile, Nata/Gweta legislator Paulson Majaga, who is serving his second term in Parliament also highlighted that by being snubbed for cabinet appointment does not put them in good position/light at their constituencies.
“People and particularly our constituents, always wonder why we are never considered in cabinet while others always make it, even the new ones including Special Elected Members of Parliament,” the Nata/Gweta MP said. He continued: “I think I qualify to be in cabinet because of my vast experience and moreover I have been winning the constituency for the party for long now.”
According to the MP, being in cabinet gives one mileage and it is for this reason that at a BDP primary election, his contender Lawrence Ookeditse said he should be preferred because he is “cabinet material” and close to Masisi. Majaga is worried that despite winning the constituency in all elections, “since 1962 our constituents have not experienced a cabinet Minister except for Oliphant Mfa, who became an Assistant Minister of Local Government for six months and later ejected from the position and went back to the backbench.”
He emphasised that it was said that this crop of MP’s belong to the backbench but they don’t agree with them as they have built the government with all – under arduous circumstances. “So we do want those positions in cabinet too.” In addition Majaga said he thinks the President should involve them in the discussion for the appointment of his cabinet and assist him where they can.
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ENVIRONMENT ISSUES: Masisi asks Virginia for help
President Mokgweetsi Masisi says the issue of sustainable natural resources management has always been an important part of Botswana’s national development agenda.
Masisi was speaking this week on the occasion of a public lecture at Virginia Polytechnic, under theme, “Merging Conservation, Democracy and Sustainable Development in Botswana.”
Botswana, according to Masisi, holds the view that the environment is fragile and as such, must be managed and given the utmost protection to enable the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
“It is necessary that we engage one another in the interchange of ideas, perspectives, visualizations of social futures, and considerations of possible strategies and courses of action for sustainable development,” said Masisi.
On the other hand, dialogue, in the form of rigorous democratic discourse among stakeholders presents another basis for reconfiguring how people act on their environments, with a view to conserving its resources that “we require to meet our socio-economic development needs on a sustainable basis,” Masisi told attendees at the public lecture.
He said government has a keen interest in understanding the epidemiology and ecology of diseases of both domestic and wild animals. “It is our national interest to forestall the dire consequences of animal diseases on our communities livelihoods.”
President Masisi hoped that both Botswana and Virginia could help each other in curbing contagious diseases of wildlife.
“We believe that Virginia Tech can reasonably share their experiences, research insights and advances in veterinary sciences and medicines, to help us build capacity for knowledge creation and improve efforts of managing and containing contagious diseases of wildlife. The ground is fertile for entering into such a mutually beneficial partnership.”
When explaining environmental issues further, Masisi said efforts of conservation and sustainable development might at times be hampered by the emergence and recurrence of diseases when pathogens mutate and take host of more than one species.
“Water pollution also kills aquatic life, such as fish, which is one of humanity’s much deserved sources of food. In this regard, One Health Approach imposes ecological responsibility upon all of us to care for the environment and the bio-diversity therein.”
He said the production and use of animal vaccines is an important space and tool for conservation, particularly to deal with trans-border animal diseases.
“In Botswana, our 43-year-old national premier pharmaceutical institution called Botswana Vaccine Institute has played its role well. Through its successful production of highly efficacious Foot and Mouth vaccines, the country is able to contain this disease as well as supply vaccines to other countries in the sub-region.:
He has however declared that there is need for more help, saying “We need more capacitation to deal with and contain other types of microbial that affect both animals and human health.”
Masisi saddened by deaths of elephant attacks
President Mokgweetsi Masisi has expressed a strong worry over elephants killing people in Botswana. When speaking in Virginia this week, Masisi said it is unfortunate that Batswana have paid a price with their own blood through being attacked by elephants.
“Communities also suffer unimaginable economic losses yearly when their crops are eaten by the elephants. In spite of such incidents of human-elephant conflict, our people embrace living together with the animals. They fully understand wildlife conservation and its economic benefits in tourism.”
In 2018, Nthobogang Samokwase’s father was attacked by an elephant when travelling from the fields, where he stayed during the cropping season.
It was reported that the man couldn’t run because of his age. He was found trampled by the elephant and was pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital.
