Monday, September 28, 2020

“Khama acting beyond his powers” ÔÇô legal opinions

President Ian Khama does not have the power to make most of the unilateral appointments he is making to the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) structures, the party Central Committee has been advised.

The party is currently grappling with a difficult choice: grant President Khama the dictatorial powers he craves, or demand a return to democratic values. The Party Central Committee recently sought legal opinions from Collins Newman & Company, Advocate Sidney Pilane and Advocate Peter Collins on the powers of the party president in relation to the party central committee and whether Khama’s “unilateral decisions” since the Kanye Congress were within his constitutional authority.

Advocate Pilane and Advocate Collins concur that Khama did not have the constitutional authority to make the decisions.

Collins Newman & Company, who is both BDP lawyers and Khama’s personal attorneys, are yet to submit their opinion.

The firm has, however, preempted central committee discussions on the divisive issue and flighted press statements in the media, maintaining that Khama had the constitutional authority to make the decisions.
A senior partner at the firm, Parks Tafa, said he flighted the press release upon direct instructions from President Khama.

The BDP Central Committee has, however, distanced itself from the press statement by Collins Newman & Company and asked the public to disregard it.

“That statement by the said Attorneys was unauthorized by the Party, and was not issued on behalf of the Party. Attorneys Collins Newman & Company has no authority to speak for the BDP. We repudiate them and their statement, and request the public to disregard it. The subject of the press release issued by these Attorneys is a matter of internal concern to the BDP, and it was not appropriate for them to expose it to the public. It is our hope that these Attorneys will refrain from conduct that undermines our relationship with them. Theirs cannot be proper and professional conduct, certainly not of the type that an attorney ought to engage in when conducting the affairs of his client,” stated a press release signed by the party Secretary General Gomolemo Motswaledi.

Furthermore, the BDP Secretary General says he found the statement by Collins Newman & Company “emotive and unprofessional”.

“There is a matter within the party concerning the powers of the president of the party on which there is a difference of opinion as between him and the Central Committee. The matter is of a legal nature, and is best resolved by obtaining expert legal opinion on it. It was to achieve this that the party sought written legal opinions from Sidney Pilane, Peter Collins, and Collins Newman & Company.
All three were required to submit their opinions to the party. Messrs Pilane and Collins have already done so. We are deeply disappointed that Collins Newman & Company decided to publish theirs to the public rather than give it to us who had requested it of them.”
Motswaledi further urged the party “not to allow distractions such as the conduct of Attorneys Collins Newman & Company to cause them to take their eyes off the ball. Of the greatest importance to the Party and the country at this time is that we should win those elections convincingly.”

In an interview with Sunday Standard, Parks Tafa said it was most regrettable that Motswaledi had made such remarks.
He said, in effect, Motswaledi seems to question whether President Khama has any powers to act as the party’s spokesperson.

“The issue here is not what the firm did or did not do. The issue is whether President Ian Khama is indeed the principal spokesperson of the party, on both national and international matters,” said Tafa.

Tafa said the President had felt strongly that all the democrats and members of the general public had the right to know what was happening inside the ruling party.

“Following confirmation from us as lawyers of the party that all his decisions and actions were in accordance with the constitution of the party, in his wisdom, the President requested that the opinion from party lawyers be made public,” said Tafa.
“Thus it is factually incorrect that instead of giving Motswaledi & Co the legal opinion sought from Collins Newman & Co we decided to take it to the press. Issuing of the press statement had nothing to do with the so called request for a legal opinion,” Tafa added.

Tafa continued that having asked opinions from Attorneys Peter Collins and Sidney Pilane, it does not make sense to him why a third opinion is sought from Collins Newman & Co, “unless, of course, if he [Motswaledi] has ulterior motives”.

On another matter, Tafa said President Khama is concerned that the new Central Committee, or at least some members of it, seems to want to communicate their relationship with him not through dialogue, but through the media “and more recently through the lawyers”.

On whether his firm will be furnishing a legal opinion sought by Motswaledi, Tafa said upon his return from Johannesburg, he will assemble the firm’s partners to determine whether or not it was worthwhile.

Investigations by Sunday Standard have since revealed that relations between President Khama and the new BDP Central Committee have collapsed so irretrievably that it will not be long before the two parties meet one another in court.

There are also hints that Khama could call a Special Congress after the General Elections at ask the party members to resolve the impasse between him and the Central Committee.

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Sunday Standard September 27 – 3 October

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 27 - 3 October, 2020.