With the 2009 general election approaching, and with voter apathy increasingly nagging the government and politicians at every general election, finger pointing has already started, with some politicians attributing voter apathy to the lending markets – the cash loans.
Moselewapula Ward BDP council candidate, John Mazabathi Mokandla, has observed the trend over the years as it deteriorates and eventually diagnosed the problem as the mushrooming of the cash loans whose requirement to qualify to obtain money on credit requires clients to relinquish their identity cards (Omang) and to retrieve them only after they fully repay the credit.
“Recently, cash loans have affected the number of voters. Omang cards are used as security when desperate clients are in need of cash and this leads to a significant number of Batswana not taking part in the general election,” said Mokandla in a statement.
Expressing his views in his personal capacity, the BDP council candidate, who contested the recent Moselewapula Ward primary council elections under the BDP ticket unopposed, revealed that Omang cards are essential tools for “our daily lives and, as such, should be part and parcel of us”.
Not only are Omang cards demanded from most critical individuals by the hospital personnel, they are also required by the banks, post offices and, sometimes, one would be required to produce the same for personal identity at road blocks.
But the Independent Electoral Commission thinks otherwise.
Recently, whilst touring the country to urge the nation to register in the coming supplementary registration exercise, the public complained about long queues while others griped about expired Omang cards.
“This morning our team was in Odi to encourage people to register in large numbers during the coming supplementary registration. Nothing ever cropped up with regard to cash loans and confiscation of Omang cards by these lending markets. People complain of long queues and expiry of Omang cards. Others are just not interested,” says the IEC’s Information Education officer, Boitumelo Suping, in an interview with The Sunday Standard.
Currently, the eligible voter figure stands at 900 000.
The targeted figure was 600 000 but only 350 000 managed to register during the past registration exercise.
“IEC would strive to reach the targeted figure as we continue with our mission tour across the country,” Suping said.
However, she could not deny the speculation, concluding that “the matter never reached our meetings”.
“Botswana law prohibits anyone to keep Omang cards that do not belong to them,” maintains Mokandla. “It’s a serious offence for which one can be fined. The government should act now before it is too late,” he said, adding, “It is high time that these cash loans are regularized and some ‘clauses’ abolished, including that of keeping Omang cards as security.”
Makandla, the one time TV actor in the ‘Re mmogo’ drama, strongly believes “this should be given utmost attention since about eighty percent of Batswana live on credit, meaning a very significant number of potential voters will fall victim to the practice”.