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Root od National Politics, Part 17: The Formation of the BDP

Jeff Ramsay

We left off last week with Seretse Khama’s October 1961 call at the Serowe Kgotla for the people to “unite and form an organization with proper leaders which would be a power in the land and which would be able not only to stop the damage being caused by the People's Party but which would be able to advise Government what should be done to further the interests of the Territory.”

Members of the Ngwato Tribal Executive Committee, including Goareng Mosinyi, Moutlakgola Nwako, Gaefalale “G.G.” Sebeso, and Seretse, himself, formed the initial core of the envisaged party. A month later at the second Legco meeting in Lobatse Seretse called a caucus of all the African members of the Council. There he put forward his ideas for a “Bechuanaland National Democratic Party.”

Dikgosi Bathoen II and Mokgosi (of Balete) immediately disassociated themselves from the proposal, maintaining that as royals they were expected to remain above party politics. But, the others present signed on.

Among them was Quett Masire, who had apparently been approached earlier by Seretse through his old schoolmate Nwako. He, along with Seretse, and Archelaus Tsoebebe, were charged with drafting a constitution for the party, to be presented to a follow-up meeting at Mahalapye in January 1962.

When word reached Motsamai Mpho about the preparations for a new party he called upon Seretse to suggest that, as a kgosi, he should remain above politics, hinting that he could perhaps become titular head of state in a BPP government. Unimpressed Seretse reportedly responded: “What you want is to grab the people for yourself”.

Taking up a theme that he would never quite let go Mpho then communicated to the ANC aligned newspaper “New Age” that the “chiefs and whites in the Territory” were holding behind the scenes talks for the formation of their own party.

For his part, Seretse was equally firm in dismissing similar arguments put forward by more conservative elements around Leetile Raditladi who had half-heartedly flouted the idea of reviving the Federal Party with Seretse as its head.

At Mahalapye the new party’s constitution was approved after minor amendments. Ex-serviceman, educator and veteran BakaNswazwi activist Amos Dambe convinced everyone to drop the “National” from the party name.

A month later the party held its inaugural public meeting at Gaborone under the morula tree that still stands next to Orapa House. This venue had been hastily chosen after permission was withdrawn for them to meet at Mochudi, where they had already assembled. The Bakgatla regent, Kgosi Mmusi, had come under pressure from his conservative councillors, and neighbouring Dikgosi.

Under the shade of the tree, the party elected its officers with the top executive’s positions going to Seretse as President, Tsoebebe as Vice-President, Masire as Secretary-General and Benjamin Steinberg, a wealthy white trader and rancher, as Treasurer.

The aborted Mochudi meeting served to underscore the distance that existed between the nascent party and the southern royals. In this respect, although Seretse was never shy to play the royal card in Gammangwato and Gatawana, were he installed Letsholathebe II in December 1964, the Domkrag was never a “chiefs party” in its convictions.

Both philosophically and personally Seretse shared with such figures as Masire and Nwako a strong desire to reduce if not break the local power of such rulers Bathoen and Kgari Sechele as a step toward a new, democratically legitimized, dispensation.

During the BDP's first months, Seretse did meet with several dikgosi, including Bathoen and Kgari in Molepolole, apparently not so much to attract their blessing as to discourage their active opposition. The host, Kgari, however, remained publicly opposed (though privately resigned) to all political parties. By one account Seretse was moved to openly condemn Kgari's perceived autocracy.

As it was Kgari, having repeatedly declared that bogosi would be buried with him, died a few months later without a clear successor. Seretse's appeal may have had a greater effect on Bathoen who in a 1962 pitso stated as far as political parties were concerned “I do not pay attention to these organizations.” According to Masire after the election:

“Bathoen felt betrayed when Seretse became openly democratic [in curbing the local prerogatives of dikgosi]. Not that he had ever been promised anything, but he had come to the wrong conclusions.”

Notwithstanding its ultimate success, the BDP's triumph looked far from certain at the time of its birth. Outside of Gammangwato, where Seretse Khama's standing assured a solid base of initial support, it was to a great extent through Masire's tireless grassroots organizing, initially as the party’s southern, later nationwide coordinator, that the BDP was transformed from an elite network into a genuinely national movement.

Unlike the BPP, which by 1962 was still concentrating its efforts along the line of rail, Masire and his partners immediately set about recruiting activists in all of the country's regions and villages. He started off by sitting down “to write letters to anyone I could think of,” and often such people were those he had known as editor of Naledi Ya BaTswana.

Others were teachers, progressive farmers, and old Tiger Kloof acquaintances. Masire also drew up and distributed a statement of the party's principal's, entitled “Maitlomo le Maikaelelo” (“Intentions and Purposes”).

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Economic Resurgence Options: Is Export-Led Growth Tenable For Botswana?

22nd September 2020

The world in which we live is a criminally unequal one. In his iconic 1945 allegorical novella,  Animal Farm, a satire on the facetiousness  of the then Soviet Empire’s crackbrained experiment with a command economy, the legendary George Orwell in my view hit the nail squarely on the head when he said all animals were equal but some animals were more equal than others.

That’s the never-ending dichotomy of the so-called First World and its polar opposite, the so-called Third World as Orwell’s cleverly-couched diatribe applies as much to the tread-of-the-mill laissez faire economics of our day as it did to Marxist-Leninist Russia a generation back.

