As the voice of the people against Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) grows louder Gabriel Seeletso the Project Coordinator finds himself abandoned by a political party that used its majority in Parliament to force electoral amendments in the middle of the night. Part of the amendments was meant to introduce the EVM to replace the ballot paper for the 2019 general elections.
In addition, it sort to terminate supplementary voter registration and increased candidates fees tenfold. President Seretse Khama Ian Khama who is also the president of the ruling party has since appended his signature to the bill translating it into law. To strengthen the resistance movement the opposition Botswana congress Party (BCP) took the matter to court challenging the constitutionality of the EVM. Other civil societies are expected to come on board as friends of the court to support the BCP case.
As a result of the action by the Head of State the EVM Project Coordinator began traversing the length and breadth of the country sensitizing constituents on the newly introduced amendments to the electoral law. The Coordinator has been pushing the view that he is merely a messenger of government. However the enthusiasm with which he drives the implementation of the law betrays his denial that he was not the originator of the amendments. The speed with which he triggered the process of acquiring the machines was amazing ignoring the overwhelming national outcry against the controversial EVMs.
Sometimes Seeletso comes across as someone who will stop at nothing to implement a bad law. Yes, the law that seeks to introduce the EVMs is a bad law. It is a piece of legislation that is the potential to cause civil conflict. Lack of IEC independence is a matter of great concern to most stakeholders. While at the helm of the IEC Seeletso relentlessly and aggressively defended the institution when several detractors accused it of being under the influence of government.
The on-going saga in Tlokweng has vividly exposed the lack of independence of the IEC to the extent that it will be fool hardy to even state anything on the contrary. Surely anybody in his position must understand that the IEC is a product of a bad electoral law. The IEC is at the mercy of the ruling party. If the party in power does not want an election to take place they can easily deny them funding and the IEC will be helpless. Under such circumstances elections will not take place. In fact this is what happened recently in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) resulting in yet another political crisis. It is against this background that the EVM saga must be understood.
About two weeks ago the nation got a shock of their life when Botsalo Ntuane who is the Secretary General of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) categorically stated that the EVM is not a product of the BDP and by extension the government. He suggested that it is an invention of the IEC. In fact there is an attempt to separate the ruling party from the government. This is an aspect that features prominently in Botsalo Ntuane’s reform agenda that was never adopted by his party. If the utterances by Ntuane are anything to go by then between him and Seeletso one of them is deliberately misleading the nation.
Traditionally policy formulation and legislative agenda were the prerogative of the public service, at least in practice. In the formative years of the Republic of Botswana this approach worked well since at the time the ruling party did not have sufficient capacity to formulate any meaningful government policy. Public policy was generated by qualified public servants before it was routed through the Rural Development Council (RDC), Cabinet and rubber-stamped by parliament. Without question the BDP would adopt such policies and embrace them as their own. Unfortunately the system continued up until the emergence of the current regime in 2008 when policies were pronounced on impulse.
It is therefore not surprising that the BDP as a ruling party rubber stamped the EVM in the same way that they rubber stamped the Economic Stimulus Program (ESP) and the P10 million Constituency Development Fund. The abrupt closure of the BCL and Tati Nickel Mines are examples of policies that originated elsewhere but embraced by the BDP without question.
The reason why BDP through its Secretary General is unsuccessfully trying to distance itself from the EVM scandalous idea is because of mounting rejection of the vote rigging machine. In trying to spin the bad news the BDP Secretary General made startling allegations. He claimed that the EVM idea originated from the BCP. This is crazy stuff coming from Ntuane.
The truth is that over the years BCP has been calling for comprehensive electoral reforms to modernize democracy in Botswana. Among the proposals was the introduction of state funding of political parties, direct election of the president, and introduction of a mixed system of proportional representation and first past the post as well as counting of votes at polling stations. We also advocated for a truly independent electoral commission that is accountable to parliament. These ideas are contained in party documents such as the 2009 and 2014 election manifestos, democracy alerts, and response to state of the nation address, motions, and parliamentary debates. We challenge Ntuane to present evidence to support his claims.
If the BDP is indeed against the EVM they must swallow their pride and push for the withdrawal of the amendments passed by their Members of Parliament. They should go a step further and address the fundamental concerns of voters. Batswana strongly feel that they were never consulted over electoral amendments which in their view have far reaching consequences. In principle they are not averse to any system that can shorten the length of time it takes to count ballots and release the election results. With respect to the EVM, consistent with court rulings in India, Batswana are asking for the introduction of the Voter Verification Audit Paper Trail (VVPAT). There are unresolved issues of possible manipulation of the EVMs.
One of the amendments that is less talked about is the decision to stop supplementary voter registration in the absence of continuous registration and permanent voters roll. Given the documented levels of voter apathy the amendment is likely to disenfranchise a significant proportion of potential voters. Here is a clear case of trying to fix something that is not broken. A government that introduces electoral processes that are aimed at excluding citizens from exercising their democratic right of voting is authoritarian and therefore undemocratic.
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.
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.
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.