MPs last chance is to comment during committee of supply
The Opposition in Parliament have been left trying to figure out their next move after the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) outsmarted them and closed debates on the 2015/2016 budget way ahead of schedule and before the opposition Members of Parliament could debate Minister Kenneth Matambo’s presentation.
Matambo told this publication that he is shocked at the poor quality of debate in Parliament in relation to the budget speech. However it is expected that the proposals contained in the line Ministry presentations will provide MPs with a further platform to debate and ultimately pass a final budget.
About P50 billion worth of public money is contained in this year’s budget and MPs are expected to ensure that it is distributed accordingly.
In a seemingly well planned numbers’ game, the BDP MPs would not debate the budget and the opposition feared that if they exhausted their arguments, the BDP would have the floor all to themselves in the following week and refuse to give them a chance to interject during proceedings.
“We were waiting for them to speak, they did not and the problem is the MPs of the BDP have started a new trend whereby they wait for the opposition to debate first and they attack us later when we have exhausted our numbers. It is now upon us as the opposition to decide on how we handle this issue going forward,” the Opposition Whip, Wynter Mmolotsi stated in an interview on Friday this week.
Mmolotsi of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) was the last MP to debate before the speaker called on Minister Matambo to respond and thus calling on the closure of the debate which was scheduled to continue until the 19th of this Month.
Six MPs in all had responded to Matambo’s speech and they include the leader of Opposition, Duma Boko and MP Tawana Moremi both of UDC and three BDP MPs, Guma Moyo, Liakat Kablay and Ignatius Moswaane.
There is no standard as to how the speaker balances the debate. MPs are called as they show their interest in debating by way of standing up as soon as the last speaker ends their debate. In the absence of such action, the speaker then calls on the Minister to respond so that the house can proceed to its next agenda.
However another opposition MP, Phenyo Butale also of the UDC faults the early closure of the budget debate on the Speaker whom he said should be seen to protect the integrity of Parliament. According to him the sudden closure of the debate was an ambush on opposition and the bigger loss is that “we are losing the quality of debate because some will have to speak when they are not prepared. It puts the very big question on the speakership. Why is he in haste to close the debate at every opportunity he gets as if it was a deliberate strategy? He nearly did the same with the State of the Nation Address.”
Minister Matambo who expressed disappointment at the quality of debate put on this year’s budget turned the tables on the opposition and says the lack of response shows that the government of the day has tabled such a good budget that the opposition failed to criticise it as it usually does.
“We, the government have submitted to the house and the nation. The speech belongs to the BDP and we cannot be the ones to speak first. The opposition had nothing to say about the economy of this country and the electorates have seen that. They have accepted the budget because we as the BDP government presented a well thought budget and distributed it fairly and that is why they had nothing to say to oppose it and I am happy.”
Although Matambo said he was happy, he admitted that when he was called to respond, he was not ready and he had to think on his feet.
“I am the one who was not ready. They cannot say they were not ready. They were given all the time until the 19th to express their views on the budget and come up with suggestions!” Matambo responded in a separate interview.
Nonetheless the opposition still have time to deliberate on the budget during the committee of supply session which is the next item on the agenda following the Minister’s response. According to Wynter Mmolotsi, who acts as Opposition Whip in Parliament, some MPs have not spoken because they could have wanted to zoom in at specific items during the committee of supply.
“This is unlike the state of the nation address where an Mp is given a single chance to debate. We still have time to debate at committee of supply stage. The BDP must really work on this issue and stop marking and frustrating the opposition. It happened in November (2014) during debates on the state of the nation address.
Each opportunity they got, they were ever keen to ask the Speaker to close the debate. That forced opposition MPs to debate before they were ready and the BDP had a field day afterwards, attacking us knowing very well that we have all used our slot,” Mmolotsi added. Of the fifty-seven Parliament seats, twenty are held by opposition with UDC having seventeen and Botswana Congress Party three.
The Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP)’s decision to reject and appeal the High Court’s verdict on a case involving High Court Judge, Dr Zein Kebonang has frustrated the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) and Judge Kebonang’s back to work discussions.
JSC and Kebonang have been in constant discussions over the latter’s return to work following a ruling by a High Court panel of judges clearing him of any wrong doing in the National Petroleum Fund criminal case filed by the DPP. However the finalization of the matter has been hanged on whether the DPP will appeal the matter or not – the prosecution body has since appealed.
Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) top brass has declined a request by Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) to negotiate the legal fees occasioned by 2019 general elections petition in which the latter disputed in court the outcome of the elections.
This publication is made aware that UDC Vice President Dumelang Saleshando was left with an egg on his face after the BDP big wigs, comprising of party Chairman Slumber Tsogwane and Secretary General Mpho Balopi rejected his plea.
“He was told that this is a legal matter and therefore their (UDC) lawyer should engage ours (BDP) for negotiations because it is way far from our jurisdiction,” BDP Head of Communications, Kagelelo Kentse, told this publication.
This spelt doom for the main opposition party and Saleshando who seems not to have confidence and that the UDC lawyers have the dexterity to negotiate these kind of matters. It is not clear whether Saleshando requested UDC lawyer Boingotlo Toteng to sit at the table with Bogopa Manewe, Tobedza and Co, who are representing the BDP to strike a deal as per the BDP top echelons suggested.
“From my understanding, the matter is dealt with politically as the two parties are negotiating how to resolve it, but by far nothing has come to me on the matter. So I believe they are still substantively engaging each other,” Toteng said briefly in an interview on Thursday.
UDC petitioners saddled with costs after mounting an unprecedented legal suit before the court to try and overturn BDP’s October 2019 victory. The participants in the legal matter involves 15 parliamentary candidates’ and nine councillors. The UDC petitioned the court and contested the outcome of the elections citing “irregularities in some of the constituencies”.
In a brief ruling in January 2020, Judge President Ian Kirby on behalf of a five-member panel said: “We have no jurisdiction to entertain these appeals. These appeals must be struck out each with costs including costs of counsel”. This was a second blow to the UDC in about a month after their 2019 appeals were dismissed by the High Court a day before Christmas Day.
This week BDP attorneys decided to attach UDC petitioners’ property in a bid to settle the debts. UDC President Duma Boko is among those that will see their property being attached with 14 of his party members. “We have attached some and we are on course. So far, Dr. Mpho Pheko (who contested Gaborone Central) and that of Dr, Micus Chimbombi (who contested Kgalagadi South) will have their assets being sold on the 5th of February 2021,” BDP attorney Basimane Bogopa said.
Asked whether they met with UDC lawyers to try solve the matter, Bogopa said no and added. “Remember we are trying to raise the client’s funds, so after these two others will follow. Right now we are just prioritising those from Court of Appeal, as soon as the high court is done with taxation we will attach.”
Saleshando, when contacted about the outcomes of the meeting with the BDP, told WeekendPost that: “It would not be proper and procedural for me to tell you about the meeting outcomes before I share with UDC National Executive Committee (NEC), so I will have to brief them first.”
UDC NEC will meet on the 20th of next month to deal with a number of thorny issues including settling the legal fees. Negotiations with other opposition parties- Alliance for Progressives and Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) are also on the agenda.
Currently, UDC has raised P44 238 of the P565 000 needed to cover bills from the Court of Appeal (CoA). This is the amount in a UDC trust account which is paltry funds equating 7.8 per cent of the overall required money. In the past despite the petitioners maintaining that there was promise to assist them to settle legal fees, UDC Spokesperson, Moeti Mohwasa then said the party has never agreed in no way to help them.
“We have just been put in debt by someone,” one of the petitioners told this publication in the past. “President’s (Duma Boko) message was clear at the beginning that money has been sourced somewhere to help with the whole process but now we are here there is nothing and we are just running around trying to make ends meet and pay,” added the petitioner in an interview UDC NEC has in December last year directed all the 57 constituencies to each raise a minimum of P10, 000. The funds will be used to settle debts that are currently engulfing the petitioners with Sheriffs, who are already hovering around ready to attach their assets.
The petitioners, despite the party intervention, have every right to worry. “This is so because ‘the deadline for this initiative (P10, 000 per constituency) is the end of the first quarter of this year (2021),” a period in which the sheriffs would have long auctioned the properties.
President of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) Duma Boko’s alliance with former President Lt Gen Ian Khama continues to unsettle some quarters within the opposition collective, who believe the duo, if not managed, will once again result in an unsuccessful bid for government in 2024.
While Khama has denied that he has undeclared preference to have Boko remaining as leader of UDC, many believe that the two have a common programme, while other opposition leaders remain on the side-lines.