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Of consensus candidates and inner party democracy!

Ndulamo Anthony Morima

Reportedly, according to the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) Secretary General, Botsalo Ntuane, the BDP has resolved to promote a safe-model of settling for consensus candidates in this year’s bye elections. The question is: is the model really safe politically?

You would remember that there was a time when the BDP, for elections to its Central Committee, Youth League and Women’s Wing, used the concept of ‘compromise candidates.’ You may recall that some people believed that this was used to purge those who were perceived to be anti- President Lieutenant General Dr Seretse Khama Ian Khama’s leadership.

Indeed this perception may have been true because the practice was only advocated for after President Khama’s preferred team for the 2009 Central Committee elections in Kanye was decimated by the team which saw the late Gomolemo Motswaledi elected Secretary General.   

You should be aware that already slated for this year are bye elections for Boikaelo Madiba in Palapye, Tsabong North and Rasesa council seats and one parliamentary seat, being Tlokweng constituency.

It is not only the BDP that is talking of consensus candidates. The UDC+, or at least some of its leaders, is reported to be mulling the idea of consensus candidates for bye elections as well as for certain constituencies during the 2019 general elections, especially following its coalition with the Botswana Congress Party (BCP).

In this article, I consider whether or not the practice of consensus candidates is in consonance with the concept of inner party democracy and democracy generally. In so doing, I will critique the justifications often given for the practice of consensus candidates. According to media reports Ntuane states that the decision was made because it has been realised that the party tends to do better when fielding a consensus candidate. The question is: is there empirical evidence to support this thesis?

I currently do not have empirical evidence to disprove this theory, but I doubt it is true because if it were indeed true political parties the world over, including the BDP, would not have spent so much time and resources developing a primary elections system. After the 2014 general elections, the BDP, through a task force led by former Minister of Labour & Home Affairs, Peter Siele, conducted an evaluation of its primary elections system popularly known as Bulela Ditswe. One is curious to know whether or not it recommended the practice of consensus candidates and in what circumstances.     

Proponents of the practice of consensus candidates also argue that the mere fact that the decision is reached by consensus makes the practice democratic. But, is the decision really by true and informed consensus or it is by uninformed and manipulated consensus?

What often happens is that, just like with political party caucuses, some in the leadership make the decision and use their influence, often unduly, to impose it on the majority who are often uninformed of its long term implications. Ntuane is reported to have said the party leadership has already visited three of the areas and talked with the structures and the general public concerning this. He is quoted as saying two of the three constituencies have agreed on a consensus candidate except in Palapye where primary elections will be held.

The questions are: how long was given to the party members to consider the issue? Were they informed of its advantages and disadvantages? Was a proper vote held on the matter? Did the environment really allow for divergent views?

Ntuane is also reported to have said that the party decision is not a directive as people have the right to stand for elections. But, how many people can have the audacity to disregard the party’s decision and risk alienation?

We have seen BDP Members of Parliament (MPs) being forced by caucus decisions to tore the party line with respect to certain motions and votes for the Vice President, Speakers of the National Assembly and Specially Elected Members of Parliament. What more of ordinary party members?    

Proponents of the practice of consensus candidates also argue that it reduces conflicts in the party, enhancing its prospects of winning the general elections. In my view, the practice does the opposite because those who feel they were denied the chance to be tested through the people’s vote remain aggrieved.

Though I may not cite specific examples in this article, the practice of consensus candidates has resulted in defections from the party with those feeling cheated by the practice preferring to contest the general elections as Independent Candidates, commonly known as Mekoko. Also, though the disgruntled members may not defect from the party and contest as Mekoko their loyalty and commitment to the party may be diminished, causing harm to the party in the long term.  

Proponents of the practice of consensus candidates also contend that it allows the party to have a head start in the campaigns for the general elections. That is true, but the head start may count for nothing if the party loses the general elections because of divisions resulting therefrom.Even if the party indeed wins the general elections, the long term negative consequences of the practice of consensus candidates may far out-weigh the short term gain of winning the general elections.

Inner party democracy is about allowing the party members to vote for their preferred candidates not only during general elections, but also during primary elections. Taking this right away from the people through such a potentially manipulated system as ‘consensus candidates’ often invariably amounts to minority rule.

It also often amounts to elitism because it is often the elites who are chosen by the elites as ‘consensus candidates’. This invariably gives rise to a situation where the people’s representatives belong to a particular class. Not only that. It results in a situation where the party leaders surround themselves with ‘Yes Man’ in order to entrench their rule which is often to the detriment of not only inner party democracy, but also democracy in general.

The practice of consensus candidates may also compromise the quality of representation. It is doubtful, I would argue, whether a consensus decision for candidates produces the best representative for the people. Reaching a decision by consensus entails making compromises which may entail compromises in the quality of the candidate settled for.

The aforegoing notwithstanding, the practice of consensus candidates can be used in very exceptional circumstances, e.g. when the party is at the brink of losing general elections or when there are serious divisions within the party. But even in such circumstances the system should only be used after thorough and meaningful consultation and consensus building within the party.      

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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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