Local Government and Rural Development Minister Slumber Tsogwane is a laid back politician. He is quiet and unassuming but easily accessible. He is now on his fourth term as a legislator.
Though it is easy to approach him, since he just assumed his new role as a minister it has been difficult to get an appointment with him.
So it was something of a coup when The Patriot on Sunday caught up with him as he walked out of Parliament last week Friday. Fielding questions as he walked through the parliamentary corridors he would occasionally stop to ponders before giving an answer.
Regarding the system used to nominate specially elected councilors is a good one and whether he thinks it needs to be reviewed he said: “Yes it needs to be reviewed just like any other policy,” he said, as he leaned on the iron bars supporting parliamentary pillars.
So does that mean he will bring a bill calling for the review of the nomination and appointment of specially elected councilors, “if some people want that to be reviewed yes we are ready to listen to their reasons,” he said, smiling and avoiding the question
As minister of Local Government he became an instant savior, especially for those who lost in the general elections notably from the ruling party who count on his goodwill to throw them a lifeline in local authorities.
This year saw the return of some political heavyweights who were either humbled at the general elections or at Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) primary elections.
The list included former Nata/Gweta MP Olifant Mfa who was nominated for Sowa Township, Mephato Reatile for Southern District, Slyvia Muzila for Francistown and BDP campaign manager Alec Seametso.
Some political pundits called for the abolishment of the system as it serves the ruling party rejects that were ejected by the voters and now rewarded by being appointed specially elected councilors overlooking capable people.
Tsogwane was unapologetic about the criterion used to appoint the specially elected councilors noting that it is a system that has always being there.
“People applied and some were recommended by MPs and were dully selected and is not like I chose my own friends, it is the people who are complaining who recommended those people,” said Tsogwane.
He added that some of the people who were nominated as specially elected councilors have went on to lead their respective councils which he said showed that they of great value.
Some of the specially elected councilors who are now council chairperson or mayors are Mephato Reatile, former MP who is now chairman of Southern District Council, and Sylvia Muzila who lost to Wynter Mmolotsi in the general elections for Francistown South who is now Mayor of Francistown City Council.
Reaboka Mbulawa who challenged Tawana Moremi for Maun West constituency under the BDP ticket and lost in the 2014 general elections is now the chairman for North West District Council and Minister Tsogwane believes it is positive side of nominated councilors.
Some of the nominated councilors are from opposition hence it is wrong to say that the system benefit BDP members only, reasoned the former assistant Minister of Finance and Development Planning.
Like most of the Botswana Democratic Party leading lights, Tsogwane’s political activism started at the University of Botswana where he was reading for a Bachelor of Arts degree. At the time there were no student politics within the school. Those who associated to different political parties did so directly through the parties. This is unlike now, where you have student political movements or organisations like GS26, Mass BNF and others. He recalls that it was the likes of Botsalo Ntuane who institutionalised student political activism within the university, which saw the GS26 becoming a springboard for the ruling party’s future political leaders. Some of the stalwarts that he went to school with include Adams Sehularo who was active BDP members during their student days.
Born in Tsienyane, which is also known as Rakops after his graduation, he went on to teach at the village school, Rakops Junior Secondary School in Boteti. He would later go and teach in various schools including Montsamaisa Junior Secondary School in Francistown. At the time of his retirement from the teaching profession, Tsogwane was a deputy school head.
“For me it has always been about serving people. In fact I started serving people a long time back at TS-Tirelo Sechaba. I was in the second batch of the TS group in the early eighties. It is not a job. We are volunteering as politicians. There are a lot of costs that we incur-especially travelling. You also have people inviting you to their various events and looking up to you to make contributions. However, there is a lot of satisfaction that I get especially from seeing projects that ensures that improve people’s lives,” he said.
In 1999, Tsogwane became Boteti MP at a time when the tarred road that comes from Serowe, passing by the Orapa Mine did not cover all the way to Makalamabedi, just on your way to Maun, as is the case now. Boteti was to be later divided into two after the delimitation commission, hence in 2004, there was Boteti South and North. Tsogwane, who has never lost the elections, remained with the northern part of Boteti, which is known as Boteti North. It was among the first constituencies to have its villages electrified, through government’s rural electrification project.
The constituency has dire water problems, especially due to the salinity of the water in the area. He said that he is buoyed by the fact that the water project aimed at connecting water to Khumaga, Moreomaoto and other areas is under way. Other villages will also be soon connected, he said.
Tsogwane represents one of the constituencies which were characterised by abject poverty amidst being sandwiched by diamond mines which are the mainstay of Botswana’s economy.
Like a pastor at the peak of his sermon, he raised his voice, picked up his bag little bit higher, cleared his throat, “Our main aim is to empower people in the rural areas and create employment opportunities for them and that is what we are going to do,” he said with confidence.
Poverty Eradication projects are which has become the cornerstone in the presidency of President Ian Khama is implemented under MLGRD. Beneficiaries of the projects have complained about late or non-delivery of their projects.
“Am aware of that and one of my top priorities to ensure that Batswana benefit from these projects and are delivered to them on time,” said the soft spoken Minister.
Tsogwane who was once assistant minister of Finance during the presidency of Festus Mogae said that there is a serious problem of implementation and is affecting government negatively and very costly and promised he would ensure that his ministry improves on the aspect.
In their 2012 evaluation study on the Public Works Programme commonly known as Ipelegeng Botswana Institute for Development Policy Analysis (BIDPA ) noted that though it is a noble project it must be redesigned to be result-based to introduce flexible working schedules where beneficiaries will be assigned work and will work at their own time and pace and be paid on work done instead of time spent at work.
Tsogwane whose ministry is carrying most of Ipelegeng Projects revealed that he is still having briefings with heads of different departments in his ministry and his aim is to ensure that the programme can have tangible results.
“Our aim is to create employment and employers and I will ensure that it is done and delivered to Batswana,” he said.
He looked at his watch and informs me we need to wrap up our chat as he has to rush to a meeting at his office.