Considering the developments of the past year or so, especially since His Excellency the President, Dr. Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi, assumed office, one may not help but wish that elections were held every year and not every five years as is currently the case in Botswana.
Recent events have proven that the fear of losing elections may make politicians do things that they ordinarily would not do. Not only that. In some instances, politicians have summersaulted from the views they hitherto held so dearly or supported so faithfully. In so doing, such politicians have claimed that they did not necessarily support such views, policies or programmes, but were merely honouring the dictates of collective responsibility and/or respect for leadership.
It is common knowledge that prior to the 2014 general elections, the relationship between the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) led government and the private media was so bad that government imposed an advertising embargo on private media under the guise of cost cutting. Then, it was almost taboo for the President and ministers to hold press conferences involving the private media.
The Sunday Standard and The Gazette newspapers were raided. In respect of the latter, a then Attorney representing the Gazette newspapers, Joao Carlos Salbany, was, according to Mmegi’s online edition of 24th May 2019, in 2015, arrested and detained at Mogoditshane Police Station following which the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) proposed that he be charged for obstructing its officials from executing a warrant of search and seizure against the paper.
In 2016, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship rejected Salbany’s application for renewal of work and residence permits, making him unable to continue practising law in Botswana despite having obtained his LLB from University of Botswana (UB) and having stayed in Botswana for more than twenty years. According to Mmegi’s online edition of 24th May 2019, in April 2017, the Directorate on Public Prosecutions (DPP) advised the DCEC that Salbany had not committed any offence. That notwithstanding, he was, in May 2018, declared a Prohibited Immigrant (PI) by H.E Dr. Masisi.
In respect of Sunday Standard, sedition charges were, in January 2017, laid against its Editor, Outsa Mokone, and Senior Reporter, Edgar Tsimane, which led to the latter escaping from the country and seeking political asylum in neighbouring South Africa. Today, press conferences and press releases by Office of the President (OP) and ministers have become the order of the day, with some held at the Sir Seretse Khama International Airport immediately upon an official’s arrival.
Before 1st April 2018, when H.E Dr. Masisi assumed office, it was almost inconceivable that the Directorate on Intelligence and Security Service (DISS) could hold a press conference involving the private media. Today, such press conferences are the order of the day. In fact, the DISS Director General, Brigadier Peter Magosi, has himself held press conferences. Magosi has also conducted media briefings during operations, though the latter has been condemned by some as having the possibility of compromising the integrity of investigations.
This is in stark contrast to his predecessor, Colonel Isaac Kgosi, who not only failed to employ a Public Relations Officer, but also never held press conferences. The sedition charges against Mokone have been withdrawn. Salbany is no longer a PI, with H.E Dr. Masisi having reversed such. Ironically, Salbany, once an enemy of the state, has been employed by the DCEC itself. If the relationship between the government and the media was bad, that between the government and trade unions was worse.
Especially after declaring its support for the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) in 2014, the relationship between government and Botswana Federation of Public Service Unions (BOFEPUSU) soured. Thereafter, then President, Lieutenant General Dr. Seretse Khama Ian Khama, made unilateral salary increases. Fortunately, our judiciary stood guard over labour rights and declared such conduct as unlawful since it was in violation of the Public Service Act, 2008 and International Labour Organization (ILO) Conventions.
Obviously taking a cue from Dr. Khama, the then unleashed Directorate on Public Service Management (DPSM) terrorised trade unions, victimising trade union leaders through malicious transfers, recalls from secondment, et cetera. It also effectively made the Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC) moribund by taking decisions outside the PSBC without involving the trade union party. In fact, in some instances DPSM exploited the rift between trade unions to meet this end.
Once again, our judiciary came to the trade union’s rescue and quashed such decisions and set them aside, admonishing the DPSM of being intolerant of trade union and workers’ rights as enshrined in our labour laws and ILO conventions to which we are signatory. For the first time in many years, this year, government and trade unions concluded a salary increase agreement in time, an agreement for the 2019/2020 and 2020/2021 financial years which resulted in an increase of 10% and 6% for those at A and B scales and C and D scales respectively.
Though the increase has been condemned by the Opposition as meagre, it has been generally accepted by the workers, especially because of the expectation of improvement in conditions of service which may be ushered in by the much awaited Performance Management and Delivery Unit (PEMANDU) report on conditions of service. In particular, those at A and B scales were elated by the use of the pyramid method which they have been calling for for many years. Certainly, the fact that they got 4% more than the highly placed C and D scales elated them.
