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Of Political Party Caucuses and Inner Party Democracy!

Ndulamo Anthony Morima

This week I had occasion to participate in a Gabz fm radio discussion hosted by Gabriel Rasengwatshe where, among other issues, the issue of political party caucuses and inner party democracy was discussed.  I continue the discussion in this article.

It is instructive that we start by defining the key concepts involved in this matter. Firstly, political party. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia defines a political party as “… a group of people who come together to contest elections and hold power in the government. The party agrees on some proposed policies and programmes, with a view to promoting the collective good or furthering their supporters' interests…”

Secondly, political party caucuses. It is a meeting of supporters or members of a specific political party or movement intended to rally the members around a particular issue, e.g. the nominations for Specially Elected Members of Parliament.

Thirdly, inner party democracy. According to the Electoral Knowledge Network “… Internal democracy in political parties, also known as intra-party democracy, refers to the level and methods of including party members in the decision making and deliberation within the party structure…”

The Electoral Knowledge Network continues to say “… Intra-party democracy is usually known to nurture citizens’ political competencies and/or producing more capable representatives which in turn ensures that the party produces better policies and political programmes…”

As discussed during the Gabz fm radio discussion, there are those who are of the view that political party caucuses stifle inner party democracy because decisions taken during such caucuses are binding on the members even if they held different views.

They give an example of situations where a Member of Parliament (MP) is denied the right to express his or her voters’ mandate because of caucus resolutions. They also cite instances where, because of caucus resolutions, MPs are forced to vote in a particular way for positions, motions and Bills tabled in Parliament.

They argue that to avoid majoritarian dictatorship members should be free to publicly express their views even if they contradict those of the caucus. This, they argue, would save the party from self-destruction and allow MPs, for instance, to truly represent the electorate.

They further argue that a member of a political party has a civic and moral duty to speak out against the majority, especially if caucus resolutions neither promote the collective good nor further the members’ interests.

In their view, sometimes a political party’s agenda is hijacked by a few individuals who, through extortion and bribery, impose their views and have them rubber stamped by the caucus. They contend that in worse cases, political parties are captured by such forces as business and caucuses are used to further irrelevant interests. 

On the contrary, others contend that there is nothing irregular in having members of a political party bound by caucus resolutions. They argue that after all, the members, by joining the political party, bound themselves to be governed by its political ideology, policies and programmes.

They argue that for a political party to prosper, individual interests should be subservient to those of the party. It is the majority’s interests that should prevail, they contend, and a member who is more often than not in disagreement with caucus decisions should resign from the party.

In my view, it is not a black and white issue. A delicate balance has to be struck. For instance, while it is true that by joining a political party a member agrees to be bound by the party’s ideologies and policies, members should be able to disagree, even publicly, on such non-fundamental issues as programmes.

In fact, such members can go a long way in neutralizing the other political parties by raising issues that would ordinarily be raised by such parties. Every political party has moderates and those at the far end of the political spectrum. If these are suppressed and not allowed to express their views they would despair and ultimately resign from the party.  

What cannot, however, be allowed is for a member to publicly disagree with caucus decisions on matters which touch on party ideology or the party’s survival. For instance, it cannot be healthy for a member of the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) to publicly challenge capitalist ideals and support Marxist, Communist or Socialist principles.

Also, if a political party is facing a key vote in Parliament, for instance, members should follow the party line and vote in terms of the caucus resolution. In such an instance, there can be no luxury of members ‘expressing their freedoms’ by defying caucus resolutions.

In my view, for as long as members are included in decision making and deliberation within the party structure, inner party democracy would be achieved even if caucus resolutions are imposed on the members, especially if they relate to the soul and survival of the party.

Political party caucuses are, therefore, not per se irreconcilable with inner party democracy. For as long as the members are given some freedom, especially on non-life and death issues, political party caucuses are an essential aspect of inner party democracy which ensures order within a political party.

It obviously cannot be healthy for each member to speak as they please regardless of the party position. This can make the party ungovernable, making it vulnerable to the other political parties. 

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Is COVID-19 Flogging an Already Dead Economic Horse?

9th September 2020

The Central Bank has by way of its Monetary Policy Statement informed us that the Botswana economy is likely to contract by 8.9 percent over the course of the year 2020.

The IMF paints an even gloomier picture – a shrinkage of the order of 9.6 percent.  That translates to just under $2 billion hived off from the overall economic yield given our average GDP of roughly $18 billion a year. In Pula terms, this is about P23 billion less goods and services produced in the country and you and I have a good guess as to what such a sum can do in terms of job creation and sustainability, boosting tax revenue, succouring both recurrent and development expenditure, and on the whole keeping our teeny-weeny economy in relatively good nick.

