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Parliament: An Institution that needs all Powers Necessary, As We Need Oxygen

Do we really understand the powers that parliamentarians have in our lives? A re a thaloganya gore thopho ga se thopho hela, at time it is a life and death issue?

A re a thaloganya gore mopalamente yo o mo thophang ke ene a tsayang ditshwetso le go dira melao ya gore a Motswana o hiwa melemo, o ya sekolong, o bona tiro, o okeletswa madi, o bula kgwebo, le gore o e bula jang ko kae? A re a thaloganya gore thopho ga se thopho hela ya go tsenya party ya sepolotiki mo pusong?

If we get it, but keep forgetting then let me remind us of the importance of voting our members of Parliament, and how important an institution this body is. This is building on the last article on the Parliament with Power, Without Powers. When we vote MPs we are voting our law makers, but we are also voting, ideally, for people who will hold the Executive accountable. Hence it is important to put in place oversight mechanisms to ensure that oversight. One would ask, but who makes the laws that could ensure oversight? Well, the MPs themselves make the laws. The MP you vote, determines the quality of laws and oversight you get. Basically, who you put in Parliament really determines how you live your life.

Oversight or lack thereof affects the functioning of a political regime. So, next time you engage with your MP please ask what their take is on oversight. Ask gore how accountable to do they want the Executive and other Politically Exposed Persons to be, to the public, for the public good, not Political Party good, not individual good, but the public good. Ask how willing they are to learn more about playing an oversight role and ensuring it is legislated for.

Some will always argue that there is oversight in Botswana Parliament- referring to Public Accounts Committee, however, apart from PAC, what are the oversight tools available to our Parliament? Ask your MP, our legislatures, if they actually oversee actions and activities of government and if this role and how this role has an impact on the political system and the behaviour of government. Kana re mono hela, le mapalamente a rona?

Let us keep this in mind, democracy does not depend exclusively on the government’s ability to perform but also on the fact that the government action is subject to scrutiny and control, the probability that a country is democratic is, in my view, affected by the legislature’s potential to oversee the government.

Actually before I continue, maybe we have different expectations from our democracy, what kind of democracy you want? The kind that puts in power governments- produced by elections-that are inefficient, corrupt, short-sighted, irresponsible, dominated by special interests, and incapable of adopting policies demanded by the public good or should democracy bring and give you much more on the positive side? For Huntington (1991: 9-10) “elections, open, free and fair are the essence of democracy, the inescapable sine qua non. However, for me, for me, the fact that a government is corrupt, irresponsible, unable or unwilling to address citizens’ demands certainly makes the political system less democratic.

Strengthening oversight does try to fight irresponsiveness, unaccountable leaders’ inefficiencies and short-sightedness, when the tools are availed and structures given powers to act. Some scholars submit that oversight consists in the legislative supervision of the policies and the programs enacted by the government (Schick, 1976). So if we cannot supervise policies and programs enacted by government and our MPs also cannot to do so, then re ba ga mang tota? Ke raya gore ha mopalamente wa gago a sa kgone gore nnyaa, tandabala e rile ka gore gongwe ga a itse gore o ka dira jalo le ha a tswa party e mo pusong, tota batho re mo mathateng.

Our MPs should be capable to supervise, scrutinise policies and programs by government, on behalf of the people to ensure we all benefit from these. If your MP does not ask questions in the National Assembly and they have been there for decades, please ask gore a buse madi a lekgetho. Other scholars have noted instead that oversight is not just a supervision of what the Executive branch of government has done but is also supervision of the Executive’s legislative proposals (Maffio, 2002).

In a parliamentary system, where the Executive branch has the power to introduce a Bill, the process through which a Bill becomes a law (the referral of Bill to specific committees, the discussion within such committees, the debates of a Bill in the plenary and the fact that the parliament has ultimately the power to amend, approve or reject a government’s legislative proposal) gives the legislative branch of government the power to oversee the government plans before enactment.

Jaanong, ha e le gore re na le mapalamente a le 63, e be e le gore 34 ba mo Executive branch, re thoka le a le 42 go hitisa molao motheo, go ka kgonagala jang gore go nne le yone tebelelo eo e e tseneletseng go thokomela gore ba ba 34 ba dira eng, e bile ba tswa Party e nngwe hela? Can we really say and argue for quality laws, policies and programs to benefit Batswana, when the voices that could bring reason in cases of unreasonableness are nominal in the National Assembly?

