Friday, April 3, 2020

Change is inevitable but what is Botswana changing into?

It is said that change is inevitable. To anyone who has lived long enough to remember any aspect of the past (however recent that might be) will regard that statement to be a truism. Sometimes change happens and we can only stand helpless in the face of it. Although we may be fully aware of the eventuality of such change, we can?t do anything to stop it. We all age and must one day die. We all know that and have so resigned to the fact that we don?t think much about it until some calamitous event, such as the death of a close one, happens.

However, there is some change that happens through our own agency. Sometimes our agency in the cause of change is not immediately apparent, not even to ourselves. For example, all of us have, one way or another, contributed to the depletion of the ozone layer without even knowing that there is such a thing as ozone, let alone a layer of it somewhere above the earth?s atmosphere. Many have, for years, happily used aerosol sprays without the slightest idea about the cumulative damage that we were causing to the earth?s atmosphere. For as long as we are ignorant about the outcomes of our actions, we can not be held accountable for such outcomes.

Some change happens primarily out of a lack of deliberate and intentional intervention to stop it, as opposed to positive action to effect it.
The consequences of such change are what one might call outcomes of omission rather than commission.

I am particularly interested in change that is taking place in our country, particularly as regards governance, democracy and the rule of law.
I am interested in this change because it seems to me that much of it is a result of engineering by those who are causing it on the one hand, and de facto acquiescence by those who are looking on silently.

Lately, there have been numerous examples of lapses in all of the areas mentioned above. However, I would like to address the issue of representation in our democratic country and what it means.

I want to make my observations with particular reference to the President?s reprimand of some of our more productive and dynamic members of Parliament at the BDP National Council.

First, I want to state that my understanding of the order of the MPs? accountability is: first to the People of their respective constituencies, whose interests each one of them is elected to represent, then ALL the People of the Republic of Botswana, whose interests all members of the National Assembly collectively, are employed to protect.
Subject to the above order of accountability and relative to the other political parties, each MP is then and only then, accountable to the policies and requirements of his or her party.

Put another way, where a choice has to be made between either serving the interests of a party at the expense of the interests of Batswana, or standing up for the interests of Batswana and the Country at the risk of losing favor of the party leadership, for a morally upright legislator, the choice is a no-brainer.

The Constitution of the Republic of Botswana and the laws of the land are, and should ever remain superior to any party manifesto or code of conduct. Indeed, the manifestos and codes of conduct of political parties must be subject to and should never be at loggerheads with the constitution or the laws of the land.

It is from that perspective that I am very concerned by what His Excellency is said to have said about some BDP MPs who have undoubtedly stood out as strong, determined and principled representatives of The People. The level of rigor, thoroughness and scrutiny to which these MPs have subjected bills presented to parliament should make the president very proud! At last, we have members of parliament who will not simply endorse pieces of legislation that may tomorrow turn out to be defective because they simply rubber stamped them when they should have been thorough.

I see in these legislators gentlemen (they are all men) who are interested in seeing Botswana develop to be a better country for all its citizens – and this is something we should all aspire to, including His Excellency. It is, therefore, disheartening and depressing to hear that the President brought down his unmitigated wrath against the MPs for doing the exact thing which we expect him as our leader to be doing: protecting and defending our interests as citizens of this Republic. Allegedly, His Excellency chided thea concerned MPs thus: ?An MP can not denigrate, ridicule, disparage, malign, vilify, revile and cast aspersions on the BDP government and still expect the electorate to return the party to power.?

These are very strong words that would leave one who has not been following the arguments of the said MPs thinking that they have been on a malicious campaign against government. While it is true that these MPs have stood and spoken against many Government (Cabinet) decisions, they have always been clear that they did so on the platform of national interest. It was (and continues to be) only incumbent upon government to convince Parliament and the public that indeed any policy decisions and proposed legislations that are contentious are meant for the good of the citizens of this country. Refusal (or may be failure?) to do so would naturally lead to a rift between cabinet and the MPs, and mistrust of government by us ordinary citizens. The whole chain of verbs that His Excellency used to characterize the MPs? arguments is, therefore, very confusing. It leaves one with a bad taste about the level of tolerance at the high echelons of our country?s leadership. This is not a welcome change.

Instead of characterizing the MPs? arguments in parliament and other public fora with the terms used by His Excellency, I would say that they have been ?strongly critical? of government.

And given their duty to the people, they are doing what MPs before them should have been doing for the past forty years. I believe that it has been a ?sin of omission? against the people of Botswana that previous MPs have essentially seen their role as rubber-stampers of decisions of Cabinet. This appears to have created a culture in Cabinet whereby dissention by a member of the ruling party, however well grounded and good-intentioned (as is true for the case in point), is viewed with suspicion and regarded as disloyalty, and may be insubordination.

The fundamental question that must be answered is: In the event that a member of parliament is convinced (rightly or wrongly) that his/her party policies stand against the interest of the citizens, which interests is such an MP to protect? Those of the party or those of the citizens? My view is that the party, especially one in power, ought to stand for the interests of the people and if per chance it realizes that its policies collide with the welfare of the citizens, it should immediately review such policies to align them accordingly with the public interest. Therefore, based on that principle, all of us as citizens of this beloved country should applaud the efforts of our MPs.

The kind of change we are seeing in our country is of great concern in view of its reminiscence to what numerous other once-upon-a-time prosperous African countries were. We can not afford to allow ourselves to evolve the same way these countries have done. As it appears presently, we are indeed mimicking those who have strayed before us.

Let us use the lessons of history to our benefit. What we ordinary citizens can do is point out and caution about some pitfalls that we see for our country. It is up to our leadership (Parliament and Cabinet) to take up the challenge and change in the right direction. Our President should take the lead in this march towards positive change. We look up to him for that.

As Solomon put it: ?Take away the wicked from the King?s presence, and his throne will be established in righteousness.? (Prov. 25:5). We wish the President ever increasing discernment, good health and an eye ever focused on the ordinary citizen and posterity. May God bless him.

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