In an unusual show of bravery, probably influenced by reduced influence of President Ian Khama – whose presidency has entered the lame duck stage or just frustration – Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) MPs threw the monkey off their back and openly lambasted cabinet on the floor of Parliament. Given an opportunity to respond to the 2018 Budget speech presented on Monday, the ruling party Members of Parliament broke the tradition at Domkrag and came out charging like a caged pit-bull freed from captivity. They openly attacked cabinet ministers and even called for a reshuffle, which is unheard of in the BDP to openly attack a government they lead. In a well coordinated onslaught on cabinet, clearly choreographed to perfection by MPs from the BDP backbench to avoid repetitions or contradictions, first to take to the podium to respond to the 2018 budget speech was the outspoken MP for Tati East Samson Guma. He accused some cabinet ministers of misusing special funds held under their ministries, and accused others of incompetence and misleading President Ian Khama by giving him false information. “The continued abuse of government levies is thuggery. No minister has power to authorise expenditure except the Minister of Finance and Economic Development,” hit out Guma, warning cabinet ministers – with whom he sits on the same side of the aisle – that he did not come to Parliament to nurse anyone's ego or appease them. He repeatedly reiterated his disdain for corruption. On issues of land allocation, Guma said people in the North East district are squatters in their own country while the land is owned by few expatriates who do not even reside in the country. The outspoken legislator promised to present a Bill before Parliament calling for the repossession and redistribution of land.
When Guma returned to his seat, it was clear that the stage was set for a no holds-barred attack on the BDP led Government and cabinet from its own backbench. Subsequent contributors from the party took turns to lambast Government on various issues without contradicting or repeating what others said. Next on the attacking line was the militant Francistown West MP Ignatius Moswaane who accused government of deliberately neglecting the people of Francistown. “I don’t know whether it is because we belong to a certain ethnic group or what, because we are in the same economic predicament as Selibe Phikwe but government is saying nothing about rescuing Francistown,” he hit out. The fearless Moswaane said that he is against plans by Government to procure Gripen fighter jets for the Botswana Defence Force (BDF). During the budget speech, Finance Minister Kenneth Matambo said that Ministry of Defence, Justice and Security has been allocated P2.78 billion as development budget of which the bulk of it will be used for the procurements of what he called air assets. “Even if it is called by fancy names I am against the procurement of those planes because they are not going to be used in any war but rather during BDF and Independence days,” said Moswaane, leaving the house in stiches. He suggested that instead the money should be used to develop the health and education sectors in the country especially in Francistown. “In Francistown we have funerals every weekend because Nyangabwe Referral Hospital has been turned into a human butchery. They are no medical drugs, the hospital facilities are dilapidated and now you want to waste money buying military planes,” he asked rhetorically.
Regarding the education sector which has been given the lion’s share of P7.97 billion of recurrent budget, Moswaane said the ministry is just a joke as the academic results have taken a nose dive. “Most youths are roaming the streets because they cannot access tertiary education yet Francistown Technical College which has capacity to enroll 2000 students is sitting at 500,” Moswaane lamented. It is tradition that cabinet ministers tend to support each and defend government programmes but Assistant Minister of Tertiary Education, Research and Technology Fidelis Molao took government head on especially on infrastructure development. “Government is spending millions of money constructing offices, schools and hospital and then doesn’t take care of them which is just a waste,” he said, adding that government should consider outsourcing construction of offices to the private sector. Another worrying issue for the Shashe West MP is the poor implementation by government ministries. “In my constituency taps are dry yet we are next to both Shashe and Ntimbale dams and they have talked about connecting the villages to the pipeline but nothing is happening,” cried out Molao who will face former Botswana Teachers Union (BTU) Secretary General Ibo Kenosi in the BDP primary elections. Member of Parliament for Nata/Gweta Paulson Majaga was blunt as he called for cabinet reshuffle saying most of the ministers are underperforming and misleading the president. “We have the issue of land allocation and I think the ministry of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services is too big for Prince Maele. He must be transferred to another ministry,” he hit out in the presence of Maele.
Though some opposition MPs also debated the budget speech, it was clear the real debate was on the other side of the aisle when Letlhakeng/Takatokwane MP Ngaka Ngaka took to the floor shredding the budget speech and punching holes in it. “Last year in your budget speech you talked about connecting all primary schools with Broadband internet and in my constituency I have not seen any primary school connected to internet, yet now you are talking about internet connectivity in secondary schools,” quipped Ngaka. He said Government has failed to implement almost 90% of the entire project in National Development Plan 10 but is already talking about NDP 11. On performance of schools, Ngaka said that there is no way the academic performance can improve when the welfare of teachers is being neglected. Before debating, MP for Maun West Konstantinos Markus warned that he is not going to mince his words when debating the budget speech. “Am not going to be diplomatic on my debate but will say things as they are, and don’t construe that I now belong to the opposition. No,” at that point several cabinet ministers could not stand the attack, and left Parliament except for Minister of Transport and Communication Kitso Mokaila.
Markus said he was not interested in cabinet positions because he is not a bootlicker and has businesses to run. First on his frying pan were the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism whom he accused of sabotaging business especially those who want to construct facilities through the requirement for the expensive Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). “It is really frustrating because they take forever to approve the assessment maybe we need a new minister at the ministry,” said the livid Markus. Markus called for privatisation of BMC as their prices are pathetic but MP Guma interjected and said that instead of privatising it government should close it down. In his budget speech, Matambo said Botswana Meat Commission (BMC) is one of the state companies that are not performing. Markus also called for a cabinet reshuffle saying that Ministry of Lands is frustrating Batswana by not allocating them plots. Closing the Thursday debate was Member of Parliament of Boteti East Sethomo Lelatisitswe who questioned the role of National Strategic Office (NSO) labeling it the most useless office. “They were supposed to give guidance on development of Botswana and the needs of every district in Botswana but they have failed to do that,” hit Lelatisitswe. He accused some cabinet ministers of misleading the President on the projects their ministries are undertaking. “89% of the NDP 10 projects have not been implemented yet the budget speech is talking about NDP 11,” the Boteti East MP raised a concern.
The debate on the 2018 budget proposals continues.