But what are the tools that Parliaments and legislatures can employ to oversee the government and its activities? Studies suggest the usual to oversee the actions of the Executive such as hearing in committees, hearings in plenary assembly, the creation of inquiry committees, parliamentary questions, question time, the interpellations and the Ombudsman (Maffio, 2002; Pennings 2000). Ombudsman o bothokwa bathong, a re mo diriseng. The presence of the oversight tool is necessary but can be an insufficient condition for effective oversight. Effective oversight may depend on the specific oversight powers given to the parliament:

On whether the parliament has the ability to modify legislation (Loewenberg and Patterson, 1979). So if you have MPs who do not know much about law making, who do not read laws, who do not research to improve on the law, it means gore, should a law be unjust, unreasonable and possibly taking away our rights, we are screwed, because the courts do not change laws, only the legislature has that prerogative. Jaanong a bas a itse gore melao e ba e dirang e ama batho jang, ba itibile gore ba ja jang, re mo mathateng.

On whether parliaments and parliamentarians are given proper information to perform their oversight tasks adequately (Frantzich, 1979). Indeed MPs in other countries have advisors or researchers to inform them and help them make sound decisions and deliberations on behalf of the people. This could be one way we transform our systems, by according our MPs researchers to feed them with information to do better for the people.

On the role of individual MPs, on the role of committee chairs, on the saliency of issues and on how aggressively the opposition performs its role (Rockman, 1984). Bathong ba Modimo, in a democracy, a strong Opposition in Parliament is essential. Kagore, ba go ngakalala ba bala, ba lebelela melao le melawana, ba botsa dipotso on our behalf, we have seen how opposition has asked pertinent questions in the National Assembly, tse di thusiteng go senola go sa tsamaiseng sente puso le tshenyetso sechaba ke batho b aba neng re ba tshephile ka go ba ha marapo mo pusong.

Let me leave you with these questions, with the little that you now know about legislative oversight, is it really important, can it really transform and better our political system, do you want a better liberal democracy or just a formal democracy ya dithopho? If you are still not sure about where you stand on oversight, ask yourself this, knowing what you know about your own undisciplined impulses and tendencies, can you really trust that your leaders do not need to be scrutinised, particularly with the powers we have entrusted them? Wouldn’t you rather give powers and instruments to an institution of representatives to oversee governments’ activities on your behalf, enshrined in the constitution? In a liberal democracy, I believe, we ought to have tools and mechanisms in place to guard those who guard us.

Consulted Works:

Parliamentary Oversight for Government Accountability Edited by Riccardo Pelizzo, Rick Stapenhurst and David Olson 2006. 59 pages. Stock No. 37262
Diamond, L. (1999) Developing Democracy, Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press.
Fish, S.M. (2006) “Stronger legislatures, Stronger Democracies”, in Journal of Democracy, vol. 17, n. 1, pp.5-20.
Frantzich, S.E. (1979) “Computerized Information Technology in the US House of Representatives”, Legislative Studies Quarterly, vol. 4, n. 2, pp. 255-280.
Huntington, S. (1991) The Third Wave of Democratization, London, University of Oklahoma Press.
Loewenberg, G. and Patterson, S.C. (1979) Comparing Legislatures, Boston, Little, Brown and Co.
Maffio, R. (2002) “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Il controllo parlamentare dell’attivita’ di governo in prospettiva comparata”, Quaderni di Scienza Politica, vol. 9, n. 2, pp. 333-383.
Pennings, Paul. 2000. “Parliamentary Control of the Executive in 47 Democracies”, Paper prepared for the workshop on “Parliamentary Control of the Executive”, ECPR Joint Sessions of Workshops, Copenhagen, April 14-19.
Schick, A. “Congress and the details of administration”, Public Administration Review, 36: 516-528. 22
Stapenhurst, R. and R. Pelizzo (2002) “A Bigger Role for Legislatures”, in Finance and Development, vol. 39, n. 3, pp. 46-48.
Stapenhurst, R., Sahgal, V., Woodley, W. and R. Pelizzo (2005) “Scrutinizing Public Expenditures. Assessing the Performance of Public Accounts Committees”, World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 3613, The World Bank, Washington DC.

