Thursday, March 23, 2023

Abusive theatrics betray Vice President Merafhe’s impotence in responding to critical issues raised by Legislators.

True to the portrait he has painted of himself, Vice President Mompati Merafhe went off on a tangent in his response to legislators contributions to the state of the nation address of 8th November 2010. The deeply intemperate language which has become a hall mark of Hon Merafhe only succeeded in trivialising what should have been an auspicious occasion. In terms of Standing Order Eight of the Botswana Parliament, the Leader of the House is the primary link between the executive and the legislature. Amongst his functions is to respond on behalf of the president to the debate upon the state of the nation address. Therefore, speaking on behalf of the head of state and the government, the person occupying that position is expected to respond with appropriate decorum to important issues raised by legislators.

On the contrary we were subjected to another performance in theatrics which at conclusion left us none the wiser on issues we consider pertinent, and in the public interest. A first time visitor in the public gallery would have been shocked that the individual spewing such toxic language was a mere heartbeat away from the presidency. From observing the conduct of the Vice President over the years, his has been a strategy to either ignore or gloss over weighty matters raised by legislators by finding easy refuge in vitriol and name calling; conduct very much unbefitting an individual holding his position and level of responsibility. Where in any self respecting parliamentary democracy can a whole Vice President refer to legislators as ‘’hopeless creatures’, ‘village idiots’ and ‘’clowns? This sort of discourse is found only in banana republics where leadership integrity is not considered a virtue. Much as we are in opposition to the current government we do not want to believe this country has descended to such a level, yet. A cause for dismay is that the Vice President takes advantage of his elderly status to abuse legislators, in the full knowledge that out of deference to his age and position, they will be hard put to retaliate in kind. It is unfair for one to use their seniority to this end. I suspect there is a good number of legislators on the opposition benches who can more than match the Vice President in the use of language favoured by sailors. But out of respect for both themselves and their colleagues, and in recognition of the sanctity of parliament, they restrain themselves. Just why the Vice President acts in flagrant disregard of this protocol is something known to himself and those who admire his style of debate. I daresay if the Vice President continues to address his colleagues with contempt and disrespect the day is not far off when some will not hold their feelings in check because Setswana says ‘susu ilela suswana gore le ene a go ilele” . Were this unfortunate episode to transpire, no one should complain because human beings, irrespective of age or status can only take so much provocation. In recent times, it has become clear the Vice President has not restricted his style of engagement to opposition legislators but also to the ruling party benches. On more than two occasions in the life of the current parliament, some BDP legislators have been publicly reduced to tears following abuse directed at them by the Vice President simply because they displeased him in some way or the other. So, no one in BDP ranks should rejoice at the reprehensible conduct witnessed on Monday because it cuts across the political divide. The attitude of the Vice President has now convinced us to believe his detractors in the ruling party who insist he has reached his sell by date and is becoming a political liability. They have enough justification for saying so. Here is a Vice President who has no qualms telling a nation reeling in shock and fear from extra judicial killings that “one or two shootings cannot damage the country’s credibility”. Not to end there, in response to the outcry by citizen contractors that they face ruin because of the underhand tactics of Chinese companies, we get an insensitive Vice President telling them, for all intents and purposes, to go to hell. It is becoming increasingly difficult to reconcile the statements of the Vice President with his exalted position in national leadership. In proper democracies this foot in mouth affliction, which he exhibits with gusto and relish, would have long cost the Vice President his job. There is no question that Vice President Merafhe has had a distinguished career in national service, far surpassing a man of humble origins, as he is so fond of saying. On this basis, he should be a role model for the younger generation; that one does not need a privileged parental pedigree to make it in life. Tragically in the twilight of his illustrious career, he seems determined to obliterate his legacy by throwing all caution to the wind and live up to the caricature of a grumpy old man hankering for the years of youth. Surely the Vice President does not wish to leave public life in ignominy, instead of as an elder statesman of good reputation cultivated assiduously over the years. That his anger was directed mainly at the BMD is a matter over which we can offer little relief because the Vice President is after all a key architect of the poisoned climate that promoted authoritarianism, which in turn, split the BDP.

The BMD is now a key factor in the country’s political equation and cannot be wished away by insults and abuse from the second office of state. As a matter of wry interest, the Vice President should be celebrating the formation of our movement because, inadvertently it has shored up his position. Fearful of further upheaval, the internal agitation for his sacking has receded. Consequently the BDP finds itself with the proverbial albatross around its neck; sack Merafhe and risk a backlash from his loyalists or retain him at risk of his utterances further eroding public goodwill for the party.
But besides his unfortunate choice of language, did the Vice President adequately address the issues raised by legislators? Our contention is that he fell abysmally below expectation. In opting for his comfort zone of abusive theatrics, at the expense of detailed responses, the Vice President failed, either by deliberate omission, wilful distortion or plain obfuscation, to discharge this critical function of his mandate. Below in summarised form, we outline thirty two issues to which we still await a serious response. In parenthesis are responses from the Vice President.

