With many political observers already worried by the waning powers of parliament, State President Minister Kabo Morwaeng’s proposed changes to the parliamentary standing orders is set to further weaken the legislative house albeit handing more powers to the executive.
Following the increase of Ministers in 2016, parliament has been captured by the executive as the Ministers outnumber ordinary Members of Parliament (MPs), a development that led to parliament becoming a mere rubber stamp of executive orders. It emerged this week that the Minister has proposed changes to the standing orders, although they have not been well received generally from democracy advocates and some MPs, it is likely that the majority rule in Parliament will see them pass.
One of the changes set to be debated by the Parliament in June/July meeting is that the Leader of the House be allowed more time when compared to other recognized leaders during all debates. This, according to Morwaeng is done so as to allow the VP to represent the government position. Ordinary MPs gets ten minutes to debate. It is also proposed that “there should be a new standing order to allow for elucidation by other Ministers/Leader of the House under pre-determined conditions especially given cross cutting nature of some questions.”
Individuals who intend to livestream parliamentary proceedings shall do so with the prior arrangements and permission of the Business Advisory Committee, another proposal reads. Leader of Opposition Dumelang Saleshando has been streaming parliament live on his Facebook page, this means he will have to engage with the business advisory committee.
Morwaeng also suggests that, “Unless in exception circumstances, urgent motions must be given a 48 hours’ notice period before presentation in parliament. The Speaker shall afford the mover and the portfolio minister an opportunity to appear before him in chambers before deciding on the urgency of the motion.” However, in the case the Speaker deems the motion to be urgent and worthy of presentation to parliament, while the Minister insists it is not urgent, a question of urgency shall be put to the General Assembly.
A portfolio Minister according to the proposed changes, must always be given priority to be the first to respond to any motion immediately following the mover’s presentation. In terms of the statements made in parliament, it is suggested that they must be given not less 48 hours notices and the portfolio ministers must be given a copy of the statement that has been submitted for consideration by the speaker. Further “the portfolio minister must as well be given an opportunity to respond at the end of the short questions and responses by the mover of the statement.”
The casual manner of MPs during voting of preceding of follow their votes with a comment will deem their vote spoil in the new dispensation. It is recommended that there shall be creation of another standing order which says ‘the name of the President shall not be used in a derogatory manner, disrespectfully or impute any improper motives in the person of the President in any parliamentary debate.”
OPPOSITION TRASHES AMMENDMENDS
Selibe Phikwe West legislator Dithapelo Keorapetse says the proposed standing orders which are akin to apartheid laws will be rejected and disobeyed. “The ruling party will abuse its majority to get their way and curtail parliamentary democracy by fraudulently and flagrantly overhauling the Standing Orders. The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) will vehemently and contemptuously reject all manner of attempts to violate democratic ethos and perpetuate tyranny of the majority in Parliament. If need be, the UDC will challenge the imposed Standing Orders by the ruling party in court to declare them unconstitutional. No laws or regulations comparable to apartheid will be tolerated.
The ruling party must get the message that Botswana parliament is not their House, Tsholetsa house, it belongs to Batswana. Like Christian legal philosophers St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas said that Lex iniusta non est lex, ‘an unjust law is not a law’, we will disobey any unjust, unreasonable and unconstitutional law imposed on MPs under the guise of instilling discipline. We will also reject and challenge all endeavors to STOP live broadcasting of Parliament.
We can only accept progressive suggestions to move forward towards democratic consolidation. Some provisions of the Standing Orders are obsolete and unconstitutional in a manner that suggests a democracy that’s regressing and not consolidating. Some sections of the Standing Orders limit freedom of speech including freedom to hold opinions protected by Section 12 of the Constitution. These Standing Orders stifle free parliamentary debates in that the Speaker is able to make some arbitrary decisions at times.
They give the executive more time and opportunity to have amplified voice in parliament more than ordinary MPs. Government Business dominates parliamentary proceedings compared to Private Members Business such as questions, motions and Bills among others. There is an attempt to make this worse!
There is a tradition by the President to address Parliament seated on a chair referred to as “State Chair” in the Standing Orders. The President after his delivery of the SONA leaves the House and seldom returns to hear MPs debate his speech 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 the Parliament Standing Orders.
It has over the years become a symbol of domination or subjugation of Parliament by the President or the executive. The President should be purely primus inter pares among us his parliamentary colleagues, not some political leviathan of the House the system has created. The US President addresses Congress, especially on his presentation of the State of the Union and on other key addresses, like asking it to declare a state of war, while standing.
This also applies to the British Prime Minister and South African President as well as most Heads of State and Government. In the UK, the Prime Minister doesn’t have any special chair, even in the South African Parliament, there is no specially manufactured chair for the President.
