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Parliament throws out Keorapetse’s constitution plea

The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) dominated parliament has once again rejected a motion calling for the review of the Constitution of the Republic of Botswana. There have been many unsuccessful calls from various quarters calling for the same exercise.

This time the motion was tabled last week by Member of Parliament for Selibe Phikwe West, Dithapelo Keorapetse. In an interview with Weekendpost Keorapetse emphasized that a constitutional review was appropriate considering the evolving democracy that Botswana is faced with. According to Keorapetse, Botswana is one of the few African Countries with an old constitution crafted during colonial rule.

“Most countries in Africa have reviewed their template constitutions given to them by their erstwhile colonial masters. When these African countries matured, they decided to write their own constitutions with no input by outsiders, especially their former colonizers,” he said.
The constitution of Botswana was drawn up in 1964 when Bechuanaland readied for independence.  Ever since then there hasn’t been a holistic review of the country legal blueprint.

The 1963-1964 constitutional talks, held in Lobatse were between the then colonial masters, chiefs and representatives of few political parties existing at the time. At the time most Batswana were illiterate, let alone politically developed. “The country was very poor. There was no intelligentsia and no professional bodies such as the Law Society of Botswana and other civil society organizations. There wasn’t much consultation and even if there was, very few Batswana could understand what was required of them in terms of their contribution to the constitution.”

 All these pre independence attributes, Keorapetse believes resulted in few Batswana meaningfully participating towards the development of Botswana’s constitution. He argues that today contemporary Botswana is far much better, that review for constitution is a timely call considering the existence of civil society organizations, academics, professional institutions, business interest groups, and trade unions, groups representing marginalized groups and or “minorities”, youth, women and many other stakeholders with full understanding of the subject matter.

He says compared to colonial era, today Botswana has more political parties with insightful, vibrant, intelligent politicians who are well grounded on issues of law. The Botswana Congress Party (BCP) spokesperson reiterates that there is a need to mobilize resources for a comprehensive review of the constitution. The youthful legislator told Weekendpost that it was essential to set up a constitutional review commission and call a national constitutional conference where the joint knowledge of the people can be sought regarding the development of the country’s constitution.

Globally Botswana has been showed with praises on international fora as a shining example and true epitome of democracy revered for its sustenance of liberal democratic principles since independence. Botswana has never postponed general elections and it always conducts non violent and supposedly free and fair polls. However, there are debates about the extent to which the country’s constitution enshrines democratic principles and the manner in which its strong soft autocratic state conducts the country’s affairs. Jurists have observed that Botswana’s constitutional development has been made by judges adjudicating cases in the courts. But it has been argued that judges don’t make the law as this is the responsibility of the legislature and that for this reason, “Batswana and parliament should enact a new constitution,” said Keorapetse.

The former University of Botswana Lecture shuns the ruling party‘s view that a piecemeal approach towards developing the constitution is the best method purportedly because it is cheap and that there is no urgent need for overhaul. “The exercise of constitutional review would be expensive; it is difficult to place a price tag on democratic values. We have an opportunity as a country to reclaim our rightful place in the continent and the world as a shining example of true democracy by modernizing our democracy through developing the constitution and accordingly our democratic institutions,” he says.

Critics of Botswana‘s constitution believe that Botswana has weak oversight bodies. The Opposition is of the view that watchdog institution like DCEC, Ombudsman and other are toothless and only play to the tune of government and ruling party music.  “There is a need for improvement and establishment of new key democratic institutions including watchdog institutions or institutions supporting democracy such as the Human Rights Commission, Media, Ombudsman, Auditor General,” added Keorapetse. He further said it was important that Botswana constitution be aligned to international democratic standards and that Batswana, united in their diversity, meaningfully participate towards constitutional development.

Legal experts believe that the current constitution of Botswana does not include the the recognized generation of Human Rights. Another focal point and main issues of concern with the country current constitution is the powers of the president. It is believed the President is too powerful for a democratic state, currently the constitution of Botswana provide for the Presidency‘s supervisory role over all oversight institutions and he also appoints the Directors of all the Key bodies, something which critics believe raises conflict of interest and poses threat to democracy.

