President Lt Gen Ian Khama is uncompromising on his stance on the show of hands – instead of secret ballot – for Parliament to endorse his next Vice President and elect the Speaker of the National Assembly.
Pundits and party insiders are of the view that the President has little doubt his Vice President choice will go through, but his main concern is over the choice of Speaker of the National Assembly. There is a case for Margaret Nasha and another for Gladys Kokorwe, who have both declared interest in the post.
The current impasse relating to the endorsement of the Vice President as well as election of Speaker and Deputy Speaker has got people wondering whether it has anything to do with succession or not.
Parliament was on Thursday this week informed that the election of the country’s next Vice President and the Speaker will only be held after the High Court has finalised the matter.
The Attorney General, Athalia Molokomme has served all parties in Parliament, the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), and the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) with court papers.
Molokomme is challenging the parliamentary Standing Orders which she insists are unconstitutional and do not allow for such elections to be conducted through a secret ballot. She wants it done by show of hands.
To strengthen their case, President Khama has roped in his private lawyers into the matter.
However, suggestions are that President Khama, who lost many of his former Cabinet Ministers and right-hand men in the just-ended general election, is trying to create favourable Standing Orders to his favour as he is allegedly unsure whether his newly elected MPs would support his nominees.
However, Thursday’s Cabinet appointments could also alter the picture, with a weakened Backbench; BDP MPs are likely to agree with all caucus decisions.
Information reaching this publication suggests that the President is trying to block the immediate former Speaker of the House (Dr Nasha) from retaining the position through the support of opposition members and some of the ruling party legislators.
The combined opposition, which holds 20 seats in Parliament against BDP’s 37, is planning to nominate Nasha as the Speaker at the expense of Khama’s favourite Gladys Kokorwe, the former Kweneng South East MP, who recently returned to Botswana after serving as the country’s ambassador to Zimbabwe.
“The President is trying to block Nasha from Parliament however the President’s other concern is that his MPs may refuse to endorse the Vice President of his choice. Whoever his choice is, it is obvious that a lot of the MPs would not be happy with it,” said one of the newly elected MPs.
But most BDP insiders are quick to admit that the Thursday Cabinet appointment may change the game altogether. Of the 16 or so BDP legislators who are not in Cabinet, it is difficult to pick one who could be a rebel. The most experienced backbenchers include Kagiso Molatlhegi and Samson Guma Moyo.
Therefore, President Khama’s decision to appoint Cabinet could help to get the compact 37 votes of BDP MPs to endorse his choices if the ballot is done by show of hand and not by secret ballot.
“The Attorney General drafted the Standing Orders, which she is challenging before court today. When she drafted them, where was the Constitution? Why now? This shows that she is being used,” charged another MP.
MPs sworn-in on Thursday afternoon will be undergoing orientation in the coming week while the issue at hand returns to the courts on November 6.
MASIRE BLASTS AUTOMATIC SUCCESSION Meanwhile, former President Sir Ketumile Masire insists that Parliament is an independent body empowered to change its Standing Orders as and when the need arises. Masire gave the example with President of Botswana’s term of Office which he says is erroneous in that it leads to a situation where the Vice President automatically becomes President before taking a party to elections.
“I admit the blunder on our part. It has already been done, Mogae (Festus) set a precedent and served 10 years in office and so Khama has to,” he said.
The former President is of the view that President Khama could solve the problem by serving his full term, adding the other two years to ensure that the next Vice President takes his party through to the 2019 general election and only becomes President upon winning. Standing Orders are viewed as subsidiary dispensation that aids the operations of the National Assembly in accordance with the Botswana Constitution.
PRECEDENT – Khama, Merafhe, Balopi and Kedikilwe Despite an impression that has been created suggesting that towards the end of the 10th Parliament, the Standing Orders were amended to introduce a secret ballot for the election of Speaker, Deputy Speaker and the endorsement of the VP, it has emerged that this is not correct.
Records indicate that the clause on secret ballot for these elections was part of the Standing Orders. In 2004 former Tonota MP Patrick Balopi was elected Speaker and Kokorwe Deputy Speaker through secret balloting. President Khama himself was endorsed as VP by secret ballot and so were Lt Gen Mompati Merafhe in 2008 and Ponatshego Kedikilwe later.
