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Will Parley legislate on electoral reforms? 

During the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) hearings, Permanent Secretary to the President was subpoenaed to answer tough questions from Members of Parliament (MPs) about the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) among other things. The matter was escalated to both the former and acting Secretary and the Chairman of the electoral management body. What did MPs really want to know about the IEC? Will the 12th Parliament legislate on electoral reforms?

The President and his party have promised to begin a process of review of the constitution after many years of opposing calls by the opposition political parties and other commentators. They often asked during those years “if it’s not broken, why fix it”, implying that the document has served the country well and that there was no need to reform it wholesale. There are debates about the need to reform the electoral process alongside the holistic review of the constitution.

The PAC had some years ago discovered that the Auditor General was employed under terms not provided for by the constitution or that the terms were potentially ultra vires the constitution. The constitution specifically provided for security of tenure of the Auditor General. However, it became clear that she was hired on a short-term contract. The 12th Parliament delved beneath the surface and probed this matter further and discovered that even the IEC Secretary was employed under a contract, was transferable within the public service and that she could be fired with a notice of three months.

This chilling discovery shocked not only MPs but the Chairman of the IEC. In fact, the former IEC head’s contract wasn’t renewed by the appointing authority. The body is without a substantive Secretary. It remains to be seen what the PAC will recommend to Parliament on the matter. Other heads of oversight institutions were not in better employment terms either.

The Chairman of the IEC was clear that the commission was not independent. He reminded the committee that there is a draft Bill at OP in which reforms were proposed. It was a little surprising how the chairman did not equivocate on his answers about the lack of independence of the IEC. The Secretary is appointed by the President, it is not provided for in any law that he should consult anyone. The Commission staff are civil servants under the office of the President.

Botswana’s first elections were run by the British colonial masters. Subsequent polls were administered by the Office of President-Permanent Secretary to the President and or Supervisor of Elections. After calls by mainly the opposition, the IEC was created alongside constitutional amendments to permit 18 year olds to vote and Presidential term limit of ten years in 1997. So far the body has run five polls and has not reformed.

The opposition brought more than 16 electoral petitions after the 2019 general elections. Their position is that the vote was stolen. The finger the intelligence agency, the ruling party and IEC as important enablers of the rigging. The opposition cases were dismissed on technicalities without the merits of their arguments heard by the courts.

The superior court of record also dismissed the opposition citing jurisdictional limitations. This was unprecedented. How did the Court of Appeal lack jurisdiction on a matter that was decided by the lower courts? Why did the judicature keep away from the merits of the case? If this jurisprudential posture persists, it has potential to drive petitioners to extra judicial means to express their dissatisfaction.

Fortunately, the political culture has for a longtime been that of lukewarm peaceful protests to almost docility of civic organisations and political parties. Parliament should therefore seriously consider post-election dispute resolution mechanisms that would ensure transparent, objective, fair and credible process of dealing with conflicts. The IEC depends on the constitution and the Electoral Act as there are no regulations under the Act. This is a serious limitation as many grey areas could be covered by a Statutory Instrument in the form of Election Regulations.

Parliament should begin debating electoral reforms for purposes of democratizing Botswana further. Democracy is a continuum, it is not static and must be nourished more and more to build strong institutions for transparency, accountability and service delivery to the people. The starting point should be the demarcation of electoral districts by the Delimitation Commission following the population census.

This process is largely seen by the opposition and some in the civil society as lacking credibility and unresponsive to the specific requirements of the people. The process has failed to deal with vast constituencies of hundreds of kilometers radiuses so that more constituencies were created in line with population growth and geography. Gerrymandering has been alleged and such insinuations cannot be ignored. That the process can’t be challenged, especially because as soon as the committee hands its report it stands dissolved, is a problem.

The electoral system of first-past-the-post has obscured the gains of most parties and calls for a hybrid system of both the winner takes all and proportional representation should be considered. These are however not attractive to the ruling party as they could accelerate its removal from power. Possibilities of successful pre-electoral and post-electoral coalitions exists in this proposed hybrid systems.

The proposed hybrid system is conducive for marginalized groups who have been underrepresented in political decision making institutions such as parliament and councils. For example, women don’t make up 10% of Botswana Parliament. Parliament should subject the debate on the floor crossing to more public consultations and scrutiny. It should form part of the comprehensive constitutional review process and not rushed as a cure for internal wrangling of the ruling party.

Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) should be abandoned; the country was almost split in half in terms of opinion when it was attempted. The reasons have been advanced and haven’t changed. The opposition has been clear that they would fight all attempts to bring EVM, with or without Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT). Such strongly divisive reforms should not be attempted, especially when the sky won’t fall without such changes.

The fact that the IEC is not fully in charge of the database is a source for concern. The system from which the roll is generated is housed in a different ministry of communication and not in the custody of the Commission. There is need to improve the electoral process in line with the SADC-Parliamentary Forum Model Law on Elections, SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections and other international instruments.

Funding of parties, translucent ballot boxes, better management of diaspora voting, security, protection of presidential candidates, counting at polling stations, the use of identity documents such as IDs, passports and drivers’ license should be seriously considered by the 12th Parliament. Election registration should be eased to broaden suffrage. Why should someone be disenfranchised on account of expired ID, or lost election card when they appear on the roll and have other national identity documents? It is rigidly unreasonable and absurd.

Why should a young 17 year old be denied registration when it’s clear they would be 18 on Election Day? Why can’t those registered remain in the roll forever, unless deceased, but only be permitted to transfer if they relocate? These are questions that parliament should ponder on and answer honestly.

Resistance to electoral reforms is one of the greatest threats to Botswana’s peace and stability. Elections in Botswana are extremely difficult, prohibitively exorbitant for candidates and for that reason very unfair and lack credibility. Calls for reforms have fallen on deaf ears for a very long time. Even the most enfeeble, docile and very obedient societies have engaged in massive civil disobedience or mass protests which in some cases has resulted in a complete change of order. This was after many years of suppression.

Some countries have plunged into political and economic crises after these revolutions. The Arab Spring is a case in point. What makes Botswana immune? Parliament of 2019-2024 is unlikely to enact major reforms which the ruling party view as unfavorable to their political objectives of staying in power for long. They are likely to legislate on cosmetic changes which are inconsequential. Pressure must be however exerted from all angles to make the country more democratic by having free, fair and credible elections.

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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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