The Tlokweng bye-election results signal that the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) has not endeared itself to the voters ever since the 2014 general elections in which the party performance reached its lowest in history. With the same approach, same policies and refusal to adopt reforms since 2014, incoming president Mokgweetsi Masisi has a huge burden to bear— writes ALFRED MASOKOLA.
Not only is Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) faced with succession plan battles within its ranks but also, apparent signs indicate that the party has not introspected and geared to project itself better ahead of the crucial 2019 general elections. In less than 10 months from now, President Lt Gen Ian Khama will be leaving office marking end to 20 years era in the BDP.
A BDP stalwart recently confided to this publication that the results of the recent bye-election is a sign, though they may not publicly admit, that the party has lost touch with the masses. “It was an anti-BDP vote. We are unpopular and if we don’t stem the tide we will be out [of power] in 2019,” he said regarding the Tlokweng bye-election. Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) won the constituency with 4635 votes against BDP’s 2156- a margin of 2479 votes.
A few months ago, former party secretary general, Jacob Nkate conceded that the BDP needed to change its approach in the manner that it does business with the electorates. “I think the BDP needs to reconnect with the people; to have a message that resonates with the people. I do not think people are hearing us; we need to re-message and recalibrate. We need to understand what the biggest concern of the people is. We need to hear the people and people should hear us,” he told this publication then.
“Unemployment: huge problem, we must be able to say to people what we are doing. Health; in a lot of hospitals in Botswana, people are sleeping on the floor and in passages. I am not criticising my party. I am saying let us talk about these issues.” Nkate had said the entire government machinery is engulfed by problems which people are not happy about, something which he said BDP should swiftly move to address if it is to endear itself to the voters again
The former Minister of Education had also advised that, BDP should start having an honest and open discussion with the unions. “A government that sits and sulks for five years against the workers of the country is not going to succeed, because if the workers themselves sulk the same way, then the government is not going to go forward,” he contended. Nkate was part and parcel of the BDP that withered the storm in 1999 having arrived in parliament in 1994.
Botsalo Ntune, the incumbent secretary general had also proposed political and electoral reforms with the hope of revitalising the party but the suggested reforms have been received with cold reception and suspicion rather. This is despite the fact that the idea of introducing reforms was adopted by delegates at the 2015 Mmadinare congress.
Not only has Ntuane sensed danger in the party continuing with business as usually recently, he made efforts to appease two factions into adopting a compromise in order to preserve party unity ahead of 2019. The suggestion has also been rejected by both factions.
The rejection of appealing reforms has however been met with self-defeating laws and policies. Recently, the Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC) collapsed owing to the perceived government bad will toward the civil service. Government and Botswana Federation of Public Service Union (BOFEPUSU) continue to fight, with the latter recently declaring political support for the opposition, UDC. Between 2014 and now, BDP has fared dismally in bye-elections, winning only two council seats out of 11 contested so far.
In the interim, BDP has pursued the same policies and used the same approach which saw its popularity falling to its lowest since independence. Meanwhile opposition has gained ground and advantage of BDP’s failure to reform and reposition itself. Amid rising unemployment and jaded economy, BDP is failing to attract new voters to its ranks.
The political climate has been changing ever since 2009 general elections. BDP effortlessly won the 2009 general election winning more constituencies compared to the previous general election. The crisis which BNF was engulfed in saw BDP making inroads in the former’s territory. For the first time since 1979, BNF found itself without a constituency in Gaborone. That year, BDP’s popular vote increased by two percent from the previous elections.
The watershed moment for opposition parties was 2010, the in which BDP split, resulting in the formation of Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD); in that particularly year, Human Rights lawyer Duma Boko assumed the leadership of BNF while Dumelang Saleshando succeeded his father as leader of Botswana Congress Party (BCP). However, with opposition evidently gaining popularity at the expense of the ruling party, the BDP has remained antagonistic to prospects of introducing countering reforms.
Khama’s rise to the presidency came in the back of political and electoral reforms initiated by BDP following the 1994 general election. The year had thrown the party into a vulnerable state and for the first time since independence the prospect of BDP losing power became real. Botswana National Front (BNF), the only opposition party then had risen from three seats to 13 seats in parliament, an unprecedented growth in opposition ranks back then. The result meant, BNF needed only eight seats in the next general elections (1999) to dethrone BDP.
BDP 1995 POLITICAL AND ELECTORAL REFORMS
With the BDP dismal performance in 1994, came the reforms. The party was going through gravest crisis in the party owing two factional wars tearing the party asunder. President Quett Masire was expected to leave office after the 1994 general elections but the internal bickering in the party compelled him to stay longer. The arrival of a new batch of independent intellects and Young Turks in the party offered a new dimension to the party.
Many believed, owing to the 1994 general elections performance, Masire could not lead the party to the next general elections, but the battle of succession made it impossible for BDP to retain power in 1999 under those circumstances. In 1992, Festus Mogae had ascended to the Vice Presidency following the resignation of Peter Mmusi owing to his implication in a land corruption scandal.
Mogae’s succession was however not viewed as permanent and none of the two factions saw him as the ultimate successor to the throne. However, the 1995 Sebele Special Congress put that debate to rest. When the delegates dispersed, the party had agreed to key reforms; that the Vice President will ascend to the presidency automatically when the sitting president leaves office; and that a presidential term will only be limited to 10 years. These two key reforms were necessary to reinvigorate the party and reposition it ahead of the 1999 general election.
Ahead of 1999 general elections, BDP engaged South African based political consultant Lawrence Schlemmer to offer prognosis on the party. The Schlemmer report found out that BDP factions were tearing the party apart and would make it impossible for BDP to stay in power if the status quo remained. The report then recommended that the party brings within its fold someone who was respected and untainted to help unite the party.
