Some 59, seemingly harmless words in a speech that was given by the Gaborone mayor, Father Maphongo, has excited the ire of councillors and there is a sentiment that he should withdraw them.
“I have received not-so-pleasing reports from some committees where inordinate delays are experienced,” Maphongo said in his state-of-the-city address that, as a COVID-19 precaution, was delivered not at the usual Gaborone City Council chamber but in a more spacious conference room at the Ave Maria Pastoral Centre. “This has impacted negatively on the budget as funds allocated for sitting allowance and claims are getting depleted because of the inefficiencies experienced from some committees.”
In the next breath, he stated: “It is important that we carry and deliver on our mandate professionally. Some of us, out of ignorance I presume, exhibited mannerism or actions which are tantamount to harassment or bullying of the administrative staff. There is need to exercise care and restraint.”
In addition to councillors themselves, those in attendance included Gaborone MPs, the Gaborone District Commissioner, Town Clerk, Deputy Town Clerk and other senior government official from the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development as well as the media and members of the public. The media presence necessarily means that Maphongo’s words reached the nation.
“People now think that our interest is in making sitting allowance and not representing our constituents,” a GCC councillor moaned privately to Sunday Standard. Indeed, there is a general feeling among councillors that Mayor Maphongo unfairly shamed them before the nation and that his speech was bereft of proper context. What Maphongo described as “inordinate delays”, councillors say, actually refers to time spent discharging oversight on Council operations during committee meetings. Some issues take longer to resolve and when councillors have to sit for more days, they claim more sitting allowance.
One example given with regard to the Finance Committee is that councillors queried why a senior GCC official claimed some P90 000 in overtime allowance for work done during the national and regional lockdown. “Why was he able to make that much money when his juniors can no longer work overtime because the Council has no money to pay for it?” poses a councillor. Indeed, from what Sunday Standard learns from GCC source (an employee), one of the reasons why parts of the city are perpetually dark is because officers from the Electrical Division can’t inspect city streets at night – which is when they could be able to identify lights that are not working. Working at night in such manner would have to be compensated in overtime pay.
Officially, Maphongo owns the speech because he is the one who delivered it but it is common knowledge that executive officers merely deliver speeches written for them by their juniors. In the particular case of the GCC, mayoral speech are written by senior GCC officials and there is suspicion that the officer whose P90 000 overtime claim was questioned could well have used the opportunity to contribute to the speech to exact revenge on councillors by portraying them in bad light. Be that as it may, councillors also feel that Maphongo himself should have raised the issue behind the scenes at councillors-only forums – like the Caucus – than shame them before the nation. In their response to the speech, some councillors have said as much and there is a sentiment that Maphongo should publicly withdraw accusations he made publicly. However, a behind-the-scenes engagement might itself not have been helpful because some councillors feel that the mayor, who is very close to President Mokgweetsi Masisi, has a patronising attitude towards them in such settings.’
In a past when mayors were elected every January, Maphongo would not have been as bold with councillors year end as he was. As mayors in that past he would have had to make nice with people whose vote he would have been lobbying for. The law has been amended to elect mayors every two-and-a-half years.