The Attorney General has lost a landmark case in which he was fighting the National Assembly Speaker, Margaret Nasha and challenging the National Assembly Standing Orders on the election of the Speaker and endorsement of the Vice-president. Reports identified President Lt Gen Ian Khama as the main sponsor of the legal battle, a development the AG denied.
Presenting arguments, the Attorney General (AG) argued that a show of hands in voting is implicitly required by the constitution of Botswana, and not expressly set out. The AG posits that voting this way promotes transparency and accountability and is consistent with Commonwealth best practice, a view elaborately refuted by the opposition.
The judge however asked the AG what the Constitutions say in those countries – a question that the AG legal representattive, Chamme, failed to answer expressely, all he could say was that he was not sure. However, the opposition charged that the constitution does not in anywhere in its text dictate that any form of voting that takes place in parliament should be by way of show of hands, further adding that if Parliament had intended that all votes be by show of hands, it would have simply provided so.
“There is no logical reason why the framers of the constitution would require a secret ballot in respect of Specially Elected MPs and then require a show of hands in respect of the vacant positions,” opposition legal representatives said. They further observed that the AG misdirected herself in interpreting the law.
On the urgency of the matter, the AG conceded that on the face of it, there is no urgent need to resolve the application that she has brought but contends that the urgency lies in the consequence that may befall the country if the matter is not urgently resolved.
ON THE SUBJECT OF CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS The AG further argued that the difference in opinion between Khama and the BDP on one hand and the opposition parties on the other creates a constitutional crisis if there is no judicial determination as to which one of them is correct.
The BDP legal team led by Parks Tafa who was also representing Khama said the matter is urgent as a suspended Parliament paralises other organs.On the previous elections and endorsements, he said mistakes have been done in the past but was quick to point out that ‘this however does not justify that we should leave them unattended and corrected.’
He said the AG as the principal legal advisor of the government is well within her rights to represent either of the arms of government or second any firm on her behalf. He contended that Nasha is no longer the Speaker of the National Assembly saying both the Speaker and Deputy posts are vacant once a proclamation has been issued and cannot be enjoined in the matter.This view was opposed by the two opposition parties who argued that the Speaker only vacates office at the new sitting of Parliament and not session.
Tafa clashed with Justice Walia when he said they have been dragged into the matter by the AG just like any political party but Walia dismissed Tafa’s remark saying the the BDP is actually the one which initiated the move. Tafa later conceded and apologised for trying to derail the court. “Apologies my Lord you are right, we alerted the AG and we obviously see things differently as political parties despite being co-cited as respondents with opposition parties, that is why we are in support of the AG’s case,” Tafa remarked in response.
He argued against the use of secret ballot in parliament saying it is not provided for. He further argued that he has an issue with the new Standing Orders which he said impinge on constitutional provisions. Standing orders, he said, should only regulate the business of parliament. But on the contrary the opposition lawyers argued that the constitution is silent on the type or system of voting to be used and has left that to Parliament to regulate its own affairs, and in this case through Standing Orders.
The opposition made this submitions in brief: “that the application is not urgent as purported by the Attoney General and the BDP, that the Attonery General lacks legal standing to persue the remedies sought in this application, that the application, in so far as it relates to the election of the Speaker and Deputy Speaker is not ripe for adjudication, that the application is fatally defective on account of the failure to join the Clerck of the National Assembly, Speaker and Members of Parliament.”
The AG and the BDP however said the position of Speaker of the National Assembly is vacant as things stand and that the Cleck only carries the administrative duties of Parliament and cannot be enjoined in matters as this one.
On voting, the opposition argued that the secret ballot procedure has been used by both President Lt Gen Ian Khama and the former Vice President, Mompati Merafhe who were both elected using such procedures as well as Patrick balopi and Margaret Nasha.
“No constitutional crises arose following the endorsement of Khama and Merafhe through secret ballot. In fact no issue arose at all in respect of the endorsement of the duo,” argued the opposition parties. They added that the crises only exists in the minds of those who have brought the case to the courts further urging the courts not to allow itself to be brought into political party internal rows.