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The Taiwan Question: China ramps up military exercises to rebuff US provocations

18th August 2022

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan has violated the One-China policy, and caused the escalation of tensions across the Taiwan Strait. Experts and political observers across the spectra agree that Pelosi’s actions and subsequent pronouncements by US President Joe Biden gave impetus to an already simmering tension in the Taiwan Strait, provoking China to strengthen its legitimate hold on the Taiwan Strait waters, which the US and Taiwan deem as ‘international waters’.

Pelosi’s visit to China’s Taiwan region has been heavily criticised across the globe, with China arguing that this is a serious violation of the one-China principle and the provisions of the three China-US Joint Communiqués.  In response to this reckless move which seriously undermined China’s sovereignty, and interfered in China’s internal affairs, the expectation is for China to give a firm response. Pelosi visit violated the commitments made by the U.S. side, and seriously jeopardized peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.

To give context to China’s position over Taiwan region, the history behind gives us perspective. It is also important to note that the history between China and Taiwan is well documented and the US has always recognized it.

The People’s Republic of China recognises Taiwan as its territory. It has always been  the case even before the Nationalist Republic of China government fled to the previously Japanese-ruled Island after losing the civil war on the mainland in 1949. According to literature that threat was contained for decades — first with a military alliance between the US and the ROC on Taiwan, and after Washington switched diplomatic recognition to the PRC in 1979 by the US One China policy, which acknowledges Beijing’s position that Taiwan is part of One China. Effectively, Taiwan’s administration was transferred to the Republic of China from Japan after the Second World War in 1945, along with the split between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (ROC) as a consequence of the Chinese Civil War. Disregarding this history, as the US is attempting to do, will surely initiate some defence reaction on the side of China to affirm its sovereignty.

However, this history was undermined since Taiwan claimed to democratise in the 1990s and China has grown ever more belligerent. Furthermore, it is well documented that the Biden administration, following the Trump presidency, has made subtle changes in the way it deals with Taipei, such as loosening restrictions on US officials meeting Taiwanese officials – this should make China uneasy. And while the White House continues to say it does not support Taiwanese independence, Biden’s words and actions are parallel to this pledge because he has warned China that the US would intervene militarily if China attacked Taiwan – another statement that has provoked China.

Pelosi, in her private space, would know that her actions amount to provocation of China. This act of aggression by the USA seriously undermines the virtues of sovereignty and territorial integrity which has a huge potential to destabilize not only the Taiwan Strait but the whole of the Asia- Pacific region.  The Americans know very well that their provocative behavior is deliberately invoking the spirit of separatism masqueraded as “Taiwan independence”.  The US is misled to think that by supporting separatism of Taiwan from China that would give them an edge over China in a geopolitics. This is what one Chinese diplomat said this week: “The critical point is if every country put their One-China policy into practice with sincerity, with no compromise, is going to guarantee the peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”  Therefore, it was in the wake of US House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, that China, in a natural response revealed plans for unprecedented military exercises near the island, prompting fears of a crisis in the Taiwan Strait and the entire Asia-Pacific region. The world community must promote and foster peace, this may be achieved when international laws are respected. It may also happen when nations respect the sovereignty of another. China may be in a better space because it is well capacitated to stake its territorial integrity, what about a small nation, if this happens to it?

As to why military exercises by Beijing; it is an expected response because China was provoked by the actions of Pelosi. To fortify this position, Chinese President, Xi signed a legal basis for China’s People’s Liberation Army to “safeguard China’s national sovereignty, security and development interests”. The legal basis will also allow military missions around disaster relief, humanitarian aid and peacekeeping. In addition the legal changes would allow troops to “prevent spillover effects of regional instabilities from affecting China, secure vital transport routes for strategic materials like oil, or safeguard China’s overseas investments, projects and personnel.  It then follows that President Xi’s administration cannot afford to look weak under a US provocation. President Xi must protector China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, of which Taiwan is a central part.” Beijing is very clear on One-China Policy, and expects all world players to recognize and respect it.

