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SONA: Is Botswana expecting more of the same or there is something different?

SHARE   |   Sunday, 17 November 2019   |   By Adam Phetlhe On Sunday
Masisi Masisi

His Excellency the President Dr M.E.K. Masisi is expected the deliver his second State of the Nation Address (SONA) since becoming the Head of State. The first was delivered in November 2018. As expected, his compatriots will be listening attentively to every word he utters as he takes stock of the Botswana he has promised. To an ordinary Motswana, one key issue remains uppermost: sustainable job creation strategies. The ripple effect of job creation strategies is that it will address abject poverty and unemployment. But sadly, previous SONAs by President Masisi’s predecessors including himself have always talked to the issue of job creation with very little if any, to show for it. From where I stand, I expect this year’s SONA to promise more of the same albeit under different colourful language. And this because the message is from the same BDP government. But to be fair to the President, let me wait for his SONA for he may be, and just may be holding some surprise package.

Under normal circumstances, I would expect the President to update the nation from the last SONA main talking points and what these have achieved this far. It is accepted that it may be too soon and probably unfair to expect so much at this stage. But, time is of the essence as the saying goes. I raised most of the talking points making the body of this conversation in my open letter to the President as published in The Telegraph newspaper dated 6 November 2019. I humbly ask the dear reader to bear with me on the somewhat repetitive nature of these talking points because they speak to the SONA.   

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Previous SONAs have arguably presented Batswana with good initiatives on paper to transform their lives. But one very important prerequisite has been the missing link between the good initiatives on paper and the delivery thereof. This in my view, is the apparent lack of absolute political commitment. Someone defines political commitment as “The will to act and keep on acting until the job is done”. Politicians by their very nature are known to make big promises some of which are achievable but that they hardly achieve them due to the lack of tangible political commitment. A lot of initiatives like the e-government and youth development have not been optimally realised despite the fact that huge amounts of funds were allocated to them. When appearing before the Parliamentary Accounts Committee and the Parliamentary Committee on Public Enterprises for example to explain why these initiatives have lagged far behind, Permanent Secretaries have been seriously awful to proffer proper explanations. Some of them could not even explain how budgeted funds for these initiatives have been expended. Ministers have neither fared any better in this regard. If President Masisi is going to continue with no tangible political commitment, more of the same from his SONA is guaranteed to achieve little to no achievement.

I expect the President to provide leadership in so far as the independence and the autonomy of parliament are concerned if his transformation and inclusivity agendas amongst others, are to be realised. History has shown beyond reasonable doubt that the executive has, and continues to run roughshod over parliament. Through the doctrine of separation of powers, only the judiciary and on the face of it, appears to be independent from the executive. Parliamentary committees like the one that should perform oversight functions on the DIS have not sat to perform its business for time immemorial. This should without saying, explain why the DIS has gone haywire in some instances. Parliament has largely abdicated its constitutional mandate of performing oversight function over the executive because the latter provides financial and other resources to parliament. In other words, parliament is under these circumstances, an extension of the Office of the President and is therefore, subservient to it. Whatever spin-doctoring is attempted to say parliament is independent is a futile exercise because MPs themselves say so. This state of affairs I am afraid, is a serious affront to democracy and the separation of powers doctrine and shouldn’t be allowed to manifest in the present day Botswana. I expect the President to tell the nation the steps he intends to take to render parliament truly independent of the executive. Time will tell whether the new Speaker of the National Assembly Hon Phandu Skelemani will vigorously push for the independence of parliament. Without pre-empting his vision, his predecessors have maintained the status quo and nothing suggests this will likely change.

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Corruption has become a source of danger to the well-being of Botswana and Batswana. Generally speaking, there is consensus on the dangers of corruption. Where there is no convergence as far as I am concerned, is the modus operandi to fight it. Every other SONA has not missed the opportunity to mention the dangers of corruption. I have argued before which I still do here and now, that corruption cannot be fought while the DCEC is still located at the Office of the President. It is not difficult to find out, according to those who know, why politicians want to have a tight grip on institutions like the DCEC, DIS, IEC, Ombudsman, Broadcasting Services and others. They say it is to exercise complete  control in terms of manipulating and influencing them behind closed doors such that they operate in a particular manner depending on the issue at stake. And some senior employees of these institutions together with their political masters always tell all and sundry that these institutions are free from political influence. Those who are brave enough to depart from the norm, though few, have been able to acknowledge and confirm the undesirability of these institutions remaining under the Office of the President for them to discharge their mandates without obstacles. The Voice newspaper dated 15 November 2019 quotes the Senior State lawyer Kentse Molome to have said at the appearance in court of the suspended Permanent Secretary to the President Mr Carter Morupisi that “The DCEC could only investigate Morupisi after the suspension took place. There were some systematic procedures that had to wait the suspension because you would know that the DCEC fell under the accused’s office.” This statement says a mouthful.

The state of our parastatals is at crisis levels of unimaginable proportions due to issues of governance and accountability. Over the years to date, government continues to bail out these parastatals with huge amounts of money but with little to no tangible returns. Late last year if my memory serves me well, Air Botswana unveiled supposedly new aircrafts amid pomp and ceremony. Only to learn at a later stage that these aircrafts are in fact second hand. The airline senior officials accompanied by its board chairman travelled all the way to France at a great cost to receive the old aircrafts. I asked myself: how did Air Botswana procure old aircrafts when the nation was told these were new? Was consequence management (the process of holding officials accountable to their actions) undertaken on all those who were involved in this false procurement? Or as it has become the norm, was such consequence management undertaken on fall guys and ladies? I am just using Air Botswana as an example and not for any nefarious intentions. Governance and accountability issues are relegated to the back banner in all parastatals and that is why some of them, if not all, are unable on a continuous basis to present their annual financial statements and nobody really cares about this. Yet huge amounts of public funds running into billions of Pula are at stake. At the end of it all, poor Batswana are retrenched with the bad executive management teams and boards remaining at their posts. If the President doesn’t become bold to provide leadership in his SONA with respect to parastatals, one should not be surprised for more of the same will be the name of the game.

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When all is said and done, I am looking up to the President through his SONA to take the nation in his confidence that he is pursuing a model of business unusual given the socio-economic predicament Botswana and Batswana find themselves deeply entrenched in. The time of making public statements unaccompanied by tangible spin offs has long passed. Otherwise, this will be another SONA spectacle I have watched before which I am not prepared to watch any longer. I am prepared to be persuaded otherwise as always. Judge for Yourself!

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