The opposition dismissed the submision that the case is urgent saying the urgency is self-created. “In so far as the principal complaint relates to the requirement of voting by secret ballots,the urgency,if any,is clearly self created.it is self-created because because the requirement for a secret balot in respect of election of the Speaker and his Deputy, and the endorsement of the vice president, were introduced more than 16 years ago witht he knowledge and assistance of the AG.
Objectively speaking the AG had 16 years to bring an application for a determination on whther the constition prohibits the of Speaker and/her Deputy,and endorsement of the Vice president by secret ballot,” argued the opposition parties’ lawyers.
Opposition lawyers sumitted that matters of great importance should never be determined in haste unless the circumstances dictate so. “A sixteen year delay is not to be overlooked simply because the applicant is the Attorney General.”
They said parliament can’t be suspended everytime when political parties differ on Standing Orders. They added that the framers of the constitution were not stupid to provide for separation of powers and empowered parliament to regulate its own procedures in terms of Section 76 (1) of the constituion without interference from the courts.
The opposition lawyers were of the view that the Attorney General has failed to demonstrate irreparable harm she seeks to forestall through her application. “She has also failed to set out in her founding affidavit what her legal interest in the above matter is. She impermisibly in her replying affidavit, for the first time asserts that she is acting in the public interest.
This raises two issues; firstly whether she can competently bring an application in her own name, without instruction from government or a public officer; and secondly,whether the public has legal standing in respect of the procedure of apponting the Speaker,and her Deputy and endorsing the Vice president”.
They further argued that the AG is only empowered to bring proceedings on behalf of the government or public officer. “Ther is no provision in terms of the State Proceedings Act empowering the ag to institute proceedings on behalf of the public,” argued the opposition.
They further said that in terms of our common law,a person is not entitled to institute legal proceedings to protect the interest of the public or champion the cause of the people. “The general rule is therefore that a complainant cannot act on behalf of others where the only interest he posses is the establishment of the legality of the administrative action,” further argued the opposition legal teams.
In challenging the AG’s public interest argument, the opposition charged that the public has neither the legal interest nor right in respect of the election of Speaker and the Deputy Speaker. “It is a mater that the constitution has left entirely to members of Parliament, and there is no provision for public participation in the process.”
The opposition dismissed the AG and BDP’s arguments of a possibility of a constitutional crises that may arise from the matter saying that the matter is not ripe for constitutional adjudication, “the doctrine of ripeness holds that the busines of a court is generally retrospective;it deals with sitiations or problems that have alrady crystalised,and not with prospective or hypothetical ones.”
The went on to say the last two Speakers have have been elected unopposed, and there is nothing before the court to suggest that there is likely to be a contest for the position of Speaker and Deputy. “It follows that the exercise of the Honourable court ‘s jurisdiction would be highly speculative,” argued the opposition parties.
IS NASHA’S VICTORY TEMPORARY? A visibly concerned and worried Nasha was in court when the drama unfolded. She shook her head in disagreement and nodded in agreement at some of the arguments that were being advanced about her office by all the lawyers.
Nasha may be victorious for now. The former legislator has made it clear that she will fight for the independence of parliament. As the saying goes – the enemy of my enemy is my friend – this may well apply to Nasha and the opposition who spent sleepless nights defending her office and by extension Nasha herself without her sanction. Khama who fell out with Nasha after her hard-hitting and widely publicised autobiography, Madam Speaker Sir! is said to have expressed his revulsion with Nasha saying their working relation is sour.
Following the court’s decision on the matter, observers say the campaign to bring Nasha down will continue. The president and his inner circle is said to be lobbying for Gladys Kokorwe to replace Nasha.
The BDP caucus is said to have discussed the matter at length recently. It is understood that Nasha still has support within the BDP as many believe she was only airing their long held views about Khama’s leadership style and the Independence of Parliament.
Khama however is said to be banking on the new and inexperienced BDP MPs for supports following the defeat of most party stalwarts at the polls. Most of them are yet to be deeply entrenched into the BDP internal affairs and do not have good grasp of the issues and their origings and would not be much interested in ‘the internal politics’according to observers.