STANDING ORDERS COMMITTEE – Saleshando’s view According to a former member of the Standing Orders Committee, former Gaborone Central MP, Dumelang Saleshando, the Standing Orders were amended in 2014 to introduce a voting booth in Parliament to facilitate for the holding of a secret ballot.
Saleshando indicated that previously, MPs would complete their ballot papers to endorse the VP and elect both Speaker and Deputy from their seats.
“Those who have been to Parliament will know that the seating arrangement is not most conducive for the conduct of a secret ballot. The introduction of a voting booth, in our view, was necessary to allow for a truly secret ballot,” he said.
“It appears to me that the issue before the courts is as to whether there should ever have been provision for a secret ballot. Standing Orders are rules of Parliament meant to give guidance and order to the conduct of parliamentary business.
“They are crafted so as to facilitate the conduct of business in the House. The Constitution is the parent law and where it refers to the endorsement of the VP as well as election of Speaker, it does not state how that process should be carried out. It is normal for subsidiary legislation (the standing orders are subsidiary legislation) to add meat to the provisions of the Constitution or a parent law,” said Saleshando.
He went on: “The issue, as I understand it, seems to be that since the Constitution does not state that the ballot shall be secret, it should therefore be by show of hands. It is not being suggested that the Constitution directs that the voting be by show of hand. As I indicated above, voting has never been by show of hands in the last 10 years.”
Lebang Mpotokwane, one of the conveners who presided over the opposition cooperation talks that resulted in the formation of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), has advised against changing the current umbrella model in favour of a merger as proposed by others.
The Botswana Congress Party (BCP) leader, Dumelang Saleshando recently went public to propose that UDC should consider merging of all opposition parties, including Alliance for Progressives (AP) and Botswana Patriotic Front (BNF).
Saleshando has been vehemently opposed by Botswana National Front (BNF), which is in favour of maintaining the current model. BNF’s position has been favoured by the founding father of UDC, who warned that it will be too early to ditch the current model.
“UDC should be well developed to promote the spirit of togetherness on members and the members should be taught so that the merger is developed gradually. They should approach it cautiously. If they feel they are ready, they can, but it would not be a good idea,” Mpotokwane told WeekendPost this week.
Mpotokwane and Emang Maphanyane are the two men who have since 2003 began a long journey of uniting opposition parties in a bid to dethrone the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BCP) as they felt it needed a strong opposition to avoid complacency.
Tonota born Mpotokwane is however disappointed on how they have been ejected from participating in the last edition of talks ahead of the 2019 general elections in which BCP was brought on board. However, despite the ejection, Mpotokwane is not resentful to the opposition collective.
He said the vision of opposition unity was to ultimately merge the opposition parties but he believes time has not arrived yet to pursue that path. “The bigger picture was a total merger and we agreed that with three independent parties, members might be against merger eventuality so the current model should be used until a point where they are now together for as long as possible,” he said.
“UDC should gradually perform better in elections and gain confidence. They should not rush the merger. We have been meeting since 2003, but if they rush it might cause endless problems. If they are ready they can anyway,” he advised. For now the constituent parties of the umbrella have been exchanging salvos with others (BCP and BNF).
“There are good reasons for and against merging the parties. Personally, I am in favour of merging the parties (including AP and BPF) into a single formation but I know it’s a complex mission that will have its own challenges,” Saleshando said when he made his position known a week ago.
“Good luck to those advocating for a merger, it will be interesting to observe the tactics they will use to lure the BPF into a merger,” former BNF councillor for Borakalalo Ward and former BNF Youth League Secretary General, Arafat Khan, opined in relation to BCP’s proposed position.
Mpotokwane, who is currently out in the cold from the UDC since he was ejected from the party’s NEC in 2017, said the current bickering and the expected negotiations with other parties need the presence of conveners.
“We did not belong to any party as conveners so we were objective in our submissions. If party propose any progressive idea we will support, if it is not we will not, so I would agree that even now conveners might be key for neutrality to avoid biasness,” he observed. Despite being abandoned, Mpotokwane said he will always be around to assist if at all he is needed.
“If they want help I will be there, I have always been clear about it, but surely I will ask few questions before accepting that role,” he said. UDC is expected to begin cooperation talks with both AP and BPF either this week or next weekend for both upcoming bye-elections (halted by Covid-19) and 2024 general elections and it is revealed that there will be no conveners this time around.
