Thursday, October 22, 2020

Constitution alienates ‘ruling party’ from its power

The Botswana Democratic Party and the poor have one thing in common, they are both alienated from that which belongs to them.

As we celebrate 40 years of independence, it is appropriate that we take a closer look at these and see whether independence has been kind to them.

Even though the BDP has won every general election since independence, it has never been in control of the government of this country.

Our independence constitution has ensured that the victories are hollow. On the surface BDP control of parliament suggests that it can ensure implementation of its programs and policies. However, a closer look at our constitution shows that it cannot do so.

In terms of our constitution, parliament needs the president’s agreement on all legislation. If he disagrees he can dissolve parliament.

If parliament passes a motion of no confidence in the government, the president can dissolve it if he does not resign. What this means is that the BDP has to risk bringing down its own government if it tries to reign in a president who does not toe the BDP line.

This person is not obliged to consult the BDP in the exercise of his powers, but he has power to threaten the BDP if it disagrees with him.

The BDP is effectively alienated from the spoils of its victory, for they are given to one person, he who becomes president. If parliament refuses to pass legislation originated by the president he does not have to resign. Why the unequal treatment?
The poor do not fare any better.

According to the Mineral Rights in Tribal Territories Act, the tribes passed ownership of the minerals in their territories to the president for the benefit of all inhabitants of Botswana and not a section thereof. It is a fact that about 40% of our people live below the poverty datum line, and have done so for 40 years.

These poor have been alienated from the revenues that have accrued out of exploitation of minerals contrary to the act. Failure to implement development projects caused by unnecessary red tape has ensured that the poor do not access benefits of the mineral wealth.

It is interesting to note that at the core of these transactions of alienation is none other than the founding president of this nation. He was there when the constitution was formulated and was the first beneficiary of the alienation of the BDP from the spoils of its victory. The first transfer of mineral rights in tribal territories was to him.

There is some consolation though. The BDP continues to exploit the first president’s name.

The poor may draw comfort from the fact that the first president once remembered them in Sebele by reminding the BDP that those who work for the government must not be seen to be the only ones benefiting from the mineral revenues through high salaries when other Batswana are unemployed. It is, however, unfortunate that the BDP memory and the executive memory are not the same.

Chances are the BDP remembers, but it has no power, for all power is vested in one man who does not have to consult anyone, not even the so-called ruling party.

When we elect a government we choose policies and those who will have control over implementation of development projects, we choose those who will exercise executive functions. It is only our politicians who have, over the years, narrowed the choice to that of policies.

Our president is elected indirectly through parliamentarians and there is therefore every justification that he should be controlled through parliament. The current situation is tantamount to giving an employee power to liquidate a company in the event that the Board of Directors tries to control him. This, surely, is ridiculous.

As the victorious partythe BDP has every right to run the government. It is the BDP not the executive, that will finally pay the price for whatever failures of government or lack of implementation of development projects.

The executive’s power arises out of a deficiency in our constitution, and the BDP should correct this. There has to be a provision in our constitution that allows the ruling party, through parliament, to reign in an executive that has lost direction, or to bring to order a president who fails to ensure proper and timely development projects where funding has been approved, without bringing down its own government, otherwise it cannot be called a ruling party.

The constitution does allow parliament to regulate the president’s executive functions, but regulation without powers of sanction is ineffective.

It seems to me it can only do this through legislation and, as already stated, legislation needs the president’s consent. We need to remove this obstacle to parliament power.

Parliament’s role is not to ask ministers questions and come up with motions. Its primary duty is to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the country.

It is also duty bound to ensure that its laws are obeyed and one such law is the Minerals in Tribal Territories Act. The amount of time parliament wastes in debating motions and asking questions is not justified.

We need to empower the ruling party to control government’s role of policy formulation and implementation; we can only do this effectively if parliament has powers of sanction over the executive as contemplated by our constitution.

Surely it is not good government when the executive can come up with projects, get funding approved and fail to implement them. Surely it is not good government to have a situation where our development efforts are held at ransom by an incompetent executive for five years. We also need to recognize that, as human beings, we do not live forever. Delivery of development projects is a must.

The executive cannot appraise itself. Parliament should have powers to appraise the executive and to impose sanctions on the executive.

*Lediretse Molake is a lawyer, consulting engineer and former President of the Association of Citizen Development Consultants.

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