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SONA 2020: Rhetoric, self-praise and COVID-19 as excuse 

On Monday the 9th November, Parliament will convene for its first meeting of the second session. This is after prorogation of the first session by the president a few days ago. Traditionally, the session will start with State of the Nation Address (SONA) by the Head of State.

The SONA is somewhat an obligation and an annual tradition, wherein the government, through the President, reports on the status of the country over the last twelve months unveils the government’s agenda for the next year, and proposes to the legislature clear policy and legislative interventions. Through SONA, the President accounts to Parliament and the nation.

Whilst this is the third SONA by the current President, it will be the first since corona virus hit Botswana. It will also be the first to be delivered during a State of Public Emergency (SoE). What is the President likely to focus his message on this coming Monday? What should Batswana expect? What should really be in the President’s speech? The SONA should be a critical appraisal of the state in which the country finds itself in, good or bad. It should be about stating facts about the state democracy, economy, and the people. It should be about update on progress, measured against initial promises. Whereas is a political statement, the SONA should rely on evidence that can be assessed.

The President campaigned on a democratisation ticket, in a way, promising to among others review the constitution. He was not explicit but this was implied in his campaign message. It has been more than two years since he assumed office and a whole year since he was controversially elected into office. It is expected that the President updates the nation on the progress he has made so far. Whilst COVID-19 has very little or nothing to do with the delay in rolling out a constitutional review, it is likely to be mentioned as an excuse. The government has already said so when Members of Parliament (MPs) mounted pressure.

The President has not committed to comprehensive electoral reforms or making oversight institutions more independent from his office or making Parliament and the judicature strong and independent. So, it is unlikely that he will specifically address these issues. He doesn’t want to specifically promise these because they mean less power and more accountability for him. He wants everyone to assume that these are implied in his constitutional review promise. The President should come out clear on why there is need for a review of the constitution and explain what he thinks about blemishes that need to be addressed in the country’s democracy.

The opposition, academics, civil society and some Dikgosi have made their cases on the known for a review. The President’s specific views are unknown.  The SONA presents a chance for him to explain himself. The country needs to understand what democratic deficiencies he thinks should cured. He promised to cause a repeal of the Media Practitioners Act and enactment of Freedom of Information law. He has delivered, albeit inadequately, on declaration of assets and liabilities. Reference will be made to bodies that have complementary verdicts on the state of democracy in Botswana and the President will attribute that to his administration. No critical measurement will be noted. For example, the recent Afrobarometer research findings on corruption are unlikely to be interrogated for purposes of improvement.

The nation shouldn’t expect much on the economy including a big issue of job creation. Much of the message will be about COVID-19. All economic challenges will be attributed to the virus. Whilst this is in part true, it doesn’t tell the whole story. COVID-19 is like mana from heaven for the President. It is a perfect excuse on every policy failure. The President will give the nation some descriptive statistics on the state of the economy, especially how bad it has been hit by COVID-19. The virus will be amplified as a huge impediment.

However, no one should expect the President to give a full account of the number of firms that have closed, the number of job losses, the number of people who have plunged into instant poverty and the extent of inequalities as a result of COVID-19. He may not even attempt to give figures on how tourism has been affected or how sectors such as services, agriculture, manufacturing and performing arts have been dented. He is likely to just generalize. He won’t say how those in the sector have been specifically affected; job losses, collapsed businesses and decline in earnings etcetera.

The reason is simple, he won’t have to explicitly state what he has done or what he is doing to address the problem. No measurable deliverables will be expected in such a vague presentation.  Of course, he will talk about wage subsidy, CEDA, bond issuance increases authorization and the COVID-19 fund as great interventions. However, he won’t give you a sense of their impact because there is little to no impact. The President is likely to blame COVID-19 for a delay in enacting citizen economic empowerment law and make another promise to deliver it soon.

