The Leader of Opposition Duma Boko and some other opposition members of Parliament have questioned the legality of using Presidential directives to sanction huge amounts of money without the approval by Parliament. The Members of Parliament argued that this occurrence basically means the executive is using presidential directives to circumvent powers vested in Parliament to control state funds. “It is wrong in principle for the president to sanction huge sums of money and only come to Parliament to seek ratification later,” argued the Leader of Opposition.
Although the Parliamentary Counsel had explained that Section 119 sub section three of the constitution which addresses authorisation of expenditure actually allows for the President through the cabinet to authorise the issuance of such amounts, Boko differed arguing that the overall power to tackle authorisation of funds is vested in Parliament especially when it involves large sums of money. “From now onwards, the Executive must be made aware that it is improper to act in this manner and it must come to an end,” he said.
Efforts by the Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Kenneth Matambo, to cite that the Executive’s actions are even provided for by the Public Finance Management Act also hit a snag as Boko maintained that the President’s actions were ‘singularly improper and must be condemned’.
He argued that even Acts do not supersede the Constitution. At the centre of this argument is the sanctioning of P826 800 000 by government through a Presidential Directive Cab 4(B)/2015 as additional cash into Botswana Power Corporation (BPC) for the 2014/2015 financial year. Presidential Directive Cab 4 (B)/2015 also approved a cash injection to support Water Utilities Corporation’s (WUC) operations and a special warrant of P560 000 000 was issued to augment the water planning and development project (09319) in March 2015.
The funds included P388 000 000 as tariff subsidy and P172 000 000 for on-going emergency capital projects. This increased the 2014/15 annual budget by P560, 000, 000. While Gaborone Central Member of Parliament Dr Phenyo Butale labelled the supplementary estimates as ‘fiscal indiscipline’ which needs to be relooked at, Selebi-Phikwe West MP Dithapelo Keorapetse labelled it a ‘cover-up’ for the ruling party’s failures. According to Keorapetse, there was nothing convincing that issues which the supplementary budget was issued to cater for were indeed emergencies and unforeseeable or were simply a result of the ruling party’s failure to budget and implement efficiently.
The youthful legislator argued that Parliament ought to have the power of the purse, and that the Executive should not only bring the supplementary estimates before Parliament for rubber stamping. “As it is now the Supplementary budget just pass through Parliament but is not passed by it,” he said. Keorapetse suggested that Parliament should establish a budget office, which will provide a non-partisan expert opinion on fiscal matters to the house. The office, he said, will also assist Members of Parliament in scrutinising public expenditure.
In response the Minister of Finance and Development Planning talk downed arguments raised by the members, saying it was apparent that the term ‘Presidential Directive’ was causing a lot of excitement from some. According to Matambo, the Executive makes decisions, including for Supplementary Estimates through Cabinet and execute them through modes such as the Presidential Directive. The Presidential Directive, according to Matambo, is but just a label which can be changed. What is important, he said, is that such decisions ought to be legal. “The Attorney General sits in cabinet as an ex-officio member to ensure the legality of any decision made,” said Matambo.