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Parley Committees season starts

Parliament stands adjourned sine die since its last emergency meeting and sitting in which it approved a motion to extend the State of Public Emergency (SoE). Most Members are in their constituencies consulting and or doing their parliamentary work.

However, there is ongoing Committee sittings or hearings of various Committees. When parliament was sitting, Public Accounts Committee (PAC) was conducting its hearings to to deal with financial year 2017/2018. A report is eagerly awaited. The 2018/2019 audit report is out and this necessitates PAC to sit again soon to examine the books of accounts. Unlike during the 11th Parliament, it looks like the 12th Parliament Committees might work effectively if they maintain the momentum and really hold the executive accountable. About ten Committees are expected to conduct hearings between October and December.

Committee hearings are a way in which Members of Parliament (MPs) in smaller groups gather information for purposes of policy, legislation, oversight and investigation. Elsewhere, Committees can also conduct hearings for purposes of considering nominations for high public offices such as cabinet, judiciary  or oversight of public institutions. South Africa and the US come to mind. When the executive formulates and codifies a policy or Bill, normally the proposals go to relevant Portfolio or Standing Committee for scrutiny before they go to the House. Oversight Committees basically seek to examine whether laws, policies and programs are implemented the way they were intended by Parliament or the executive. Sometimes the main reason is that Parliament appropriate money for almost everything done by the government.

Investigative Committees take the form of probing issues or allegations or public money related matters as well as adherence to laws, policies or rules and regulations or ethical standards. In Botswana Parliament, the PAC, Statutory Bodies, Finance and Estimates Committees are structured with the versatility to be able to exercise this investigative function. However, on a more specific issues or allegations of impropriety, Special Select Committees can be set up such as the one on Botswana Meat Commission or Botswana Development Corporation Special Select Committees during the 10th Parliament.

From Monday the 5th October to Friday 9th, Governance and Oversight Committee sat and conducted its hearings. The following institutions appeared before the Committee, Office of the President, Botswana Accountancy Oversight Authority (BAOA),  Public Enterprises Evaluation and Privatisation Agency (PEEPA), Botswana Unified Revenue Services (BURS), Bank of Botswana, Financial Intelligence Authority (FIA), Non-Bank Financial Institutions Regulatory (NBIFIRA), Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Board (PPADB), Botswana Communications Regulatory Authority (BOCRA) Competition Authority, Gambling Authority, Companies and Intellectual Property Authority (CIPA), Botswana Qualifications Authority (BQA), Botswana Examinations Council (BEC), Botswana Medicines Regulatory Authority (BOMRA), Botswana Energy Regulatory Authority (BERA), Independent Electoral Commission  (IEC), Ombudsman, Auditor General, Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC), Botswana Center for Public Integrity (BCPI) and Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA).

The five days were too short given the number of institutions that the Committee had to deal with. The hearings were more on these institutions updating the Committee on their roles; outlining their achievements and challenges. Committee Members asked questions related to the presentations and other issues about the organizations. The hearings took a more introductory mode than serious third-degree examinations.

This was because most of the MPs are new, the Committee hearings were the first for Committees and most of the organisations haven’t appeared before Committees before, except PAC or Finance and Estimates. In the next hearings, it expected that MPs will delve beneath the facade and interrogate issues more. It is also important for MPs to be given submissions a week or so in advance so that they prepare. For PAC, documents are provided two weeks before examination. For effectiveness, MPs, with their secretariat, should also meet before hearings to strategize on approach and choices of witnesses to summon.

Public Service and its Management Committee has been meeting from the 12th to the 15th. The following Committees are scheduled to meet; Labour and Home Affairs, Agriculture, Land and Housing, Youth, Sports, Arts and Culture, Women’s Caucus, Foreign Affairs, Defence, Justice and Security, Communications, Works, Transport and Technology, Government Assurances and Statutory Bodies. The PAC is expected to sit in January 2021. Most Committees during the 11th Parliament were moribund.

The 12th Parliament needs to change this. Committees, except for PAC, and Statutory Bodies, were not really taken seriously. They were largely that way because of how they were structured in terms of membership and chairmanships. Some chairpersons didn’t have clues about their Committees and or lacked interest. There is a chance for more robust, agile  and workable Committees which can hold the executive accountable.

It is also suggested that hearings be televised or broadcast live for Batswana to see that besides what they see in the House, there is usually more work outside the Chamber. There is a live-streams through BWParliament Facebook page. This is not enough because of the realities of digital divide.

It is important that MPs are capacitated to conduct examinations. Short courses, trainings and workshops can assist them to better do their Committee work. Depending on the Committees that MPs serve, courses such as cross examination, risk management, Certified Forensic Document Examiner, legal and paralegal studies and parliamentary oversight of defence and security and provision of more resources and staff etcetera can enhance MPs ability and capacity to do their Committee work well.

The jury is still out on whether the current Committees will provide effective oversight, ensure transparency and accountability and project Parliament in more good light. It will all depend on Parliament’s attitude, ability and capacity. The sad reality is that Parliament itself is not independent and this is bound to affect its Committees. The balance of power in the House means that Committees are largely talk shows just like Parliament itself. Cabinet if numerically strong and the ruling party is so strong in the House it gets its way all the time.

Some MPs don’t take Committees seriously; the prioritize constituency work more because that’s where votes are. Some prioritize personal interests such as businesses. Some weigh the financial benefit and get deterred by the nominal sitting allowance and would rather be elsewhere. These are some of the realities that hinder Committees work. It remains to be seen whether Committees reports will be discussed in Parliament and action taken on the recommendations. It is a question of political will and commitment to democratization.

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Chronic Joblessness: How to Help Curtail it

30th November 2020
Motswana woman

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.

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The Era of “The Diplomat”

30th November 2020

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.

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Land Board appointments of party activists is political corruption

30th November 2020

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.

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