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Problem with our Elections: The President picks election dates

On 13 November 2009, The Philadelphia Inquirer carried a headline that read ‘Palestinian vote is postponed’. The paper quoted an Associated Press report that the Palestinian Election Commission (PLC) ruled that the scheduled 24th January 2010 elections should be postponed because of opposition from Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip part of Palestine.

On 15 November 2009, the Christian Science Monitor carried an interview with a Canadian elections and political expert who stated that the PLC had always maintained neutrality and an arm’s length from politics, and that their position was ‘if we can’t have elections everywhere, then we cannot do our job’ if Hamas is not going to participate.

On 21 January 2008,Mmegi, one of Botswana’s independent newspapers, carried a headline that read ‘IEC awaits by-election dates’. In an interview with the newspaper, the Secretary of the IEC was quoted as saying that his office was yet to receive dates for upcoming bi-elections from the Minister of Local Government.

In the same interview, the IEC Secretary also noted that his office was also waiting for the President to announce the dates for bi-elections for two constituencies whose parliamentary seats were recently left vacant by the resignations of parliamentarians.

These are very contrasting reactions concerning the date of elections from two EMBs from two different jurisdictions: the first from Botswana, a country often referred to as an exemplar of democracy in Africa, and the second from occupied Palestine.

Whilst Botswana’s EMB has to wait to hear from the Executive before it can make preparations for a pending election, the Palestinian’s EMB, of its own volition, decides to postpone the elections in order to accommodate the opposition!

In Botswana, the choice of date for the Election Day is one of the contentious issues that confronts Botswana’s electoral management system. This problem arises from Botswana’s amended Electoral Act.

According to Section 34 of the Act, for the purpose of general elections to the National Assembly, or a bi-election, it is the President who shall issue a Writ of Elections addressed to the returning officer of each constituency, fixing the place, day, and hours between which the returning officer will receive nominations of candidates, and the day for taking any poll which may become necessary.

In the case of the elections of representatives to local government, the Act states that it is the Minister of Local Government who shall issue an Election Instrument fixing the place, day, and hours between which the returning officer will receive nominations of candidates and the day for taking any poll which may become necessary. It is contended here that if the IEC is to fulfil its mandate to ensure free and fair elections, then it should be the IEC, and not the State President or a minister, who should issue writ of elections.

According to Tshosa (2007) this is another instance of the unfairness, rather than the unfreeness, of the elections process in Botswana. As Tshosa posits, the issue at stake concerns the fairness of the election rather than the freeness of election because the freeness of elections in Botswana has never really been a problem: every eligible voter can freely participate in the elections, provided he/she has registered as a voter. The Electoral Act, as it currently stands, clearly advantages the ruling party by giving the prerogative to issue elections writ to interested parties.

This can be demonstrated by examining, for example, a bi-election in 2013. The facts of the matter are as follows: following a dispute between the ruling party candidates about the outcome of the primary elections, one candidate went to the High Court to seek an injunction to stop the other candidate from being registered as the ruling party candidate. The High Court agreed with the applicant and issued a Court order barring the other candidate from registering as a candidate.

Pursuant to the Court Order, the Returning Officer refused the nomination of the ruling party candidate. The ruling party again returned to the High Court to contest the IEC refusal to accept the registration of its candidate, but lost with costs.

When the IEC announced that it would go ahead with the elections, even without the ruling party candidate, the ruling party Electoral Board Chairman was quoted as saying that his party still had hopes of contesting the bi-election because President Khama has the powers to withdraw the bi-election writ and issue a new one. In an urgent application to the Court of Appeal, the ruling BDP asked the Court to review and set aside the IEC’s decision to refuse to accept the nomination papers of its candidate.

Then, on 22 November 2013, a petition signed by about 1600 people from the constituency was handed to the District Commissioner, calling for the nullification of the existing writ and for a fresh writ for the bi-election to allow the ruling party to participate.