The People’s Liberation Army has made it clear that it has firepower that covers all of Taiwan, and it can strike wherever it wants. This sentiments have been attributed to Zhang Junshe, a researcher at the PLA Navy Research Institute. Zheng further said, “We got really close to Taiwan. We encircled Taiwan. And we demonstrated that we can effectively stop intervention by foreign forces.” This is a strong reaction from China to warn the US against provocation and violation of the One-China Policy.

Beijing’s military exercises will certainly shake Taiwan’s confidence in the sources of its economic and political survival. The potential for an effective blockade threatens the air and shipping routes that support Taiwan’s central role in global technology supply chains. Should a humanitarian situation arise in Taiwan, the blame would squarely be on the US.

As China’s military exercises along the Taiwan Strait progress and grow, it remains that the decision by Nancy Pelosi to visit China’s Taiwan region gravely undermined peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and sent a wrong signal to “Taiwan independence” separatist forces. This then speaks to international conventions, as the UN Secretary-General António Guterres explicitly stressed that the UN remains committed to the UN General Assembly Resolution 2758. The centerpiece is the one-China principle, namely, there is but one China in the world, the government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legal government representing the whole of China, and Taiwan is a part of China. It must be noted that the US and the US-led NATO countries have selectively applied international law, this has been going on unabated. There is a plethora of actions that have collapsed several states after they were attacked under the pretext of the so-called possession of weapons of mass destruction illuminating them as threats – and sometimes even without any valid reason. to blatantly launch military strikes and even unleash wars on sovereign countrie

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Internal party-democracy under pressure

21st June 2022

British novelist, W. Somerset Maugham once opined: “If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its freedom; and the irony of it is that if it is comfort or money that it values more, it will lose that too.”

The truism in these words cannot be underestimated, especially when contextualizing against the political developments in Botswana. We have become a nation that does not value democracy, yet nothing represent freedom more than democracy. In fact, we desire, and value winning power or clinging to power more than anything else, even if it harms the democratic credentials of our political institutions. This is happening across political parties — ruling and opposition.

As far as democracy is concerned, we are regressing. We are becoming worse-off than we were in the past. If not arrested, Botswana will lose its status as among few democratic nations in the Africa. Ironically, Botswana was the first country in Africa to embrace democracy, and has held elections every five years without fail since independence.

We were once viewed as the shining example of Africa. Those accolades are not worth it any more. Young democracies such as South Africa, with strong institutions, deserves to be exalted. Botswana has lost faith in democracy, and we will pay a price for it. It is a slippery slope to dictatorship, which will bring among other excess, assault on civil liberties and human rights violations.

Former President, Festus Mogae once stated that Botswana’s democracy will only become authentic, when a different party, other than the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) wins elections, and when the President of such party is not from Serowe.

Although many may not publicly care to admit, Mogae’s assertion is true. BDP has over the years projected itself as a dyed-in-the-wool proponent of democracy, but the moment its stay in power became threatened and uncertain, it started behaving in a manner that is at variance with democratic values.  This has been happening over the years now, and the situation is getting worse by the day.

Recently, the BDP party leadership has been preaching compromise and consensus candidates for 2024 general elections. Essentially, the leadership has lost faith in the Bulela Ditswe dispensation, which has been used to selected party candidates for council and parliament since 2003. The leadership is discouraging democracy because they believe primary elections threaten party unity. It is a strange assertion indeed.

Bulela Ditswe was an enrichment of internal party democracy in the sense that it replaced the previous method of selection of candidates known as Committee of 18, in which a branch committee made of 18 people endorsed the representatives. While it is true that political contest can divide, the ruling party should be investing in political education and strengthening in its primary elections processes. Democracy does not come cheap or easy, but it is valuable.

Any unity that we desire so much at the expense of democracy is not true unity. Like W. Somerset Maugham said, democracy would be lost in the process, and ultimately, even the unity that was desired would eventually be lost too. Any solution that sacrifice democracy would not bring any results in the long run, except misery.

We have seen that also in opposition ranks. The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) recently indicated that its incumbent Members of Parliament (MPs) should not be challenged for their seats. While BDP is sacrificing democracy to stay in power, UDC is sacrificing democracy to win power. It is a scary reality given the fact that both parties – ruling and opposition — have embraced this position and believe democracy is the hindrance to their political ambitions.

