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UDC: is it on the path to governance?

Ndulamo Anthony Morima

It is inarguable that having obtained seventeen out of the fifty-seven elective parliamentary seats, the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) emerged from the 2014 general elections as the greatest victor. Yet, if not properly managed this success can turn out to be the party’s greatest undoing. In this article, I consider whether the UDC is on the path to winning the 2019 general elections.

One essential step to winning the 2019 general elections is for the UDC to commit to the coalition agreements it made with respect to the recognition and respect for its coalition partners-the Botswana National Front (BNF), Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) and Botswana Peoples Party (BPP).

These agreements, which relate to such aspects as allocation of party leadership positions, dispute resolution procedures, relations with each other in the media, resource sharing, e.t.c are as important now as they were before the 2014 general elections. There is no doubt that the UDC continues to respect the agreements as evidenced by the lack of dissatisfaction by the member parties.

Also, the UDC should, in the true spirit of a coalition or co-operation model, not attempt to blur the ideological differences between its member parties. In other words, though it should speak with one voice, especially in Parliament and in public, it should not behave like one political party. If it does, the followers of the member parties will lack a sense of belonging and be prone to being lured into joining either the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) or Botswana Congress Party (BCP).

The UDC has done well in this regard since no member party has complained of censorship with respect to ideological expression. Even new comers have easily joined the political party with an ideology closer to the party they defect from. For example, those who defect from the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) have largely joined the BMD.

The only threat to this ideal is the fact that of late there are claims by some UDC leaders that a person can legally join the UDC directly. This has the potential of causing conflict within the coalition since some view it as a plan to leave the member parties with no membership, resulting in their disintegration.   

Unfortunately, if this obtains, it will provide arsenal to those opposed to the UDC project, thereby denting the UDC’s chances of attaining State power. It will be remembered that when the UDC project started the then members of BNF’s Temporary Platform and such of BNF leader, Duma Boko,’s adversaries as Gabriel Kanjabanga and Lemogang Ntime argued that the UDC project will inevitably lead to the collapse of its member parties.

Another essential step in the UDC’s path to governance is the early conclusion of the coalition or cooperation talks with the BCP. A clear time frame should be set for the negotiations so that a decision is made latest by mid-2017. This will avoid a situation where the issues emanating from failed cooperation talks spill into the election year, a thing which the BDP will relish.
Having already announced the imminent commencement of talks and the leaders of the UDC, Honourable Duma Boko, and BCP, Dumelang Saleshando, having reportedly done a lot to improve their relationships as leaders, there is hope that the UDC can still conclude the talks by mid-2017. This will give it about two years to campaign for the 2019 general elections as a collective.   
Also, though the BCP has been bruised following its dismal performance in the 2014 general elections, during the coalition or cooperation talks, whose imminent commencement has been announced by both the UDC and the BCP, the UDC should not take advantage of BCP’s weak position. There is no doubt that the UDC and the BCP will need each other if they are to oust the BDP from power.

Also, should the BCP ultimately enter into a coalition or cooperation with the UDC, the BNF, as the ‘Big Brother’, should not make the mistake of abandoning or beginning to undermine its smaller coalition partners- the BMD and the BPP. Small as they may be, they assisted the BNF when it mattered the most and as ‘cautious sons’ who remained in the family when the ‘prodigal son’ left, they should not be forsaken when the ‘prodigal son’ returns home.

Similarly, the ‘cautious sons’ should not react with animosity and vengeance when the ‘prodigal son’ returns for in the dirty game of numbers that politics is, it unfortunately matters not whether one is prodigal or cautious.

If the UDC wants to attain State power in 2019 it should not bask in the glory of its success for too long for the BDP and the BCP (if the cooperation talks collapse) may take advantage of that and make political strides which the UDC, after its recline, may find too far to catch up with.

This is the dark cloud that befell the Democratic Party and President Barack Obama in the United States of America(USA) who, after the 2008 ‘ Yes, we can’ victory, fell into a slumber only for the Republican Party to humiliate him during the 2014 elections by gaining a majority in both the Congress and the Senate.

Though it is not the governing party and cannot implement the policies and programmes espoused in its manifesto, the UDC should use Parliamentary debates and Parliament’s Question Time to give the voters a feel of how it will perform when in government.

Thankfully, since the State of the Nation Address (SONA) and Budget Speech, the UDC has debated like a true government in waiting. The UDC has also acted like an alternative government with respect to its constructive criticism of the Economic Stimulus Programme (ESP).

Needless to say that, the UDC needs to, as early as now, renew itself. That is what the USA’s Republican Party did after the 2008 elections. Though its growth was largely assisted by its militant Tea Party Movement, it renewed itself by reconsidering its position on such issues as immigration.

It is only renewal which will ensure that the UDC not only retains those who voted for it in 2014, but also attracts new members from those who did not vote as well as those who voted for the BDP and the BCP. If the BDP, which won the elections albeit with a reduced majority, is already in such an offensive recruitment and renewal drive, the UDC should, no doubt, also be working twice as hard for its re-positioning.

If the UDC fails to plan a timeous rebirth, as I am afraid it is, the BDP’s new tag line, which is rumored to be “Thulaganyo”, may take ground and force the UDC to be on the defensive, something which is never good, especially in politics. Also, if Vice President, Mokgweetsi Masisi’s charm offensive though such ‘initiatives’ as the ESP goes unabated it may hurt the UDC in 2019.

For the UDC to attain power in 2019 it needs to inculcate a culture of stewardship, especially among its Councilors and Members of Parliament (MPs). It is only stewardship and not such material things as wealth and educational qualifications that will ensure their re-election in the 2019 general elections. Unfortunately, I am not yet convinced that stewardship has become a way of life for UDC’s Councilors and MPs.

The UDC should encourage its Councilors, MPs and party leaders to respect the Setswana idiom “Ere go bona bodiba bo jeleng ngwana wa ga mmaago obo kakologe”, meaning that one should avoid following the perilous route that cost his or her fellow human being’s life.

UDC Councilors, MPs and party leaders should avoid the crimes, corruption, maladministration and such personal indiscretions as alcohol and drug abuse and infidelity that cost several of their colleagues Council and Parliamentary seats. Simply put, the UDC should practice what it preaches. Behavior should not only be condemned as a malady or indiscretion when it relates to the BDP and be condoned when it relates to the UDC.

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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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