When he was campaigning for the position of Secretary General of the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) leading to the Mmadinare congress in 2015, Mr Botsalo Ntuane developed a document he called “BDP Reform Agenda Conversation: 22 Discussion Points.” Ntuane, I must state from the outset, is an accomplished politician and scholar of note whose document wouldn’t have surprised those who religiously follow his political journey. One is immediately reminded of his famous speech (The Road to Denmark) in Parliament in 2011 when he was the leader of opposition. I have decided to revisit this document on ‘The party must reclaim its authority over government’ tag precisely on the premise that governments are products of political parties yet when such governments are in place, a disconnect of some sorts from parties becomes apparent. But what had gone under Ntuane’s skin to make this statement? This is precisely the question I am trying to answer. Before doing so, let us remind ourselves of what others thought about the statement back in 2015. Because the 22 Discussion Points document was released after the 2014 General Election in which the BDP performed so dismally, it was argued that this statement meant that the BDP government must start deploying some of its trusted and loyal members to key positions of the State to push its agenda whatever it could be. It was argued that this agenda was derailed by public officers sympathetic to the opposition. While there may be an element of political sense in the foregoing, I do not agree with it because public officials, sympathetic to the opposition or not, are under obligation to serve the government of the day and are governed by a set of rules to perform and deliver. If they don’t, these rules are simply activated whereupon consequent management is the end result. The above argument was simply a face saver for the BDP’s bad performance in 2014. Let me try to answer the question: What did Ntuane mean by this statement?
In his document, Ntuane correctly posits that ‘the party must lead government and not be subordinate as is the case presently. The voice of the party must be heard loud and clear on every issue.’ It is not far-fetched to suggest and conclude that Ntuane, with vast and intimate knowledge of the BDP from his days as its Executive Secretary, coupled with his membership of the BDP executive committee, would have authoritatively stated that ‘the party must lead government and not be subordinate as is the case presently….’ If this was not the case, he wouldn’t have made this point. He was reasonably and competently placed to make this call. He is simply saying that his Government must implement policy decisions of the party and not the other way round. This makes sense because, and as I have alluded to above, BDP government is the product of a political institution called the BDP. In other words, BDP government wouldn’t exist without its party contesting and winning an election on the basis and strength of its manifesto. In this respect therefore, it goes without saying that BDP government should derive its marching orders from Tsholetsa House. Let us look at the following instances to determine whether the party is indeed subordinate to its government as suggested by Ntuane. There is no doubt in my mind that the point of departure in interrogating these instances is the failure by his government to implement promises made in the BDP election manifestos. In the 2014 manifesto for example, the BDP commits to working closely with labour in the spirit of upholding International Labour Organisation (ILO) framework in the form of its Conventions. Specifically, the manifesto states under labour relations that “we shall therefore, strive to: continue to comply with obligations under ratified ILO Conventions…” What’s more, the BDP has a labour committee whose role is to ensure that promises on labour issues as stated in the manifesto are implemented without fail for good industrial relations. If I could borrow from the mandate of the Industrial Court, this committee is to ‘further, secure and maintain good industrial relations in Botswana.’ But this is far from it. The current toxic stand-off between trade unions and BDP government is precisely because government has reneged on its election manifesto promise on promoting good industrial relations. The BDP is currently battling to entice labour to its stable which is proving difficult because labour is demanding as a precondition that all anti-ILO laws currently in force should be repaired and strictly aligned with the ILO Conventions. Mid last year, Botswana Government appeared at the International Labour Centre to answer to accusations brought by local labour formations for various and serious violations of ILO Conventions. She was given an opportunity to rectify those laws and report back in November 2017. She has failed to do so without good cause and as a result, Botswana is under the radar of ILO as a bad country in labour relations.
When the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) issue became too hot to handle, both government and the party disowned it – literally. Disjointed suggestions were made by government and the party that the issue was the creation of opposition parties and that the party itself as stated by Ntuane himself during a panel discussion on the matter, was not consulted and by extension, never had an input in it. This notwithstanding that some members of the party who sit in its executive committee burnt the midnight oil in Parliament to pursue and vote on the amendment of the Electoral Act which ultimately created the controversial EVMs. This is a clear indication of a party and its government totally not in sync with each other on a major constitutional matter of national importance. Recently, government mounted a spirited fight up to the Court of Appeal to bar BDP members who are civil servants from taking part in the party primary elections. Given the above instances, Ntuane had in my view made a compelling argument that the ‘party must reclaim its authority over government’ on the basis that ‘the voice of the party must be heard loud and clear on every issue.’ As matters stand, the BDP does not appear to be having the genuine urge to succeed and prevail over its government given that the latter has continued to take ‘arbitrary’ decisions that negatively impact on it because they are in the main against the party manifesto. Bear in mind that the party was elected on the strength and persuasive manifesto promises. I will argue that executive decisions contrary to the party manifesto promises have reduced the popular vote post 2014 to date. One would perhaps expect the BDP to have a mechanism to supervise members of the executive in the form of ministers to ensure that they implement party policies as provided for in the manifesto. For example, Botswana would not be on a collision course with the ILO if the Minister responsible for labour had implemented the manifesto position on labour that: ‘we shall therefore strive to: continue to comply with obligations under ratified ILO Conventions.’