A day before the bi-elections, the President invoked section 46 of the Electoral Act, and postponed the bi-election from 23 November 2013 to 25 January 2014, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so. The relevant section states that if the President is satisfied that it is in the public interest, he may by proclamation adjourn the poll to some other day.

On 11 December 2013 the Court of Appeal dismissed the BDP case with costs, meaning that the election would go ahead without the BDP candidate. When the bye-election eventually took place on the 25 January 2014, it was won by the opposition.

Botswana Congress Party candidate, much to the chagrin of the ruling BDP. What is interesting is that, throughout this saga, the IEC was completely marginalised. But a forensic report by a South African-based Forensic Document Consultant exposed the petition as fraudulent as some ruling BDP political activists had forged signatures of ‘petitioners’, hoping that the postponement would somehow assist the party to field a candidate.

Conclusion

The foregoing analysis of Botswana’s post-independence elections history is a departure from the traditional focus on the freeness of elections that has, over the years, been given considerable attention by several commentators and observers.

The analysis seeks to draw attention to factors critical to the fairness of elections. It is argued that, whilst elections have always been free to the extent that every eligible voter could vote, Botswana’s EMB is powerless to level the electoral playing field to ensure that elections are also fair.

The legal and political framework within which Botswana’s EMB operates is such that it would not have the ability or leverage to create a level playing field by ensuring that elections are also fair.

The most critical issues offairness raised in the analysis include the following: (1) Botswana’s EMB reliance on public officers who are bound by the Public Service Act to be loyal to the government of the day, (2) lack of equal access to public media and the abuse of public officers working for the state/public media as propagandists for the ruling party and (3) the choice of election date which is the prerogative of the President or his minister and therefore advantages the ruling party.

With regard to access to public media, which dominates the country’s media landscape, it has been pointed out that the state/public media are located in the Office of the President, and are part of the Executive arm of government.

Because of this arrangement, the ruling party is given extensive coverage, and the state/public media effectively ‘merchandises’ the ruling party, whilst the EMB remains impotent and unable to ensure equitable access of all political parties to these state resources.

The growing consensus is that the fairness of an election will require, inter alia, equal opportunity for all political parties (not just the ruling party) to publicly owned resources, including the media, to effectively sell or merchandise their products in the form of party manifestoes.

With regard to the elections dates, it has been pointed out that the election dates for both the general elections and bye-elections of members of parliament and local government are not set by the EMB, but by the Executive, who would obviously have a vested interest in the outcome of such elections.

The choice of the election date by the Executive gives the ruling party undue advantage, as this amount to using inside information. It can be argued that in establishing the EMB Botswana has not really made a clean break with the past.

The transition from government supervised elections to an independent electoral management model has not been fully completed. In this regard it can be argued that elections in Botswana will probably continue to be free, as has been the case for the last 11 general elections, but the elections will not necessarily be fair.

Simply put, the Botswana EMB can only ensure that elections in Botswana are conducted efficiently, properly and freely, but cannot deliver on the fourth component of its mandate, namely, that elections are also conducted fairly.

In this regard it is important to observe that neither the Botswana Constitution nor the Electoral Act expressly guarantees the independence of the IEC, something that is regarded by many as an unfortunate oversight, but which, on the basis of the foregoing assessment, may very well have been by design.


Article extracted from Monageng Mogalakwe (2015) An assessment of Botswana's electoral management body to deliver fair elections, Journal of Contemporary African Studies, 33:1,105-120, DOI: 10.1080/02589001.2015.1021210

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Gov’t has no budget for Magosi’s SADC chase

12th April 2021
Elias Magosi

Despite the government of Botswana’s ambition to have one of its own to lead Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) since its establishment in 1980, the Presidency says there is no budget specifically dedicated to the campaign.

The Government has released the name of Permanent Secretary to the President, Elias Mpedi Magosi, as the candidate for the SADC Executive Secretary position. Magosi is expected to face off with Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) candidate, Faustin Mukela. The position will become vacant in August this year.