With Nasha having won the first round as a result the opposition parties’ victory, her main challenge still remains – will she triumph at the election of Speaker of the National Assembly? Khama looks determined to win the second round which will be staged in Parliament.
Election of Speaker – Commonwealth
Tanzania-elected by a secret ballot innterms of Section 86 (3) of their constition
Namibia-elected by a secret ballot as required by Standing order 7 (e)
Zambia-Standing Order 5 (3) requires voting by secret ballot
Kenya –Standing Order 6.1 requires that the election of Speaker be by secret ballot
Canada –standing order 4 requires that that voting be by secret bballot
Australia- standing order 11 requires that the election of Speaker be by secret ballot
United Kingdom-standing order 1B requires that the voting be by secret ballot
African Union Parliament-Speaker elected by secret ballot
For so many years, Botswana has been trying to be a self-sufficient country that is able to provide its citizens with locally produced food products. Through appropriate collaborations with parastatals such as CEDA, ISPAAD and LEA, government introduced initiatives such as the Horticulture Impact Accelerator Subsidy-IAS and other funding facilities to facilitate horticultural farmers to increase production levels.
Now that COVID-19 took over and disrupted the food value chain across all economies, Botswana government introduced these initiatives to reduce the import bill by enhancing local market and relieve horticultural farmers from loses or impacts associated with the pandemic.
In more concerted efforts to curb these food crises in the country, government extended the ploughing period for the Southern part of Botswana. The extension was due to the late start of rains in the Southern part of the country.
Last week the Ministry of Agriculture extended the ploughing period for the Northern part of the country, mainly because of rains recently experienced in the country. With these decisions taken urgently, government optimizes food security and reliance on local food production.
When pigs fly, Botswana will be able to produce food to feed its people. This is evident by the numbers released by Statistics Botswana on imports recorded in November 2020, on their International Merchandise Trade Statistics for the month under review.
The numbers say Botswana continues to import most of its food from neighbouring South Africa. Not only that, Batswana relies on South Africa to have something to smoke, to drink and even use as machinery.
According to data from Statistics Botswana, the country’s total imports amounted to P6.881 Million. Diamonds contributed to the total imports at 33%, which is equivalent to P2.3 Million. This was followed by food, beverages and tobacco, machinery and electrical equipment which stood at P912 Million and P790 Million respectively.
Most of these commodities were imported from The Southern African Customs Union (SACU). The Union supplied Botswana with imports valued at over P4.8 Million of Botswana’s imports for the month under review (November 2020). The top most imported commodity group from SACU region was food, beverages and tobacco, with a contribution of P864 Million, which is likely to be around 18.1% of the total imports from the region.
Diamonds and fuel, according to these statistics, contributed 16.0%, or P766 Million and 13.5% or P645 Million respectively. Botswana also showed a strong and desperate reliance on neighbouring South Africa for important commodities. Even though the borders between the two countries in order to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus, government took a decision to open border gates for essential services which included the transportation of commodities such as food.
Imports from South Africa recorded in November 2020 stood at P4.615 Million, which accounted for 67.1% of total imports during the month under review. Still from that country, Botswana bought food, beverages and tobacco worth P844 Million (18.3%), diamonds, machinery and fuel worth P758 Million, P601 Million and P562 Million respectively.
Botswana also imported chemicals and rubber products that made a contribution of 11.7% (P542.2 Million) to total imports from South Africa during the month under review, (November 2020).
The European Union also came to Botswana’s rescue in the previous year. Botswana received imports worth P698.3 Million from the EU, accounting for 10.1% of the total imports during the same month. The major group commodity imported from the EU was diamonds, accounting for 86.9% (P606.6 Million), of imports from the Union. Belgium was the major source of imports from the EU, at 8.9% (P609.1 Million) of total imports during the period under review.
Meanwhile, Minister of Finance and Economic Development Thapelo Matsheka says an improvement in exports and commodity prices will drive growth in Sub-Saharan Africa. Growth in the region is anticipated to recover modestly to 3.2% in 2021. Matsheka said this when delivering the Annual Budget Speech virtually in Gaborone on the 1st of February 2021.
