Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Mabiletsa urges setting up of constitutional commission

Kgatleng West MP Isaac Mabiletsa has requested a review of Botswana’s constitution with a view to allow for direct election of a president, slashing of the President’s powers and incorporation of socio-economic rights.

Presenting his motion on the establishment of a commission made up of regional and international experts, Mabiletsa said that there is an urgent need to align the country’s constitution with modern day democratic norms and practices.

“I am one of those who belong to that strong body of opinion across the country that considers piecemeal constitutional amendments…as no longer an ideal route to follow but rather I advocate for Government to consider setting a comprehensive constitutional review commission to undertake extensive consultation with all stakeholders countrywide,” Mabiletsa told Parliament.

“The mandate of this commission would be to make extensive consultations countrywide with Batswana, as well as benchmarking with countries with good models of constitution, and then rewrite and produce draft constitution which shall be ideal for modern day Botswana,” said Mabiletsa.

Mabiletsa said that there is a need for reform because currently the Botswana President does not enjoy popular support but merely cashes in on ‘fortunes of popular support expressed to Parliamentary candidates’. He stressed that there is a need for a direct election of President hence an overhaul of Section 32 of the Botswana constitution which deals with election of President.
The legislator also expressed misgivings about the fact that the Botswana constitution vests executive power on the President.

Mabiletsa said that he favours a constitution that distributes executive power on cabinet as a collective.

“The president must still become the principal face and spokesperson of Government of the day which he or she leads and to pronounce government policy positions and initiatives,” he stated.

While applauding the Botswana constitution for explicitly providing for tenure of office for the President, he said that the constitution should also extend the same to Members of Parliament. Mabiletsa argued that in order to avoid a power vacuum, it is prudent for the dissolution of parliament not to affect MPs’ tenure of office until a new MP has been elected.

“The scenario whereby MPs vacate office before a new one is elected pits them against their electorates, particularly those seeking re-election because they continue to receive demand for services from the electorates,” he stated.

He also stated that Section 87 of the Constitution, which gives the President power to dissolve parliament if he does not agree with a proposed law, should be scrapped. He argued that a modern constitution would guard against premature prohibition of parliament if the executive does not agree with the legislative arm of government.

He said that the provision should be replaced by one that pushes for bargaining between the two arms of government in case of a deadlock over legislation.

Lastly, he also suggested a broadening of the scope of the bill of rights by including socio-economic rights and cultural rights.

“I believe the issue of housing, water, health care, social security and environment should have space for inclusion in the constitution of the republic,” he said, adding that cultural, religious and linguistic rights of communities should also be included in the constitution. The motion is expected to be debated by parliament next week Friday.

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