MPs complain about being treated as blessers yet …

21 Aug 2017

MPs had a lot to complain about when contributing to a bill that will see their pay packages skyrocket to a new high. Being the longest-serving MP, the Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Slumber Tsogwane, holds the position of “Father of the House” and he likes to think that his length of service has been educational. “Having been in parliament for a very long time and now the Father of this House, I have seen a lot. I have learnt a lot, I have gone through years,” Tsogwane said. “I know exactly how much an MP earns and how much an MP suffers in terms of being an MP for a longer time. When you visit your constituency, everyone is expecting that you are carrying a bagful of money. They think that you are paid a very lucrative salary. I stand here today to dismiss that myth and make it very clear to the public that MPs are not paid lumps of money as people may suggest. They are paid even far less than the public officers they are supervising.” He added that councilors, who – to all intents and purposes, have become “funeral undertakers”, also bear the same burden. What he meant by the latter was that councillors have to use their own vehicles to transport corpses to the mortuary. Francistown South MP, Wynter Mmolotsi said that like some other MPs, he “share[s] the little money” he earns with his electorate during weddings, funerals and by providing vehicular transport for constituents. “We spend a lot of money announcing our own kgotla meetings, using our vehicles, fuel and the people that we have to pay for doing that particular job because the Department of Information Services is unable to assist us full-time,” the MP said.
 
Yet more MPs gave variations of this sob story but not once did anyone explain the source of this dependency syndrome. Such information would definitely have come out if they had to talk about the period of time when they were campaigning to get into elective office. Candidates on both sides – but especially the ruling party side - typically show the electorate a super-good time around election time. They set up round-the-clock soup kitchens, load up the cellphones of volunteer campaign staff with airtime and carpet an entire electoral district with made-in-China blankets. The Letlhakeng West constituency is one of the poorest in the country but after its MP, Maxwell Motowane, died in 2013 forcing an April bye-election, it was overrun with benefactors overnight. For the entire period of the campaign, no one went to bed hungry and no body was exposed to the bite of the desert winter that year.

Eight years before, the death of the Gaborone West MP, Paul Rantao, had been the reason a round-the-clock soup kitchen sprung up at a medium-cost house along the Western Bypass. It is important to note that during the campaign season, people die and get married and candidates gladly extend material and other assistance. This generosity typically ends a day before the election when the situation goes back to every man for himself. Human nature is such that people refuse to be weaned off something that they have become accustomed to. For the entire duration of this largesse, an entitlement mentality on the part of voters either develops or is reinforced. The latter condition creates a problem post-election when the new MP or councilor attempts to wean voters off his/her personalised social protection programme. Every indication is that voters fiercely resist this weaning and expect to be paid for their vote. By initiating a blesser-blessee relationship with voters, politicians have essentially monetised (but neglected to assign a precise amount to) votes.

The said neglect essentially means that the value of a vote is infinite and allows voters to make withdrawals for the entire duration of an MP or councillor’s term of office. This is a Daisy Loo kind of deal: the contracting parties didn’t agree on what payment for the service will be and one party arbitrarily sets a price that the other party later finds objectionable but can’t do anything about it. If a political candidate was ready and willing to transport a corpse during the 2014 electoral season, why can’t he do the same in 2017 when he is an MP? The current session of parliament has had to deal with this same issue but in an altogether different context. During a debate about civil servants who campaign clandestinely for political office while still working for the government, it was alleged that one “even fenced a cemetery” in a particular village to ingratiate himself with the residents – voters for his purposes. Already the benefactor is giving residents rights to his personal funds but will complain after the election when he is in office that residents want access to those same funds. With a younger and greedier electorate, the entitlement problem is getting even worse. In exchange for her vote, an old woman would be content with a blanket but her grandchildren would want a lot more. The latter can be illustrated with a text message that a 2014 election parliamentary candidate in Gaborone received on his cellphone from a young woman.

The message was to the effect that the candidate could be sure of the sender’s vote and while not stating the condition for her support, the young woman deftly mentioned that she needed P25 000 for a business venture she wanted to pursue. In terms of the bill, which understandably enjoyed support from both sides of the aisle and sailed through, MPs salaries will be both adjusted by 4 per cent and aligned with the salary structure of the public service and their constituency allowance will be adjusted by 40 per cent. Words of wisdom that were said in the same house almost two decades ago are not being considered as this process is being undertaken. When the house debated a motion on the readjustment of MPs’ salaries, Rantao said that there was need to rework the salary structure of the entire civil service to remove a racist element embedded in it. He explained that Botswana had inherited a salary structure that discriminated between blacks and whites (the former held junior positions and the latter senior ones) and that this structure remained intact even when senior civil service were delocalised. The reason why there is currently a huge pay disparity between a director and an officer in the same department is that they are paid on a pre-independence salary structure that was designed to pay whites better than blacks. In his contribution, the Vice President, Mokgweetsi Masisi said that the bill sought to correct long-standing “suppression of incomes.” He, as other MPs on both sides, never acknowledged the truism that Rantao did.