Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Masisi rushed population census to provide fodder for the delimitation commission  

A directive by President Mokgweetsi Masisi forced Statistics Botswana to undertake the rigorousprocess of Population and Housing Census five months earlier than was planned.

The order believed to be motivated by political considerations, has resulted in the exercise getting off to a bad start, consequently compromising the outcome of the 2022 Census. Masisi practically offered Statistics Botswana a blank cheque to fast track the census, Sunday Standard has been informed.

Statistics Botswana confirmed challenges in carrying out their mandate in a prior interview with Sunday Standard.

“There were some teething glitches that led to the slow start, with transport shortage and the need to configure the electronic data collection tablets correctly for each Census district being the main ones. Challenges particularly at the early stages of implementation can be expected in a project of this magnitude and complexity,” Communications Manager Lillian Mogami played down the countrywide challenges.

Masisi pushed forward the date for the census in order to allow enough time for the delimitation commission to make recommendations on whether to increase the number of constituencies in time for the 2024 general elections.

The President made a rare appearance in Parliament last past week following a decision by the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) caucus to preempt the outcome of the delimitation report. Masisi backed a motion by Gaborone North legislator Mpho Balopi calling for an amendment to the constitution that would make room for four more constituencies. Balopi tabled an urgent motion calling for the House to resolve “…as a matter of urgency to allow for the amendment of Section 58 (2) (a) of the Constitution of the Republic of Botswana to increase the number of Elected Members of the National Assembly from 57 to 61.”

Masisi said it was critical to give the Commission (yet to be formed) the numbers to “guide” them. He said the motion was brought on a certificate of urgency because it would cost the tax payer if Parliament were to reconvene during vacation period.

Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) legislator Goretetse Kekgonegile questioned the wisdom behind the motion saying they should have waited for the ongoing Constitutional Review consultations. “We do not know what the public is going to say about our electoral system. We may need to be guided by public opinion.”

Leader of Opposition (LOO) Dumelang Saleshando also questioned the timing of the motion. “The President is not on top of his game,” Saleshando said. “Botswana has never amended the constitution as a matter of urgency. President Masisi is the first president of this Republic to do so because he is sleeping on his job. He lacks the very same ‘inclusivity’ that formed the basis of his elections campaign,” Saleshando said in Parliament this past Thursday.

The findings and recommendations of the Delimitation Commission are expected to provide guidance for the exercise of increasing constituencies. The mandate, powers and functions of the Commission are set out in section 65 of the Constitution which provides as follows:
“(1) Whenever a Delimitation Commission has been appointed the Commission shall as soon as practicable submit to the President a report which shall state whether any alteration is necessary to the boundaries of the constituencies in order to give effect to subsection (2) of this section or in consequence of any alteration in the number of seats of Elected Members in the National Assembly and where any alteration is necessary shall include a list of the constituencies delimited by the Commission and a description of the boundaries of those constituencies.”

Subsection (2) goes on to say “The boundaries of each constituency shall be such that the number of inhabitants thereof is as nearly equal to the population quota as is reasonably practicable: Provided that the number of inhabitants of a constituency may be greater or less than the population quota in order to take account of natural community of interest, means of communication, geographical features, density of population, and the boundaries of Tribal Territories and administrative districts.”

These developments are based on the data provided by the Housing and Population Census which precedes the formation of the Delimitation Commission. It remains anyone’s guess what informed the four extra constituencies recommended by the ruling party. While the power to increase the number of seats of the Elected Members in the National Assembly lies with Parliament only and not the Commission, the amendments are guided by recommendations based on the census. When the last Commission was appointed (2012) following the 2011 census, Parliament had not made any provision altering the number of seats of the Elected Members in the National Assembly. In the case of the 1992 Delimitation Commission that followed the 1991 population census, the number of seats of Elected Members in the National Assembly was increased by Parliament only after the Delimitation Commission had already been appointed.


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