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Parliament caucus: The toxic destruction of MPs’ legislative duty

Parliament

Every five years, a cohort of newly elected Members of Parliament (MPs) gather at parliament buildings to take a symbolic oath to assume new role as rarefied individuals who make Botswana’s laws — as prescribed in the constitution — for the good governance of Botswana. Staff Writer ALFRED MASOKOLA observes an abdication of responsibility that has become a new normal in the business of parliament. 

Few days before President Sir Ketumile Masire cleared his desk at Office of the President to end an eventful and successful 18 year presidency, his apparent heir, Festus Mogae was reaching out to opposition legislators in a bid to solicit for support for his choice for Vice President.

Since 1997 constitutional amendments, parliament has been mandated with the responsibility of endorsing the Vice President before assuming office.

Mogae was scheduled to ascend to the highest position in the land in wake of series of events in the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) that made him the only viable candidate. Beleaguered by factions, Mogae could not count on his polarised party.

As many noted, Mogae was relatively a new entrant in the BDP politics. Though he was an accomplished technocrat, he was not a political power horse and was without the charisma that the likes of Daniel Kwelagobe, Ponatshego Kedikilwe and the late Lt General Merafhe had.

Luckily for Mogae, his choice for Vice President was a likeable figure — Lt Gen Ian Khama — and accepted across factional divide, and even more remarkably, by some in opposition ranks. The name was endorsed by all BDP MPs, and the cherry on top; by additional two opposition MPs.

The build-up to this accomplishment however highlighted one major thing that Mogae never took for granted — the legitimate power of MPs.

Even in his presidency, Mogae sought to use parliament caucus for the purpose of achieving consensus rather than imposing his own will. Throughout his presidency, Mogae had to navigate through the hostile factions that kept him on his toes.

In 2003, Mogae in what proved to be naïve, publicly endorsed his Vice President- Khama, in the party chairmanship race against Kedikilwe, the co-leader of what was then known as Kwelagobe/Kedikilwe faction, and later Barataphathi.

Inevitably, Khama won the chairmanship — a development that saw Barataphathi losing control of the Central Committee, for the first time since 1981. With victory in 2003, emerged a rebranded faction called A-Team, led by Merafhe and Jacob Nkate.

The faction will come to dominate both the Central Committee and cabinet after 2004 general elections. Mogae had left out Kwelagobe, Kedikilwe, and GUS Matlhabaphiri out of cabinet after 2004 general elections, inadvertently strengthening the backbench which closed ranks with opposition MPs to subject the executive to scrutiny.

At the height of exercising their power, the backbench blocked and rejected government policies and other pieces of legislation brought before parliament.

By 2006, cabinet found it difficult to pass bills, including the Judges Pension Bill and the crucial intelligence bill which created the DIS in 2007.

Faced with a rigid backbench, Mogae reshuffled his cabinet in 2007 restructuring ministries to accommodate members of rival faction in cabinet. Thereafter, the relationship between cabinet and backbench became cordial.

“I am fully aware that the MPs, both the former ministers, the cabal of some new MPs and the rest of the House, can make and unmake me politically,” Mogae famously said at 2001 BDP Congress in Palapye, as he deliberated on some of the demands brought forward by MPs.

Like anywhere else in democratic dispensations, MPs hold their own and are not pushovers, even in instances where the executive belongs to the same political party that controls the legislative house.

Mogae had accepted that MPs have their own responsibility and that their power was legitimate. Throughout his presidency, his modus operandi was to consult MPs through caucus whenever an important decision was to be made in parliament.

The approach was also the tradition during the presidency of Masire, the founding father of both the BDP and the nation. Masire considered therisanyo paramount prior to any decision making and was described by Mogae during his memorial as, “consultative, collaborative and patient.”

In 2008, things started to change. In recent years, BDP caucus has become increasingly powerful. Unlike in the past, instead of seeking consensus, MPs have been forced to support decisions of the cabinet, even when MPs are not in agreement.

“Caucus has always been there and it is part and parcel of parliament in democracy. Caucus can be flexible depending on leadership. Some issues are allowed conscience debate if caucus cannot reach consensus,” said a high ranking BDP member who served as MP under both Mogae and Khama.

“Mogae was liberal and allowed MPs to use their conscience when there was no consensus. Caucus only became a contentious issue during Khama [Ian] presidency and today.”

In 2011, weeks after civil servants called off strikes that lasted nearly three months, and crippled the economy, then junior minister in the ministry of Local Government, Kentse Rammidi resigned from the cabinet amid a position taken by the party.