On corruption and good governance, the President will continue to proclaim his dislike for corruption and affinity to the rule of law. He will most likely promise to crack the whip and tighten screws on graft. However, he is less likely to address real issues of his business interests or real and potential conflict of interest. The President will never address NPF or CMB scandals because he is implicated. He may actually be happy that these cases are fading away with the state messing up every day. It would mean he is no longer implicated if these cases die.

The President seldom addresses the inadequacy of the anti-graft laws and the need for serious political leadership that leads by example. He has allocated himself a state farm and he is on a drive to accumulate personal wealth including land. So, the corruption topic will never be given adequate space in his speeches.  It will be glossed over.

The President is wasting too much time and resources on the distribution of rams and bucks. No one close to him is willing to tell him the truth. The program is meant to pick his popularity but has very little to no impact. There is no value for money in the program. It shows the thinking capacity in the administration. The President will talk about this insignificant hobby and all his Minister are expected to praise him on it. That’s just how sad the situation is. There is no hope for a young person who is an unemployed graduate. There is little hope for young entrepreneurs.

There are no textbooks in schools around the country and no doctors and other health personnel but the president has time to donate billy goats and rams. The program is very unlikely to result in any major shift in small stock production. What is needed is a comprehensive agricultural initiative, not vote-buying. There is need for targeted agricultural programs geared towards improving large scale commercial farming that would create agro-industries and jobs and food security. It is important that cattle farmers get value for their animals. These are priorities. The reviews of agricultural programs that the President will likely refer to are only cosmetic but will present these as paradigm shift.

It is very bad in schools; lack of textbooks, stationery, furniture and teaching materials has reached crisis point. Schools have shortages of fully functional reprographics facilities. There are no computers and reliable, fast and adequate internet. The physical infrastructure has dilapidated in schools and many schools are actually falling apart. All these affect teaching and learning and poor results are instructive. Conditions of service for teachers are appalling; they don’t have adequate accommodation, they are paid lowly, constantly owed overtime allowances and endure serious hardships. Health is literally collapsing. None of these will be emphasized by the President, he will simply say he is aware of challenges and that he is addressing them. So, the SONA will be just rhetoric, self-praise and excuses.

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DIS Parley Committee selection disingenuous 

25th November 2020

Intelligence and Security Service Act, which is a law that establishes the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Service (DIS), provides for establishment of a Parliamentary Committee. Recently, the President announced nine names of Members of Parliament he had appointed to the Committee.

This announcement was preceded by a meeting the President held with the Speaker and the Leader of Opposition. Following the announcement of Committee MPs by the President, the opposition, through its leader, made it clear that it will not participate in the Committee unless certain conditions that would ensure effective oversight are met. The opposition acted on the non-participation threat through resignation of its three MPs from the Committee.

The Act at Section 38 provides for the establishment of the Committee to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the Directorate. The law provides that the Parliamentary Committee shall have the same powers and privileges set out under the National Assembly (Powers and Privileges) Act.

On composition, the Committee shall consist of nine members who shall not be members of Cabinet and its quorum shall be five members.  The MPs in the Committee elect a chairperson from among their number at their first meeting.

The Members of the Committee are appointed by the President after consultation with the Speaker of the National Assembly and Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly. It is the provision of the law that the Committee, relative to its size, reflect the numerical strengths of the political parties represented in the National Assembly.

The Act provides that that a member of the Committee holds office for the duration of the Parliament in which he or she is appointed.  The Committee is mandated to make an annual report on the discharge of their functions to the President and may at any time report to him or her on any matter relating to the discharge of those functions.

The Minister responsible for intelligence and security is obliged to lay before the National Assembly a copy of each annual report made by the Committee together with a statement as to whether any matter has been excluded from that copy in pursuance of the provision of the Act.

If it appears to the Minister, after consultation with the Parliamentary Committee, that the publication of any matter in a report would be prejudicial to the continued discharge of the functions of the Directorate, the Minister may exclude that matter from the copy of the report as laid before the National Assembly.