Botswana Parliament Standing Orders and tradition don’t specifically permit African traditional or religious regalia, especially for male MPs, as only the colonial jacket and tie are allowed. Even smart casual wear on Fridays or any other day isn’t allowed. This archaic system belongs to the dustbin of history as it also interferes with the right wear what one wants. We need modern democratic Standing Orders.”
As the preparations for the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) congress are about to kick off, reports on the ground suggest that the party’s Deputy Treasurer Jackdish Shah will not defend the position in August as he contemplates relocation.
According to sources, the businessman who joined the BDP Central Committee in 2015 at the 36th Congress held in Mmadinare is ready to leave the party’s politburo. It is said he long made up his mind not to defend the position last year. A prominent businessman, Shah, when he won the position to assist Satar Dada in 2015 was expected to improve the party’s financial vibrancy. By then the party was under the leadership of Ian Khama.
According to close sources, Shah long decided not to contest because he has fallen out of favour with the party leadership. It is said he took the decision after some prominent businessmen who are BDP members and part of football syndicate decided to push him out and they used their proximity to President Mokgweetsi Masisi to badmouth him hence the decision.
“The fight at the Botswana Football Association (BFA) and Botswana Football League (BFL) has left him alone in the desert and some faces there used their close access to the President to isolate him,” said a source. Media reports say, Shah does not see eye to eye with BFA President MacLean Letshwiti who is also Masisi’s buddy hence the decision.
BFL Chairman Nicholas Zackhem is said to be not in good terms with Shah, who at one point Chaired the then Botswana Premier League (BPL). “He is seriously considering quitting because of what is unfolding at the team (Township Rollers) which is slowly not making financial gains and might be relegated and he wants to sell while it is still worth the investment,” said a highly placed source.
Shah is a renowned businessman who runs internet providing company Zebra net, H &G, game farm in Kasane, cattle farm in Ghanzi region and lot of properties in Gaborone. He also has two hotels in USA, his advisors have given him thumbs up on the possible decision of relocating provided he does not sell some of the investments that are doing well.
Asked about whether he will be contesting Shah could not confirm nor deny the reports. It is said for now it is too early as a public decision will have to be taken after the national council meeting and prior to the national congress. “As a BDP Central Committee member he cannot make that announcement now,” a BDP source said.
BDP is expected to assemble for the National Council during the July holidays while the National Congress is billed for August. It is then that the party will elect a new CC members. The last time BDP held elective congress was at Kang in 2019. The party is yet to issue writ.
The government has failed to implement some commitments and agreements that it had entered into with unions to improve conditions of public servants.
Three years after the government and public made commitments aimed at improving conditions of work and services it has emerged that the government has ignored and failed to implement all commitments on conditions of service emanating from the 2019 round of negotiations.
In its position paper that saw public service salaries being increased by 5%, the government the government has also signalled its intention to renege on some of the commitments it had made. “Government aspires to look into all outstanding issues contained in the Labour Agreement signed between the Employer and recognised Trade Union on the 27th August 2019 and that it be reviewed, revised and delinked by both Parties with a view to agree on those whose implementation that can be realistically executed during the financial years 2022/23, 2023/24 and 2024/25 respectively,” the government said.
Furthermore, in addition to reviewing, revising and de-linking of the outstanding issues contained in the Collective Labour Agreement alluded to above and taking on a progressive proposal, government desires to review revise, develop and implement human resource policies as listed below during the financial year 2022/23,2023/24,2024/25
They include selection and appointment policy, learning and development policy, transfer guidelines, conditions of service, permanent and pensionable, temporary and part time, Foreign Service, expatriate and disciplinary procedures.
In their proposal paper, the unions which had proposed an 11 percent salary increase but eventually settled for 5% percent indicated that the government has not, and without explanation, acted on some of the key commitments from the 2019/2020 and 2021/22 round of negotiations. The essential elements of these commitments include among others the remuneration Policy for the Public Service.
The paper states that a Remuneration Policy will be developed to inform decision making on remuneration in the Public Service. It is envisaged that consultations between the government and relevant key stakeholders on the policy was to start on 1st September 2019, and the development of the policy should be concluded by 30th June 2020.
The public sector unions said the Remuneration Policy is yet to be developed. The Cooperating Unions suggested that the process should commence without delay and that it should be as participatory as it was originally conceived. Another agreement relate to Medical Aid Contribution for employees on salary Grades A and B.
The employer contribution towards medical aid for employees on salary Grades A and B will be increased from 50% to 80% for the Standard Option of the Botswana Public “Officers’ Medical Aid Scheme effective 1st October 2019; the cooperating unions insist that, in fulfilling this commitment, there should be no discrimination between those on the high benefit and those on the medium benefit plan,” the unions proposal paper says.
