Sometime ago, Spencer Mogapi made an appeal to this country’s intellectuals to contribute to national debate acknowledging that, as journalists, they sometimes lack the necessary knowledge to properly interrogate issues. This request was subsequently followed by an editorial at the end of last year in which Sunday Standard advanced itself, rightly so, as a platform on which the nation spoke to itself.
Of late, I have been disappointed by the failure of the Sunday Standard to take note of these two positions in its reporting and columns.
Spencer Mogapi has been at the forefront in calling for the establishment of a declaration of assets law. I have set out in the Sunday Standard of 2-8 March 2008 the position of our constitution as regards this subject. I advanced in the article that Section 62(b) of the constitution required declaration of assets as an eligibility requirement for anyone to be a candidate for office of Member of Parliament. I further showed that in terms of Section 34(2) of our constitution the President shall cease to hold office if he falls foul of Section 62(b) at anytime during his term office.
I also proposed that voters are entitled to demand that candidates declare their assets to ensure compliance with Section 62(b). This position does not require a declaration of assets law.
Section 34(2) of our constitution requires the President to declare his assets. This is because if he does not the nation can never be in a position to know whether he does not fall foul of Section 62(b).
Our constitution makes a distinction between the President and Members of Parliament. In the case of the President Section 62(b) is a continuing requirement. In the case of Members of Parliament it is an eligibility requirement.
The Watchdog, in the last issue of the Sunday Standard, raises the subject of declaration of assets. I am disappointed by its treatment of the subject for the following reasons:
The column fails to take note of my suggestion on candidate declaration of assets, as a consequence of Section 62(b), and casts voters as helpless in this matter. I find this position to be disappointing in that it reinforces voter apathy. It suggests that voters can only make an appeal to Members of Parliament when, in reality, they have power to influence the issue.
It is difficult to see how voters can sustain the request for declaration of assets (post election) when they have failed to ensure it as an eligibility requirement as required by the constitution.
The Watchdog again ignores the constitutional duty of parliament to make laws for the order, peace and good government of the country. If the Watchdog took note of this constitutional duty, it will realize that the voter needs only ask whether it is good governance for Members of Parliament to fail to declare their assets. This has the effect of shifting the onus to Members of Parliament to explain how failure to have a declaration of assets law advances good government.
In terms of our constitution, it is parliament that makes law, not cabinet. Whether Rre Skelemani was for a declaration of assets law or not, is neither here nor there. The question is why parliament has not seen it fit to make the law. Had the Watchdog taken note of this, it would have realized that Rre Skelemani’s role in this matter is irrelevant.
Also disappointing is the suggestion that the opposition take up the matter in order to take a higher moral standing and to redeem itself in the eyes of the voters. Had the columnist taken note of my explanation of Section 62(b) of the constitution he would have realized that the opposition is in no position to do as he asks. The opposition itself violated Section 62(b) of the constitution. If it had complied with Section 62(b) Rre Moupo would not have been put forward as a candidate for it has since emerged that at the time that he ran for Gaborone West North he owed other opposition parties money and they had agreed with him about payment of the debt and he had not discharged the debt. They are, therefore, in no position to take a higher moral position on this issue.
The Watchdog has also been at the forefront in calling for abandonment of automatic succession.
I have gone to great length to set out the correct position of our constitution on the subject of presidential succession. In the process, I have shown that automatic succession is not part of our law. Without demonstrating what is wrong with my submissions, the Watchdog raises the subject of automatic succession as if it is part of our law.
This position is compounded by the fact that when I first raised the subject, the Sunday Standard took it upon itself to contact the Attorney General and Rre Pilane for their input. Subsequent to their submissions I set out flaws in their submissions. The Sunday Standard has never indicated that it approached these people for a reaction.
Whether by design or not, the Watchdog, by raising the subject of automatic succession at a general level as it does, legitimizes the flawed positions of the Attorney General and Rre Pilane.
The Watchdog has also taken a position on the subject of prudent management of our economy and cautioning against throwing money at problems. No problems have been identified to which the government is likely to throw money. And no argument has been advanced to show that throwing money at these problems is not the right way to go.
In my view, the position taken by the Watchdog fails to recognize the fact that the sole purpose of an economic system is to meet to needs of a given society. The Watchdog should note that those who live in poverty have a tough time accepting that their continued poverty is evidence of prudent management of the economy.
If the Watchdog takes this pro poor perspective, it will realize that what is at issue is our citizen economists’ lack of imagination. Instead of rubbishing government initiatives they should take on the task of formulating economic policies that advance the best interests of our people. They should stop recycling other peoples’ economic theories and then setting these theories as limitations on what the country can do for its people. They should stretch the envelope of human knowledge.
The Watchdog does not even attempt to reconcile the claim of prudent management of the economy and stories that the Sunday Standard itself carried regarding previous governments’ positions on diamond beneficiation. How can this failure to heed Rre Magang and other proponents of beneficiation’s calls be evidence of prudent management? The nation lost opportunity to acquire experience in this area. How can loss of opportunity be called prudent management?
For a long time, projects have not been implemented supposedly because of lack of finance. We have for ages had one Minister of Finance. If the country were a private company and it was told by its Finance Manager year in year out that there was a shortage of finance for expansion of product lines, the company would replace the Finance Manager with someone who could raise finance.
The tune has also for years been that projects are not implemented because of lack of capacity. Those of us in the private sector wonder what capacity the government wants to access when we do not have work on our desks. I would expect a Watchdog to request the Minister to demonstrate how he has arrived at the conclusion that there is a lack of capacity.
The Watchdog has also been at the forefront in calling for a Freedom of Information Act. Its position on declaration of assets strengthens the hand of those who are opposed to this law. They can legitimately argue that since our journalists are incapable of digesting information already in the public domain their main focus is gossip. After all, the isolation of Rre Skelemani from the rest of the cabinet is founded on nothing but gossip.
On the issue of attachment of graduates to government departments and the budget, one needs to understand what has been going on in this country. We have trained a lot of foreigners. In the private sector we have come across foreigners in government who, in their poor home countries, never saw a project from inception to completion. The best they had done was to oversee maintenance of public standpipes under a United Nations grant. We gave them an opportunity to learn to design and deliver a complete village water reticulation system, why should we not do the same for our children.
I believe that very often in this country we waste time and energy discussing issues which, had we bothered to study and understand our constitution, we would find out they have already been settled. In fact, this is one of the reasons why, for me, there is no need for a constitutional review. If we cannot digest and respect our simple constitution how do we hope to deal with a complex and detailed one? We must first understand that which we have.
The Sunday Standard has contributed immensely to the caliber of debate in this country. It must tread carefully and not become guilty of lowering standards. It should avoid rushing to glorify people and putting them on a pedestal without seriously interrogating the issues involved. The Sunday Standard must understand that it carries a lot of weight. Its influence can be positive or negative.
The ideas’ battlefield is papers like Sunday Standard. The controller of the platform, whether consciously or not, may dictate the outcome. If the platform is off balance it may allow an inferior idea to prevail and get a lease on life that it would otherwise not have. This will be to the detriment of our nation, for it would be robbed of a good idea in much the same way that we lost the opportunity had we started beneficiation when the idea was first canvassed.