Extra Judicial Killings. On this matter the Vice President simply played deaf. As opposition we wanted an update on investigations around this phenomenon. In noting the prosecution of the killers of John Kalafatis we wanted a commitment from government that all perpetrators in the other thirteen murders will be brought to book. The concern we expressed was amplified by some members of the BDP backbench. (the Vice President did not respond)

DCEC. We commended the organ for its good work and assured the DCEC of our support if it carried out investigations without fear or favour. We indicated that for DCEC to carry out its work optimally, it has to be removed from the Office of the President.(the Vice President failed to respond)

DPP. We expressed concern at the brain drain in the Attorney General’s Chambers and the growing problem of safety of state prosecutors.(the Vice President did not respond as to how government intended to address these disturbing developments)

DIS. We called for introspection in this agency and for the Director General as a civil servant to refrain from making political statements. (the response of the Vice President was that the DG did not offend any civil service code and was well within his rights to describe opposition politicians as cowards)
Intelligence & Security Tribunal. We demanded the dissolution of this body to be reconstituted by non partisan and impartial citizens. (not a single word emanated from the Vice President in response)

Hate Speech and Political Intolerance. We requested Hon Skelemani to retract his utterances to the effect that Hon Guma Moyo to return to Zimbabwe. (the Vice President did not respond)

Civil War talk. We requested President Khama to substantiate his statement purporting some people want to cause civil war by naming those concerned or the foreign countries in question. Alternatively for the President to retract the statement. (the Vice President failed to respond)

Declaration of Assets & Liabilities. We expressed concern at the ineffectual bill tabled before parliament and demanded a comprehensive law covering the executive, legislators and all public/accounting officers holding positions that influence the tender process.( to this the Vice President did not favour the nation with a single sentence)

Legislative protection for whistleblowers on corruption. (there was no response forthcoming from the Vice President)

Empowerment of local government authorities to generate own revenue and provide for direct election of executive mayors to improve service delivery and accountability. (the Vice President did not say a word)

Health care. We submitted that transferring local health structures to central government was affecting service delivery. (no response from the Vice President)

Police Service. For government to improve welfare & employment conditions.(no response from the Vice President)

BDF. For government to improve welfare & employment conditions. (no response from the Vice President)

Prisons Service. For government to improve welfare and employment conditions. (no response from the Vice President)

Restoration of water to CKGR residents in light of the damage caused to Botswana’s image and looming threat to tourism and diamond industries. (no response from the Vice President)

The Chinese. We demanded a moratorium on tenders/projects awarded to Chinese construction companies and a rescue plan entailing quotas for citizen owned contractors. (no response from the Vice President)

Foreign Reserves. To be utilised instead of employment freeze in the civil service which carries a heavy socio economic cost. (not a single sentence in response from the Vice President)

Enhance economic governance by repealing laws that permit foreigners to be declared Prohibited Immigrants outside due process; and for sensitive security cases to be held in camera. (the Vice President vowed the policy will continue)

Fiscal Recklessness. For government to lead by example in belt tightening by disposing of 1 of 2 presidential jets, the presidential caravan, slash P 300 000 ministerial household furniture budget, downscale cost of ministerial houses from P 7 million per housing unit. (Other than stating that the used airplane market was still depressed and the old jet could not be sold yet , the Vice President ignored all other issues on this subject)

Levies & Taxes(VAT, water, electricity, school fees, omang and passport replacement fees, dimausu licences, alcohol levy etc). The opposition expressed concern at the heavy burden of ever increasing levies and taxes on Batswana and called for a reform of the tax system with a view to protecting the vulnerable. (the Vice President did not respond)

Review of the Republican Constitution. (the Vice President trivialised the matter by claiming this call is made by BMD legislators fighting Motswaledi’ battles, blithely ignoring a recent survey by Vision 2016 Council indicated upwards of 72% of Batswana polled favour a review)
Masimo. Opposition and a considerable number of BDP legislators opposed to seizure of undeveloped masimo. (the Vice President did not respond)

Poverty Alleviation. We contended proposals of the Mahalapye Pitso are nothing new because Batswana have been engaged for ages in micro activities like hiring out tents and baking bread. The notion that backyard gardens could alleviate poverty reflected a lack of coherent policy and strategy for addressing the poverty question. (the response of the Vice President was to repeat governments commitment to poverty without engaging the issues raised)

Poverty Alleviation. Where we expect organized policy and an action programme from government, we witness only fragmented policy responses, not knit together by any coherent macro level strategy or grounded in solid analysis and design. In our contributions we asked for the organizing framework for the many initiatives that have been started by the president. (the Vice President did not attempt a response)

12 days per annum by government departments to engage in community services. We contended that when the entire public service takes 12 days off work, the associated cost to society cannot be justified by what they do, unless they use idle time.(no response from the Vice President)
Exam Crisis. We submitted the President was misinformed when he gave the exams a clean bill of health.(in response the Vice President said absolutely nothing about this grave matter)

Ipelegeng. We contended it does not address the fundamental challenge of providing sustainable and long term jobs. Instead of cutting grass, the programme should be reviewed to introduce more productive activities such horticultural gardens, extensive public works and agricultural activities. (the response of the Vice President was that the people love Ipelegeng and are better off with p 360 than nothing)

State Mining Company. We argued for such an entity to ensure Batswana receive more benefits from their natural resources. (no response from the Vice President)

African Peer Review Mechanism. For Botswana to sign up as a way of promoting good governance. (no response from the Vice President)

Swaziland. For Botswana to be more active in promoting democracy in the Kingdom. (no response from the Vice President)

Alcohol Levy. We pointed out that increase in the levy has not reduced consumption and adversely affects households. The levy has exported jobs to foreign countries because citizens were shifting to cheaper imports. What is required is more public education and enforcement of road traffic regulations. (limp response from the Vice President was that people drink heavily and that is why the levy is in place)

Leisure Hours. Reduced entertainment hours were exporting tourism to South Africa, killing the local leisure industry, increasing unemployment and are responsible for Botswana failing to attract World Cup 2010 teams to set up base. (no word from the Vice President)

The purpose of highlighting the 32 random issues , though not exhaustive, is to establish a pattern and demonstrate in graphic terms how Vice President Merafhe misuses the time he is allotted to respond to observations raised by legislators. Instead the bulk of his presentation is taken up by abusive theatrics, when there are more pertinent issues on his table, to which the nation expects a solid response.

Botsalo Ntuane is Leader of Opposition in the Botswana Parliament


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