In trying to deal with power of civil servants, cabinet brought before parliament a Bill that sought to prevent a number of cadres in the civil service including teachers from participating in industrial action by making them essential service.

Rammidi, who had sympathised with workers during the strike chose to quit the party after BDP caucus forced MPs to support the bill which was to be brought to parliament by then Minister of Labour and Home Affairs, Peter Siele.

The development set had ushered in a new era in the governance of BDP, with the Executive effectively rendering Parliament — which by all intent and purpose is meant to prove checks on it — a rubber stamp.

The BDP caucus effectively derives its mandate from President as the head of executive.

The latest victim of the domineering caucus is Jwaneng-Mabutsane MP, Reggie Reatile.

Two months ago, the maverick MP was slapped with suspension for abstaining instead of voting alongside agreed party caucus positions.

In the build-up to his suspension, Reatile had on numerous occasions voted against the BDP on the Parliament floor. Reatile also abstained when voting was called on the Botswana Defense Force (BDF) Amendment Bill meant to create the position of Judge Advocate General.

Reatile was also the BDP black sheep that voted against Speaker of Parliament, Phandu Skelemani’s decision to suspend Leader of Opposition (LOO) Dumelang Saleshando, from parliament last month.

Prior to Reatile, maverick Ignatius Moswaane, Francistown West legislator, was also suspended. Moswaane has also proved to be a thorn in the flesh of the ruling party as he consistently refused to toe the party line, instead following his conscience.

Moswaane has since resigned from the BDP in favour of Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC).

The insistence on block voting have seen parliament being ultra-polarised, and inadvertently at the expense of the public and good governance.

Despite the country grappled with rising incidence of Gender Based Violence (GBV), the ruling MPs rejected a motion tabled by Mahalapye East MP, Yandani Boko, following a caucus decision.

Boko had tabled a motion on urgency calling for parliament to request President Mokgweetsi Masisi to set-up a Commission of Inquiry on Gender Based Violence (GBV) and other Sexual Offences.

During the BDP caucus, it was agreed that the motion should not be agreed upon, but instead be countered with a suggestion that the duty be referred to an Inter-Ministerial Committee.

Commissions of Inquiry Act empowers the President to set-up a commission and to set its terms of reference.

The motion was however withdrawn by the mover following lack of support from BDP majority.

The rejection of the motion is part of many that have not survived the might of BDP caucus.

In the run-up to 2019 general election, Masisi promised to repeal the infamous Media Practitioners Act passed during his predecessor’s administration. The promise was buttressed in the BDP 2019 election manifesto.

However, when Selibe Phikwe West lawmaker, Dithapelo Keorapetse, brought before parliament the same bill, the ruling party caucus tore it apart. In brief; it was rejected.

The constitution of Botswana, adopted in 1966 following independence, vests legislative powers in parliament. Parliament, through its committees is empowered to provide oversight.

Parliament, indirectly elects the President and also has power to dissolve parliament through a pass of motion of no confidence on government supported by simple majority.

Parliament also approves national spending and also entitled to amend certain provisions of the constitution, save for entrenched provisions.

In giving parliament the legislative duties, the constitution also gives the President the power to ascent to bills passed by parliament or return them to parliament if not satisfied. Nevertheless, if parliament insists on not making any amendments, the President is compelled to ascent to the Bill failing which parliament will lead to the dissolution of parliament, necessitating new elections.

With so much power at its disposal why is parliament abdicating its true responsibility?

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Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) and some senior government officials are abuzz with reports that President Mokgweetsi Masisi has requested his Vice President, Slumber Tsogwane not to contest the next general elections in 2024.

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African DFIs gear to combat climate change

25th November 2022

The impacts of climate change are increasing in frequency and intensity every year and this is forecast to continue for the foreseeable future. African CEOs in the Global South are finally coming to the party on how to tackle the crisis.

Following the completion of COP27 in Egypt recently, CEOs of Africa DFIs converged in Botswana for the CEO Forum of the Association of African Development Finance Institutions. One of the key themes was on green financing and building partnerships for resource mobilization in financing SDGs in Africa

A report; “Weathering the storm; African Development Banks response to Covid-19” presented shocking findings during the seminar. Among them; African DFI’s have proven to be financially resilient, and they are fast shifting to a green transition and it’s financing.

COO, CEDA, James Moribame highlighted that; “Everyone needs food, shelter and all basic needs in general, but climate change is putting the achievement of this at bay. “It is expensive for businesses to do business, for instance; it is much challenging for the agricultural sector due to climate change, and the risks have gone up. If a famer plants crops, they should be ready for any potential natural disaster which will cost them their hard work.”

According to Moribame, Start-up businesses will forever require help if there is no change.

