Why the Nation should be concerned with who becomes Vice President?
by Dan Molaodi
The announcement of the pending resignation/retirement of the vice president at the end of this month has triggered a lot of responses that are mainly centred around two main arrears. The first set of discussions is on whether it is the right time for him to do so, with some thinking it is actually overdue, on account of his health status since last year. The second set of arguments is about the effect of this resignation and in particular who will the president choose as vice president, with all sorts of names been brandied for various reasons. I wish to reflect mainly on the second set of arguments, but focusing more on why it is or should be a matter of public interest as to who gets the blessing of the president to become vice president. There are a number of reasons why Batswana must have interest and be concerned as to who gets the nod, amongst the many possible candidates.
Firstly, the vice president is the right hand man to the head of state and under normal circumstances and requirements of democratic practices he/she becomes the immediate advisor or confidant of the president. This alone should mean that the public would be served well if this individual is chosen on the basis of principles guided by the supremacy of the public good. This would necessarily include the guts and resolve to differ with his/her boss if convinced that it’s in the interest of the public interest as and when he/she renders advice. This therefore requires that persons chosen to serve as vice president(s) must themselves be men/women of honour in their own right, not just extensions of their superiors. I am saying they must be honourable because those are the types that ordinarily put service to the nation as supreme instead of serving their individual and self-centred interest or those of the head of state even when that is an affront on public interest.
Secondly, and more importantly for me, is the fact that in the general practice of administrative law, the office of the presidency has a critical role as a source of law(s) that ultimately become part of the general legal requirements that govern the behaviour of institutions/agencies in the public service. The vice president as a key cog in the office of the president and the immediate advisor, then assumes a prominent position in terms of what the office does that becomes a legal instrument to govern, control and direct public service behaviour. This is premised on two main roles that the office of the head of state, which the vice president is part of, plays in the normal discharge of this office’s functional responsibilities. The first role is that in Botswana like most other democracies, the office of the president regularly issues presidential executive orders and other related directives, whose intent is to guide both policy initiation and implementation.
These directives and orders are meant to clarify grey areas in policy frameworks, alter existing policies, correct shortfalls of policies and sometimes even kill what may be old and undesirable policies. The office of the vice president then becomes critical in this regard, because there is an expectation that these directives must have been thoroughly drafted and address what may be issues of public concern at the time. The vice president in some cases, as was the case in Botswana recently may have certain specific responsibilities that are directly linked to policy evaluation and monitoring, out of which must come/emerge solid advices to the president on the basis of which these directives and orders may be drafted. Secondly, there is an expectation as per normal practice of administrative law that the office of the president will from time to time be the guide to agency laws through circulars, rules and sometimes adjudicative orders, as they may be provided for in various legislative and statutory instruments.
These are very critical roles whose general impact on the practice of administrative law sets limits and opportunities of how the public interest or good is ultimately realised by a government. It is for this reason that I look at the responsibilities of a vice president as constituting a supplementary role to what has become to be the source of public services’ roles, procedures, culture and interpretation of what service to the public actually entails. As the public should expect, the appointment of a vice president is not just a by the way thing or simply a matter of political considerations alone.
I have discussed this so far without differentiating the permutation that are supposedly likely to unfold in our current situation and that is whether or not the president is going to appoint a transitional or long-term vice president. A transitional appointment here would mean a vice president whose tenure is likely to be up to 2014 and a long term one would one whose appointment may not be tied to 2014 necessarily. For me it does not really matter whether the appointment is transitional or long term for this does not change the importance of the responsibilities as discussed above. I will therefore hope that whatever choice the president makes, transitional or long-term, the ultimate consideration is about finding an individual who is honourable enough to help entrench and protect the public good in advising the president.
Lastly, in Botswana the vice president is by default the president in waiting and therefore a choice of a vice president is also indirectly a choice of the next president. This therefore makes it even more critical that whatever reasoning and considerations are made, in selecting from the lot, they are above all primarily reasons and considerations that are anchored on long-term protection of the public interest and by extension the promotion of good governance and democratic practices. In short I am saying that the appointment/choice of a vice president of our country is a defining moment in setting the parameters of the practice of public administration in the country.
It is from this that we make sense of the purpose, powers, procedures and the intent of the practice of administrative law as it guides public service daily operations.
Molaodi teaches Public Administration at the University of Botswana