Thursday, December 2, 2021

How BDP came to control sub-district it lost in 2019 elections

Many know Eric Molale as a veteran civil servant who rose to head the civil service during the administration of President Festus Mogae. He is also the newbie politician who almost succeeded President Ian Khama if the 2015 Goodhope-Mabule bye-election had gone the way the latter had hoped. What most people don’t know though is that Molale is also a magician. With a simple sleight of hand, the Minster of Local Government and Rural Administration managed to put the Serowe Sub-District Council firmly under the control of a party which, in the2019 general election, lost all three constituencies from which that Council is composed.

In that election, the Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) won 11 seats in the Council while the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) won only seven. (Much later, one BDP councillor, Samuel Kenalemang of Topisi Ward, would defect to the BPF.) Understandably, the BPF won all three Serowe constituencies: Serowe North, Serowe South and Serowe West. The Local Government Act empowers the Minster of Local Government and Rural Administration to “specially” appoint councillors to a local government authority. It is an open secret that specially appointed councilors are BDP members, some having lost in the preceding election.

In his invocation of the provision in question, Molale appointed six BDP activists to the Sub-District Council. One of the councillors that Molale specially appointed to the Serowe Sub-District Council was Lesedi Phuthego, who had contested for the Serowe South parliamentary seat.

The special appointments mean that from the get-go, BDP had a superficial majority of 13 councillors while the winner, the BPF became the minority party with 11 councillors. On account of its numerical strength, the BDP not only made Phuthego Council Chairperson, it also hoarded the chairpersonship of all six sub-committees. Away from the circus of the full assembly where councillors typically play to the gallery, sub-committees, which make the most critical decisions, are where real power lies. Chairpersons of sub-committees constitute the even more powerful decision-making that supervises sub-committees – the Performance Monitoring Committee.

As in all even-number decision-making bodies, the Chairperson of the Serowe Sub-District Council has the casting vote. The latter is an extra vote given by a chairperson to decide an issue when the votes on each side are equal. While Kenalemang’s defection evened out party representation at 12 members on either side, the BDP retained tactical advantage in the form of Phuthego’s casting vote.

Going back to Sir Ketumile Masire (and possibly Seretse Khama’s) days, special appointment to local government authorities has always been a jobs-for-the-boys scheme. That is the nature of politics and it is guaranteed that the opposition will continue this practice when it finally assumes official power. Under President Mokgweetsi Masisi, there has been an odd development whose brazenness is deeply troubling because it reveals a mindset oriented towards rigging the outcome of an electoral process. While they fall under the Serowe South constituency, the Mogome-Mokgware and Radisele wards are administered from the Palapye Sub-District Council because it is more convenient to do so. Likewise, the Serule-Gojwane Ward, which falls under the Serowe North constituency, is administered from the Tonota Sub-District Council. Molale specially appointed two councillors from the Mogome-Mokgware Ward and rather than seat them in the Palapye Sub-District Council, he instead did so with the Serowe Sub-District Council. Likewise, he appointed a councillor from Serule-Gojwane and seated him in the same Council. Odder still, an elected councillor from the same ward was seated at the Tonota Sub-District Council.

Serowe North MP, Baratiwa Mathoothe, says that the sole intent of this musical chairs game was to neutralize the BPF’s numerical strength in the Serowe Sub-District Council.

“As we speak, we have an equal number of councillors but in democratic countries, you don’t have to kill the will of the people,” he says. “They have said we want BPF but the BDP opted to neutralize it by nominating specially-elected councillors.”

As his BPF comrades, Mathoothe points the finger of blame at Kgotla Autlwetse, the Assistant Minister of Local Government and Rural Development whom he (Mathoothe) beat in the 2019 general election. There can be no doubt that Autlwetse, a former Central District Council Chairperson and Serowe resident himself, would have played an important choreographer role in this musical chairs game. However, it is Molale, his boss, who was the chief choreographer. 

Ironically though, the game the BDP played is said to be undermining operational efficiency and boomeranging on the party itself.

From what Sunday Standard learns, the misplaced councillors are unable to represent the voice of the communities they come from because such communities are administered from another local government authority. They are also said to be unable to contribute meaningfully to debates in an authority that deals with issues from an area they are unfamiliar with. As just one example, a source says that the Serule-Gojwane councillor is often completely clueless when councillors (most of whom are Serowe residents) refer to village landmarks – “like Western Primary School.”

The BDP’s machinations may have boomeranged on it. There has been public reporting on how BPF councillors boycotted all sub-committees because they were angered by the BDP using its numerical strength to hoard the chairpersonships for the sub-committees. It turns out that the BDP was itself divided on this issue because all but one sub-committee are chaired by specially elected councillors. In the course of time, a very strong sentiment has congealed in the BDP bench that, as a token of appreciation for being rewarded with council seats, these chairpersons are veritable representatives of the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development and not the constituents within the sub-district. The elected councillors are bitter about both the snub for the chairpersonships as well as having been essentially hoodwinked into electing a leadership that prioritises the Ministry’s interests over that of constituents. More importantly, these councillors know how this situation might cost them during the 2024 general election and are fighting back. Resultantly, there are occasions when the BDP disgruntled team up with the BPF.

The level of political intrigue at the Serowe Sub-District Council will serve to reinforce belief held by some that the BDP rigged the 2019 general election.  A narrow definition of “rig” would require the hard evidence that the Umbrella for Democratic Change’s People’s Court was supposed to have long presented at a quasi-judicial forum that BPF would have financed. A broader definition would recognise the fact that an outcome can be rigged by manipulating electoral processes that lead to such outcome. On the basis of the latter, there is incontrovertible evidence of the BDP rigging the 2019 election in Serowe.

At this point, the 2019 elections are water under the bridge, water whose direction of flow no People’s Court contraption has been able to change. However, what happened in Serowe is really scary because it reveals that despite evidence that the BDP has come to the end of the road, the party may be determined to hold on to power by any means necessary.

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