Sunday, May 28, 2023

Opposition MPs should go it alone and declare their interests

The most glaring characteristic of Botswana’s parliamentary opposition, especially since after last year’s General Elections, has been a failure to seize the glorious opportunity to declare their assets ahead of the ruling party.

It is a sign of extreme poor imagination that opposition Members of Parliament have still not upstaged the BDP with what could easily be a moral coup.

The nation clamours for it but as things stand BDP Members will never publicly declare their assets.

For many years now, the BDP Government has spurned all calls, including from within its ranks, to come up with such a law.

Those who control the ruling party today are petrified about the rot such a disclosure would bring to the surface.

They also are clearly worried about the public reaction that is likely to follow when the nation suddenly discovers the looting that has been going on behind the scenes.

Disgruntled insiders say declaring assets and interests would prove deadly because too many ruling party MPs, especially cabinet ministers, have been using the country’s public procurement system as their honey pot.

That is all the reason why opposition MPs should increase the public glare on the ruling party by declaring their own interests.

Such a move is the only way the opposition can extricate itself from the current predatory existence (where they also are trapped) where ministers see nothing wrong winning contracts from government departments and companies they supervise.

At the Government enclave, it is an open secret that ministers and their associates are furtively amassing wealth from winning and effectively awarding themselves big contracts from Government.

They do so even as they advise all of us to try our luck in menial and small businesses that have no chance of one day graduating to the high table from whence feeds the masters.

Let’s not fool ourselves, even the long promised diluted version called the Ministerial Code of Conduct will not be forthcoming for as long as cabinet remains a motley crew of friends and relatives.

As moral beacons, politicians in Botswana, as is the case for most parts of Africa, have been losing their purchase.

In Botswana, people only continue to take politicians seriously because as has happened elsewhere in other parts of Africa, they still have the power of the law on their side to wreak havoc and ruin this country.

Thus it is an irony that our politicians see themselves, not the people they cheat and mistreat, as victims of media abuse.

But what is the parliamentary opposition doing about it, other than helplessly and powerlessly ranting and raving like every one of us?

Opposition members of parliament should be more imaginative and do their bit.
To put it concisely, they should take their fate and put it into their own hands.

They have waited too long and in vain for BDP Government to come up with the law.

Public patience has now run out, hence all MPs are now being bundled together as collectively corrupt. To an ordinary voter, all MPs, including from opposition benches, are united in rejecting a law on their assets.

After talking to a number of lawmakers, there seems to be consensus that nothing stops opposition MPs from voluntarily declaring their assets and interests without the BDP.

That, I think is what they should do if they want to claim the moral high ground.

If they wait for a law and continue to live at the mercy of the BDP, then theirs will be an indefinite wait.

It’s no secret that while populist, this government can also be as rigid as it can be manipulative.

Its cunning resistance against calls for public declaration of assets while coming up with mundane versions is a classic example of its ability to mutate if only to buy time and ease off the public glare. They know so well that Batswana have a very short attention span. Thus they hope these calls, like others before them, will soon die away.

Experience from the last two years shows that this is a government that likes to portray and create an illusion of itself as popularly engaged, with its pulse on the central nerve system of the masses while, in reality, it is a government of the few, by the few and for the few.

With a ruthless deployment of misinformation and disinformation – as when they announced late last year that ministers would henceforth declare their assets to the President – the BDP government has derailed, if not grounded, a genuine public debate that promised to add meaning to our democratic institutions.

Lest we forget, ministers have always declared their interests to the President.

There is nothing new about that.
More crucially there has never been anything public about it. If anything, this announcement is a malicious form of grandstanding that even its pushers know cannot stand in a court of public scrutiny.

The more creative the BDP government tries to be in dodging, sidestepping and circumventing calls for a declaration of assets, the more stringent and shrill such calls have to be made. This time the ball is in the court of opposition MPs. They have nothing to lose.

After all, like many of us, they are not welcome at the high table from where big contracts are dished out.


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