Ex-mayor Billy shifts focus to Parliament
by Joseph Balise
Oozing confidence, Buti Billy says once the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) flags off the primaries campaign, he will slug it out in one of the constituencies. The one-time Francistown mayor will not as yet reveal his constituency of interest, fearful of treading on the BDP’s rules on primary elections.
Fired up by his eight-year track record as councillor – four of them as mayor of the country’s second city – Billy believes he is ready for parliament. “As councillors, we implement the decisions of parliament. One has to now move a step further and be involved in legislative drafting or enactment of the relevant laws that will take the country forward. I have been exposed to the problems plaguing the councils and will be able to lobby for improvements at parliamentary level,” he says.
Once in parliament, he will lobby for reforms such as the autonomy of the councils in order to enhance their efficiency as opposed to the current system in which they are controlled from the parent Ministry of Local Government. “Councils should be autonomous and be able to raise money to deliver on their mandate. If fully independent, they will be able to maintain their facilities better and deliver services more efficiently,” he says.
Billy bemoans the fact that Francistown’s businesses pay a lot of taxes, but instead of going to develop the city, these go to the central government. This is among the issues he has come to know intimately as a result of his tenure as councillor and mayor.
“As mayor, I learnt a lot of the problems facing our community. In parliament I will be able to lobby government from a more informed position,” he says confidently.
In vying for parliament, Billy says he is alive to the value of thorough consultation. While conceding that the kgotla has provided a consultative platform, Billy insists it is not enough. “We need things like websites in which we can interact with the people more, especially those who are unable to attend kgotla meetings,” he says.
And what did he achieve as mayor? In reply, he is quick to play the team-spirit card, attributing any success to a collective effort with Francistown councillors. “The truth of the matter is that as mayor, I was leading a team of capable councillors from across the political divide. They did the groundwork. We worked as a collective and therefore achieved a few things for the city despite the financial constraints we faced,” he says with a wry smile.
Among the success stories he cites are the Monarch Infrastructure Development Projects and the land servicing at Gerald Estates. These projects, he says, entailed construction and tarring of internal roads, water reticulation, erection and electrification of street lights and construction of the new bridge linking Monarch to the new airport and stadium. He says construction of the new airport and stadium were started during his mayoral tenure and expresses concern at the undue delay in their completion.
Billy finds comfort that infrastructure developments at Gerald Estates are complete with residential, commercial and civic plots due to be issued. “That should go a long a way in solving the rampant accommodation problem in our beautiful city,” he says.
He however recognises the problems that bedevil Francistown. These range from under funding to the generally slow pace of development. This he attributes to the centralisation of offices in Gaborone, which impedes speedy implementation and resolution of queries to the capital. “There is need for decentralization and devolution of power,” says the former mayor, adding that if elected to parliament, he will lobby government to decentralize and help make Francistown more attractive for industrial development, in turn creating more jobs.
Billy is unhappy with the government decision to relocate the primary schools and clinics to their parent ministries of Local Government and Education and Skills Development respectively. “I think instead of adopting a wholesale approach, government should have piloted the project and evaluated its performance. I think it is now difficult for the ministries to work without the assistance of the local authorities who are on the ground. The ministries are overburdened. I advocate for decentralization in order to enhance service delivery. We managed the schools and the clinics well and the government decision to decentralise without adequate consultation was improper.”
In his view, if the situation is compared to when the schools and clinics were part of the councils, the challenges they faced were dealt with more quickly in the previous administration than in the current set-up where they are reporting to the parent ministries directly.
He premised his assertion on the fact that the councils have delivered well on other projects like back yard gardening and others that remain within their domain.
On the challenges facing the city, Billy said the employment of foreigners at the expense of locals is a worrying issue which needs to be addressed urgently. “I appreciate the internship programme. But we must also devise means in which we ensure that expatriates get local understudies,” said Billy adding that businesses in the city of Francistown are not growing quickly and generating the much needed employment.
He speaks of an urgent need to review the country’s labour laws, an issue he would pursue vigorously once elected to parliament. He says because the current laws have loop holes that often disadvantage employees, giving employers the latitude to ill-treat them.
As a way forward to ensure speedy development of the city, he calls for an improved road network. Most of the roads are heavily congested during peak hours, impeding business development.
One way he suggests could be used for business development is establishment of incubators to train and nurture small business which would later graduate from the incubators. “There are a lot of mechanics who do not have workshops. They must be provided with factories from which they can operate their businesses. After a year or so they should be able to graduate and then be allocated a piece of land in which they can build their own workshops. The council will have to monitor the progress.”
Under funding of the councils is one issue that needs urgent attention, he says, proposing that if the councils are made autonomous, that will help alleviate the funding constraint. “The councils should be empowered to hire and fire their chief executive officers and other employees. The transfer rate at the councils is also very high and most of the time the officers are transferred before completing critical projects. We also need executive mayors with more powers. Currently the mayors are mere figure heads without any meaningful authority or power,” says Billy.
On political issues, Billy said he supports political funding as it will strengthen democracy because a viable opposition keeps the ruling party on its toes. “With political funding, it is not the party or the political representative who wins but the voter. It will level the political playing field and keep those in power under serious check. It is highly desirable if we are to enhance our democratic credentials. My only gripe is that it might influence a proliferation of smaller and insignificant political parties. But I think that can be addressed through appropriate legislation to safeguard the public against unscrupulous politicians. The parties will have to account for the public funds that they have been given.”
He does not have a problem with a constitutional review, particularly the recognition of the so-called minority tribes and the direct election of the president. “Of course even if it is reviewed, there are certain aspects of it that will be retained," he says.
Although Billy agrees to a number of electoral reforms aimed at enhancing the country’s democracy, he is opposed to proportional representation saying the current first-past-the-post model continues to serve the country well. “Mind you the party wins on its policies and programmes. I have no problem with the current system. I think it is doing well therefore even as we yearn for certain changes, we must appraise ourselves of the challenges that new dispensations could expose us to. We may not be better placed to surmount the challenges. So any envisaged changes should be gradual.”
As a parting shot, he says although initially apprehensive of the umbrella project, he now sees that it is not a threat to the BDP, following the pulling out of the Botswana Congress Party. “The current project is a broken umbrella project which poses no threat to us. It has the potential to split the votes that the opposition is yearning so greatly for. From the beginning when all the major parties were involved, it looked like a real threat. But with the BCP pull out, it is no more the threat that we had initially envisaged,” he says.