Furthermore Keorapetse observed that parliament and Judiciary were not autonomous “Parliament’s powers and independence should be enhanced. The judiciary must be more independent and have integrity,” he said. For many years academics, lawyers, opposition political parties, media and other pro-democratic Batswana have been bewailing the powers of the presidency. Pierre du Toit correctly observed in 1995 that one of the distinctive traits that emerged in the democratic politics in the post-independence Botswana is that at the national level, presidential politics dominated other aspects of parliamentary process.

The executive power of the republic vests in the president (Section 47(1) of the Constitution of Botswana) and he shall act in his own deliberate judgment and he is not obliged to take or follow any advice tendered to him by any person or authority (Section 47(2).
Key Dingake argued, in his 1999 book-Key Aspects of the Constitutional Law of Botswana, that this effectively authorizes the president to rule single handedly and/or authorizes dictatorship and that it is difficult to comprehend the wisdom behind this provision considering that in Botswana the president is not directly elected. Dingake further cautions about section 41of the constitution in the same book that the president is effectively above the law as long as he holds office.

Keorapetse argues that the status quo in which parliament has no authority whatsoever to remove the president even on account of serious misconduct, serious crime or misdemeanor or breach of the constitution or any law is serious threat to democracy and justice.
“The constitution does not provide for impeachment of the president but provides for motion of no confidence on the government, it must be reviewed in part to provide for impeachment of the president by parliament for felonies, misdemeanors, misconduct and breach of the law,” he said.

The Selibe Phikwe West lawmaker further states that the constitution must provide that the president can be sued for civil or criminal wrongs. “Botswana doesn’t need strongmen to lead it; it needs strong democratic institutions and liberal democratic constitution reflecting the aspirations of the people,” he said. When contributing to the debate in parliament Gaborone Boningnton North legislator and leader of opposition, Duma Boko affirmed necessity for a constitutional review saying it would enshrine all voices of Batswana, hence nourishing the country’s democracy.

Boko observed that oversight bodies which he labels toothless and just a waste of taxpayers’ money as they are captured by the executive and the President. Member of Parliament for Bobonong, Shaw Kgathi quashed the need to have a constitution review, noting that the current constitution has the interest of Batswana at heart and has served the country well since independence. Dithapelo Keorapetse who is unmoved on his call for a constitution review cautions against constitutional reform spearheaded by the executive incase parliament considers his motion in future saying it may further strengthen executive power over the judicature and parliament.

”Calls for constitutional review emanate from excessive constitutional and other discretionary powers of the president vis-à-vis other democratic institutions. Constitutional reform advocates are calling for more powers and independence of parliament and the courts so that these institutions can provide effective checks and balances on the government. If the executive proposes a constitution that would entrench more dictatorship like the current document, Batswana must reject it outright,” said Keorapetse.

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Civil Service volatility: Democracy vs Bureaucracy

19th April 2021
President Masisi

Here is how one Permanent Secretary encapsulates the clear tension between democracy and bureaucracy in Botswana: “President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s Government is behaving like a state surrounded with armed forces in order to capture it or force its surrender. The situation has turned so volatile, for tomorrow is not guaranteed for us top civil servants.

These are the painful results of a personalized civil service in our view as permanent secretaries”. Although his deduction of the situation may be summed as sour grapes because he is one of the ‘victims’ of the reshuffle, he is convinced this is a perfect description of the rationale behind frequent changes and transfers characterising the current civil service.

The result of it all, he said, is that “there is too much instability at managerial and strategic levels of the civil service leading to a noticeable directionless civil service.” He continued: “Changes and transfers are inevitable in the civil service, but to a permissible scale and frequency. Think of soccer team coach who changes and transfers his entire squad every month; you know the consequences?”

