Monday, September 21, 2020

The BNF’s historical contribution to democracy: A rebuttal on ideology and financial disclosure

In a rare moment of intellectual faux pas, Spencer Mogapi writes (The Sunday Standard, Oct 29 – Nov 4): “[Moupo] has to refine the hard-line Marxist postures that have driven the Front into a quagmire of irrelevance…Such unyielding ideologies have not only weighed down on the popularity of the BNF, they have also rendered the party an old relic of the days long gone by.” Of course, this is unsubstantiated. It is also hard to quantify.

Nevertheless, I feel that it is worthwhile to examine this criticism carefully, albeit in the broader context of our political system.

Some will recall that there were serious misconceptions mainly in the United States and Western Europe about comparing the role of communist parties in socialist countries to false counterparts in Africa during the anti-colonial struggles (e.g. MPLA, Frelimo, ZAPU, ZANU, ANC, and PAC). The original sin was that the continental liberation movements, not unlike in other parts of Asia and Latin America, looked toward socialist states for political and material support.

Unfortunately, some of this criticism parallels general statements made about the BNF as a “Marxist-propelled” political party, principally because, historically, some of its leaders received their education in the then USSR, or simply because the rest of the leadership was given to socialist claptrap.

Although the central role of Marxist ideology has declined correspondingly with the collapse of the Soviet-style socialist countries in Central and Eastern Europe, the problems that gave rise to it during (and before) the nineteenth century and some of the ideas associated with it are still present. For example, poverty, unemployment, the exploitation of child labour and the subordination of women are very much a fact of life. Of course, the positive strides accomplished gradually in transforming our society along the capitalist developmental path cannot be disregarded, even by the hardliners among us.

Nevertheless, some of the ideas found in the now-defunct central or command economies of erstwhile socialist countries such as the role of the State in domestic economic policy historically lie at the root of our political and cultural value system. Some of the examples are the Five Year Development Plan, public ownership of land, minerals and water, and the use of tax policy as an instrument of the distribution of wealth (e.g., mineral rights tax, capital gains, transfer duty, and so on). In this regard, the hearts of all political parties in Botswana beat as one. Even in market-oriented economies, national governments tend to directly influence market structures and mechanisms at various times.

Few can seriously dispute the fact that our government has a strong tradition of State ownership of vital national resources and a predilection for interventionist policy in the economy, education, health, etc. This regulatory approach to political rule is manifestly socialistic.

At the very least, it defines a country as a welfare state. Historically, this is the character of the BDP-led government. By contrast, the BNF is an unknown quantity since it is yet to win the general elections. However, on available evidence, namely its policy in the local councils periodically under its control, e.g. Gaborone and Jwaneng, the BNF will not deviate from bourgeois democracy. This brings us to the labeling theory upon which Mogapi’s faulty analysis is predicated. Unfortunately, in the quotation above, Mogapi fails to take the public into his confidence and spell out in precise terms these “hard-line Marxist postures” he has in mind.

Nevertheless, this passage reveals Mogapi’s grasp, nay, the lack of grasp, of Marxism. To illustrate, he places greater emphasis not on the program of action of a political organization but, rather, on the political rhetoric of its leaders. On this definition alone, even the octogenarian clique of despots in Zimbabwe qualifies as hard-line Marxists.

But prepare yourself for the worst. Mogapi urges Moupo “to start exuding some air of fear about himself.” Such exhortation is bad advice. Moupo is a virtual novice in the world of realpolitik. The least that can be done is to direct him away from self-righteousness and apotheosis, lest we see Cromwell’s enmity. Anyhow, winning over people is one thing, but making them tremble is quite another. The analogy of the abusive husband and his battered wife is apt. In other words, an attitude to power such as Mogapi solicits betrays an inferiority complex. Is it terror that is the missing link in the BNF? Is it this element that assures BDP hegemony? Rule of fear has no place in the BNF tradition. In any case, as a parliamentarian, Moupo is a member of the Government and the BNF is not a government within a government.

