The Office of the President moved swiftly this week to purge senior staff members at the National Assembly who are believed to have rebuffed President Lt Gen Ian Khama’s demand for a written undertaking that the election of the Speaker, Deputy Speaker and endorsement of his choice of Vice President will be by show of hands and not by secret ballot as prescribed by Parliament Standing orders.
Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) and President Khama’s lawyers, Collins Newman & Company had on the eve of the elections slapped the Speaker Margaret Nasha and the Clerk of the National Assembly Barbara Dithapo with a letter of demand for “an unequivocal, unconditional written undertaking by 12 noon on 24th October 2014” that the voting for the Speaker, Deputy Speaker and the endorsement of President Khama’s choice of Vice president would be by show of hands and not by secret ballot as per the Parliament Standing Orders.
President Khama’s position was supported by Attorney General Athaliah Molokomme whom met the Speaker and the Clerk to try and convince them to accede to the demand by the president’s lawyers. Nasha and Dithapo however would not accede to the President’s demands allegedly on the advice of the Parliamentary Counsel thebe Ramokhua. The office of the President this week moved swiftly are redeployed Ramokhua to the Attorney General Chambers with ‘with immediate effect.’ Ramokhua has since been replaced by Bojotlhe Kgomotso Morolong from the Attorney General Chambers.
According to the Government Gazette dated October 29, Morolong has been appointed Acting Parliamentary Counsel. Ramokhua who received a letter redeploying him on October 30 is expected to report for work at the Attorney General tomorrow Monday. Sources within government corridors said this week “It is clear that the drafting of the appointment and redeployment were done in haste.” Sunday Standard has it on good authority that next on the list of those to be redeployed is Clerk of the National Assembly Barbara Dithapo. While she confirmed that she was waiting for the outcome of the case that challenges the Parliament’s amended Standing Orders from the sidelines, Nasha confirmed “that Ramokhua has been redeployed with immediate effect.” She however said she was not aware of Dithapo’s transfer “because I’m not on duty pending the outcome of the court case.”
She said there is also confusion because under normal circumstances immediately after Members of Parliament have been sworn in, there should be election of Speaker of the National Assembly. “That is why people are confused,” she said. Next on the hit list is Nasha who will face former Botswana Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Gladys Kokorwe who is sponsored by President Khama to challenge Nasha for the position of Speaker of the National Assembly. “The staff that worked under Nasha, just like her are principled individuals. They gave the Executive a hard time hence the need to redeploy them. The Executive wants new faces that will work under Kokorwe and take instructions accordingly,” said a source.
At some stage Ramokhua gave Parliament a legal opinion that clashed with the position of the Attorney General Athaliah Molokomme on Constitutional Amendment motions brought before Parliament by MPs. The Attorney General is the Cabinet legal advisor, while the Parliamentary Counsel is appointed by the Attorney General as parliament legal advisor. Ramokhua is also reported to have rubbed the Executive the wrong way after he authored a paper where he outlines the difficulties of serving the Executive and Legislature at the same time. In his paper, Ramokhua says parliament is an arena ordinarily thick with political intrigue. He says the challenge of walking the tight rope of neutrality and the rendering of balanced and objective legal advice is an intrinsic part of a day in the life of a Parliamentary legal counsel.
“What compounds the playing field in Botswana all the more, is that the Parliamentary Legal Counsel is de-facto a member of the Attorney General’s Chambers which serves the executive arm of Government for the better part of the time and is a mere secondee to the legislature. The challenge of allegiance, in serving at the confluence of the two arms of government, is one that demands the singular discharge of objective legal advice, at the pain of perceptions that may be generated in the clash of interests between the two arms of government.
This conflict of interest, is all the more heightened, by the fact that the Botswana Parliamentary service is not independent from the executive, and continues to be subordinated to the executive arm of Government, with the consequent challenges that are readily discernible to the detriment of the legislature.” He said these matters of conflict of interest, which all too often the parliamentary counsel has to contend with, are at the heart of an emerging national debate on the question of the independence of parliament.