The Botswana National Front Vice President and Kgatleng East Member of Parliament, Isaac Mabiletsa, has dismissed Leader of Opposition Botsalo Ntuane’s motion on referendum for constitutional review will, instead, table a motion calling for a comprehensive constitutional review in the November sitting of parliament.
Mabiletsa on Friday confirmed that he had filed a motion requesting government to set up a Constitutional Review Commission that would undertake the process of soliciting the views of all Batswana countrywide about a comprehensive review of the constitution.
“The aim is to bring the constitution in line with modern day constitutional norms and standards. Our constitution has remained unchanged for too long. It’s time to improve it and bring it up to date,” said Mabiletsa.
Mabiletsa’s motion comes only weeks after Bakgatla paramount Chief Kgafela Kgafela made an application to the High Court, asking for the constitution of Botswana to be set aside as it is a fraudulent document that was enacted without any input from Batswana.
Asked if his motion is timed to lend support to Kgafela’s application, Mabiletsa said he has never discussed the issue with Kgafela, and that he speaks as a politician while Kgafela speaks as a paramount chief. He, however, admitted that the issue is a burning issue in Kgatleng.
Mabiletsa agrees with Kgafela that the constitution was endorsed without proper consultation with Batswana. He said the constitution aimed to erode the powers of dikgosi and vest more powers on the political leadership.
At the time, Kgosi Lenchwe II of Bakgatla, Kgosi Kebalepile Mokgosi of Baletse, Kgosi Bathoeng II of Bangwaketse and Kgosi Montshiwa of Barolong wrote a letter to the colonial masters complaining about the lack of consultation. The dikgosi were also worried that the constitution would erode a lot of their powers and reduce them to public servants and subjects of political appointees.
“We must now review the constitution to see how we can restore more powers to dikgosi. I know that dikgosi have been complaining about this issue for years, and it’s time we addressed their concerns,” said Mabiletsa.
He said the constitution must be changed to be relevant to present day challenges.
While he agrees that the constitution has worked well for Batswana so far, Mabiletsa said Batswana are now agitating for a review. The review, he said, will look into, among others, the way the president is elected into office and the excessive powers that the presidency enjoys.
“The president enjoys all these powers, but he is not elected by the people. Instead, he is a beneficiary of the hard work and toil of MPs. So long as the presidency is not elected, its legitimacy will always be in question,” said Mabiletsa.
He added that the standard practice in almost all SADC countries is that a president is directly elected into office. He said a constitutional review is long overdue, as Botswana is lagging behind in international law and constitutional compliance.
However, Mabiletsa disagreed with Kgafela’s call for the constitution to be set aside, saying this will create unprecedented problems. He said he only seeks for Batswana to be given an opportunity to review the constitution and make changes where necessary.
“That will also put the question of whether Batswana were consulted or not to rest,” said Mabiletsa.
He also shot down the motion that will be tabled by the Leader of the Opposition Botsalo Ntuane, calling for a referendum on whether the constitution should be reviewed or not.
“I believe the call for a constitutional review is overwhelming, so a referendum is really not necessary. In fact, a referendum might not be binding in that it will only garner a yes or no answer,” said Mabiletsa.