President Mokgweetsi Masisi reshuffled his cabinet a few days ago and dropped a senior female minister and Specially Elected Member of Parliament (MP), Unity Dow.
The initial communication by the presidency stated that she was relieved of her ministerial duties. However, the Office of the President backtracked and stated that she has asked to resign instead. Whatever the case, she is out of Cabinet and has joined the backbench.
The President has promoted Member for Mmadinare Molebatsi Molebatsi from the backbench to Assistant Minister of Investment, Trade and Industry position. He moved Minister Lemogang Kwape from Health and Wellness to lead the Ministry of International Affairs and Cooperation, and Promoted Socrate Gare to full Minister of Agriculture. Edwin Dikoloti replaced Kwape at Health, having been moved from Agriculture.
The role of Ministers in Parliament is mostly to push through Government Business. They present or table government papers, reports, policies and government Bills. They answer questions and respond to motions raised by MPs. Most importantly, Ministers see themselves as key defenders of not only the government but the ruling party and the President.
They are in the House to also ensure that caucus decisions are upheld by MPs. It is very rare for ‘attack dogs’ of the ruling party to come from the backbench. It is the front bench that plays this role often. The Ministers constitute more than 60% of the ruling party MPs and it is easier for them to drown or dilute the voice of the backbench in the House or in the caucus. The twelfth-Parliament has many new ministers, particularly because most MPs are new, almost 70%. Cabinet ministers are drawn from parliament, there is executive-legislative fusion.
The recent cabinet reshuffle has nothing to do with efforts to improve effectiveness or efficiency of the government. It is not about an endeavor to improve service delivery. Very little is going to change as a result of the promotions and the swapping. The shifting of ministers was triggered by a resignation.
MPs, especially in the opposition, have been having misgivings about the conduct of Ministers in the House. Apart from the obvious complaint that the ruling party rejects almost everything that the opposition proposes, most ministers have been unhelpful to the parliamentary process. By and large Ministers see Parliament as a rubberstamp of executive or ruling party decisions.
Regarding questions, government Ministers seldom answer questions asked by MPs appropriately, instead they state the government position on issues raised. They rarely care about accuracy, details and or the satisfactoriness of their answers. It is never their business whether an MP is satisfied by the answer given or not.
Sometimes Ministers don’t provide full details and point that the matter is still being considered. There are issues which have been under consideration for many years, according to answers given by ministers. Ministers seldom commit to timelines to deliver on any issue raised by MPs. Other times they get evasive, equivocate and frustratingly deny Parliament information.
In most cases, supplementary questions are viewed as new questions or they are simply brushed aside. In some cases it is because Ministers are not really competent and or lack full understanding of the issues and it is therefore convenient to argue that it is a new question.
The arrogance that is often displayed by Ministers is nerve-wracking. It was in fact worse before the live broadcast of Parliament proceedings. The live broadcast has really helped to expose this general lackadaisical attitude and has somewhat caused some Ministers to rethink their behavior.
The trend of throwing away opposition suggestions is usually led by ministers. They usually set the tone of the debate on these matters. Recently, the Government Whip was quoted by a local paper saying that ministers don’t consult them before they reject some of the proposals from the opposition.
He cited the example of a motion on Ipelegeng which the Minister rejected and as result the entire ruling party. He asked rhetorically “what am I going to tell my constituents after voting no on this motion” or words to that effect. If the Chief Whip’s views are correctly captured by the paper, then there is a big problem.
He actually indicated that because it would not always be easy to reject ideas put forward by the opposition, they may, as a backbench, have to abstain from some votes by deliberately absenting during such votes. Even on questions, the concern is not only from the opposition. It is a shared concern among MPs across the aisle. The only difference between the two camps is that the opposition is not euphemistic about their observation while the ruling party MPs are careful not to embarrass their party publicly.
The Leader of Government Business has not helped the situation at all. He has been enthusiastic in leading the onslaught against the opposition. He does not believe that the opposition can bring worthy ideas that can be supported.
It is only on rare occasions that there is a consensus in the House and usually it’s on perceived ‘harmless’ proposals such as the call by one Member to declare September a month of prayer against COVID-19. When the Minister in the Presidency opposed the idea, the Vice President quickly contradicted the minister and caused his party to support the motion.
This was a rarity! It was going to be very embarrassing for the ruling party had they opposed as suggested by the Minister. As said, such instances are rare. However, the opposition votes for most of the government proposals such as Bills.
So, the recent cabinet reshuffle is not going to change anything. The three Ministers of Health, Agriculture and Foreign Affairs views are not known on many key issues. They don’t really have known opinions. They seldom engage in heated parliamentary debates.
They don’t form part of the attack team of the ruling party. They are all relatively new. Therefore, their shifting is inconsequential to the proceedings of Parliament. In fact, Kwape may be misplaced at foreign affairs. He has no known international relations credentials, neither does he have extensive government experience enough to be versatile.
The only thing he may be good at will be doing as he is told by his principals. He will mostly rely on professionals in the civil service to guide him. The newly promoted Assistant Minister has been vocal about Ministers’ tendency to dodge questions when he was still in the backbench. MPs are waiting to see how he will answer questions better. Therefore, this wasn’t a major reshuffle and it is unlikely to change the atmosphere in the House.
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.