Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Office of Leader of Opposition ripe with opportunity for entire minority bench

When we rowed into unchartered waters to establish the BMD, we were determined to introduce into our national politics, a party that would, inter alia, defend our democratic heritage, restore civil liberties and maintain Botswana as a liberal society founded on the rule of law.

In pursuit of this endeavour, we were clear this would be an exercise done in concert with like minded citizens and pro democracy organizations.

We had legitimate grievances that informed our departure from the BDP. But over and above internal organizational issues, we were disaffected with the manner in which the country is governed, and what we consider a campaign to undermine many of our distinguishing features as a nation. In the three months since coming onto the political scene, we have witnessed extraordinary levels of goodwill, unprecedented in the polity, to our cause.

The show of support is vital to keeping the project on track because were the nation less forthcoming, some would have hesitated to partner us on this historic journey.

Along the way, we have attracted the goodwill of citizens from across the spectrum, who in various ways are intent on making a contribution to the growth of our movement.

Initially dismissed as a grouping of dissidents unwilling to accept the new order in the BDP, we are drawing into our ranks ordinary people who find resonance in our demands for accountable leadership, respect for human rights and an end to the predatory behavior of a small coterie at the centre of power.

Never before have our citizens, many with no previous interest in domestic politics, being fired up in the manner unfolding before us, as our demand for an equal opportunity society chimes with them.

The huge crowds, unknown in Botswana politics, which attend our public rallies, are a clear illustration of our relevance at this critical point in the life of our country.

That the BMD is now a national project founded on a set of distinct principles and values is borne out by legislators and councilors without any history of acrimony with the BDP and its leadership, taking up our association. As things stand we are well on course to alter the political dynamics of our country and usher in the change that, though inevitable, is long overdue. It need be noted that we are mindful of our role. As the largest minority formation in parliament, we undertake to be a responsible opposition, loyal to our country and its Republican constitution.

We shall extend to the presidency and all arms of government the respect due to those offices. But parallel to such courtesies the BMD will be robust in challenging the administration on its shortcomings, in the course of which we will showcase alternative views and policies for a better Botswana.

In similar vein, this week’s realignment of seats in the national assembly, which paved way to our ascendancy to status of official opposition, humbles us.

It is a privilege that brings with it not only additional responsibilities but further strengthens our commitment to a cooperative partnership with our colleagues of the BCP and BNF on the minority benches.

Previous occupants have followed their own job description. However it is not our intention to use this office to exclusively advance the objectives of the BMD.

Rather we see its strategic value in demonstrating to the nation how opposition parties working together can act as a check to a disoriented government by articulating, in coherent fashion, the interests and aspirations of the citizenry.

Though the ruling party will invariably use its majority to thwart us, an organized and dynamic opposition bloc should be able to perform its oversight function and still raise vital issues over which the court of public opinion will reach a just verdict.

Of course, the BDP can use its majority in the legislature to have its way, but we will have our say. Despite our new status, the BMD parliamentary caucus is sobered by the fact that we will remain of marginal significance if it arrogates itself all the advantages that come with the status of official opposition.

To this end, genuine consideration should be given to the BCP and BNF having an input in the content of Leader of Opposition’s response to His Excellency’s state of the nation address.

The longer time allocated to the incumbent must be used for the benefit of the opposition bloc. Indeed we seem to be moving in the right direction. Recently, and following the decision of the EXCO of BMD on who to designate to the position, our caucus requested a meeting with both BCP and BNF caucuses to formally convey to them the decision.

An important outcome of that meeting was the creation of a joint opposition caucus chaired by myself, with Hon Dumelang Saleshando, leader of BCP as whip and Hon Abram Kesupile of BNF as secretary.

As we get ready for the negotiations on cooperation, such gestures do go a long way in building confidence and camaraderie around our common agenda for change in 2014. All avenues to establish rapport within the minority bench therefore need be explored because the old way of doing things has failed to bring the all important dividend of change. It is time for a more pragmatic approach.

Against this background, it is only proper that in instances where the Republican constitution compels the President to consult Leader of Opposition, the counsel of the joint opposition caucus be sought to inform discussions with the appointing authority. This will be applicable in terms of the Ombudsman Act where the President is required to consult before effecting appointment.

The same obtains to appointment of legislators who serve on the parliamentary committee on intelligence and security; as well as appointment of members of the tribunal that deals with public grievances arising from the conduct of the intelligence directorate.

It is evident opportunities abound where Leader of Opposition can utilize the office for the benefit of the collective. Beyond sitting in key parliamentary committees, the new standing orders adopted during the just ended seating of parliament provide for Leader of Opposition to make official statements on national and international issues on behalf of the majority opposition.

Again this cannot be an exclusive BMD platform but should serve the public interest by giving voice to matters identified by the minority bench as a whole.

Shifting to ceremonial, but no less important duties, an integral aspect of our democratic traditions is for Leader of Opposition to pay courtesy calls on visiting heads of state. This is a novel ritual much envied by many outside our borders. Subject to guidance from the relevant office, there is no reason why in the discharge of this stately function, leaders of other opposition parties or their representatives in parliament cannot accompany the incumbent on such interactions. Not only would this enhance the spirit of collegiality within our ranks, but also show the heads of state in question how in our country, the transaction of politics is non adversarial between all actors.

In closing, it would be unrealistic to expect sunshine and consensus all the time on the minority benches. With this cautionary note in mind, it is incumbent on all opposition legislators to utilize opportunities that avail themselves in parliament to promote the greater good over narrow partisan interest.

Working in unison, we can cover each other’s inadequacies and complement each other’s strengths.

*Hon Botsalo Ntuane is Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly of Botswana.


Read this week's paper