STAFF WRITER DITIRO MOTLHABANE insists that the BDP MPs will live to rue the day they resorted to underhand tactics of creating laws
That the behaviour of Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) Members of Parliament (MPs) is frequently puzzling is a mild expression of their shocking conduct inside the august house. A new culture of sneaking laws on urgency under the cover of darkness, yet with far reaching implications on the general population is being entrenched in our Parliament spearheaded and promoted by MPs from the ruling party. A quick perusal of these controversial BDP-sponsored Bills shows that they do not warrant any urgency, which leads to the one simple conclusion; the Bills are rushed through Parliament to avoid being challenged or at the very least, a thorough debate by legislators from both sides of the aisle. To cap it all, beyond debating on very limited time, the decision is more often than not reduced to a vote by the Speaker clearly to quash any dissenting voices with the support of the majority. Through this conduct the Speaker is aiding and abetting the abuse of the numerical advantage enjoyed by the BDP in Parliament. It is abdication of magnanimous proportions coupled with irresponsibility of the highest order and an affront to democracy, when half-baked ridiculous Bills are continuously shoved down our throats to live with, without thorough interrogation and dissection of their implication. Once again BDP MPs colluded under the cover of darkness last week to pass controversial laws, which are not in tandem with the needs of the populace. Self-serving pieces of legislature calculated to benefit sectarian or personal interests, totally disregarding any other wise counsel from the electorates who voted them into office. One such Bill is the amendment to give the retiring President an open cheque to access any form of transport owned by government, on top of a lavishly generous retirement package that includes top of the range vehicles, a salary almost equal to that of an incumbent and un-taxable pension. Ironically, the MPs are getting nothing close to that and in most cases retire into poverty under heavy debts accumulated during their service while still in office. For now we can only guess what they will be getting in return for such a benevolent gesture, come July. In the July session of Parliament we will once again see MPs unite to push for a 25% salary increase on top of the 40% increase to their constituency allowances. Just last year they got away with a huge increment, but they still complain. None of them is talking about the conditions and salaries of workers in different sectors in our economy, let alone the public servants.
We also note, with a sense of trepidation, the refusal by BDP MPs to approve well-meaning pieces of legislation as exemplified by their rejection of an amendment proposing a minimum number of female judges to sit on the Court of Appeal (CoA) bench. This would reflect the demographics of our country. Even more astounding is that such opposition was led by female BDP MPs, who are always agitating for affirmative action to address the gender imbalance in decision making positions. Shockingly, some of these women declared on the floor of Parliament that they are following a brief they have been given elsewhere, not by their electorates. Clearly they are representing other interests, not the people who appointed them legislators. The BDP MPs have also rejected a suggestion to localise the CoA bench by appointing citizen judges. But in turn the same BDP MPs wanted to increase the retirement age of judges, who make life and death decisions, to 80 years despite the country having produced an abundance of talent in the 51 years of independence. How sad! A week earlier BDP MPs ganged up to defeat a motion by MP Dithapelo Keorapetse proposing that Parliament approve a process to review the Constitution, to bring it up to speed with current developments. One Kgosi Galeakanye Modise was reprimanded by Minister in the Presidency Eric Molale when he called for an overhaul Constitutional review arguing that the constitution aided inequalities in Ntlo Ya Dikgosi. The motion caused a war of words between Molale and Dikgosi late last year. Kgosi Modise’s motion read: "That this Honourable House requests Government to start the process of Constitutional Review so that Batswana can be afforded an opportunity to make an input on the Constitution that would be neutral, respectful and cognizant of every citizen of this country". Late last year Molale sneaked an amendment of the Electoral Act at the 11th hour which was then endorsed and passed in the wee hours of the morning of the last day of the past session of Parliament (July 2016) by BDP MPs against protestation from the opposition. The Bill paves the way for the use of the controversial Electronic Voting Machines going forward. The end result has been a huge uproar from across the country, with growing suspicion that the ruling party plans to rig elections using the machines. Ever since then, both the IEC and the BDP functionaries have been contradicting each other in an attempt to explain why the voting masses were never consulted prior to passing the amendments in Parliament. They fared badly in trying to convince the public that the EVMs are tamper proof. Even more curiously, the Constitution still provides for voting through a ballot, which could render the use of the machines ultra vires the Constitution of Botswana. Yet another Bill approving dual citizenship promises to throw a spanner in the works once implemented as those who hold an additional citizenship may be disqualified from participating in elections because of divided allegiance and loyalty. But nobody is listening at the BDP.
Moreover, the IEC Botswana is not autonomous in terms of its founding legislation – Section 65A of the Constitution and ultimately falls under the supervision of the Office of the President. The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) was created by the introduction in 1997 of Section 65A of the Constitution following intervention and pressure from the All Party Congress to remove the conduct of elections from the direct control and supervision of the Office of the President. The IEC was created to further transparency during elections. Whilst on paper the objective appears to have been achieved the legal reality is that the IEC remains under the auspices of the Office of the President. Critically, the IEC itself is of the view that the Constitution does not accord the Commission separate legal personality and in spite of its name, the Constitution does not specifically create its legal independence. The IEC is serviced by a Secretariat headed by the Secretary. Its Commissioners (the Board) meet on an ad hoc basis to supervise and direct the Secretary, who is the head of the IEC and appointed by the President in accordance with Section 66 of the Constitution. Justice Abendigo Batshani Tafa is the Chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC). All other staff members of the IEC are employed in the public service, themselves appointed by the Director of Public Service Management. Only the Secretary enjoys security of tenure under the Constitution, which does not provide such security to Commissioners themselves. But, why are we surprised? More than abdicating on their responsibility, the political leadership in the ruling party have thrown caution to the wind and are just trudging along. They can no longer differentiate between right and wrong. Even the President who criticised MPs for behaving like vultures in the past has joined the fray and is rubbing hands gleefully behind the scenes as a lifestyle of a movie star is prepared for him in retirement. Complaints from technocrats at Government Enclave about being bullied by politicians and forced to implement nonsensical decisions are growing to deafening levels. This happens, apparently to please the President who while enjoying a lap of luxury with his cabal have decided that ordinary Batswana are not worthy of anything more than a plate of soup and pap, and literally bread crumbs.
In the haste to appease the President, and possibly curry favour some politicians in high echelons of power have stepped up the practice of giving experts orders to implement instructions without any research being undertaken to test the feasibility and viability of the President's pet projects. One such example is the unrealistic target set to completely eradicate poverty by December 2017. Government officials have been ordered to ensure success and achievement of that target, without fail. They are now running helter skelter to please the master. Consequently, projects that have been shelved for many years due to lack of funds – among them those in the Water Master Plan, which was designed to address widespread water shortage in the country – have been abandoned in pursuit of poverty eradication by December. Needless to say, the BDP will rue such own goals. There is growing anger within the population towards the BDP government and its leaders.