He said implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA), which became operational in January 2021, could reduce the region’s vulnerability to global disruptions, as well as deepen trade and economic integration.
“This could also help boost competition and productivity. Successful implementation of AfCFTA will, of necessity, require Member States to eliminate both tariffs and non-tariff barriers, and generally make it easier to do business and invest across borders.”
Matsheka, who is also a Member of Parliament for Lobatse, an ailing town which houses the struggling biggest meat processing company in the country- Botswana Meat Commission, (BMC), said the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) recognizes the need to prioritize the key processes required for the implementation of the AfCFTA.
“The revised SACU Tariff Offer, which comprises 5,988 product lines with agreed Rules of Origin, representing 77% of the SACU Tariff Book, was submitted to the African Union Commission (AUC) in November 2020. The government is in the process of evaluating the tariff offers of other AfCFTA members prior to ratification, following which Botswana’s participation in AfCFTA will come to effect.”
Women continue to shadow men in politics – stereotypes such as ‘behind every successful man there is a woman’ cast the notion that women cannot lead. The 2019 general election recorded one of Botswana’s worst performances when it comes to women participation in parliamentary democracy with only three women elected to parliament.
Botswana’s former Minister of Health, Professor Sheila Tlou who is currently the Co-Chair, Global HIV Prevention Coalition & Nursing Now and an HIV, Gender & Human Rights Activist is not amused by the status quo. Tlou attributes this dilemma facing women to a number of factors, which she is convinced influence the voting patterns of Batswana when it comes to women politicians.
Professor Tlou plugs the party level voting systems as the first hindrance that blocks women from ascending to power. According to the former Minister of Health, there is inadequate amount of professionalism due to corrupt internal party structures affecting the voters roll and ultimately leading to voter apathy for those who end up struck off the voters rolls under dubious circumstances.
Tlou also stated that women’s campaigns are often clean; whilst men put to play the ‘politics is dirty metaphor using financial muscle to buy voters into voting for them without taking into consideration their abilities and credibility. The biggest hurdle according to Tlou is the fallacy that ‘Women cannot lead’, which is also perpetuated by other women who discourage people from voting for women.
There are numerous factors put on the table when scrutinizing a woman, she can be either too old, or too young, or her marital status can be used against her. An unmarried woman is labelled as a failure and questioned on how she intends on being a leader when she failed to have a home. The list is endless including slut shaming women who have either been through a divorce or on to their second marriages, Tlou observed.
The only way that voters can be emancipated from this mentality according to Tlou is through a robust voter education campaign tailor made to run continuously and not be left to the eve of elections as it is usually done. She further stated that the current crop of women in parliament must show case their abilities and magnify them – this will help make it clear that they too are worthy of votes.
And to women intending to run for office, Tlou encouraged them not to wait for the eleventh hour to show their interest and rather start in community mobilisation projects as early as possible so that the constituents can get to know them and their abilities prior to the election date.
Youthful Botswana National Front (BNF) leader and feminist, Resego Kgosidintsi blames women’s mentality towards one another which emanates from the fact that women have been socialised from a tender age that they cannot be leaders hence they find it difficult to vote for each other.
Kgosidintsi further states that, “Women do not have enough economic resources to stage effective campaigns. They are deemed as the natural care givers and would rather divert their funds towards raising children and building homes over buying campaign materials.”
Meanwhile, Vice President of the Alliance for Progressives (AP), Wynter Mmolotsi agrees that women’s participation in politics in Botswana remains a challenge. To address this Mmolotsi suggested that there should be constituencies reserved for women candidates only so that the outcome regardless of the party should deliver a woman Member of Parliament.
Mmolotsi further suggested that Botswana should ditch the First Past the Post system of election and opt for the proportional representation where contesting parties will dutifully list able women as their representatives in parliament.
On why women do not get elected, Mmolotsi explained that he had heard first hand from voters that they are reluctant to vote for women since they have limited access to them once they have won; unlike their male counterparts who have proven to be available night or day.
The pre-historic awarding of gender roles relegating women to be pregnant and barefoot at home and the man to be out there fending for the family has disadvantaged women in political and other professional careers.