This week I want to very briefly reflect on a few aspects around the State of the Nation Address. By the time this publication is out and this piece is read, the President would have delivered his State of the Nation address to Parliament in the afternoon of Monday the 7th of November, 2011.
Historically the State of Nation address has been a feature of democratic governance in both parliametary and presidential systems. We have had presidents in both developed and developing countries address their nations at some point in the calender of their legislatives sittings. What are or should be the purpose for this address.
In my understanding the state of nation address serves a number of purposes. Firstly, it affords the head of state to present to the nation the condition of the nation and that is the social, economic, political, cultural and institutional status of country as it pertains in the present.
This should not be limited to the listed factors; the president may choose to inform the nation of any other major issues critical in the overal development processes of the country. My sense of it is that this is an opportunity for the president to present a reflective image of the nation in as much a clear and candid manner as he can possibly do. The outlook presented should reflect thorough assessments as consolidated by the various public service organs experts and some whose source may indeed be outside the public service itself. The health and otherwise of the private sector is necessarily a key aspect to inform the nation about, especially in our case where we have been trying hard to nurture the development and growth of the private sector for some time now without much success. Secondly, the president has an opportunuty to outline his legislative agenda to both parliament and the nation at large. Let’s remember that the reason he/she is constitutionally a member of parliament is to have him/her provide leadership in areas of setting the direction of the country’s development and his interaction with parliament in this regard becomes paramount. In doing so, he will need the support and cooperation of parliament to grant legislative backing to his ideas and ideals. Our current setup requires that even when the executive is deemed to be dominating policy initiation and development, the legislature must atleast provide sufficient discourse on matters that require commitment of national resources as prioritized by the executive.
Third, the president has an opportunity to set his priorities and ask for both parliament and the nation to not only understand his logic and justification for such, but more importantly to tap on the resourcefulness of the legislature and the nation in driving for the attainment of those priorities. Any set priorities can only be of value if the legislature and the nation at large embrace such and identify those as speaking to the nation’s current challenges, especially as it affects citizens ‘ability and capacity to take advantage of opportunities to access basic life needs in their diverse and complex nature. The expectation here is that these set priorities, if he does set any, are reflective of a drive, commitment and resolve to provide long term solutions to what are now Batswana’s major problems in their lives as a nation, collectively and individually.
I don’t wish to necessarily pinpoint my prefered national priorities at this stage, I believe we all by now have a sense of what are the critical areas that require government commitment to resolve for Batswana as a nation, amongst which are issues of access to land, for various uses and associated issues of property ownership that is so skewed, the need to revisit the empowerment question and sustainability of Batswana businesses, unemployment high rates and many others we all know of.
Fourth, the address present the president with an opportunity to communicate with parliament and here it is of utmost importance for him to re-assure legislators of the executive’s understanding and commitment to ensuring that the legislature continues to operate in manner that is consistent with our consitutional dictates. I need not remind you of current trends and thoughts on the role of parliament and its seemingly diminishing importance in the wake of an ascending executive that not only dominates policy initiation and development but more importantly how it on occasions rendered parliament ineffective in providing legislative oversight on matters that it ordinarily should. The president needs to reassure parliament of his recognition of its role in the context of the now visible impact of party caucuses on paliamentary debates. Lastly, the president has an opportunity to communicate to the nation on issues that are of fundamental importance to them and how he intends to deal with challenges that would seem to be endangering our democratic practices and good governance practices. We have the issues of Kgosi Kgafela in kgatleng and his standoff with government that culminated in government de-recognizing him as the Tribal leader. There is also a simmering amongst other dikgosi related to the general role of chiefs in a political democratic setup such as ours. We do have as well issues around calls for legalization of prostitution and same sex relationships, including the debate on whether or not to provide condoms to prisoners. These and many other issues require the president to guide the nation and assure it that he is aware and alive to these issues.
I trust that come your reading of this piece you would be saying yes the president has done a good job in finding his vibe and sense of belonging, attachment and commitment to the nation’s critical issues through creating space for meaningful and constructive dialoque. This is slowly been put to a test, dialogue that is open, transparent and respectful of divergent views, come on board dear president.
*Molaodi teaches Public Administration at the University of Botswana