The Tsunami has hit hard at critical departments and Ministries leaving a strong wave of uncertainty, many demoralised and some jobless. In traditional approaches to public administration, democracy gives the goals; and bureaucracy delivers the technical efficiency required for implementation. But the recent moves in the civil service are indicative of conflicting imperatives – the notion of separation between politicians and administrators is becoming blurred by the day.

“Look at what happened to Prisons and BDF where second in command were overlooked for outsiders, and these are the people who had sacrificially served for donkey’s years hoping for a seat at the ladder’s end. The frequency of the changes, at times affecting the same Ministry or individual also demonstrates some level of ineptitude, clumsiness and lack of foresight from those in charge,” remarked the PS who added that their view is that the transfers are not related to anything but “settling scores, creating corruption opportunities and pushing out perceived dissident and former president, Ian Khama’s alleged loyalists and most of these transfers are said to be products of intelligence detection.”

Partly blaming Khama for the mess and his unwillingness to let go, the PS dismissed Masisi for falling to the trap and failing to outgrow the destructive tiff. “Khama is here to stay and the sooner Masisi comes to terms with the fact that he (Masisi) is the state President, the better. For a President to still be making these changes and transfers signals signs of a confused man who has not yet started rolling his roadmap, if at all it was ever there. I am saying this because any roadmap comes with key players and policies,” he concluded.

The Ministry of Health and Wellness seems to be the most hard-hit by the transfers, having experienced three Permanent Secretaries changes within a year and a half. Insiders say the changes have everything to do with the Ministry being the centre of COVID-19 tenders and economic opportunities. “The buck stops with the PS and no right-thinking PS can just allow glaring corruption under his watch as an accounting officer. Technocrats are generally law abiding, the pressure comes with politically appointed leaders racing against political terms to loot,” revealed a director in the Ministry preferring anonymity.

The latest transfer of Kabelo Ebineng she says was also motivated by his firm attitude against the President’s blue-eyed Task Team boys. “The Task Team wants to own the COVID-19 pandemic and government interventions and always cry foul when the Ministry reasserts itself as mandated by law,” said the director who added that Masisi who was always caught between the crossfire decided on sacrificing Ebineng to the joy of his team as they (Task Team) were in the habit of threatening to resign citing Ebineng as the problem.

Ebineng joins the Office of the President as a deputy Coordinator (government implementation and coordination office).The incoming PS is the soft-spoken Grace Muzila, known and described by her close associates as a conformist albeit knowledgeable.

One of the losers in the grand scheme is Thato Raphaka who many had seen as the next PSP because of his experience and calm demeanour following a declaration of interest in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Secretary post by the current PSP, Elias Magosi.

But hardly ten months into his post, Raphaka has been transferred out to the National Strategy Office in what many see as a demotion of some sort. Other notable changes coming into OP are Pearl Ramokoka formerly with the Employment, Labour and Productivity Ministry coming in as a Permanent Secretary and Kgomotso Abi as director of Public Service Reforms.

One of the ousted senior officers in the Office of the President warned that there are no signs that the changes and transfers will stop anytime soon: “If you are observant you would have long noticed that the changes don’t only affect senior officers but government decisions as well. A decision is made today and the government backtracks on it within a week. Not only that, the President says this today, and his deputy denies it the following day in Parliament,” he warned.

Some observers have blamed the turmoil in the civil service partly to lack of accountable presidential advisers or kitchen cabinet properly schooled on matters of statecraft. They point out that politicians or those peripheral to them should refrain from hampering the technical and organizational activities of public managers – or else the party (reshuffling) won’t stop.

In the view expressed by some Permanent Secretaries, Elias Magosi, has not really been himself since joining the civil service; and has cut a picture of indifference in most critical engagements; the most notable been a permanent secretaries platform which he chairs. As things stand there is need to reconcile the imperatives of democracy and democracy in Botswana. Peace will rein only when public value should stand astride the fault that runs between politicians and public managers.

