In the interest of public understanding this Office feels compelled to clarify issues surrounding press coverage of Cabinet. In the process we hope to dispel the false suggestion that longstanding restrictions barring reporters from witnessing the deliberations of Cabinet and its committee’s are somehow an assault on any section of the media.
Ordinary Cabinet meetings are Chaired by H.E. the President and is attended by His Honour the Vice President, Ministers, the Attorney General and Permanent Secretary to the President, whose duties include serving as Cabinet Secretary. The only officials who otherwise attend said meetings are the Clerks of Cabinet.
As is commonly the case throughout the world, Cabinet meetings are held behind closed doors, their proceedings being strictly secret in order to allow for fulsome debate on often sensitive issues, while upholding the good governance principle of collective responsibility.
Cabinet also occasionally holds extended meetings known as Economic Committee of Cabinet, wherein Assistant Ministers, Permanent Secretaries and, at times, additional key stakeholders such as heads of agencies and/or parastatals attend.
Cabinet also meets with other lawmakers as members of the All Party Caucus when Parliament is sitting. The High Level Consultative Committee (HLCC) chaired by His Excellency is another prominent forum attended by Cabinet.
In each of the above examples of Cabinet activity, the Press are not invited to witness the deliberations, except on occasion for opening photo-op and possible opening remarks.
The Media may otherwise only be informed of solutions, decisions or any conclusions reached subsequent to these meetings.
In order to extend the consultative fora of government, H.E. the President has recently decided to convene a series of meetings between Cabinet and Local Authority Councils, which like other Cabinet deliberations, are thus restricted to press coverage of the opening photo-op.
Given the above, we are disappointed that some members of the private media feign ignorance of these longstanding procedures, and have gone so far as to suggest that this Office is somehow engaged in a media blackout.
We wish to reassure Batswana that notwithstanding such misguided assertions Government remains committed to inform Botswana through appropriate channels, including both the public and private press, with accurate information.
But, just as private and parastatal businesses, including media houses, do not broadcast their board meetings, Government has a responsibility to determine which meetings, more especially those involving deliberations by members of Cabinet, are open in whole or part to the Public.
*Dr Ramsay is Deputy Permanent secretary (Media) and Head of Government Communications (BGCIS)