However, despite the optimism the Botswana Government has not yet set aside a budget to assist Magosi to win against the seemingly DRC giant. “We all know that the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected the country’s ability to effectively fund any new project. This campaign is not an exception. As such, we do not have any budget for the campaign. However, we have so far managed to take advantage of His Excellency the President’s working visits to the neighbouring countries to also carry out the campaigns,” Press Secretary to the President, Batlhalefi Leagajang, explained.

Botswana has housed SADC since the establishment of the then SADCC in 1980, but has never occupied top most leadership positions at the SADC Secretariat.  “We therefore, strongly believe that we should also have an opportunity to contribute to the management of our regional body as it continues to drive the important issues of regional integration industrialization and socio-economic development.

This will also profile Botswana as a strong advocate of regional integration,” he responded to this publication’s questionnaire as to why the Government wants to occupy the plum post. SADC is a Member State driven organization. As such, Leagajang said, needs a well-grounded Executive Secretary with a blend of management and leadership acumen; a transformational leader with political awareness and integrity; private and public sector experience; a deep culture of corporate governance; as well as strategic agility and result-oriented consummate diplomat.

“These are the unique attributes of our candidate,” he said. So far President Mokgweetsi Masisi has visited nine out of 16 SADC member states on a working visit and also taking an opportunity to present to them his candidate.

“The countries have appreciated this effort and we remain hopeful. However, it is important to note that this is a democratic and competitive process which must be respected,” he responded when asked about the reception and assurances from various countries to cast a vote for Magosi.

In 2018, when Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi challenged for the Africa Union (AU) Chairperson, the government appointed former President Festus Mogae to be the campaign leader. Does the Government have anyone apart from Masisi to help with the campaign?

“The campaigns for the candidate are strictly led by the Government of Botswana. Since this is a candidate for Botswana, not just the Government, it will be appreciated if all Batswana, including the media, could also shoulder the responsibility to campaign for the candidate in their own spheres of influence,” Leagajang responded.

While there are sceptics on Magosi winning against the DRC man, the Government is confident and believes that with the unique traits that he possess, Magosi stands a chance. He is said to be a strong advocate of justice and fairness as he has played this role in his current role as PSP and in his previous roles as PS and in the private sector. He has helped individuals and companies to find justice and fairness in most of their dealings with Government.

Magosi is also said to be a proponent of corporate governance and which he has relentlessly pursued in most of his career including in Government and other sectors. A strong believer in following laid down procedures and laws. “He carries a variety of skills as an HR expert with experience in different sectors, a strategist and an Organization development specialist.

His experience and exposure spans government, parastatal, private sector and at regional level as well, thus making him a suitable candidate for the regional role. He has worked with governments, businesses, development partners and politicians and is comfortable navigating through all of them,” Leagajang concluded.

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Mzwinila’s P4.3 Billion gamble to keep water flowing

12th April 2021
orth-South-Carrier

The Minister of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services, Kefentse Mzwinila looked a politician set to shoot the moon as he laid bare his billions of pula development agenda recently in Parliament.

His Ministry’s combined Recurrent and Development Budget Proposals for the 2021/ 2022 Financial Year is pegged at Four Billion, Three Hundred and Sixty – Five Million, two Hundred and Nineteen Thousand, Five Hundred and Sixty Pula (P4, 365, 219, 560). This is a budget 38.3% more than the allocation for the 2020/2021 Financial Year.

Mzwinila preluded his request to parliament with a demonstration that his Ministry has no champagne taste on a beer budget – indicating that his ministry’s expenditure at the end of February 2021P2.111 Billion or 96% of development budget; and P910 million or 90% of the recurrent budget.

Notwithstanding the budget dust, the Minister justified this year’s increase in the Ministry’s total budget. He attributed the escalation to the commencement of major projects under the water sector. These include the implementation of the North South Carrier (NSC) 22.2 covering various sub projects. Mzwinila noted that these are all public value projects which are aimed at improving the lives of Batswana.

