Since independence in 1966, the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP has vehemently refused opposition party entreaties for state political party funding to level the political playing field.
Yet its president and his vice have always been direct beneficiaries of state funding in their party’s campaign trail ahead of any given general election ÔÇô including by-elections.
The privilege to use state resources (Botswana Defence Force choppers, presidential jet and government owned 4×4 vehicles) by President Ian Khama and his vice, Dr Ponatshego Kedikilwe, to reach out to the country’s outposts in this year’s hotly contested general election has given them an unfair advantage that the under-resourced opposition parties can only yearn for.
The use of state transport in the name of presidential privilege is distorting the political playing field. The opposition is struggling to raise adequate resources to reach out to Botswana’s outposts in an endeavour to sell their parties’ manifestoes and policies and endear themselves to the electorate.
The BDP campaign masters, especially President Khama and Kedikilwe (who will be retiring at the end of the current parliament term) are riding on the cherry for the benefit of their party’s campaign trail while the under-resourced opposition struggles to reach out to remote Botswana to sell their parties’ policies and manifestoes.
Recently government spin doctors were at their wits end trying to justify why Khama took along his BDP campaign team on a Botswana Defence Force aircraft to Ghanzi in the ruling party’s campaign trail.
The social media was awash with photos of the BDP’s campaigners, among them Alec Seametso, aboard the BDF aircraft. Seametso was appointed the BDP’s campaign manager ahead of this year’s general election.
Initially, the BDP had maintained that Khama would only launch a few parliamentary candidates. He however has been on a country-wide tour propping up his party’s campaign, raising fears that he is not comfortably that his party will easily win this year’s general election with a landslide margin as in previous general elections.
When the question arises as to why the president and his vice use state resources for their party’s campaign, the unconvincing answer always comes in the form of privileges they are entitled to on account of their positions in government. However ordinarily unfair the practice is, the BDP government finds nothing wrong because it suits its convenience.
The answer from the government enclave is always disguised in that the duo are entitled to the privileges hence it cannot be said to amount to use of state resources for political mileage. The truth of the matter however is that the practice advantages the ruling party at the expense of the opposition especially in a country that has not yet legislated on state political funding despite the expenses associated with political campaigns.
Simply put, the BDP is using state resources without restraint for its political gain at the disadvantage of the opposition.
The issue is further compounded by the fact that most corporates doing business in the country are secretly funding the BDP so as to protect their business interests. The corporate world seems currently uncomfortable with a change of government, fearing potential loss of lucrative tenders in the event that a new government may not play to their whims.
The corporate world’s fear of losing lucrative government tenders is without basis when one carefully examines opposition policies that are clear, transparent as well as outlining respect for corporate governance.
If the opposition wins, why would it discriminate against these corporates? Are they not well established to compete and win tenders if there is a change of government? Are the corporates unfairly winning the tenders because of their secretive funding of the ruling party?
The biggest problem in Botswana is that the economy is not fully diversified. Government is by far the largest economic driver, to the extent of squeezing out the private sector by providing services which in most developing countries are provided by the private sector.
BDP’s efforts to diversify the economy are not yielding tangible fruits. Business still remains skewed towards government which splashes millions of Pula in provision of essential services that should otherwise be provided by the private sector especially in country that is classified as an upper-middle income country with a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita income averaging US$8000.
An enquiry on how much the state is using to finance the president and his deputy in their campaign trail for this year’s general election is not public information. One is tempted to conclude that it would be embarrassing for the public to know how tax payer’s money is being used for the BDP’s campaign.
The ruling party has for a long time enjoyed political funding from undisclosed benefactors at its fund raising activities. Will it not be prudent for the ruling government to at least use its own massive resources for its campaigns?
The opposition is undeniably battling to raise adequate finance to traverse the length and breadth of the country during national elections.
It is only this year that the opposition seems to have managed to raise donors as evidenced by the strong campaign they have so far mounted.
The Botswana Congress Party (BCP) has managed to acquire a 6-seater bus that its president, Dumelang Saleshando, has been using to cover most parts of the country. The bus has already travelled over 5000 kilometres, covering 54 constituencies in which the party managed to field parliamentary candidates.
The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) has also reportedly acquired seven buses for its campaign. Its president, Duma Boko, has managed to reach some areas by aircraft.
The BDP is running scared that the opposition with its massive campaign has the potential to dethrone it come Friday.
A political analyst, who preferred anonymity, has confided that the BDP is unlikely to win this year’s general election because the opposition seems to have found the right footing in mobilizing adequate resources for its campaigns.
He maintains that the BDP is unlikely to win enough parliamentary seats (29 constituencies) to continue its uninterrupted half-a-century rule.
The analyst is of the view that the few BDP parliamentarians who will win this year’s election will join the advocates of political funding because their party will find itself losing most of the sponsors that it has been getting over the years.
“Once in opposition, the few BDP legislators in parliament will start feeling the financial heat in their campaign. The effect will be that they will join other legislators in lobbying for political party funding. They will begin to realize how expensive it is to foot democracy from their own pockets and this will prompt them to join whoever is in government to legislate for political funding. They have not been willing to dance to the tune because their party is well resourced but once out of power, they will start feeling the financial pinch that the opposition has been going through,” said the analyst.
The analyst maintains that Botswana should have long legislated political funding to level the playing field.
“Legislated political funding will attract credible politicians and not opportunists who are hell bent on winning government tenders to finance their political campaigns and personal sustenance. It is unfortunate that despite its long multi-party democracy tradition, Botswana has been surpassed by other countries in the region that gained independence only recently,” the analyst said.