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Cabinet reshuffle: no effect on parliament 

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.

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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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