Though the much awaited PEMANDU report on conditions of service is still pending, the relationship between government and trade unions is at an all-time high, with H.E Dr. Masisi and his ministers addressing almost all of the trade unions’ Congresses. Just recently, we saw government increasing salaries for members of the Botswana Defence Force (BDF), an increase dubbed Ntlole because it resulted in some officers skipping some salary scales in order to bring them to par with their counterparts in the public service.
Still with respect to labour rights, though the policy has not taken shape in earnest owing to reticence within the bureaucracy, government’s policy on spousal transfers, which was brought in by H.E Dr. Masisi, has gone a long way in placating workers. Also recently, we saw government commencing a legislative plan to remove teaching and other services from the list of essential services, making teachers eligible to strike, a right which was taken from them when the Trade Disputes Act was amended to that effect.
When the current session of Parliament resumed about a week ago, government tabled the Declaration of Assets and Liabilities Bill, a Bill which the BDP, which has enjoyed Parliamentary majority since 1965, has failed to pass into law since it was first tabled by former Minister of Health, Joy Phumaphi, more than twenty years ago. These are but a few examples of the changes which, are no doubt, taking place because the ruling BDP wants to retain state power in this year’s general elections in October.
H.E Dr. Masisi himself wants to win the elections not only for the BDP’s continued reign, but also to prove his mentor turned nemesis, Dr. Khama, wrong. The latter, following the acrimony between the two, has vowed that without his support, the BDP will lose the forthcoming general elections. So, if elections were every year our country would be far in terms of development, considering the progress it has made since 1st April 2018 when H.E Dr. Masisi assumed office. It is yet to be seen whether he will maintain this pace and keep to his promises post the elections or he will renege on them only to revive them in 2024 to secure a win for his second and last term in office.
The past week or two has been a mixed grill of briefs in so far as the national employment picture is concerned. BDC just injected a further P64 million in Kromberg & Schubert, the automotive cable manufacturer and exporter, to help keep it afloat in the face of the COVID-19-engendered global economic apocalypse. The financial lifeline, which follows an earlier P36 million way back in 2017, hopefully guarantees the jobs of 2500, maybe for another year or two.
It was also reported that a bulb manufacturing company, which is two years old and is youth-led, is making waves in Selibe Phikwe. Called Bulb Word, it is the only bulb manufacturing operation in Botswana and employs 60 people. The figure is not insignificant in a town that had 5000 jobs offloaded in one fell swoop when BCL closed shop in 2016 under seemingly contrived circumstances, so that as I write, two or three buyers have submitted bids to acquire and exhume it from its stage-managed grave.
Youngest Maccabees scion Jonathan takes over after Judas and leads for 18 years
Going hand-in-glove with the politics at play in Judea in the countdown to the AD era, General Atiku, was the contention for the priesthood. You will be aware, General, that politics and religion among the Jews interlocked. If there wasn’t a formal and sovereign Jewish King, there of necessity had to be a High Priest at any given point in time.
Initially, every High Priest was from the tribe of Levi as per the stipulation of the Torah. At some stage, however, colonisers of Judah imposed their own hand-picked High Priests who were not ethnic Levites. One such High Priest was Menelaus of the tribe of Benjamin.
Parliament has rejected a motion by Leader of Opposition (LOO) calling for the reversing of the recent appointments of ruling party activists to various Land Boards across the country. The motion also called for the appointment of young and qualified Batswana with tertiary education qualifications.
The ruling party could not allow that motion to be adopted for many reasons discussed below. Why did the LOO table this motion? Why was it negated? Why are Land Boards so important that a ruling party felt compelled to deploy its functionaries to the leadership and membership positions?
Prior to the motion, there was a LOO parliamentary question on these appointments. The Speaker threw a spanner in the works by ruling that availing a list of applicants to determine who qualified and who didn’t would violate the rights of those citizens. This has completely obliterated oversight attempts by Parliament on the matter.
How can parliament ascertain the veracity of the claim without the names of applicants? The opposition seeks to challenge this decision in court. It would also be difficult in the future for Ministers and government officials to obey instructions by investigative Parliamentary Committees to summon evidence which include list of persons. It would be a bad precedent if the decision is not reviewed and set aside by the Business Advisory Committee or a Court of law.
