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SONA 2020: Meaningless November ritual 

On Monday the 9th, the President addressed Parliament on the state of the republic. There is tradition by the President to address Parliament seated on a chair referred to as the “State Chair” in the Standing Orders.

The US President addresses Congress, especially on his presentation of the State of the Union and other key addresses like asking it to declare a state of war, while standing. This also applies to the UK Prime Minister and South African President as well as most Heads of State and Government.

The President after his delivery of the SONA leaves the House and seldom returns to hear MPs debate and never responds to their deliberations. The response is done by the Leader of Government Business, being the Vice President or any Minister acting in that capacity.

This is despite the fact the President wields enormous powers; he has executive powers and can decide alone, prorogues Parliament or decides when its session can start and end and can dissolve it at any time for any reason. All this points to a crooked system that undermines and degrades Parliament.

The system promotes disrespect of Parliament and non-accountability by the President. The special “State Chair”, placed permanently in the Chamber, must be abolished in Parliament Standing Orders. It has over the years become a symbol of domination or subjugation of Parliament by the President or the executive.

The chair is even much better than that of the Speaker and is telling on who is really in charge. The Leader of the House tag of the Vice President should also die and be replaced by Leader of Government Business label as it sends a wrong message. In the UK, the Prime Minister doesn’t have any special chair, even though he is primus inter pares among his parliamentary colleagues. In the South African Parliament, there is no specially manufactured chair for the President.

The Standing Orders of Botswana Parliament don’t provide for a periodic mandatory answering of MPs questions by the President. The President is effectively accountable to himself. All his ministers are obliged to defend him on any issue, however embarrassing it might be or however weighty it might be.

The President, as an ex-officio MP, can sit and debate or vote in Parliament. The current President does this sometimes, especially on matters that he feels strongly about and or feels the need to police his MPs. He normally leaves as soon as such a Bill or motion or policy has been passed or rejected in accordance with his interest. Chances are that the President will attend Parliament and vote on the floor crossing Bill. He has initiated it and would want to see it through.

The 2020 SONA was a lengthy speech of more than two hours. The President, therefore, has flagrantly and with impunity violated the COVID-19 rules that no meeting should be more than two hours continuously. It was a long speech structured like a national projects’ appraisal.

The SONA entailed unnecessary minute details without focusing on key development issues, public policy strategies and governance framework. The reason for a focus on small details was to make it appear like the government is busy delivering on its key promises, that the administration is on a big successful developmental trajectory.

As is usually the case, the third SONA was full of promises and lacked an honest critical assessment of progress. Poverty, unemployment, wealth and income disparities, lack of economic and or business opportunities and General citizen disempowerment continue to characterize the economy.

A careful analysis of the speech reveals doom and gloom on jobs for young people. The President is less candid on unemployment. There was no frank admission of the extent of unemployment in the country.  The President relies on Statistics Botswana data which adopts a narrow and distorted definition of unemployment;

it excludes the discouraged job seekers and includes Ipelegeng participants, who don’t meet basic standards of employment, as productively and remuneratively employed. Unemployment rate could be about 30% plus if Ipelegeng participants are excluded and discouraged job seekers are included. More profound measures should be explored.

There was no update on the number of jobs lost in the last twelve months or since COVID-19 was reported. The nation doesn’t know how inequalities have worsened or improved after the President’s speech. The extent of poverty over the last year is also unclear in terms of how many people have plunged into instant destitution as a result of COVID-19. There ought to be an assessment of how far the country is.

There are issues which have become permanent in the President Speech. The intention to create jobs, socially uplift Batswana and economically empower them through a diversified economy. These have been said by all Presidents. There was no update of the percentage of success in so far as the vision is concerned. How far is the country from achieving vision 2036 and what are the indicators?

Is the country closer to achieving a knowledge-based economy and 4th industrial revolution? To what extent is the economy diversified away from mining and why is at the state it is in 2020? What is going to be done to get other sectors such as tourism, agriculture, services, manufacturing etcetera to contribute more meaningfully to the GDP? Where are the targets against which to measure progress?

Like before, the President wasn’t interested in promises that he could be held accountable against, he focused on vague pledges on key issues such as jobs. There is also emphasis on the amount on money allocated to projects budgets for agencies such as YDF, CEDA, NDB and others and the number of jobs “created”.

As said, whether these jobs are actually created is unclear as many government funded businesses collapse, especially youth businesses. The focus should shift from inputs to outputs. What are the results and can these results be presented in a manner that can be objectively assessed? As predicted, COVID-19 is a perfect excuse even for matters that have nothing to do with it.

Economists have pointed out the inability of the economy to create sustainable jobs way before corona virus and way before the 2007/8 global economic meltdown. COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the already existing problem and has exposed the vulnerability of the economy to external shocks.

So, the speech has become early November ritual in which self-praises are made, new and old promises are said or repeated, rhetoric continues and no self-criticism or analytical self-assessment is made.

Possibly, no Botswana President has never promised a leather workshop in Lobatse. There has been a circulating quotation of a leather factory assurance made in 1990 by Festus Mogae, then Minister of Finance. How is this acceptable that thirty years later there is still that same promise?


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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