Another agreement involves the standardisation of gratuities across the Public Service. “Gratuities for all employees on fixed term contracts of 12 months but not exceeding 5 years, including former Industrial class employees be standardized at 30% across the Public Service in order to remove the existing inequalities and secure long-term financial security for Public Service Employees at lower grades with immediate effect,” the paper states.
The other agreement signed by the public sector unions and the government was the development of fan-shaped Salary Structure. The paper says the Public Service will adopt a best practice fan-shaped and overlapping structure, with modification to suit the Botswana context. The Parties (government and unions) to this agreement will jointly agree on the ranges of salary grades to allow for employees’ progression without a promotion to the available position on the next management level.
“The fan-shaped structure is envisaged to be in place by 1st June 2020, to enable factoring into the budgetary cycle for the financial year 2021/22,” the unions’ proposal paper states. It says the following steps are critical, capacity building of key stakeholders (September – December 2019), commission remuneration market survey (3 months from September to November 2019), design of the fan-shaped structure (2 to 3 months from January to March2020) and consultations with all key stakeholders (March to April 2020).
The unions and government had also signed an agreement on performance management and development: A rigorous performance management and reward system based on a 5-point rating system will be adopted as an integral part of the operationalization of the new Remuneration System.
Performance Management and Development (PMD) will be used to reward workers based on performance. The review of the Performance Management System was to be undertaken in order to close the gaps identified by PEMANDU and other previous reports on PMS between 1st September 2019 and 30th June 2020 as follows; internal process to update and revise the current Performance Management System by January 2020.
A job evaluation exercise in the Public Service will also be undertaken to among others establish internal equity, and will also cover the grading of all supervisory positions within the Public Service. Another agreement included overtime Management. The Directorate of Public Service Management (DPSM) was to facilitate the conclusion of consultations on management of overtime, including consideration of the Overtime Management Task Team’s report on the same by 30th November 2019.
A public health expert, Dr Edward Maganu who is also the former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health has said that unlike many who are expressing shock at the population census growth decline results, he is not, because the 2022 results represents his expectations.
He rushed to dismiss the position by Statistics Botswana in which thy partly attributes the low growth rates to mortality rates for the past ten years. “I don’t think there is any undercounting. I also don’t think death rates have much to do with it since the excessive deaths from HIV/AIDS have been controlled by ARVs and our life expectancy isn’t lower than it was in the 1990s,” he said in an interview with this publication post the release of the results.
Preliminary results released by Statistics Botswana this week indicated that Botswana’s population is now estimated to be 2,346,179 – a figure that the state owned data agency expressed worry over saying it’s below their projected growth. The general decline in the population growth rate is attributed to ‘fertility’ and ‘mortality’ rates that the country registered on the past ten years since the last census in 2011.
Maganu explained that with an enlightened or educated society and the country’s total fertility rate, there was no way the country’s population census was going to match the previous growth rates. “The results of the census make sense and is exactly what I expected. Our Total Fertility Rate ( the average number of children born to a woman) is now around 2.
This is what happens as society develops and educates its women. The enlightened women don’t want to bear many children, they want to work and earn a living, have free time, and give their few children good care. So, there is no under- counting. Census procedures are standard so that results are comparable between countries.
That is why the UN is involved through UNFPA, the UN Agency responsible for population matters,” said Maganu who is also the former adviser to the World Health Organisation. Maganu ruled out undercounting concerns, “I see a lot of Batswana are worried about the census results. Above is what I have always stated.”
Given the disadvantages that accompany low population for countries, some have suggested that perhaps a time has come for the government to consider population growth policies or incentives, suggestions Maganu deems ineffective.
“It has never worked anywhere. The number of children born to a woman are a very private decision of the woman and the husband in an enlightened society. And as I indicated, the more the women of a society get educated, the higher the tendency to have fewer children. All developed countries have a problem of zero population growth or even negative growth.
The replacement level is regarded as 2 children per woman; once the fertility level falls below that, then the population stops growing. That’s why developed countries are depending so much on immigration,” he said.
According to him, a lot of developing countries that are educating their women are heading there, including ourselves-Botswana. “Countries that have had a policy of encouraging women to have more children have failed dismally. A good example is some countries of Eastern Europe (Romania is a good example) that wanted to grow their populations by rewarding women who had more children. It didn’t work. The number of children is a very private matter,” said Maganu
For those who may be worried about the impact of problems associated with low growth rate, Maganu said: “The challenge is to develop society so that it can take care of its dependency ratio, the children and the aged. In developed countries the ratio of people over 60 years is now more than 20%, ours is still less than 10%.”
The preliminary results show that Mogoditshane with (88,098) is now the biggest village in the country with Maun coming second (85,293) and Molepolole at third position with 74,719. Population growth is associated with many economic advantages because more people leads to greater human capital, higher economic growth, economies of scale, the efficiency of higher population density and the improved demographic structure of society, among many others.