Monday, March 8, 2021

Inside Botswana’s authoritarian executive and rubber stamping parliament

Ask Selebi Phikwe West Member of Parliament, Ditlhapelo Keorapetse what parliament was up to last Friday and his answer is likely to be “rubber stamping”. Last Friday, mid morning, Finance Minister Kenneth Matambo presented a P1.32 billion supplementary budget for the 2015/6 financial year before Parliament. The supplementary budget presented by Matambo shows that Botswana needs a total of P1.32 billion to mitigate various problems, chief amongst them power and electricity.

Although parliament passed the budget, not all of them were happy about it. Gaborone Bonnington South MP, Ndaba Gaolatlhe said the process of scrutinizing the appropriation was “embarrassing”. He opines that the process is not even formalised.

“It still puzzles me how a committee that is supposed to evaluate moneys in the billions does not have formalised criteria for looking at this…..and I will always fight for this process.”

Although he is a member of the Parliamentary Finance and Estimates Committee, which gave the green light to the budget, Gaolatlhe says he has some reservations with the process of approving such huge amount of money.

The soft speaking MP argues that at a committee level, the process must have atleast five key high level criteria. “The first would be the impact on the system should we not give a particular approval. There are certain things for which if we do not give an approval the country would simply collapse, we would have to consider that. The second is that, we need to have a very clear idea of what the social and economic returns are for that specific approval, we do not have that scoring criteria as a committee. The third is that we must always be sure that those asking for the money have the capacity to implement and manage risk associated with the money that they are asking for.”

The fourth and fifth criteria according to Gaolatlhe is the need to be able to score how sustainable the expenditure is as well as the criteria that the approved budget is absolutely an emergency.

For his part, Gaborone Bonnington North MP, Duma Boko said it was “singularly improper” for the executive to disburse and utilise the public finances through Presidential directives, only to come to parliament and ask for ratification.

“Right now you are asking for P826m budget estimates for BPC for Parliament to ratify which money you have already disbursed. That is wrong. It is a practice we condemn and discourage. It is against the constitution,” Boko decried, citing sections from the Constitution.

The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) leader, who is a notable lawyer, had to give a few lessons to the Parliamentary counsel whose interpretation of the law on the matter was contradictory.

“President Directives should not supersede the constitution. It is improper and should be discouraged.”

Botswana Congress Party’s Dithapelo Keorapetse shared the same sentiments and maintained that “rubber stamping” is increasingly becoming a trend.

 “Year in and year out we are requested to adopt budget estimates for the Ministries. The high command should be taught fiscal discipline. Their failure to account for their own budgetary plans should not be permitted under the cover of budget estimates,” he added.

Keorapetse also called for a Budget Office which should be independent and non-partisan to monitor advice and scrutinize the budget system of the country.

Nata Gweta MP, Paulsen Majaga argued that while the Government is known to inject huge sums of money into various parastatals including BPC and WUC, nothing on the ground is convincing about the usage of these funds.

“In my constituency, Nata residents are suffering from shortage of water despite sitting on abundance of water in the ground. China community has long time contributed to the water facility at their own expenses for the same to be reticulated and nothing has been done to date. I am a clever man. I will at times go out of this house instead of sanctioning billions of money with no progress on the ground. We make this Government together,” Majaga added to the applause and cherish of the opposition MPs.

The Friday “endorsement” comes after parliament made another approval of a transaction which was seen as a “rubber stamp” last year that involved government owned diamond selling company, Okavango Trading Company (ODC) and one of the leading commercial banks.

Under the deal, the company secured a close to P1 billion loan from Standard Chartered Bank Botswana with the help of Matambo. The debt deal was then endorsed by parliament despite its admission of not knowing about its parameters.

Under normal circumstances, Matambo was required by law to seek approval from parliament before guaranteeing the loan which the Okavango Trading Company solicited from Stanchartered Bank Botswana. Matambo signed the loan facility which covers a period of ten years on condition that ratification would be facilitated in the next suiting of parliament which is the current one. 

On Friday, Matambo told parliament that a Presidential Directive Cab 4 (B)/2015 approved a cash injection to support WUC operations and special warrant of 560, 000, 000 was issued to augment the water planning and development project. At the same time, Matambo says the BPC Finance programme has been increased by P826, 800, 000.

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