Prior to independence, Dikgosi allocated land for residential and agricultural purposes. At independence, land tenures in Botswana became freehold, state land and tribal land. Before 1968, tribal land, which is land belonging to different tribes, dating back to pre-independence, was allocated and administered by Dikgosi under Customary Law. Dikgosi are currently merely ‘land overseers’, a responsibility that can be delegated. Land overseers assist the Land Boards by confirming the vacancy or availability for occupation of land applied for.
Post-independence, the country was managed through modern law and customary law, a system developed during colonialism. Land was allocated for agricultural purposes such as ploughing and grazing and most importantly for residential use. Over time some land was allocated for commercial purpose. In terms of the law, sinking of boreholes and development of wells was permitted and farmers had some rights over such developed water resources.
Land Boards were established under Section 3 of the Tribal Land Act of 1968 with the intention to improve tribal land administration. Whilst the law was enacted in 1968, Land Boards started operating around 1970 under the Ministry of Local Government and Lands which was renamed Ministry of Lands and Housing (MLH) in 1999. These statutory bodies were a mechanism to also prune the powers of Dikgosi over tribal land. Currently, land issues fall under the Ministry of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services.
There are 12 Main Land Boards, namely Ngwato, Kgatleng, Tlokweng, Tati, Chobe, Tawana, Malete, Rolong, Ghanzi, Kgalagadi, Kweneng and Ngwaketse Land Boards. The Tribal Land Act of 1968 as amended in 1994 provides that the Land Boards have the powers to rescind the grant of any rights to use any land, impose restrictions on land usage and facilitate any transfer or change of use of land.
Some land administration powers have been decentralized to sub land boards. The devolved powers include inter alia common law and customary law water rights and land applications, mining, evictions and dispute resolution. However, decisions can be appealed to the land board or to the Minister who is at the apex.
So, land boards are very powerful entities in the country’s local government system. Membership to these institutions is important not only because of monetary benefits of allowances but also the power of these bodies. in terms of the law, candidates for appointment to Land Boards or Subs should be residents of the tribal areas where appointments are sought, be holders of at least Junior Certificate and not actively involved in politics. The LOO contended that ruling party activists have been appointed in the recent appointments.
He argued that worse, some had no minimum qualifications required by the law and that some are not inhabitants of the tribal or sub tribal areas where they have been appointed. It was also pointed that some people appointed are septuagenarians and that younger qualified Batswana with degrees have been rejected.
Other arguments raised by the opposition in general were that the development was not unusual. That the ruling party is used to politically motivated appointments in parastatals, civil service, diplomatic missions, specially elected councilors and Members of Parliament (MPs), Bogosi and Land Boards. Usually these positions are distributed as patronage to activists in return for their support and loyalty to the political leadership and the party.
The ruling party contended that when the Minister or the Ministry intervened and ultimately appointed the Land Boards Chairpersons, Deputies and members , he didn’t have information, as this was not information required in the application, on who was politically active and for that reason he could not have known who to not appoint on that basis. They also argued that opposition activists have been appointed to positions in the government.
The counter argument was that there was a reason for the legal requirement of exclusion of political activists and that the government ought to have mechanisms to detect those. The whole argument of “‘we didn’t know who was politically active” was frivolous. The fact is that ruling party activists have been appointed. The opposition also argued that erstwhile activists from their ranks have been recruited through positions and that a few who are serving in public offices have either been bought or hold insignificant positions which they qualified for anyway.
Whilst people should not be excluded from public positions because of their political activism, the ruling party cannot hide the fact that they have used public positions to reward activists. Exclusion of political activists may be a violation of fundamental human or constitutional rights. But, the packing of Land Boards with the ruling party activists is clear political corruption. It seeks to sow divisions in communities and administer land in a politically biased manner.
It should be expected that the ruling party officials applying for land or change of land usage etcetera will be greatly assisted. Since land is wealth, the ruling party seeks to secure resources for its members and leaders. The appointments served to reward 2019 election primary and general elections losers and other activists who have shown loyalty to the leadership and the party.
Running a country like this has divided it in a way that may be difficult to undo. The next government may decide to reset the whole system by replacing many of government agencies leadership and management in a way that is political. In fact, it would be compelled to do so to cleanse the system.
The opposition is also pondering on approaching the courts for review of the decision to appoint party functionaries and the general violation of clearly stated terms of reference. If this can be established with evidence, the courts can set aside the decision on the basis that unqualified people have been appointed.
The political activism aspect may also not be difficult to prove as some of these people are known activists who are in party structures, at least at the time of appointment, and some were recently candidates. There is a needed for civil society organizations such as trade unions and political parties to fight some of these decisions through peaceful protests and courts.