A teacher in his early civil service years, Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi brought his red pen to parliament last week and wrote “see me” on the script of one of parliament’s star pupils.
“In the response that Honourable Boko proffered, it is very clear that he either did not understand or he chose not to understand the budget, or both together at the same time,” Masisi said in describing the quality of the response to the 2018/19 budget speech by the Leader of the Opposition, Duma Boko. “In his response, it was clear that Honourable Boko was in another world.”
The Vice President, who ascends on April 1 when President Ian Khama steps down, said that Boko’s lacklustre performance was a result of him not getting the usual assistance he had been getting in the past.
“It was patently apparent that his erstwhile able assistant or author of his previous speeches did not author the response this time. I can confirm that I did confront the Honourable Member who used to author those responses, Mr. Speaker, and they too confirmed to me that, not this one,” said Masisi, never once revealing the identity of that erstwhile able assistant.
Then again, he may not have had to because those who have been following opposition politics would have noted that for the first time since 2015, the Gaborone Bonnington South MP, Ndaba Gaolathe, didn’t deliver the response to the budget speech on behalf of Boko. When that happened, both were part of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), Boko as leader of both the latter and the Botswana National Front and Gaolathe as UDC Deputy President and President of the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD). Last year, Gaolathe acrimoniously left both UDC and BMD to form the Alliance for Progressives (AP) which he is president of. Relations between AP and UDC are anything but cordial and ahead of this year’s budget speech, it was evident that Gaolathe, who is the only financial economist in parliament, was not going to respond to the speech on behalf of the Leader of the Opposition.
Masisi was understandably dealing with the issue from a political perspective and used the rough-edged language of partisanship. He never really detailed how Boko’s response was qualitatively different this time around. One of the points that he could credibly have made is that the texture of Boko’s response was light on economics, strategy and specifics and heavy on politics, wordplay and generalities. In his own response, Gaolathe articulated and crystallised economic issues the way you would expect a highly trained financial economist with international consultancy experience to.
If nothing else, this episode amply demonstrates how important it is for opposition parties to work together. Boko is a brilliant and highly accomplished lawyer who is consistently able to hold his own in parliamentary debates. However, he can’t articulate issues of finance and investment with Gaolathe’s clarity and depth of knowledge. The decision to have Gaolathe respond on Boko’s behalf was a strategy to have each expert stick to his lane and worked very well. The current dissension in the ranks has eroded this strong point in opposition politics.
Naturally, BNF members thought that Boko did a good job and the Molepolole North MP, Mohammad Khan, took offence at what Masisi said. A verbal fight soon broke out and Khan would end up getting literally thrown out of the house over this issue.