Botswana Land Boards, Local Authorities and Health Workers Union (BLLAHWU), a Trade Union that organises workers in Local Authorities is immensely disturbed by the dissolution of Sowa Township Council. While there have been other issues raised on the matter, BLLAHWU would focus on issues of principle and governance. The ill-fated events as per the Sowa Town issue are symbolic of the feebleness and deficits of Botswana’s democracy. They are revealing of the fragility of Local Government at the dominant power of Central Government. Botswana ‘s democracy is characterised by immense power centralised at upper level of Government, and Presidentialism where the President wields so much power with weak processes or avenues of accountability. This is an outdated pattern of democracy.
First and foremost, as a Trade Union we hold the view that Botswana needs a functional democracy that is in tandem with contemporary trends and best practices. In this matter, that therefore calls for two tier system of Central Government and Local Government where power is duly decentralised and devolved to the latter.
Currently in Botswana, District Councils exist at the mercy of Central Government, as councils are a creature of an Act of Parliament being Local Government Act, which as a symptom of deficiency of democracy gives the minister the power to dissolve councils. So, the minister has such sweeping powers to the extent that s/he can dissolve a Government at local level.
The importance of decentralisation augers well with principles of democracy in that Local Government have proximity to the people which gives them a better opportunity to address challenges and aspirations of the people. As things stands Councils can’t pursue desired developments as they are under resourced, for their budgets are always cut by the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development. This is worsened by the fact that the Act limit or restrict raising of funds by Councils.
In order to address prevailing democratic predicaments in the republic, existence of Councils need to be inscribed in the constitution to give them constitutional leverage and protection from intrusion by the Minister of Local Government. On that note there is need for decentralisation of power to Councils which will enable them to raise financial resources for financial independence. The lack of financial independence impact on development of areas and people at District level hence problems of challenges in water and sewage system, health education and other services. Empowerment and capacitation of District Governments is necessary in an endeavour for effective Government at local level and for enhancement for democracy. There is therefore the need for Constitutional amendment to put Local Government authorities into the Constitution and to give them much more power inclusive of those that will enable financial independence.
As a Union, we have engaged the Ministry of Local Government about four years back on decentralisation policy that should set the blue print on how power needs to be decentralised to Councils. The Ministry is now reluctant and non-committal and they have not been giving feedback and such policy endeavours has died a natural death at the expense of our democracy as well as adversely affecting services rendering to the people. Going forward, as long as Councils and institutions remain at lower levels of power and autonomy this shall continue to disempower them and our democracy will always remain weak. Not having a fully functional democracy in terms of institutions will invariably have a pivotal bearing in improving service delivery and not serving the broader national interests of the Republic and Batswana.
*MOTSHEGWA is the Secretary General of BLLAHWU