These current reality points to one thing; our political parties have lost faith in democracy. They desire power more than, the purpose of power itself. It is also a crisis of leadership across the political divide, where we have seen dissenting views being met with persecution. We have seen perverting of political process endorsed by those in echelons of power to manipulate political outcomes in their favour.

Democracy should not be optional, it should be mandatory. Any leader proposing curtailing of democracy should be viewed with suspicion, and his adventures should be rejected before it is too late. Members of political parties, as subscribers of democracy, should collectively rise to the occasion to save their democracy from self-interest that is becoming prevalent among Botswana political parties.

The so-called compromise candidates, only benefits the leadership because it creates comforts for them. But for members, and for the nation, it is causing damage by reversing the gains that have been made over the years. We should reject leaders who only preach democracy in word, but are hesitant to practice it.

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The Big Deal About Piracy

21st June 2022

Piracy of all kinds continues to have a massive impact on the global creative industry and the economies of the countries where it thrives.

One of the biggest misconceptions around piracy is that an individual consumer’s piracy activities, especially in a market the size of Botswana’s, is only a drop in the pool of potential losses to the different sectors of the economy piracy affects.

When someone sitting in Gaborone, Botswana logs onto an illegal site to download King Richard online, they don’t imagine that their one download will do anything to the production house’s pocket or make a dent in the actors’ net worth. At best, the sensitivity towards this illegal pirating activity likely only exists when contemplating going about pirating a local musician’s music or a short film produced locally.

The ripple effects of piracy at whatever scale reach far beyond what the average consumer could ever imagine. Figures released by software security and media technology company, Irdeto, show that users in five major African territories made approximately 17,4 million total visits to the top 10 identified piracy sites on the internet.

The economic impact of this on the creative industry alone soars to between 40 and 97.1 billion dollars, according a 2022 Dataprot study. In addition, they estimate that “illegally streamed copyrighted content consumes 24% of global bandwidth”.

As Botswana’s creative industry remains relatively slight on the scale of comparison to industries such as Nollywood and Nilewood where the creative industry contributes a huge proportion to West and East Africa’s respective GDPs, that does not imply that piracy activities in Botswana do not have a similar impact on our economy and the ability of our creative industry to grow.

When individuals make decisions to illegally consume content via internet streaming sites they believe they are saving money for themselves in the name of enjoying content they desire to consume. Although this is a personal choice that remains the prerogative of the consumer, looking beyond the fact that streaming on illegal content sites is piracy, the ripple effect of this decision also has an endless trail of impact where funds which could be used to grow the local creative industry through increased consumption, and revenue which would otherwise be fed back into Botswana’s economy are being diverted.

“Why can’t our local creative industry grow?” “Why don’t we see more home-grown films and shows in Botswana?” are questions constantly posed by those who consume television content in Botswana. The answer to this lies largely in the fact that Botswana’s local content needs an audience in order for it to grow. It needs support from government and entities which are in a position to fund and help the industry scale greater heights.

Any organisational body willing to support and grow the local creative industry needs to exist and operate in an economy which can support its mandates. Content piracy is a cycle that can only be alleviated when consumers make wiser decisions around what they consume and how.

This goes beyond eradicating piracy activities in so far as television content is concerned. This extends to the importation and trade in counterfeit goods, resale of goods and services not intended for resale across the border, outside its jurisdiction, and more. All of these activities stunt the growth of an economy and make it nearly impossible for industries and sectors to propel themselves to places where they can positively impact society and reinvest into the country’s economy.

So what can be done to turn the tide here in Botswana in order to see our local production houses gain the momentum required to produce more, license more and expand their horizons? While those who enforce the law continue to work towards minimizing piracy activities, it’s imperative that as consumers we work to make their efforts easier by being mindful of how our individual actions play a role in preventing the success of our local creative networks and our economy’s growth.

Whether you are pirating a Hollywood Blockbuster, illegally streaming a popular Motswana artist’s music, or smuggling in an illegal decoder to view content restricted to South Africa only, your actions have an impact on how we as a nation will make our mark on the global landscape with local creative productions. Thembi Legwaila is Corporate Affairs Manager, MultiChoice Botswana

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