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Morupisi fights for freedom in court

19th April 2021
morupisi

Former Permanent Secretary to the President, Carter Morupisi, is fighting for survival in a matter in which the State has charged him and his wife, Pinnie Morupisi, with corruption and money laundering.

Morupisi has joined a list of prominent figures that served in the previous administration and who have been accused of corruption during their tenure in office. While others have been emerging victorious, Morupisi is yet to find that luck. The High Court recently dismissed his no case to answer application.

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Pressure mounts on Biden to suspend Covid-19 vaccine patents

19th April 2021
Joe Biden

United States President, Joe Biden, is faced with a decision to make relating to the Covid-19 vaccine intellectual property after 175 former world leaders and Nobel laurates joined the campaign urging the US to take “urgent action” to suspend intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines to help boost global inoculation rates.

According to the world leaders, doing so would allow developing countries to make their own copies of the vaccines that have been developed by pharmaceutical companies without fear of being sued for intellectual property infringements.

“A WTO waiver is a vital and necessary step to bringing an end to this pandemic. It must be combined with ensuring vaccine know-how and technology is shared openly,” the signatories, comprising more than 100 Nobel prize-winners and over 70 former world leaders, wrote in a letter to US President Joe Biden, according to Financial Times.

A measure to allow countries to temporarily override patent rights for Covid related medical products was proposed at the World Trade Organization by India and South Africa in October, and has since been backed by nearly 60 countries.

Former leaders who signed the letter included Gordon Brown, former UK Prime Minister; François Hollande, former French President; Mikhail Gorbachev, former President of the USSR; and Yves Leterme, former Belgian Prime Minister.

In their official communication, South Africa and India said: “As new diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines for Covid-19 are developed, there are significant concerns [about] how these will be made available promptly, in sufficient quantities and at affordable prices to meet global demand.”

While developed countries have been able to secure enough vaccine to inoculate their citizens, developing countries such as Botswana are struggling to source enough to swiftly vaccine their citizens, something which world leaders believe it would work against global recovery therefore proving counter-productive.

Since the availability of vaccines, Botswana has been able to secure only 60 000 doses of vaccines, 30 000 as donation as from the Indian government, while the other 30 000 was sourced through COVAX facility.  Canada, has pre-ordered vaccines in surplus and it will be able to vaccinate each of its citizens six times over. In the UK and US, it is four vaccines per person; and two each in the EU and Australia.

For vaccines produced in Europe, developing countries are forced to pay double what European countries are paying, making it more expensive for already financially struggling economies.  European countries however justify the price of vaccines and that they deserve to buy them cheap since they contributed in their development.

It is evident that vaccines cannot be made available immediately to all countries worldwide with wealthy economies being the only success story in that regard, something that has been referred to as a “catastrophic moral failure”, head of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The challenge facing developing countries is not only the price, but also the capacity of vaccine manufactures to be able to do so to meet global demand within a short time. The proposal for a patent waiver by India and South Africa has been rejected by developed countries, known for hosting the world leading pharmaceutical companies such US, European Union, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland.

According to the Financial Times, US business groups including pharmaceutical industry representatives, have urged Biden to resist supporting a waiver to IP rules at the WTO, arguing that the proposal led by India and South Africa was too “vague” and “broad”.

The individuals who signed the letter, including Nobel laureates in economics as well as from across the arts and sciences, warned that inequitable vaccine access would impact the global economy and prevent it from recovering.

“The world saw unprecedented development of safe and effective vaccines, in major part thanks to US public investment,” the group wrote. “We all welcome that vaccination rollout in the US and many wealthier countries is bringing hope to their citizens.”

“Yet for the majority of the world that same hope is yet to be seen. New waves of suffering are now rising across the globe. Our global economy cannot rebuild if it remains vulnerable to this virus.”
The group warned that fully enforcing IP was “self-defeating for the US” as it hindered global vaccination efforts. “Given artificial global supply shortages, the US economy already risks losing $1.3tn in gross domestic product this year.”

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