Friday, October 23, 2020

Amendment to BDF Act sets tongues wagging

A notice in the Government Gazette to amend the Botswana Defence Force Act by adding two positions to its establishment register has set some tongues wagging. As far as some are concerned, the amendment is meant to accommodate an opposition leader whose party has just lost a Central Committee member to the civil service – Advocate Sidney Pilane.

The amendment bill creates the positions of Judge Advocate General and Assistant Judge Advocate General. The Judge Advocate General shall be the head of the military justice and shall be appointed by the president. S/he shall act as a senior legal advisor to the BDF, provide attorneys and other persons required by the military courts, supervise all legal officers, non-commissioned officers and all other people under him or her and provide legal services to the BDF. No person shall be qualified for appointment as a Judge Advocate General unless such person is qualified to practise as an advocate or attorney of the high court of Botswana and has been qualified for not less than 10 years to practise as an advocate or attorney. About the Assistant Judge Advocate General, the bill says no more than that s/he “shall have the power to do any act or thing which may be lawfully done under this act or any other enactment by the Judge Advocate General.” 

Of late there has been rampant speculation that Pilane, who is the president of the Botswana Movement for Democracy and one of the first Batswana advocates, is about to retrace his steps to the Government Enclave for a third time. He started his career as an attorney at Attorney General Chambers, joined the private sector and later became Special Advisor to President Festus Mogae. It has been reported in the press that he will return to the Office of the President as a legal advisor to President Mokgweetsi Masisi – a role that would clash with that of the Attorney General as well as that of OP’s own chief legal advisor.

Following the publication of the amendment bill, speculation has shifted to the civilian post about to open up in the BDF. What reinforces such speculation is that lately Masisi has been gutting the opposition’s leadership ranks. Following the 2019 elections, he appointed Dr. Kaelo Molefhe, who was the Alliance for Progressives parliamentary candidate in Gaborone Bonnington, as OP’s Deputy Permanent Secretary for Governance. Last month, he appointed BMD’s Secretary General, Gilbert Mangole, as Botswana’s High Commissioner to India. The other reinforcing element is that BDF Judge Advocate General is appointed by the president – which eliminates the possibility of the army’s high command appointing somebody else other than Pilane.

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