Opposition councillors last week dismissed President Seretse Khama Ian Khama’s remarks that dialogue is important for national development as a farce. The councillors last week walked out of a full council meeting attended by cabinet and the President, in protest against the exclusion of the media. They questioned why consultation between politically elected representatives should be held in secrecy.
After President Khama’s opening remarks, the media were told to go out, and opposition councillors walked out in protest. Councillor Ephraim Mabengano later said the decision to exclude the media and members of the public from an ordinary full council meeting was a breach of the council standing orders.
“The city clerk notified us that this was an ordinary full council meeting. We walked out in protest against the exclusion of the media and other stakeholders, which is a desecration of regulation 20 of the Township Act and standing order 13,” he said.
When addressing the full council meeting before the walk out, Khama said planning and development should be participatory, and encouraged people to express their opinion.
“Dialogue must be achieved between policy makers, development authorities and communities. We have a responsibility to account to our people and be responsive to their needs,” he said.
But the councillors said Khama went against his very statements by barring the media. They said the program did not give them an opportunity to respond to the President’s statements and engage cabinet on their constituents’ needs.
“The media disseminates information to our electorate, and their exclusion from such an important meeting is unfortunate. We wonder what is so secretive about our meeting with cabinet. Also, the program is very restrictive. We are only here to listen and not ask questions. This is not dialogue,” said Sebaleo Thekiso, councillor for Village Ward.
Thekiso also raised suspicions on the motive behind the President and cabinet’s visit, saying it is politically motivated and is not a genuine attempt to harness national development.
He questioned the timing of Khama’s visits, saying they are meant to unite Botswana Democratic Party councillors and suppress the exodus of BDP members to the newly formed Botswana Movement for Democracy.
Before the meeting, a communiqu├® from the Gaborone City Council notified the private press that they would not be allowed to cover the presidential address. After a flurry of protests, GCC reneged on its initial stance and allowed the private press to cover the presidential address. The Office of the President later distanced itself from the GCC statement, saying they never instructed anyone to bar the private press from covering the event.
“No such instruction has been issued to GCC by the Office of the President. In fact, the press is invited and encouraged to attend the meeting,” read a statement from Sipho Madisa, Deputy Senior Private Secretary to the President.
For his part Deputy Permanent Secretary Jeff Ramsay reaffirmed the Office of the President’s commitment to working with journalists from the private as well as public sector.
“This commitment is reflected in ongoing outreach efforts in other areas, including inclusion of private journalists in press teams covering the President abroad,” he said.