That description fit the then Botswana Defence Force (BDF) Commander and popular chief of Bangwato Ian Khama. His arrival in the BDP galvanised and restored BDP’s popularity. The famous “Khama Magic” was the aura and charisma which Khama used in appealing to the masses and rallying votes to the BDP banner.
Masisi will become the third beneficiary of automatic succession constitutional dispensation next year when Khama leaves office. But his succession will not be a breeze in the park. First he has to ward-off the challenge from Nonofho Molefhi who is vying for the chairmanship and eventually the party presidency in 2019. Neither Festus Mogae nor Khama were challenged for the throne when they ascended, something which puts Masisi in a dark corner.
Secondly he will inherit a worn out BDP than the one which Ian Khama inherited from President Mogae. If he wins the battle to lead BDP he will take it to face a strong and united opposition for the first time in history. Opposition enjoyed a combined 53 percent from the 2014 general elections.
Government is currently sitting on 4 400 vacant posts that remain unfilled in the civil service. This is notwithstanding the high unemployment rate in Botswana which has been exacerbated by the recent outbreak of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
Just before the burst of COVID-19, official data released by Statistics Botswana in January 2020, indicate that unemployment in Botswana has increased from 17.6 percent three years ago to 20.7 percent. “Unemployment rate went up by 3.1 percentage between the two periods, from 17.6 to 20.7 percent,” statistics point out.
Leading commercial bank, First National Bank Botswana (FNBB), expects the central bank to sharpen its monetary policy knife and cut the Bank Rate twice in the last quarter of 2020.
The bank expects a 25 basis point (bps) in the beginning of the last quarter, which is next month, and another shed by the same bps in December, making a total of 50 bps cut in the last quarter. According to the bank’s researchers, the central bank is now holding on to 4.25 percent for the time being pending for more informed data on the economic climate.
An audit of the accounts and records for the supply of food rations to the institutions in the Northern Region for the financial year-ended 31 March 2019 was carried out. According to Auditor General’s report and observations, there are weaknesses and shortcomings that were somehow addressed to the Accounting Officer for comments.
Auditor General, Pulane Letebele indicated on the report that, across all depots in the region that there had been instances where food items were short for periods ranging from 1 to 7 months in the institutions for a variety of reasons, including absence of regular contracts and supplier failures. The success of this programme is dependent on regular and reliable availability of the supplies to achieve its objective, the report said.
There would be instances where food items were returned from the feeding centers to the depots for reasons of spoilage or any other cause. In these cases, instances had been noted where these returns were not supported by any documentation, which could lead to these items being lost without trace.
The report further stressed that large quantities of various food items valued at over P772 thousand from different depots were damaged by rodents, and written off.Included in the write off were 13 538 (340ml) cartons of milk valued at P75 745. In this connection, the Auditor General says it is important that the warehouses be maintained to a standard where they would not be infested by rodents and other pests.
Still in the Northern region, the report noted that there is an outstanding matter relating to the supply of stewed steak (283×3.1kg cans) to the Maun depot which was allegedly defective. The steak had been supplied by Botswana Meat Commission to the depot in November 2016.
In March 2017 part of the consignment was reported to the supplier as defective, and was to be replaced. Even as there was no agreement reached between the parties regarding replacement, in 51 October 2018 the items in question were disposed of by destruction. This disposal represented a loss as the whole consignment had been paid for, according to the report.
“In my view, the loss resulted directly from failure by the depot managers to deal with the matter immediately upon receipt of the consignment and detection of the defects. Audit inspections during visits to Selibe Phikwe, Maun, Shakawe, Ghanzi and Francistown depots had raised a number of observations on points of detail related to the maintenance of records, reconciliations of stocks and related matters, which I drew to the attention of the Accounting Officer for comments,” Letebele said in her report.
In the Southern region, a scrutiny of the records for the control of stocks of food items in the Southern Region had indicated intermittent shortages of the various items, principally Tsabana, Malutu, Sunflower Oil and Milk which was mainly due to absence of subsisting contracts for the supply of these items.
“The contract for the supply of Tsabana to all depots expired in September 2018 and was not replaced by a substantive contract. The supplier contracts for these stocks should be so managed that the expiry of one contract is immediately followed by the commencement of the next.”
Suppliers who had been contracted to supply foodstuffs had failed to do so and no timely action had been taken to redress the situation to ensure continuity of supply of the food items, the report noted.
In one case, the report highlighted that the supplier was to manufacture and supply 1 136 metric tonnes of Malutu for a 4-months period from March 2019 to June 2019, but had been unable to honour the obligation. The situation was relieved by inter-depot transfers, at additional cost in transportation and subsistence expenses.
In another case, the contract was for the supply of Sunflower Oil to Mabutsane, where the supplier had also failed to deliver. Examination of the Molepolole depot Food Issues Register had indicated a number of instances where food items consigned to the various feeding centres had been returned for a variety of reasons, including food item available; no storage space; and in other cases the whole consignments were returned, and reasons not stated.
This is an indication of lack of proper management and monitoring of the affairs of the depot, which could result in losses from frequent movements of the food items concerned.The maintenance of accounting records in the region, typically in Letlhakeng, Tsabong, and Mabutsane was less than satisfactory, according to Auditor General’s report.
In these depots a number of instances had been noted where receipts and issues had not been recorded over long periods, resulting in incorrect balances reflected in the accounting records. This is a serious weakness which could lead to or result in losses without trace or detection, and is a contravention of Supplies Regulations and Procedures, Letebele said.
Similarly, consignments of a total of 892 bags of Malutu and 3 bags of beans from Tsabong depot to different feeding centres had not been received in those centres, and are considered lost. These are also not reflected in the Statement of Losses in the Annual Statements of Accounts for the same periods.