Mzwinila’s Ministry has projected that the sum of Nine Hundred and Sixty –Three Million, Nine Hundred and Forty – Seven Thousand, Five Hundred and Sixty Pula (P963, 947, 560) be permitted for the Recurrent Budget and stand part of the 2021 / 2022 Appropriation Bill ( No. 1 of 2021).

“55% of the Recurrent Budget is geared towards the Revenue Support Grant for 12 Land Boards and their subordinate authorities while the sum of P5 Million is allocated to the Real Estate Advisory Council (REAC). The remaining 44% is proposed for the Ministry Departments.”

The sum of Three Billion, Four Hundred and One Million, Two hundred and Seventy –Two Thousand Pula (P3, 401, 272, 000), for the Development Budget was approved and stand part of the same schedule of the appropriation (2021/2022).

When breaking down the Development Budget, Minister Mzwinila noted that Water Supply and Sanitation projects will account for P1.098 Billion to finance the Maun Water and Sanitation project, Molepolole Sanitation projects and the Shakawe Water Treatment Plant Rehabilitation.

With all the implementation bottlenecks troubling several projects in the country, Mzwinila had to satisfy the question of whether his Ministry demonstrated a dire need for the budget with reference to its execution of the budget for the financial year 2020/2021 and its delivery of strategic initiatives and projects?

Mzwinila’s pitch found favour with parliament and his ministry will get an aggregate budget of P3.198 Billion for the 2020/ 2021 Financial Year. Within this allocation, P2.188 Billion is for the Development Budget and P1.010 Billion will cover the Recurrent Budget.

The Minister revealed his strategic interventions for land management, water and sanitation services. Highlighting that efforts by Government to provide serviced residential land to citizens on the waiting list are being hampered by limited resources. He shared that his ministry needs P94 Billion to cover such costs which will directly link to water, sewage, roads, electricity, telecommunications and storm water drainage leading to the allocation of 4 587 plots on un-serviced land.

The minister projected that 22 952 un-serviced residential plots are planned to be allocated in the next financial year. However, there is a trend where allocated land remains fallow and undeveloped which raises misgivings that the requests could have been made on speculative plans.

Mzwinila noted that in the spirit of forging stronger International connections, the Ministry will in June 2021 sign a Memorandum of Understanding on Land matters between Namibia and Botswana with the aim of opening doors to the creation of Dry Ports in the country, facilitate international trade through Walvis Bay Sea Port.

Botswana is already challenged by scarcity of naturally occurring water resources due to the aridity of the country creating persistent water shortages. The type of infrastructure required to improve national water security is a true reflection of intensive investment needed in the water sector The Minister stressed.

“An emerging issue such as the COVID -19 pandemic poses serious challenges as the control of the virus requires reliable water supply. In an effort to mitigate the challenge, the Ministry has undertaken extensive bowsing throughout the country which included the provision of additional capacity for supplementary bowsing to areas with pervasive water shortages, plus an additional forty one (41) un-gazetted settlements.

Operational costs due to bowsing were at an average of P6 Million per month before the COVID-19 pandemic and increased to an unsustainable amount of the order of P13 Million per month, since the beginning of the State of Emergency in April 2020,” the minister shared.

Through the support of a World Bank Loan, the Ministry is implementing several initiatives under the Botswana Emergency Water Security and Efficiency (BEWSE) project. Through BEWSE the Raw Water Pricing and Abstraction Strategy will assess the pricing of water in a manner that enables the provision of water to support new economic development, the strategy is planned to be completed in June 2021.

The Ministry has commenced the development of a long term National Water Security Strategy to improve resilience to climate change impacts. The strategy development entails prioritization of the proposed future mega water transfers such as the Chobe – Zambezi water transfer, the Atlantic Ocean water transfer to Botswana through Namibia and Lesotho – Botswana water transfer.

