Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) will have a busy road in the next four years as the party will meet in an unprecedented number of party congresses in a bid to save the party from losing power in 2019.
In an unusual turn of events, by the time delegates disperse from the 2017 elective congress, the party would have met four times in a space of two years. The 2017 Congress will also serve as President Lt Gen Ian Khama’s last as the party leader and will present his valedictory remarks to the delegates.
In two weeks’ time, the party will converge in Gaborone at Limkokwing University for a Special Congress where they will discuss some issues which were not finalised at their last congress in Mmadinare.
BDP Secretary General Botsalo Ntuane exclusively revealed to this publication on Thursday that the Central Committee has again resolved to hold another special congress next year where the delegates will deal with matters of government policies and BDP as an organisation.
“This year’s special congress will be deliberating on the issues emanating from Mmadinare Congress, whereas next year’s special congress will deal with government, policies and the organisation,” said Ntuane.
Ntuane revealed that the party will start to be superior in formulation of policies as opposed to the status quo in which cabinet alone drives government’s policies. “The party will review the existing government policies and make some resolutions to be implemented by government,” he stated.
The former Gaborone West South (now Gaborone Bonnington South) legislator admitted that as much as government has introduced good policies and initiatives, the party rarely takes credit as opposed to blame it gets for failing government policies.
The secretary general also conceded that it is crucial for the party to be on the forefront of policy making since government is elected on the basis of what the ruling party promised to the electorates, and noted that failure to deliver by the government is failure of the party to fulfil its promises. “We have allowed next year’s special congress to specifically deal with that and ensure that going forward the party is superior in formulation of every government policy,” said Ntuane.
The ruling party has come under fire for some of its initiatives which some believe are not sustainable and will not address the thorny issue of unemployment in the country. Programmes like Ipelegeng, Tirelo Sechaba and Youth Empowerment Scheme (YES) have come under attack from opposition for supposedly being populist and unsustainable.
There has been debate on whether cabinet and bureaucrats should be leading in formulating government policies or the party should take the driver’s seat on such matters.
At the beginning of this year the party leadership including the cabinet were visibly divided on the introduced Graduate Volunteer Scheme (GVS).
Ntuane also disclosed that the central committee has sanctioned the establishment of Women Wing General Assembly and Youth Wing National Council where they will discuss policy matters relating to their sectors. The Women’s Wing will address government policies with regard to women while the Youth Wing Council will scrutinize government policies relating to the youth.
Both forums which are to be held ahead of the party special congress next year are expected to make recommendations to the party for possible review of existing government policies.
Ntuane, who became the eighth BDP secretary general after being elected in Mmadinare, has been spearheading the reform agenda. Ntuane has swiftly clarified that the reforms do not necessarily focus on the politics part of it alone, but other components as well. “These special congresses are part of the reforms,” he said. “For the first time we now have the women general assembly, youth national council and special congress to specifically deal with government policies,” he said.
The BDP however still has a mammoth task with winning over support of the working class, as its relationship with unions remains brittle. Cabinet continues to sponsor bills which are anti-workers, the latest being the proposed Botswana Examination Council (BEC) Amendment bill which seeks among others to make it compulsory for teachers to supervise course work assessment and invigilate examinations.
Following their loss to the Duma Boko-led lobby in the Botswana National Front (BNF)’s national congress last month, some members of the party are reportedly considering forming a new political party.
According to members, the new party will be formed after they receive a tip-off that the BNF will do all it can to ensure that the aggrieved members do not participate in the 2024 national elections. This will reportedly done through a carefully orchestrated primary elections elimination campaign.
Botswana has made improvements on preventing and ending arbitrary deprivation of liberty, but significant challenges remain in further developing and implementing a legal framework, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said at the end of a visit recently.
Head of the delegation, Elina Steinerte, appreciated the transparency of Botswana for opening her doors to them. Having had full and unimpeded access and visited 19 places of deprivation of liberty and confidentiality interviewing over 100 persons deprived of their liberty.
She mentioned “We commend Botswana for its openness in inviting the Working Group to conduct this visit which is the first visit of the Working Group to the Southern African region in over a decade. This is a further extension of the commitment to uphold international human rights obligations undertaken by Botswana through its ratification of international human rights treaties.”
Another good act Botswana has been praised for is the remission of sentences. Steinerte echoed that the Prisons Act grants remission of one third of the sentence to anyone who has been imprisoned for more than one month unless the person has been sentenced to life imprisonment or detained at the President’s Pleasure or if the remission would result in the discharge of any prisoner before serving a term of imprisonment of one month.
On the other side; The Group received testimonies about the police using excessive force, including beatings, electrocution, and suffocation of suspects to extract confessions. Of which when the suspects raised the matter with the magistrates, medical examinations would be ordered but often not carried out and the consideration of cases would proceed.
“The Group recall that any such treatment may amount to torture and ill-treatment absolutely prohibited in international law and also lead to arbitrary detention. Judicial authorities must ensure that the Government has met its obligation of demonstrating that confessions were given without coercion, including through any direct or indirect physical or undue psychological pressure. Judges should consider inadmissible any statement obtained through torture or ill-treatment and should order prompt and effective investigations into such allegations,” said Steinerte.
One of the group’s main concern was the DIS held suspects for over 48 hours for interviews. Established under the Intelligence and Security Service Act, the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) has powers to arrest with or without a warrant.
The group said the “DIS usually requests individuals to come in for an interview and has no powers to detain anyone beyond 48 hours; any overnight detention would take place in regular police stations.”
The Group was able to visit the DIS facilities in Sebele and received numerous testimonies from persons who have been taken there for interviewing, making it evident that individuals can be detained in the facility even if the detention does not last more than few hours.
Moreover, while arrest without a warrant is permissible only when there is a reasonable suspicion of a crime being committed, the evidence received indicates that arrests without a warrant are a rule rather than an exception, in contravention to article 9 of the Covenant.
Even short periods of detention constitute deprivation of liberty when a person is not free to leave at will and in all those instances when safeguards against arbitrary detention are violated, also such short periods may amount to arbitrary deprivation of liberty.
The group also learned of instances when persons were taken to DIS for interviewing without being given the possibility to notify their next of kin and that while individuals are allowed to consult their lawyers prior to being interviewed, lawyers are not allowed to be present during the interviews.
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention mentioned they will continue engaging in the constructive dialogue with the Government of Botswana over the following months while they determine their final conclusions in relation to the country visit.