Incongruities are playing themselves out in the rough and tumble of politics, as some Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) parliamentary backbenchers this week came out guns blazing, accusing the executive of negligence and denying them opportunities when they present themselves.
This comes at the backdrop of the two looming ministerial posts which are said to be out of bound for the backbenchers.
Weekend Post has it on good authority that instead the posts will be allocated to the new Specially Elected Members of Parliament (SEMP) that will be selected by President Lt. Gen. Dr. Seretse Khama Ian Khama in due course.
The posts which were advertised through a Bill in the government gazette of 5 February 2016 will enable Khama to “review Ministries whose portfolios are too wide with the view to reducing the mandate,” and “cater for priority areas or emerging areas of responsibility.”
This publication has established that some backbenchers have already thrown themselves in the ring for the looming two Assistant Ministers posts in the likes of Setlhomo Lelatisitswe, Ignatious Mzwinila, Kefentse Mzwinila, Polson Majaga and Liakat Kablay.
Khama will only select the Assistants, which are at his mercy, from the party backbench. The president has the legitimate prerogative to choose who he wants in his cabinet and is duly advised by his ‘own criteria.’
“While there is a pool of backbenchers in which the president is spoilt for choice to pick from, it’s unfortunate that only two mere Assistant Ministers will be selected from the backbench,” backbencher and MP for Boteti East Lelatisitswe Setlhomo told Weekend Post this week.
He emphasized that “it’s ill-fated that the Specially Elected new law makers will be automatically appointed Ministers in the two ministries which are on the loop,” as he believes that they too have the requisite capabilities and expertise as much as those that will come on board.
The procedure for nominating SEMP at BDP is that the names are dropped at the party parliamentary caucus, and the majority will decide for recommendation while the president will take the final decision – although subject to endorsement by Parliament. The ruling BDP which has been in power since first elections in 1965 still banks on its majority in the National Assembly.
The Bill to increase SEMP, Ministries and Assistant ministers will also, as is the norm – pass through Parliament as well as Ntlo ya Dikgosi.
The backbenchers insist that they have been thrown to the wolves against initial decision making processes of the party and by extension government.
Recently the backbenchers were also at odds and differed with the executive over the talk-of-the-moment Economic Stimulus Package (ESP) which is aimed at stimulating the economy, accelerating job creation for citizens and promoting economic diversification.
The backbench has said that they have been neglected in the process of crafting the programme and subsequently doing informed dissemination. Their intention was to internalize the programme and own it, as well as accurately and properly share it with the public.
According to the BDP’s Lelatisitswe, above all the crux of the matter is that communication is not properly realized between the party backbench and the Executive “so there is that information gap between cabinet and ourselves”.
Setlhomo stated that: “as a new comer in this Parliament, I have realized that the executive takes most of the decisions separately from the backbenchers.”
He said their various constituents expect them to have all the information on the government’s state of affairs and sometimes they are not well versed as the Executive plays their cards very close to their chests.
Our constituents in general just think we are part of everything and we know everything when it’s actually the opposite in some cases, he pointed out.
“But we have brought such issues and complaints to caucus especially that: we should be briefed in advance for any big development in the party and government.”
According to the MP, it appears that, at least cabinet does appreciate their position.
BDP Chief Whip and MP for Letlhakeng West Liakat Kablay who also forms part of the backbench also pointed out that the party should bring in more politically active members through SEMP so that they can effectively defend the seemingly plummeting party, at least in terms of popular vote as well as losing political big fishes recently like former Speaker of Parliament Margaret Nasha.
“These SEMP posts should therefore bring shrewd and robust politicians and, not technocrats, who will defend the party from the buoyant opposition especially the young turks who would be able to hit back real hard at the likes of Mma Nasha who has vigorously attacked the party lately,” Kablay said.
“The proposed two ministers and assistant ministers should be allocated to the backbench,” another backbencher Polson Majaga told this publication blatantly.
“It’s like the executive is belittling the backbench if they bypass them in preference for new SEMP’s and by extension appointing them to ministerial positions while they will be still new to Parliament and most importantly without a constituency as we have worked hard to earn ours and sustained the party as it still remained in power.”
In the current Parliament, the BDP backbench consists of Gantsi South MP Christian Degraaf, Francistown East’s Buti Billy, Ignatious Moswaane of Francistown West, Tati West legislator Biggie Butale, law maker for Maun East Kostantinos Marcus, Mahalapye West’s Joseph Molefhe and Polson Majaga of Nata/Gweta.
It also includes Ngami MP Thato Kwerepe, Machana Shamukuni for Chobe, Setlhomo Lelatisitswe of Boteti East, Letlhakeng West’s Liakat Kablay, Guma Moyo of Tati East, Kefentse Mzwinila of Mmadinare, Itumeleng Moiphisi from Kgalagadi North, Letlhakeng/Takatokwane’s Ngaka Ngaka as well as Gaborone South’s Kagiso Molatlhegi.
“People shouldn’t be brought from outside, they should be selected from within – amongst the backbench to be precise,” Majaga stressed.
Majaga argued that the rules of elections are straight and forward and everybody can join the train to Parliament and it is when they are within that they should then stand a chance to be chosen to the decision making and lucrative executive.
He added that the party seems to be applying the notion of ‘all animals are equal but others are more equal that others’.
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.