The curse of Ministerial positions at the ballot box

02 Sep 2018

While Ministerial positions remain the most coveted appointments by legislators, such power and responsibility has also proven to be a source of devastation come elections. This has been especially evident in the recent Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) primary elections where 10 incumbent Ministers and Members of Parliament (MPs) lost to new comers.

It has become some kind of a norm that a significant number of ministers fail to secure another term in office during election season.

In the period leading up to the 2009 elections then Minister of Trade Neo Moroka, one of the best performing ministers at the time, suffered a devastating loss to Botswana National Front (BNF)’s John Toto. News of his impressive performance at government level had definitely failed to reach the remote Kgalagadi South voters.

Other ministers and assistant ministers who bit the dust in 2009 include Jacob Nkate and Kavis Kario.

The next 2014 general elections were hardly any different, with ministers losing as early as primary elections. Then Minister of Defense, Justice and Security and Member of Parliament for Serowe North, Ramadeluka Seretse lost out to the current MP for Serowe North, Kgotla Autlwetse. Foreign Affairs Minister Phandu Skelemani lost the Francistown East constituency to Buti Billy, while Minister Lebonaamang Mokalake of Lands and Housing was humbled by a youthful Sethomo Lelatisitswe. Then Trade and Industry Minister, Dorcus Makgato defeated Assistant Minister of Agriculture, Oreeditse Molebatsi.

Five years later and the 2018 Bulela Ditswe has registered the highest ever number of loses by incumbent Ministers. A total of 10 Ministers and Assistant Ministers have lost the primary elections.

The list includes senior Ministers Nonofo Molefhi, Shaw Kgathi, Alfred Madigele, and Tshenolo Mabeo all of who lost to new comers.

“The responsibilities of a Minister are national as compared to those of an ordinary Member of Parliament,” says former Trade Minister Neo Moroka, “and as a result Ministers have limited time to spend at their respective constituencies.” He says consequently, responsibilities of a minister do have a bearing on their performance at the ballot box. “Constituents don’t understand the work you do at government level even though it benefits them in one way or the other. When they hardly spot you at funerals, weddings, and other formal and social events in the constituency they assume you are neglecting your responsibilities as their representative,” says Moroka, one of the best performing Ministers at the time of losing elections.

“I have had some of my constituents telling me to my face ‘o tlaa tlhophiwa ke difofane tse o nnang o di palame o ya mahatsheng (you will be voted by the aircrafts you are always flying in and out of the country).”

Moroka attributes the attitude to lack of political education and understanding. “Voters do not consider the quality of the Member of Parliament they are voting out in relation to that of the opponent and as a result you are disadvantaged as a Minister because your responsibilities do not allow you enough time to interact with them.” 

Moroka says the other disadvantage of being a minister is the limited time you have to make contributions and debate in parliament because you are too busy with your own portfolio.

“Voters don’t understand that.” Moroka believes the solution lies in selecting cabinet members from outside parliament. “Without taking anything away from the new faces that may be coming to parliament next year, I believe President (Mokgweetsi) Masisi will have a difficult time choosing the right people for cabinet.”

Former Minister of Defense and Security Ramadeluka Seretse shares Moroka’s sentiments. Seretse, who has served under both Festus Mogae and Ian Khama administrations says under the former, ministers did not have scheduled kgotla meetings across the country but that changed under Khama, meaning more time on the road.

“Voters do not understand that the portfolio of a Minister is much bigger than the constituency. I had made an arrangement with my constituents that I would hold at least three kgotla meetings per annum while at the same time making myself available for their respective needs but that did not help the situation.” Seretse is also of the view, albeit partially, that cabinet should be selected from outside parliament. “A President should be able to appoint both from within parliament and outside parliament because we do have people who are well capable of carrying out Ministerial duties but not willing to go throw the stress and hullabaloo of elections.”

While he says he has submitted a letter of intent to appeal the results of the recent Primary Elections Selebi Phikwe East MP and current Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration Nonofo Molefhi also says cabinet responsibilities have a bearing on ministers’ performance at election time.

“As a Minister I hardly have time for my constituents,” says victorious Dorcas Makgato, MP for Sefhare-Ramokgonami and Minister of Immigration. She is one of the few minsters who managed to escape curse.

“But it is not all bad. Being a minister also has its advantages because it gives one a great deal of exposure. Your performance is judged at national level as compared to when one is just an ordinary MP.” While a number of appeals have been registered with the BDP Central committee a significant number of current Ministers will not have their names on the ballot paper come General Elections 2019.