Of government and political civil servants

SHARE   |   Sunday, 20 July 2014   |   By Ephraim Keoreng

The role of a ruling party is to be in control of the running of the government of the day. Government is a very complex machinery that is made up of civil servants who run ministries and departments. However in terms of policy direction and implementation, the party in power or governing party, so to speak, should be the one responsible and ensure that it drives the implementation of projects and programmes.

In Botswana, the reigns of leadership are in the hands of the civil servants. The ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) only fields its leader as State President, who in turn appoints BDP members of Parliament cabinet ministers. The ministers play the role of political heads of ministries. Cabinet, which comprises of the ministers and the President, is responsible for the policy direction and implementation of government projects and programmes. The ministers play an advisory role to the president. They also have to make sure that their ministries perform their tasks and or functions.


However it is important to note that the real power lies with the civil service cadre. It is the civil servants who are in charge of running the affairs of the state. They are the experts, the bureaucrats from various fields who ensure the smooth running of the government machinery. In most cases, these are professionals who either subscribe to politics of the opposition or the ruling party, while others are apolitical. There have been cases where some top government workers were accused of being members of the ruling party. In fact people have suggested that in the past, for one to be appointed to top positions; from director upwards, people were scrutinised; put under covert surveillance and their relatives asked a lot of questions about their political affiliation; their attitude towards the government of the day by officers of the Special Branch, the precursor of the Directorate of Intelligence and Security. However of late, there are concerns that some of the top leaders in the civil service are members of the opposition. This is true in some cases and has had the BDP worried. The 2011 civil servants strike bruised the relationship between government and civil servants and the ruling party got so worried that during its primaries, it made a decision to bar civil servants from participating in its primary elections. This was obviously an attempt to de-politicise the civil service. Whether this has served the purpose is a subject for another day. All these actions and reactions by the BDP government demonstrate that she is not confident whether some people in the top echelons of the civil service are to be trusted. There is that lurking fear of imminent sabotage, especially when some of the programmes lag behind for unexplained reasons. 

As much as civil servants have to be apolitical, the fact is that, the civil service these days is more complex, especially given a litany of labour issues that have beset the government service. On the other hand, the government has maintained that it is sympathetic to the concerns of the government workers but cried that owing to the effects of the economic down turn, she is not in a position to hike their salaries to levels that will assuage their concerns. Some top officials are open about their political affiliations. They flirt with the opposition or ruling party without any fear of reprisals. Some have been seen putting in party regalia at rallies. 

A ruling party, as happens in South Africa, should not just have its people as ministers, but must also deploy various cadres to different strategic positions to ensure that its policies are well executed. This way, the government of the day can be in a better position to account for its failures and successes. Party deployees, who are trained professionals in various fields, would know that if programmes and projects are delayed, there will be a backlash against their party by voters on election day. The civil servant, on the other hand is a trained professional selling his or her skills. They do not have the same moral obligation to the people as the political appointee.

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