The long running war of words between opposition parties and the ruling Botswana Democratic Party over abuse of the state media was once again reignited on Friday when the national broadcaster, Btv, unexpectedly shelved a recording of a Matlho-a-Phage program during which the constitutional review was meant to be discussed.
Botswana National Front representative Kagiso Ntime and Botswana Congress Party’s Dumelang Saleshando, who were apparently raring to square off with the BDP representative, were not amused by the unprecedented shut down, saying that it was a perpetuation of abuse of state media by the ruling BDP.
Political analyst and University of Botswana lecturer, Dithapelo Keorapetse, and Peter Tshukudu of Ditshwanelo were also part of the panel.
Indications are that it was all systems go for the program recording to proceed, until Btv producer Patrick Morolong and another woman officer barged in and announced that the debate had to be shelved because the BDP was not represented.
Ntime said on Friday that they had already been through the make-up process and equipment checking when they were told that such a sensitive issue cannot be discussed in the absence of the BDP.
The program, which was to be anchored by Phenyo Butale, was shelved indefinitely as the officers failed to say when the BDP representative would be present for the discussion to continue. Ntime also revealed that Btv confirmed that BDP had been invited to the debate well in time.
Keorapetse also confirmed the incident, saying that their initial understanding was that the recording would proceed as planned, even in the absence of the BDP representative, as they had received information to the effect that the BDP had not responded to the invitation by Thursday evening.
For his part BDP’s Secretary for the Sub-Committee on Culture and Publicity MacDonald Peloetletse said that they could not partake in the debate because the BDP has not taken a resolution on the matter.
“The fact is that this motion was deferred until after the discussion of the president’s state of the nation address was completed. It would also be impossible for anyone to discuss such a motion on behalf of the ruling party when the party has not taken a resolution on the matter,” he said.
He added that the BDP parliamentary caucus and the central committee have also not discussed the motion, such that no one can represent the party in any forum until after vigorous instructions from the party.
But Peloetletse‘s statements were shot down by Saleshando and Keorapetse, who said that the issue of the constitutional review is not a party matter but a matter of national interest.
“The constitution affects every Motswana. This is not a BDP matter but a national matter. It is also surprising that the BDP has not taken a resolution on this issue by now,” they said.
Saleshando also accused Btv of applying double standards, as debates have in the past proceeded in the absence of other political party representatives.
“Why must such a crucial issue be shelved just because BDP is not represented? They were invited and they failed to turn up. This is infringement of free speech and abuse of state media,” said Saleshando.
But Peloetletse denied that the BDP had meddled on Btv’s editorial independence, insisting that they never gave the national broadcaster instructions to shelve the program.
Meanwhile, the opposition remains adamant that Btv management was pressured into shelving the debate.
“This motion was going to reflect negatively on the BDP presidency’s excessive powers. We were going to shoot from the hip. Understand that it is not the first time that we have called for a constitutional review.
This is not a response to the Khama-Motswaledi saga. In the past we influenced a review of section 77, 78 and 79 of the constitution,” said Ntime.
Both opposition parties agreed that the opposition has to work together and identify other avenues through which they can reach the electorates.
Calls for a constitutional review have recently reached fever pitch, with both BDP and opposition MPs calling for a review of the president’s powers, presidential immunity, special nomination of MPs and automatic succession.