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.
The Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP)’s decision to reject and appeal the High Court’s verdict on a case involving High Court Judge, Dr Zein Kebonang has frustrated the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) and Judge Kebonang’s back to work discussions.
JSC and Kebonang have been in constant discussions over the latter’s return to work following a ruling by a High Court panel of judges clearing him of any wrong doing in the National Petroleum Fund criminal case filed by the DPP. However the finalization of the matter has been hanged on whether the DPP will appeal the matter or not – the prosecution body has since appealed.
Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) top brass has declined a request by Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) to negotiate the legal fees occasioned by 2019 general elections petition in which the latter disputed in court the outcome of the elections.
This publication is made aware that UDC Vice President Dumelang Saleshando was left with an egg on his face after the BDP big wigs, comprising of party Chairman Slumber Tsogwane and Secretary General Mpho Balopi rejected his plea.
“He was told that this is a legal matter and therefore their (UDC) lawyer should engage ours (BDP) for negotiations because it is way far from our jurisdiction,” BDP Head of Communications, Kagelelo Kentse, told this publication.
This spelt doom for the main opposition party and Saleshando who seems not to have confidence and that the UDC lawyers have the dexterity to negotiate these kind of matters. It is not clear whether Saleshando requested UDC lawyer Boingotlo Toteng to sit at the table with Bogopa Manewe, Tobedza and Co, who are representing the BDP to strike a deal as per the BDP top echelons suggested.
“From my understanding, the matter is dealt with politically as the two parties are negotiating how to resolve it, but by far nothing has come to me on the matter. So I believe they are still substantively engaging each other,” Toteng said briefly in an interview on Thursday.
UDC petitioners saddled with costs after mounting an unprecedented legal suit before the court to try and overturn BDP’s October 2019 victory. The participants in the legal matter involves 15 parliamentary candidates’ and nine councillors. The UDC petitioned the court and contested the outcome of the elections citing “irregularities in some of the constituencies”.
In a brief ruling in January 2020, Judge President Ian Kirby on behalf of a five-member panel said: “We have no jurisdiction to entertain these appeals. These appeals must be struck out each with costs including costs of counsel”. This was a second blow to the UDC in about a month after their 2019 appeals were dismissed by the High Court a day before Christmas Day.
This week BDP attorneys decided to attach UDC petitioners’ property in a bid to settle the debts. UDC President Duma Boko is among those that will see their property being attached with 14 of his party members. “We have attached some and we are on course. So far, Dr. Mpho Pheko (who contested Gaborone Central) and that of Dr, Micus Chimbombi (who contested Kgalagadi South) will have their assets being sold on the 5th of February 2021,” BDP attorney Basimane Bogopa said.
Asked whether they met with UDC lawyers to try solve the matter, Bogopa said no and added. “Remember we are trying to raise the client’s funds, so after these two others will follow. Right now we are just prioritising those from Court of Appeal, as soon as the high court is done with taxation we will attach.”
Saleshando, when contacted about the outcomes of the meeting with the BDP, told WeekendPost that: “It would not be proper and procedural for me to tell you about the meeting outcomes before I share with UDC National Executive Committee (NEC), so I will have to brief them first.”
UDC NEC will meet on the 20th of next month to deal with a number of thorny issues including settling the legal fees. Negotiations with other opposition parties- Alliance for Progressives and Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) are also on the agenda.
Currently, UDC has raised P44 238 of the P565 000 needed to cover bills from the Court of Appeal (CoA). This is the amount in a UDC trust account which is paltry funds equating 7.8 per cent of the overall required money. In the past despite the petitioners maintaining that there was promise to assist them to settle legal fees, UDC Spokesperson, Moeti Mohwasa then said the party has never agreed in no way to help them.
“We have just been put in debt by someone,” one of the petitioners told this publication in the past. “President’s (Duma Boko) message was clear at the beginning that money has been sourced somewhere to help with the whole process but now we are here there is nothing and we are just running around trying to make ends meet and pay,” added the petitioner in an interview UDC NEC has in December last year directed all the 57 constituencies to each raise a minimum of P10, 000. The funds will be used to settle debts that are currently engulfing the petitioners with Sheriffs, who are already hovering around ready to attach their assets.
The petitioners, despite the party intervention, have every right to worry. “This is so because ‘the deadline for this initiative (P10, 000 per constituency) is the end of the first quarter of this year (2021),” a period in which the sheriffs would have long auctioned the properties.
President of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) Duma Boko’s alliance with former President Lt Gen Ian Khama continues to unsettle some quarters within the opposition collective, who believe the duo, if not managed, will once again result in an unsuccessful bid for government in 2024.
While Khama has denied that he has undeclared preference to have Boko remaining as leader of UDC, many believe that the two have a common programme, while other opposition leaders remain on the side-lines.