So, what are the specific demands of the Opposition and why are they not participating in the Committee? What should happen as a way forward? The Opposition demanded that there be a forensic audit of the Directorate. The DIS has never been audited since it was set up in 2008, more than a decade ago.

The institution has been a law unto itself for a longtime, feared by all oversight bodies. The Auditor General, who had no security of tenure, could not audit the DIS. The Directorate’s personnel, especially at a high level, have been implicated in corruption.  Some of its operatives are in courts of law defending corruption charges preferred against them. Some of the corruption cases which appeared in the media have not made it to the courts.

The DIS has been accused of non-accountability and unethical practices as well as of being a burden on the fiscus.  So, the Opposition demanded, from the President, a forensic audit for the purpose of cleaning up the DIS.  They demand a start from a clean slate.

The second demand by the Opposition is that the law be reviewed to ensure greater accountability of the DIS to Parliament. What are some of the issues that the opposition think should be reviewed? The contention is that the executive cannot appoint a Committee of Parliament to scrutinize an executive institution.

Already, it is argued, Parliament is less independent and it is dominated by the executive. It is contended that the Committee should be established by the Standing Orders and be appointed by a Select Committee of Parliament. There is also an argument that the Committee should report to Parliament and not to the President and that the Minister should not have any role in the Committee.

Democratic and Parliamentary oversight of the intelligence is relatively a new phenomenon across the World. Even developed democracies are still grappling with some of these issues. However, there are acceptable standards or what might be called international best practices which have evolved over the past two or so decades.

In the UK for instance, MPs of the Intelligence and Security Committee are appointed by the Houses of Parliament, having been nominated by the Prime Minister in consultation with the Leader of the Opposition. This is a good balancing exercise of involvement of both the executive and the legislature. Consultation is taken for granted in Botswana context in the sense that it has been reduced to just informing the Leader of Opposition without much regard to his or her ideas; they are never taken seriously.

Furthermore, the current Committee in the UK has four Members of the ruling party and five MPs from the opposition. It is a fairly balanced Committee in terms of Parliamentary representation. However, as said above, the President of Botswana appointed six ruling party MPs and three from the opposition.

The imbalance is preposterous and more pronounced with clear intentions of getting the executive way through the ruling party representatives in the Committee. The intention to avoid scrutiny is clear from the numbers of the ruling party MPs in the Committee.

There is also an international standard of removing sensitive parts which may harm national security from the report before it is tabled in the legislature. The previous and current reluctance of the executive arms to open up on Defence and Security matters emanate from this very reason of preserving and protecting national security.

But national security should be balanced with public interest and other democratic principles. The decision to expunge certain information which may be prejudicial to national security should not be an arbitrary and exclusive decision of the executive but a collective decision of a well fairly balanced Committee in consultation with the Speaker and the minister responsible.

There is no doubt that the DIS has been a rogue institution. The reluctance by the President to commit to democratic-parliamentary oversight reforms presupposes a lack of commitment to democratization. The President has no interest in seeing a reformed DIS with effective oversight of the agency.

He is insincere. This is because the President loathes the idea losing an iota of power and sharing it with any other democratic institution. He sees the agency as his power lever to sustain his stay in the high office. He thought he could sanitize himself with an ineffective DIS Committee that would dance to his tune.

The non-participation of the opposition MPs renders the Committee dysfunctional; it cannot function as this would be unlawful. Participation of the opposition is a legal requirement. Even if it can meet, it would lack legitimacy; it cannot be taken seriously. The President should therefore act on the oversight demands and reform the DIS if he is to be taken seriously.

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The Maccabean Uprising

25th November 2020
Jewish freedom fighters

 Jews drive away occupying power under the command of guerrilla leader Judas Maccabees but only just

Although it was the Desolation Sacrilege act, General Atiku, that officially sparked the Maccabean revolt, it in truth simply stoked the fires of an already simmering revolution. How so General?

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Atomic (CON)Fusion

25th November 2020

For years I have trained people about paradigm shifts – those light-bulb-switch-on moments – where there is a seismic change from the usual way of thinking about something to a newer, better way. 

