The day and occasion independent journalists have yearned for so long finally arrived at the Mass Media complex on the 30th May 2018. I had an errand to run around at the time of the occasion but had to postpone it precisely because I wanted to watch and hear for myself the interaction between the President Rre Mokgweetsi Masisi and the independent journalists. There was unbelievable expectation in me on the issues and questions to be raised at this occasion on the basis of the saying, ‘first impressions are the most lasting.’ While it was not a damp squid in one respect, it was in the other. I did not get what I had expected from the overall press conference on the side of the independent journalists. Not that they completely slept on the job but that they did not in my view raise the bar in terms of raising other issues as will be shown herein. If the occasion was graced only by the Mass Media journalists, I would not have taken the pain and trouble of engaging you in this conversation because the reasons are pretty obvious. Overall, Rre Masisi stole the show by walking in the park unhindered and less bothered. To be fair to the independent journalists, they threw punches here and there at the President but these were less troubling as he effectively fended them off. Additionally, one has to be fair to them on the understanding that they could not exhaust all the questions and issues at the first occasion. But key questions on governance, the state of our democracy and socio-economic trajectory for example, should in my view have dominated the proceedings given their prominence and exposure by the journalists themselves. Hard and pointed questions in this regard which would have put him on the back foot were not forthcoming, hence his stroll in the park with eyes firmly closed.
The President set the ball rolling by stating that his government will observe good governance by remaining accountable to the nation and also stating that the good lawyer Rre Salbany’s persona non grata status has been rescinded. The Minister responsible for immigration Mmaetsho Dorcus Makgato stated very eloquently that she had been given specific instruction by the President to ensure that her ministry becomes a facilitator and not a frustrator. I had expected the President to be asked why Rre Salbany’s matter was mishandled as suggested by the President himself given the specific instruction referred to above. As the authority empowered by law to personally sign off the instrument to declare someone persona non grata, which is a very serious presidential duty expectedly with no margin of error, did the President satisfy himself that this duty was above board? As the matter turned out, was he let down by his officials by not performing due diligence on the matter hence the suggested error in handling Rre Salbany’s matter? I thought these would be some of follow up questions.
The Permanent Secretary to the President who is the head of the civil service and Secretary to Cabinet and whose pay package equals that of the Chief Justice, is allegedly under investigation by the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime on alleged corruption matters. By remaining at his desk despite these serious allegations, this smacks on the face of good governance and the Public Service Act Section 35 which provides for suspension from duty by the supervising officer (in this case the President) when he becomes aware that ‘criminal proceedings have been or are about to be instituted against an employee...’ I had expected journalists to have taken the President on these alleged governance failures particularly that they implicate the most senior public servant who was with him at the top table. Our tag as a shining example of democracy has in the last decade or so become under serious scrutiny from within and without where independent institutions like the Mo Ibrahim Foundation and others have concluded that it is seriously under threat. It has become apparent that important ingredients of democracy in the form of Therisanyo (consultation), has been forgotten for sometimes. Citizens are increasingly denied participatory democracy by stifling Therisanyo for example where government is currently imposing the Electronic Voting Machines on them without soliciting their views through a referendum. The Rule of Law has become under serious threat as well where lawful court orders are deliberately ignored by government in most, if not all cases. This has become a norm in this country. Lack of accountability and consequent management have also become some ingredients which scupper democracy in one form or the other. I had expected independent journalists to have touched on these issues so that we hear the President on them. The socio-economic dynamics in Botswana have substantially increased overtime due to the disparities in all manner of inequalities. These are created and worsened by high levels of unemployment which lead to high levels of poverty. Corruption, which has assumed the run-away mode and whose minimising looks a pipe dream, plays an important part in exacerbating the socio-economic dynamics afflicting society. Those who live within the borders of Botswana for example, feel the pinch of run-away corruption with the revelations of the National Petroleum Fund (NDF) scandal where high profile individuals in the political and corporate domains are allegedly implicated. Funds siphoned from this fund inevitably lead to ordinary members of the society bearing the brunt by the inevitable increase in fuel levy.
Given these socio-economic dynamics, economic development across the board becomes diminished – the outcomes of which are very low levels of job creation and increased high rate of unemployment. I would have expected the independent journalists to have engaged the President on how he intends to address the socio-economic undesirables occasioned by run-away corruption. Needless to mention, the impact of socio-economic dynamics particularly on the lower levels of our compatriots are devastating notable of which are the increased levels of crime, family disintegration, increased lack of all manner of opportunities for the youth and so on. The youth have in the recent past upped the ante by demanding a fair deal from government. One doesn’t have to look further than South Africa to see the devastating levels and impact of the socio-economic dynamics where we see the misery of ordinary citizens in all forms and shapes.
Botswana is currently viewed in bad light by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) for not conforming to its Conventions in many respects. At last year’s meeting of the ILO Conference, Botswana was given specific instructions to put its house in order but it appears Botswana has deliberately failed to do so. At some point last year when an ILO representative was here, the Minister responsible for labour Rre Tshenolo Mabeo almost if not, dismissed the ILO. I would have expected independent journalists to have engaged the President on this matter given the negativity it brings to Botswana.