Following the signing of the tripartite Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) between Botswana, Lesotho and South Africa in November 2017 for the Lesotho –Botswana Water Transfer project, a 24 months contract for a combined prefeasibility and feasibility study for the development of a bankable Lesotho – Botswana Water Transfer project feasibility study was signed and is to be completed in 2022.

One of the Ministry’s famous major water supply projects such as the North South Carrier (NSC) 2.2 has experienced hiccups; having tenders for contract 1 (Masama to Mmamashia Pipeline) and Contract 2 (Mahalapye to Masama Pipeline) cancelled due to budgetary constraints.

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Will Botswana’s Climate Change policy climax?

12th April 2021
Botswana Climate

The Botswana Climate Change policy draft of 2021 was tabled in Parliament by the Minister of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism, Philda Kereng for consideration and adoption.

The policy attempts to indicate the country’s environmentally conscious development agenda as Substantial resources are being dedicated to research and policy efforts to mitigate climate change and support adaptation to the current and future impacts of greenhouse gas emissions.

Kereng indicated that Botswana is not immune to the impacts of climate change and it continues to delay the country’s national development efforts and that the key economic development sectors dependent on the climate system have recorded declines over the years due to the variability of the rainfall and other climatic conditions. Experts elsewhere have pointed out that lack of consideration of population dynamics hampers the development of stronger, more effective solutions to the challenges climate change poses – hopefully this policy if effectively implemented could partly answer this question.

Kereng underscored that sectors such as agriculture, water, bio diversity, health and tourism have suffered the most and the consequences of these have contributed significantly to the decline of livelihoods in Botswana especially in rural areas.

To respond to the changing climate, Botswana has embarked on sectoral reform such as climate smart agriculture, poverty alleviation initiatives, building resilience on the economic productive sectors, diversification of tourism for the improvement of livelihoods and income generation, local economic development and sustainable environment.

The efforts require a coordinated mechanism that will provide an enabling environment for an integrated approach to the formulation and implantation of development plans and socio economic related policies in Botswana that are responsive to the changing climatic conditions.

Minister Kereng explained the draft policy is characterized by an inclusive and integrated approach to social, economic development and governance modalities that would enable the country to achieve a sustainable development pathway. It provides opportunities for improved livelihoods through creation of green jobs, development and transfer of relevant technologies as well as creation and ease of access to both local and international markets. It also commits the government, private sector and non-state actors to adopt adaptation and mitigation measures that would facilitate sustainability and building of resilience of all sectors.

While Members of Parliament were trying to comprehend the policy, this publication got in touch with Green Botswana to solicit their views on the policy draft. Ms. Sela Motshwane, the Founder of the Trust highlighted that “the Climate Change policy was meant to be read in August 2019. It is long overdue, and we all need to see it and understand it in full.

I understand the current budget does not allow for a full implementation- but I could be wrong. More funds could have been allocated since. I think generally, Batswana need to understand fully what this means to our daily lives. I believe the true understanding is by policy drafters and the Ministry of Environment only.”

In the same vein, Green Botswana Trust took to the streets to provide a community solution to climate change on World Health Day (Wednesday). Green Botswana held a “Free Trees for Babies” at Extension 2 Clinic where fruit trees were gifted to parents, expectant mothers, 25 health workers, police officers and the prison officers who had accompanied prisoners to the clinic.

Motshwane said: “The decision to do the “Free Trees for Babies” by gifting fruit trees was to raise awareness to our imminent food security issue as stated by the Deputy Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Agricultural Development and Food Security, Mr. Thabang Botshoma and encourage the general public to plant a tree so that we can reach our SGD Goal 13 : Climate Action. The trees gifted are to be named after the baby recipient”.

Green Botswana is calling for the urgent action from government and members of the public to create a culture of community accountability and collegiality in moving Botswana towards climate action and sustainability. To achieve the 2030 Paris Agreement Pledge, it will take all citizens and not just the government to reach goals.

Parliament resolved to adopt the Botswana Climate Change Policy, 2021.

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