In the same year, in Maun, a 57-year-old British woman was attacked by an elephant at Boro and died upon arrival at the hospital. The woman was with her Motswana partner, and were walking dogs in the evening.
Last month, a Durban woman named Carly Marshall survived an elephant attack while on holiday in the bush in Botswana. She was stabbed by one of the elephant’s tucks through the chest and was left with bruises. Marshall also suffered several fractured ribs from the ordeal.
President Masisi Botswana has the largest population of African elephants in the world, totaling more than 130 000. “This has been possible due to progressive conservation policies, partnerships with the communities, and investment in wildlife management programmes.”
In order to benefit further from wildlife, Masisi indicated that government has re-introduced controlled hunting in 2019 after a four-year pause. “The re-introduction of hunting was done in an open, transparent and democratic way, giving the communities an opportunity to air their views. The funds from the sale of hunting quota goes towards community development and elephant conservation.”
He stressed that for conservation to succeed, the local people must be involved and derive benefits from the natural resources within their localities.
“There must be open and transparent consultations which involve all sectors of the society. It is against this backdrop that as a country, we lead the continent on merging conservation, democracy and sustainable development.”
Masisi stated that Botswana is open to collaborative opportunities, “particularly with identifiable partners such as Virginia Tech, in other essential areas such as conservation, and the study of the interplay among the ecology of diseases of wild animals and plants, and their effects on human health and socio-economic development.”
Gov’t commit to injecting more funds in fighting HIV
Minister for State President Kabo Morwaeng says government will continue to make resources available in terms of financial allocations and human capital to ensure that Botswana achieves the ideal of eradicating HIV and AIDS as a public health threat by 2030.
Morwaeng was speaking this morning in Gaborone at the High-Level Advocacy event to accelerate HIV Prevention in Botswana. He said the National AIDS and Health Promotion Agency (NAPHA), in partnership with UNAIDS, UN agencies, the Global Fund and PEPFAR, have started a process of developing transition readiness plan for sustainability of HIV prevention and treatment programmes.
“It is important for us, as a country that has had a fair share of donor support in the response to an epidemic such as HIV and AIDS, to look beyond the period when the level of assistance would have reduced, or ceased, thus calling for domestic financing for all areas which were on donor support.”
Morwaeng said this is important as the such a plan will guarantee that all the gains accrued from the response with donor support will be sustained until the end when “we reach the elimination of HIV and AIDS as a public health threat by 20230,” he said.
“I commit to continue support efforts towards strengthened HIV prevention, accentuating HIV primary prevention and treatment as prevention towards Zero New Infections, Zero Stigma, Discrimination and Zero AIDS related death, to end AIDS in Botswana.”
He reiterated that government commits to tackle legislative, policy and programming challenges that act as barriers to the achievement of the goal of ending AIDS as a public health threat.
In the financial year 2022/2023, a total of 119 Civil Society Organizations, including Faith Based Organizations, were contracted with an amount of P100 million to implement HIV and NCDs prevention activities throughout the country, and the money was drawn from the Consolidated Fund.
Through an upcoming HIV Prevention Symposium, technical stakeholders will use outcomes to develop the Botswana HIV Prevention Acceleration Road Map for 2023-2025.
Morwaeng stated that government will support and ensure that Botswana plays its part achieving the road map. He said there is need to put hands on the deck to ensure that Botswana sustains progress made so far in the fight against HIV and AIDS.
“There are tremendous achievements thus far to, reach and surpass the UNAIDS fast track targets of 95%- 95%- 95% by the year 2025. As reflected by the BAIS preliminary results of 2021, we now stand at 95- 98- 98 against the set targets.”
“These achievements challenge us to now shift our gears and strive to know who are the remaining 5% for those aware of their HIV status, 2% of enrolment on treatment by those aware of their status and 2% of viral suppression by those on treatment.”
Explaining this further, Morwaeng said shift in gears should extend to coming up with robust strategies of determining where these remaining people are as well as how they will be reached with the necessary services.
“These are just some of the many variables that are required to ensure that as a country, we are well positioned to reaching the last mile of our country’s response to the HIV and AIDS pandemic.”