I like to refer to them as ‘aha’ moments because of the sudden understanding of something which was previously incomprehensible. However,  the topic of today’s article is the complete antithesis of ‘aha’.  Though I’d love to tell you I’d had a ‘eureka ‘, ‘problem solved’ moment, I am faced with the complete opposite – an ‘oh-no’ moment or Lost Leader Syndrome.

No matter how well prepared or capable a leader is. they often find themselves facing perplexing events, confounding information, or puzzling situations. Confused by developments of which they can’t make sense and by challenges that they don’t know how to solve they become confused, sometimes lost and completely clueless about what to do.

I am told by Jentz and Murphy (JM) in ‘What leaders do when they don’t know what to do’ that this is normal, and that rapid change is making confusion a defining feature of management in the 21st century.  Now doesn’t that sound like the story of 2020 summed up in a single sentence?

The basic premise of their writing is that “confusion is not a weakness to be ashamed of but a regular and inevitable condition of leadership. By learning to embrace their confusion, managers are able to set in motion a constructive process for addressing baffling issues.

In fact, confusion turns out to be a fruitful environment in which the best managers thrive by using the instability around them to open up better lines of communication, test their old assumptions and values against changing realities, and develop more creative approaches to problem solving.”

The problem with this ideology however is that it doesn’t help my overwhelming feelings of fear and panic which is exacerbated by a tape playing on a loop in my head saying  ‘you’re supposed to know what to do, do something’. My angst is compounded by annoying motivational phrases also unhelpfully playing in my head like.

  • Nothing happens until something moves
  • The secret of getting ahead is getting started

and

  • Act or be acted upon

All these platitudes are urging me to pull something out of the bag, but I know that this is a trap. This need to forge ahead is nothing but a coping mechanism and disguise. Instead of owning the fact that I haven’t got a foggy about what to do, part of me worries that I’ll lose authority if I acknowledge that I can’t provide direction – I’m supposed to know the answers, I’m the MD!  This feeling of not being in control is common for managers in ‘oh no’ situations and as a result they often start reflexively and unilaterally attempting to impose quick fixes to restore equilibrium because, lets be honest, sometimes we find it hard to resist hiding our confusion.

To admit that I am lost in an “Oh, No!” moment opens the door not only to the fear of losing authority but also to a plethora of other troubling emotions and thoughts:  *Shame and loss of face: “You’ll look like a fool!” * Panic and loss of control: “You’ve let this get out of hand!” * Incompetence and incapacitation: “You don’t know what you’re doing!”

As if by saying “I’m at a loss here” is tantamount to declaring “I am not fit to lead.” Of course the real problem for me and any other leader is if they don’t admit when they are disoriented, it sends a signal to others in the organisation stating it’s not cool to be lost and that, by its very nature encourages them to hide.  What’s the saying about ‘a real man never asks for direction. ..so they end up driving around in circles’.

As managers we need to embrace the confusion, show vulnerability (remember that’s not a bad word) and accept that leadership is not about pretending to have all the answers but about having the courage to search with others to discover a solution.

JM point out that “being confused, however, does not mean being incapacitated.  Indeed, one of the most liberating truths of leadership is that confusion is not quicksand from which to escape but rather the potter’s clay of leadership – the very stuff with which managers can work.”

2020 has certainly been a year to remember and all indications are that the confusion which has characterised this year will still follow us into the New Year, thereby making confusion a defining characteristic of the new normal and how managers need to manage. Our competence as leaders will then surely be measured not only by ‘what I know’ but increasingly by ‘how I behave when I accept, I don’t know, lose my sense of direction and become confused.

.I guess the message for all organizational cultures going forward is that sticking with the belief that we need all-knowing, omni-competent executives will cost them dearly and send a message to managers that it is better to hide their confusion than to address it openly and constructively.

Take comfort in these wise words ‘Confusion is a word we have invented for an order not yet understood’!

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