Friday, April 10, 2020

Dikgosi and the Republican State

Sir Seretse Khama was a lawyer and had good command of both Setswana and English. Sir Ketumile Masire likewise has good command of both languages. This is the status that obtained in 1962 at the formation of the Botswana Democratic Party.

I have for some time been puzzled by one of the aims and objectives of the BDP as set out in its founding documents. The English version states the objective as “to remove the arbitrary powers of the chiefs”. The Setswana version states “go imolola dikgosi morwalo wa go busa”, to relieve dikgosi the burden of ruling.

I have come to realize that most of our statutes give ministers wide discretionary powers without requiring them to account for their decisions. For example, the Minister of Lands has power to disregard the choice of the people in Land Board elections without explanation. The Minister of Local Government likewise appoints specially elected members of Councils without having to justify her choices.

Why is arbitrariness offensive under bogosi and acceptable under a republican government?

As far back as 1965 the BDP set to negotiate the takeover of mineral rights from the tribes and private companies. This objective was realized in 1967 when the tribes transferred their mineral rights to the president. The transfer agreement had as one of its conditions that the exploitation of the mineral wealth be for the benefit of the people of Botswana and not a section thereof. It seems to me that Dikgosi, as a party to this agreement, have a right to determine whether it has been implemented as agreed. The country must hear their assessment. I believe this is one of the reasons why Sir Seretse Khama could not be Paramount Chief of Bangwato, for he would have been a party to an agreement with himself. Such a situation would not have made sense.

A few years ago, the Minister of Finance told parliament that government was going to extend the reservation scheme enjoyed by citizen building contractors to citizen consultants and Information Technology providers. The Minister then sponsored a Cabinet Directive that did something different without informing the nation of his change of heart and the reasons for it.

The Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Board allows procuring entities to arbitrarily choose when to implement price preference that complies with the law. For example in the tender for consultancy services for Police Houses, the Department of Building and Engineering Services properly sets out price preference that complies with the law, but the same department is allowed to proceed with tenders for Nata Senior Secondary School, Shakawe Senior Secondary and Lobatse College of Education that do not comply with the law on citizen price preference.

We are grateful for the contributions of Sir Seretse Khama and Sir Ketumile Masire, we however cannot shut our eyes to the contradictions that exist between the BDP founding ideology and practice. A key element of democracy is accountability, and where there is unfettered discretion there can be no accountability. That is why everybody thinks they can be a cabinet minister or permanent secretary, and find it profitable to be a cabinet minister or permanent secretary, for these positions are a fountain of power based on unfettered discretion and arbitrary exercise of power. Take away the unfettered discretion and bring in accountability and see how many want to take up these positions.

BDP was very right to have accountability as a core value; it is wrong to abandon this value. The republicans have succeeded in relieving Dikgosi of the burden of ruling, and have kept the arbitrariness that in the view of the founding fathers of the BDP was unacceptable, for themselves. This is not acceptable.

Accountability cannot be enforced for only eight days, mostly Saturdays, in 41 years in a republic that also holds itself up as a democracy. Accountability is to borrow from our politicians, a process and not an event. It must obtain in all governance transactions.

If the BDP leaders were to embrace the founding ideology of accountability and abhorrence of arbitrary exercise of power, they would see the need for a comprehensive review of our laws to remove unfettered discretion that permeates our laws. This will result in a truly professional and committed leadership cadre that will serve this country.

Abandonment of accountability is the key source of factions within the BDP. Where there is no accountability there are no standards to uphold, and therefore no justification for choosing one leader over another. People rely on unreasonable tests like who has been a member for longer, or who contributes more money to the party or who seems to be in the good books of the executive committee or a prospective president.

Sir Seretse Khama is often quoted as having said that a nation without a soul is a lost nation or something to that effect. The truth is that where there is no accountability there is no soul to talk about.

There is a Tswana governance principle, “re taa raa batho re reng?”, how will we account to the people. Both Sir Seretse and Sir Ketumile were, I believe, guided by this when the BDP was formed. I do not believe that the principle is of no use anymore. Perhaps our former presidents tied up with the business of unifying the nation did not pick up corrosion of this principle in our laws. It is however captured in Section 50(1) of our constitution in which they played a major part. Subsequent statutes drafted by lawyers not familiar with this Tswana governance principle fail to place a duty on ministers to account.

Representative democracy is a management tool and not a process for alienating the people from that which they are entitled to, that leaders have to account for their decisions and actions.