As has become a hobby for government to spring to President Khama’s defence even on obvious transgressions, the Office of the President recently went on over-drive mode to defend President Khama against accusations that he awarded to himself Naledi Ya Botswana (NYB) Order. Claiming to set the record straight and delink President Khama from clear cut despots, the Office of the President stated that the decision to award the Order to President Khama was taken by Cabinet at the time President was outside the country on an official trip.
The Office of the President sought to absolve President Khama of any mischief and the unpleasant suggestion that he is following on the footsteps of famed former President of Uganda, Idi Amin who promoted himself to the rank of Field Marshall while he was head of state. This discussion does not seek to discuss whether or not President Khama did award to himself NYB Order, but rather to provide a general critic of Botswana’s honours system.
A substantial number of citizens hardly understand the honours system because of the veiled manner in which it is managed. Many citizens believe that the system has nothing to do with them but everything to do with the State President, ruling party politicians, civil servants and celebrities hence it does not command the tinniest of respect.
Like elsewhere, Botswana’s honours system was established to recognize individuals for their significant contribution to society. The system works as a provider of delayed rewards for people who stand out for having done good work for the country. It was intended to act as a positive force in our society by cultivating a heightened sense of patriotism and motivate people to go an extra mile to do something well beyond the normal call of duty.
However, the reality is that the management of our honours system in recent times has become significantly less transparent and less accountable to a point where the practice has lost its meaning, respect and honour. It has been reduced to a Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) scheme to reward loyalty and the contribution of their members and financiers to the growth of the party. It is also being used to blackmail citizens into compliance and keep errant members toeing the line.
As a consequence, the quality of most recipients of these honours is suspect. Many individuals who are not esteemed highly enough to qualify for honours have nevertheless been decorated perhaps with the BDP membership cards as their passports. This explains why the so-called prestigious honours are mostly received by BDP stalwarts and their pompous and noisy associates while lousy honours are offered to non-BDP citizens as mere tokenism to lull us into believing that all of us do qualify for these honours.
The credibility and functionality of our honours system is at stake. While the system has always been dull, uninspiring and directionless, it has become markedly worse under Khama’s presidency precisely because it is being openly abused to promote lawlessness by decorating incorrigible crooks and recidivists. Its processes and procedures such as nomination, verification and endorsement do not build public confidence because they are shrouded in first rate secrecy while many recipients are average performers even by our own low standards.
In addition to having been hijacked by the BDP for political expediency, the system has been corrupted so that it favours mostly officials in the public sector most of who are easy to blackmail and baptize in BDP’s name. This has given rise to public perception that some jobs appear to automatically qualify one for honour even if they are renowned deadwood. It is noted with disgust that all Botswana’s presidents have received NYB Order a coincidence which renders the award a farce, a cheap memorabilia that is given to anyone who come to occupy the office including self-styled despots. This causes the system to be questioned and as well contributes to public distrust of executive decisions as is the case with Cabinet’s decision to decorate President Khama.
The decision by Cabinet to honour the State Presidents solely for doing the job for which they are paid is dishonest and mischievous as it borders of flattering the appointing authority. State Presidents trips many of which are meaningless are a part of their official duties financed by the tax payer which means that they actually do not give their free time to the people they serve. They are simply doing what they are paid to do. Honours should instead be considered for individuals whose contribution to society is additional to the work for which they get paid. Thus, there is a compelling proposition that the ward of honours especially the recent decision to decorate President Khama with NYB Order has brought the honours system into disrepute.
Agreeing that Botswana’s honours system is flawed, corrupted and highly politicized, there is an urgent need to have a look at it with a view to redeeming it and raising its profile as well as build safeguards to protect it from overt abuse. There is a dire need to review its procedures and ensure that political considerations play a lesser role in nominations for Botswana honours. There is also need to urgently address the apparent under-representation of women and minorities in the award of honours. This will go a long way in ensuring that all deserving Batswana are eligible to be honoured, thus restoring honour to Botswana’s honours system.
There is also an urgent need for a sustained public awareness campaign on our honours system aimed at ensuring greater public understanding and appreciation of its purpose and how it works. This will raise the integrity of the system as an integral part of good governance in which all citizens have a stake.
While it may be impossible to remove politics from the system, one way to alleviate public perception that the honours system is highly politicized and skewed in favour of civil servants or retired public officers would be to make public the details of reasons for an award. This will likely promote transparency and accountability even though it would not entirely eliminate suspicions.
The Badge of Courage sincerely recommends the creation of a National Honours Commission to be charged with the responsibility to screen and vet final submissions of names of individuals or institutions recommended for the honours from lower structures of comparable responsibility. This will help in detaching the honours system from the Office of the President and restore its dignity. Relatedly, it is recommended that the various honours and awards such as Presidential Order of Meritorious Service, Presidential Order of Honour, and Presidential Order of Botswana be renamed so that they are delinked from the presidency. It should be noted that the State President merely confers the honours on deserving individuals on behalf of the nation, not on his behalf hence it is only proper that this is reflected in the names of the honours. This will go a long way in reducing chances for personalization of the Botswana’s honours system.