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Victory is Won

22nd September 2020

Israelites take Canaan under General Joshua

Even as the Nation of Israeli braced to militarily take possession of the Promised Land, General, its top three senior citizens, namely Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, were not destined to share in this god-conferred bequest. All three died before the lottery was won.

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Finance Bills: What are they about?

22nd September 2020

Financial Reporting (Amendment) Bill, 2020 and Accountants (Amendment) Bill, 2020 were expeditiously passed by parliament on Thursday.

What are these two Bills really about?  The Bills are essentially about professional values that are applicable to auditors and accountants in their practice. The Bills seeks to basically enhance existing laws to ensure more uprightness, fairness, professional proficiency, due care, expertise and or professional technical standards.

The Financial Reporting Act, 2010 (FRA) establishes the Botswana Accountancy Oversight Authority (BAOA), as the country’s independent regulator of the accounting and auditing profession. BAOA is responsible for the oversight and registration of audit firms and certified auditors of public interest entities.

In the same vein, there is the Accountants Act, 2010 establishing the Botswana Institute of Chartered Accountants (BICA) which is responsible for the registration and regulation of the accounting and auditing profession. This consequently infers that some auditors have to register first with BICA as certified auditors, and also with BAOA as certified auditors of public bodies. So, the Bills sought to avert the duplication.

According to Minister Matsheka, the duplication of efforts in the regulation of auditors, which is done by both BICA and BAOA, creates a substantial gap on oversight of certified auditors in Botswana, as the two entities have different review procedures. He contends that the enforcement of sanctions becomes problematic and, thus, leads to offenders going Scot-Free, and audit quality standards also continue to plunge.

The Financial Reporting (Amendment) Bill, 2020, in the view of the Minister, brings the oversight and regulation of all auditors in Botswana under the jurisdiction of the Accountancy Oversight Authority and that Bringing all auditors within one roof, under the supervision of BAOA would therefore reinforce their oversight and significantly enhance accountability.

He also pointed that the Bill broadens the current mandate of the Authority by redefining public interest entities to include public bodies, defined as boards, tribunals, commissions, councils, committees, other body corporate or unincorporated established under any enactment.

This covers any company in which government has an equity shareholding. In order to enable the process of instituting fitting sanctions against violation of its provisions, the Bill clearly lays down acts and lapses that constitute professional misconduct.

This Bill further strengthens the sanctions for breach of the Act by public interest entities, officers, firms, and certified auditors. Reinforcing the law with respect to such sanctions will act as an effective deterrent for breach of the Act.

The Accountants Bill also strengthens the current mandate of the Institute by making it obligatory for those who provide accountancy services in Botswana to register with the Institute, and for all employers to hire accountants who are registered with the Institute.

The Minister reasons that in line with the spirit of citizen empowerment, this Bill proposes reservation of at least 50% of the Council membership for citizens. This, he says, is to empower citizens and ensure that citizenries play an active role in the affairs of the Institute, and ultimately in the development of the accounting profession in Botswana.

The Bills come at a point when Botswana’s financial sector is in a quagmire. The country has been blacklisted by the European Union. Its international rankings on Corruption Perception Index have slightly reduced.  According to recent reports by Afro Barometer survey, perceptions of corruption in the public service have soured and so is mistrust in public institutions.

Rating agencies, Standard Poor’s and Moody’s have downgraded Botswana, albeit slightly. The reasons are that there continues to be corruption, fiscal and revenue crimes such as money laundering and general unethical governance in the country. There are still loopholes in many laws despite the enactments and amendments of more than thirty laws in the last two years.

One of the most critical aspect of enhancing transparency and accountability and general good governance, is to have a strong auditing and accounting systems. Therefore, such professions must be properly regulated to ensure that public monies are protected against white color crime. It is well known that some audit firms are highly unprincipled.

They are responsible for tax avoidance and tax evasions of some major companies. Some are responsible for fraud that has been committed. They are more loyal to money paid by clients than to ethical professional standards. They shield clients against accountability. Some companies and parastatals have collapsed or have been ruined financially despite complementary reports by auditors.

In some cases, we have seen audit firms auditing parastatals several times to almost becoming resident auditors. This is bad practice which is undesirable. Some auditors who were appointed liquidators of big companies have committee heinous crimes of corruption, imprudent management, fraud and outright recklessness without serious consequences.

There is also a need to protect whistleblowers as they have been victimized for blowing the whistle on impropriety. In fact, in some cases, audit firms have exonerated culprits who are usually corrupt corporate executives.

The accounting and auditing professions have been dominated by foreigners for a very long time. Most major auditing firms used by state entities and big private sector companies are owned by foreigners. There has to be a deliberate plan to have Batswana in this profession.

While there are many Batswana who are accountants, less are chartered accountants. There must be deliberate steps to wrestle the profession from foreigners by making citizens to be chartered.  It is also important to strengthen the Auditor General. The office is created by the constitution.

The security of tenure is clearly secured in the constitution. However, this security of tenure was undermined by the appointing authority in many instances whereby the Auditor General was appointed on a short-term contract. The office is part of the civil service and is not independent at all.

The Auditor General is placed, in terms of scale, at Permanent Secretary level and is looked at as a peer by others who think they can’t be instructed by their equivalent to comply. Some have failed to submit books of accounts for audits, e.g. for special funds without fear or respect of the office. There is need to relook this office by making it more independent and place it higher than Permanent Secretaries.

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