The Botswana Democratic Party Central Committee meeting held early last week came close to reaching a decision to expel Specially Elected Member of Parliament, Botsalo Ntuane, from the party, Sunday Standard has learnt.
This was after President Ian Khama set the tone of the forum by telling the party high command that he was personally annoyed and hurt by the remarks attributed to Ntuane in the Botswana Gazette sometime last month.
Interviewed on the new Liquor Regulations, Ntuane told Botswana Gazette editor, Aubrey Lute, that he was against the rules that government was introducing.
The intellectually exuberant MP went on to say that he looked down at the regulations as “state harassment.”
In the interview, Ntuane supported the decision by the Liquor Association to take government to court.
Botswana Gazette quoted him saying he was of the view that the regulations had to be reviewed.
He further asserted that as they (the regulations) stood, they were turning Botswana into a fundamentalist state.
“Very soon we will not be different from countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia where people are told what time to sleep, what music to listen to and which movies to watch.”
BDP insiders pointed out this week that President Ian Khama was “totally unhappy” with Ntuane’s remarks, a position he made very clear to the Central Committee on Monday.
“I have never seen Ian Khama so angry. It is not often that he personally gets categorical about an issue. His strategy is always to stay in the shadows and get a few people to do his biding. This time we were surprised that he pushed his agenda personally,” said an insider that attended the meeting.
Taking their cue from the party president, many voices immediately joined in and said something had to be done immediately about the “recalcitrant” Ntuane.
With some calling either for a summary expulsion or suspension pending investigations, a few voices called for calm, warning against plunging the party into an avoidable public relations crisis.
A compromise was reached when a few voices sympathetic to Ntuane insisted on a compromise stance under which the youthful member would be forced to verbally apologise to the Party Chairman, Daniel Kwelagobe, Vice President Mompati Merafhe and Secretary General Jacob Nkate before writing another apology to the media retracting his views on liquor regulations.
It was also suggested that a high powered delegation be sent out to prevail on the MP to publicly retract his words failing which he could expect drastic disciplinary action.
It was then that Ntuane was called to Merafhe’s office where he was told point blank what options were open to him.
An agreement was hammered out under which Ntuane would stitch out a retraction to be endorsed by party Chairman, Vice President and party Secretary General before it was sent out to the local media.
In the retraction, Ntuane states that “in hindsight I have decided to retract the more intemperate language and unfortunate analogies as I hereby do. Specifically, the reference to a fundamentalist state comparable to Iran and Saudi Arabia is regrettable. It was never my intention to either denigrate or question our well established track record as a functioning multi party democracy in which constitutionally enshrined freedoms and civil liberties are respected.”
To underscore the seriousness of the scare caused by the whole episode even the usually media-friendly BDP Executive Secretary was cagey when asked this week if Ntuane had been asked to retract by the party and government.
“This is a difficult matter. You will have to talk to Ntuane,” said Batlang Serema.
Hard pressed to say what really transpired, Serema struggled for words before lamely adding that it was a purely Ntuane initiative involving neither the party nor the government.
In various fora, Ntuane, who is one of the ruling party’s most liberal, respected and intellectually savvy MPs, has faced condemnation and heavy criticism from his party for publicly opposing party regulations.
Batswana were exposed to Ntuane early this year when he became the first from the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) to advise club owners, liquor traders and bar owners to take the government to court for unfairly imposing the liquor regulations without proper prior consultation.
The news media has for long speculated that it has become apparent to all that members of parliament who are part of the ruling party will have no choice but succumb to decisions made by cabinet with no room for independent debate and thinking.
Opposition parties have ruled this as a dictatorial practice while those in the ruling party allegedly view it as presenting a united front of a team that is in top form and level-headed.
Party members are said to have been informed that they have the right to criticize some legislations passed by their government and air their views but that should be done constructively following the party’s properly laid out rules of conduct.