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Union of Blue Bloods

9th September 2020

Joseph’s and Judah’s family lines conjoin to produce lineal seed

Just to recap, General Atiku, the Israelites were not headed for uncharted territory. The Promised Land teemed with Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. These nations were not simply going to cut and run when they saw columns of battle-ready Israelites approach: they were going to fight to the death.

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Security Sector Private Bills: What are they about?

9th September 2020

Parliament has begun debates on three related Private Members Bills on the conditions of service of members of the Security Sector.

The Bills are Prisons (Amendment) Bill, 2019, Police (Amendment) Bill, 2019 and Botswana Defence Force (Amendment) Bill, 2019. The Bills seek to amend the three statutes so that officers are placed on full salaries when on interdictions or suspensions whilst facing disciplinary boards or courts of law.

In terms of the Public Service Act, 2008 which took effect in 2010, civil servants who are indicted are paid full salary and not a portion of their emolument. Section 35(3) of the Act specifically provides that “An employee’s salary shall not be withheld during the period of his or her suspension”.

However, when parliament reformed the public service law to allow civil servants to unionize, among other things, and extended the said protection of their salaries, the process was not completed. When the House conferred the benefit on civil servants, members of the disciplined forces were left out by not accordingly amending the laws regulating their employment.

The Bills stated above seeks to ask Parliament to also include members of the forces on the said benefit. It is unfair not to include soldiers or military officers, police officers and prison waders in the benefit. Paying an officer who is facing either external or internal charges full pay is in line with the notion of ei incumbit probation qui dicit, non qui negat or the presumption of innocence; that the burden of proof is on the one who declares, not on one who denies.

The officers facing charges, either internal disciplinary or criminal charges before the courts, must be presumed innocent until proven otherwise. Paying them a portion of their salary is penalty and therefore arbitrary. Punishment by way of loss of income or anything should come as a result of a finding on the guilt by a competent court of law, tribunal or disciplinary board.

What was the rationale behind this reform in 2008 when the Public Service Act was adopted? First it was the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise.

The presumption of innocence is the legal principle that one is considered “innocent until proven guilty”. In terms of the constitution and other laws of Botswana, the presumption of innocence is a legal right of the accused in a criminal trial, and it is an international human right under the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 11.

Withholding a civil servant’s salary because they are accused of an internal disciplinary offense or a criminal offense in the courts of law, was seen as punishment before a decision by a tribunal, disciplinary board or a court of law actually finds someone culpable. Parliament in its wisdom decided that no one deserves this premature punishment.

Secondly, it was considered that people’s lives got destroyed by withholding of financial benefits during internal or judicial trials. Protection of wages is very important for any worker. Workers commit their salaries, they pay mortgages, car loans, insurances, schools fees for children and other things. When public servants were experiencing salary cuts because of interdictions, they lost their homes, cars and their children’s future.

They plummeted into instant destitution. People lost their livelihoods. Families crumbled. What was disheartening was that in many cases, these workers are ultimately exonerated by the courts or disciplinary tribunals. When they are cleared, the harm suffered is usually irreparable. Even if one is reimbursed all their dues, it is difficult to almost impossible to get one’s life back to normal.

There is a reasoning that members of the security sector should be held to very high standards of discipline and moral compass. This is true. However, other more senior public servants such as judges, permanent secretary to the President and ministers have faced suspensions, interdictions and or criminal charges in the courts but were placed on full salaries.

The yardstick against which security sector officers are held cannot be higher than the aforementioned public officials. It just wouldn’t make sense. They are in charge of the security and operate in a very sensitive area, but cannot in anyway be held to higher standards that prosecutors, magistrates, judges, ministers and even senior officials such as permanent secretaries.

Moreover, jail guards, police officers and soldiers, have unique harsh punishments which deter many of them from committing misdemeanors and serious crimes. So, the argument that if the suspension or interdiction with full pay is introduced it would open floodgates of lawlessness is illogical.

Security Sector members work in very difficult conditions. Sometimes this drives them into depression and other emotional conditions. The truth is that many seldom receive proper and adequate counseling or such related therapies. They see horrifying scenes whilst on duty. Jail guards double as hangmen/women.

Detectives attend to autopsies on cases they are dealing with. Traffic police officers are usually the first at accident scenes. Soldiers fight and kill poachers. In all these cases, their minds are troubled. They are human. These conditions also play a part in their behaviors. They are actually more deserving to be paid full salaries when they’re facing allegations of misconduct.

To withhold up to 50 percent of the police, prison workers and the military officers’ salaries during their interdiction or suspensions from work is punitive, insensitive and prejudicial as we do not do the same for other employees employed by the government.

The rest enjoy their full salaries when they are at home and it is for a good reason as no one should be made to suffer before being found blameworthy. The ruling party seems to have taken a position to negate the Bills and the collective opposition argue in the affirmative. The debate have just began and will continue next week Thursday, a day designated for Private Bills.

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