Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Direct election of the President: Let’s adopt the American model

The Mmegi newspaper dated 30th September 2011 had a front page headline: “BDP U-turn could spell doom for opposition.” Ephraim Keoreng, who wrote the story, stated that the BDP has “undergone a volte-face on the direct election of the president,” something that he believes is likely to “throw a spanner in the works of opposition parties.” When I read the story, I expected the reporter to indicate how opposition parties will be affected negatively by the BDP’s change of heart as implied in the heading of his story. Unfortunately, that did not come out clearly. In fact, I got confused when the reporter stated that the BCP and the BNF support the proposal whereas Botsalo Ntuane, not the BMD, is against the same. The question that came to my mind was: if two main opposition parties support the proposal, how does it amount to “throwing a spanner in the works of opposition parties?”

Direct election of the president and the appointment of people outside parliament to cabinet are, without any doubt, pertinent issues that should be given the attention that they deserve. The time is nigh for our constitution to be reviewed so that we can improve the quality of our democracy. We need to be progressive because we can no longer bask in the glory of being the oldest democracy in Africa. Our current political system has blemishes and pimples. It is no longer relevant to modern times. And my contention is that we should adopt a political system similar to the one used by the United States of America.

The American citizens have been electing their presidents for many years and the system has served them well. Members of the executive are not selected from the Senate or House of Representatives.

All Senators who run for the presidency do not lose their seats in the event that they fail to win elections. Running for the presidency does not force people to relinquish their seats in the Senate, an arrangement which I believe allows people to continue serving their country even if they fail to ascend to the highest office in the land. Most importantly, the legislature checks and balances the powers of the executive and vice-versa, a thing that only exists in theory in Botswana. For the American presidents, it is the abilities of the people that they appoint to cabinet that matters the most. Political affiliation is secondary. This explains why President Obama (a democrat) appointed Robert Gates as Secretary of Defence after serving President Bush (a republican) in the same capacity. As a result of the political system in place and the manner in which appointments are made, no American president can attribute his failure to deliver on his election promises or manifesto to restrictions placed on him by the country’s constitution to appoint people from the Senate or House of Representatives.

Currently, our president can only appoint four people outside parliament to cabinet thus making it very difficult for him to assemble a formidable team that he can use to take us to the promised land. The decision by President Khama to appoint Edwin Batshu as the Acting Minister of Defence, Justice and Security following the resignation of Ndelu Seretse has been interpreted by many political commentators as a sign of no confidence on appointee and other BDP MPs. President Khama is stuck with MPs that he cannot appoint to cabinet. He seems to be hoping that Ndelu Seretse will be acquitted by the Village Magistrate court so that he can reappoint him to his “rightful position” in cabinet.

We currently do not have any system in place that seeks to ensure that we have good Ministers and Assistant Ministers. People, including those with low IQs and those who are very short sighted, can easily make it to cabinet. Their appointment is based on their loyalty to the president and how good they are at licking his boots.

As a way of ensuring that we have the right people for the different ministerial positions that exist, I believe that all those who are appointed must make presentations to certain committees of parliament as is done in the US. In the US, all appointees appear before Senate committees to present their roadmap and vision, not just for the ministries that they will be heading but also for the American citizens. Live broadcasts of the deliberations are usually done on national televisions so that citizens can appreciate the calibre of people who will be serving them.

The appointment of people outside parliament in our country will improve the system of checks and balances which is an integral part of a democratic set-up. Our current system whereby cabinet is drawn from parliament makes mockery of the system of checks and balances. BDP MPs are compromised when national issues are debated in parliament. They do not have the guts to challenge or hold Ministers accountable for their decisions and actions lest they are accused of undermining the authority of the party president.

If it so happens that the bill on direct election of the president is tabled in parliament in November as reported in the Weekend Post newspaper dated 01-07 October 2011, it is important that all our politicians must fully engage their brains in the debate with a view to ensuring that the amendment of the constitution is done in good faith and for the benefit of the entire nation. The amendment must not be done to protect the interests of President Khama as some people within the BDP already think and believe.

President Khama will one day cease to be the leader of our country. He will one day cease to be a consumer of oxygen just like any other human being. But our beloved country will always be here.

Hence, it is of paramount importance that our political leaders must avoid doing things that will compromise our ability and that of future generations to have a better life derived from an improved political system. This is what patriotism is all about. It is not about serving the interests of President Khama as some of his narrow minded supporters think. It is about placing national interests above personal ones. And that is what all our MPs must do so that we can all have a better Botswana, not one that is owned and personalized by President Khama, but one that belongs to all of us.

*Dr Mothusi teaches Public Administration at the University of Botswana

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