“There is no doubt that the Russia- Ukraine war disrupted supply chains. SMMEs have felt the most impact as some start-up businesses acquire their materials internationally, therefore as inflation peaks, this means the exchange rate rises which makes commodities expensive and challenging for SMMEs to progress. Basically, the cost of doing business has gone up. Governments are no longer able to support DFI’s.”

Moribame shared remedies to the situation, noting that; “What we need is leadership that will be able to address this. CEOs should ensure companies operate within a framework of responsible lending. They also ought to scout for opportunities that would be attractive to investors, this include investors who are willing to put money into green financing. Botswana is a prime spot for green financing due to the great opportunity that lies in solar projects. ”

Technology has been hailed as the economy of the future and thus needs to be embraced to drive operational efficiency both internally and externally.

Executive Director, bank of Industry Nigeria, Simon Aranou mentioned that for investors to pump money to climate financing in Africa, African states need to be in alignment with global standards.

“Do what meets world standards if you want money from international investors. Have a strong risk management system. Also be a good borrower, if you have a loan, honour the obligation of paying it back because this will ensure countries have a clean financial record which will then pave way for easier lending of money in the future. African states cannot just be demanding for mitigation from rich countries. Financing needs infrastructure to complement it, you cannot be seating on billions of dollars without the necessary support systems to make it work for you. Domestic resource mobilisation is key. Use public money to mobilise private money.” He said.

For his part, the Minster of Minister of Entrepreneurship, Karabo Gare enunciated that, over the past three years, governments across the world have had to readjust their priorities as the world dealt with the effects and impact of the COVID 19 pandemic both to human life and economic prosperity.

“The role of DFIs, during this tough period, which is to support governments through countercyclical measures, including funding of COVID-19 related development projects, has become more important than ever before. However, with the increasingly limited resources from governments, DFIs are now expected to mobilise resources to meet the fiscal gaps and continue to meet their developmental mandates across the various affected sectors of their economies.” Said Gare.

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TotalEnergies Botswana launches Road safety campaign in Letlhakeng

22nd November 2022

Letlhakeng:TotalEnergies Botswana today launched a Road Safety Campaign as part of their annual Stakeholder Relationship Management (SRM), in partnership with Unitrans, MVA Fund, TotalEnergies Letlhakeng Filling Station and the Letlhakeng Sub District Road Safety Committee during an event held in Letlhakeng under the theme, #IamTrafficToo.

The Supplier Relationship Management initiative is an undertaking by TotalEnergies through which TotalEnergie annually explores and implements social responsibility activities in communities within which we operate, by engaging key stakeholders who are aligned with the organization’s objectives. Speaking during the launch event, TotalEnergies’ Operations and HSSEQ,   Patrick Thedi said,  “We at TotalEnergies pride ourselves in being an industrial operator with a strategy centered on respect, listening, dialogue and stakeholder involvement, and a partner in the sustainable social and economic development of its host communities and countries. We are also very fortunate to have stakeholders who are in alignment with our organizational objectives. We assess relationships with our key stakeholders to understand their concerns and expectations as well as identify priority areas for improvement to strengthen the integration of Total Energies in the community. As our organization transitions from Total to Total Energies, we are committed to exploring sustainable initiatives that will be equally indicative of our growth and this Campaign is a step in the right direction. ”

As part of this campaign roll out, stakeholders  will be refurbishing and upgrading and installing road signs around schools in the area, and generally where required. One of the objectives of the Campaign is to bring awareness and training on how to manage and share the road/parking with bulk vehicles, as the number of bulk vehicles using the Letlhakeng road to bypass Trans Kalahari increases. When welcoming guests to Letlhakeng, Kgosi Balepi said he welcomed the initiative as it will reduce the number of road incidents in the area.

Also present was District Traffic Officer ASP, Reuben Moleele,  who gave a statistical overview of accidents in the region, as well as the rest of the country. Moleele applauded TotalEnergies and partners on the Campaign, especially ahead of the festive season, a time he pointed out is always one with high road statistics. The campaign name #IamTrafficToo, is a reminder to all road users, including pedestrians that they too need to be vigilant and play their part in ensuring a reduction in road incidents.

The official proceedings of the day included a handover of reflectors and stop/Go signs to the Letlhakeng Cluster from TotalEnerigies, injury prevention from tips from MVA’s Onkabetse Petlwana, as  well as  bulk vehicle safety tips delivered from Adolf Namate of Unitrans.

TotalEnergies, which is committed to having zero carbon emissions by 2050,  has committed to rolling out the Road safety Campaign to the rest of the country in the future.

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