The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) moved through its lawyers to attach the property of Umbrella for Democratic (UDC) President Duma Boko and other former parliamentary contestants who failed in their court bid to overturn the 2019 general elections in 14 constituencies.
WeekendPost has established that this week, Deputy Sheriffs were commissioned by Bogopa Manewe Tobedza and Company who represented the BDP, to attach the properties of UDC elections contents in a bid to recover costs. High Court has issued a writ of execution against all petitioners, a process that has set in motion the cost recovery measures.
Botswana Sectors of Teachers Union (BOSETU) says COVID-19 as a pandemic has negatively affected the education sector by deeply disrupting the education system. The intermittent lockdowns have resulted in the halting of teaching and learning in schools.
The union indicated that the education system was caught napping and badly exposed when it came to the use of Information System (IT), technological platforms and issues of digitalisation.
“COVID-19 exposed glaring inefficiencies and deficiencies when it came to the use of ITC in schools. In view of the foregoing, we challenge government as BOSETU to invest in school ITC, technology and digitalization,” says BOSETU President Kinston Radikolo during a press conference on Tuesday.
As a consequence, the union is calling on government to prioritise education in her budgeting to provide technological infrastructure and equipment including provision of tablets to students and teachers.
“Government should invest vigorously in internet connectivity in schools and teacher’s residences if the concept of flexi-hours and virtual learning were to be achieved and have desired results,” Radikolo said.
Radikolo told journalists that COVID-19 is likely to negatively affect final year results saying that the students would sit for the final examinations having not covered enough ground in terms of curriculum coverage.
“This is so because there wasn’t any catch up plan that was put in place to recover the lost time by students. We warn that this year’s final examination results would dwindle,” he said.
The Union, which is an affiliate of Botswana Federation of Public, Private and Parastatal Union (BOFEPUSU), also indicated that COVID-19’s presence as a pandemic has complicated the role of a teacher in a school environment, saying a teacher’s role has not only transcended beyond just facilitating teaching and learning, but rather, a teacher in this COVID-19 era, is also called upon to enforce the COVID-19 preventative protocols in the school environment.
“This is an additional role in the duty of a teacher that needs to be recognized by the employers. Teachers by virtue of working in a congested school environment have become highly exposed and vulnerable to COVID-19, hence the reason why BOSETU would like teachers to be regarded as the frontline workers with respect to COVID-19,” says Radikolo.
BOSETU noted that the pandemic has in large scales found its way into most of the school environments, as in thus far more than 50 schools have been affected by COVID-19. The Union says this is quite a worrying phenomenon.
“As we indicated before when we queried that schools were not ready for re-opening, it has now come to pass that our fears were not far-fetched. This goes out to tell that there is deficiency in our schools when it comes to putting in place preventative protocols. In our schools, hygiene is compromised by mere absence of sanitizers, few hand-washing stations, absence of social distancing in classes,” the Union leader said.
Furthermore, Radikolo stressed that the shifting system drastically increased the workload for teachers especially in secondary schools. He says teachers in these schools experience very high loads to an extent that some of them end up teaching up to sixty four periods per week, adding that this has not only fatigued teachers, but has also negatively affected their performance and the quality of teaching.
In what the Union sees as failure to uphold and honour collective agreements by government, owing to the shift system introduced at primary schools, government is still in some instances refusing to honour an agreement with the Unions to hire more teachers to take up the extra classes.
“BOSETU notes with disgruntlement the use of pre-school teachers to teach in the mainstream schools with due regard for their specific areas of training and their job descriptions. This in our view is a variation of the terms of employment of the said teachers,” says Radikolo.
The Union has called on government to forthwith remedy this situation and hire more teachers to alleviate this otherwise unhealthy situation. BOSETU also expressed concerns of some school administrators who continuously run institutions with iron fists and in a totalitarian way.
“We have a few such hot spot schools which the Union has brought to attention the Ministry officials such as Maoka JSS, Artesia JSS, and Dukwi JSS. We are worried that the Ministry becomes sluggish in taking action against such errant school administration. In instances where action is taken, such school administrators are transferred and rotated around schools.”