Where do other virtues fit in the hierarchy of political morality? It is alleged that Moupo recently came into funds and it is pontificated he should disclose the source and terms of such funds. Well, should he or should he not? One view is proffered in The Sunday Standard. According to the newspaper, the BDP Deputy Executive Secretary, one Fedelis Molaodi, demands (he is yet to rebut this) that Moupo must disclose the nature of the transaction. The rationale apparently is that this “would be keeping in line with decades old demands by the Botswana National Front on the BDP to always disclose not only the identity of financiers but also the conditions for releasing the funds.” To be certain, these latter words are attributed to the BDP (they have not been rebutted) and not to Molaodi personally. Coming as they do from the ruling party, these words, no matter how puerile you, the reader, may think they are, cannot be dismissed as political knockabouts. Permit me to dissect this.

Firstly, the reader must note with particular care that the statement just cited does not go so far as to allege that the BNF or its leaders previously called on any individual, human or corporate, who might have come into money to make a disclosure. In other words, it is clearly recognized that the BNF demand to the BDP was confined to the BDP as the political party in power (for other parties are not), a privilege that makes it possible for the BDP to be recipient of largesse from anonymous benefactors.

The BNF is not bothered with gifts to BDP leaders, office bearers, officers, or rank and file members, made purely out of affection for their sacrifices to the Nation. Secondly, the reader must note that the BDP is preoccupied with disclosure of the source and terms of the transaction. In the view of the BNF, the critical mass is that a transaction is or has been underway, and to locate the point of intervention. In the BDP, this scheme of things, the fact of existence of the transaction loses centrality and significance. In other words, undetected transactions are as good as a non-existent and need not, therefore, be subject to any disclosure. If discovered, however, the source and nature of the transaction ought to be made known publicly. Clearly, a policy such as this is convenient to a party in government for the latter possesses authority to interfere in any contemplated investigation.

Hence what is required of Moupo is not for him to confirm whether such and such transaction did or did not take place (a fact that will already be known to the intelligence for that is why the taxpayer pays them), but which players were involved in the transaction and its nature. I can say, without exaggeration, that there are adverse consequences to those who give material aid in support of the Opposition cause. This is so even where such assistance is, as is nearly always the case, legitimate. In Moupo’s situation, the rule that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander is inappropriate. To ask of him to tell all and sundry how he manages his financial affairs, other than in his capacity as a legal practitioner, is simply an intrusion of privacy.

The fact that a person is possessed of money is not a crime per se. It is only where the circumstances of such possession lead to a reasonable suspicion that the law may have been broken, that law enforcement agencies ought to investigate. A prime example is corruption, for which we have enacted a potentially draconian law. Even so, the rule of law for which this country is universally renowned provides assurance that the courts can, if called upon to do so, restrain the behaviour of these law enforcement agencies where unwarrantable.

Admittedly, in some areas our legal system is seriously lacking or inadequate, especially in electronic crime, thanks largely to advances in communications and technology. But our Government is doing its best. Most are all aware that not long ago our Parliament resolved to regulate financial disclosure and that of other interests by its own members, including their families. I gather this measure is yet to receive the presidential assent. However, until it becomes a law, parliamentarians and their families (including Moupo) are virtually immune from public scrutiny.

Therefore, the disclosure demands aimed at Moupo or the BNF are either misconceived or the invention of a faulty imagination.

Let me put all this in proper context as I promised the reader to do in my introductory remarks. The idea of financial disclosure as a political demand originated from me a long time ago before I deserted politics for scholastic life. At the time, Dr Kenneth Koma pioneered (as he did many areas) the debate on party-political funding, and on my part a little window had opened through which I could (and did) slot in financial disclosure. Of one thing it must be clear, however: the legal basis for financial disclosure has existed for many years in our country.

Ten years ago, the BNF leadership attached premium to political funding for a variety of reasons, some of which are now well documented. But my concerns as the party’s deputy secretary-general, legal affairs secretary and lead negotiator were directed to the legal and administrative questions of how to make the electoral system work so as to build a strong opposition. By contrast, Dr Koma’s attention was focused on propelling the BNF into power so that democracy could work in full swing. The reader will have noted that these two approaches are not diametrically opposed, but rather complement one another. Thus the BNF pursued a two-pronged strategy of mass mobilization and parliamentarianism. Because the party was committed to democracy, electoral reform was our top policy priority. That is, the BNF struggled for a broader franchise, independent election machinery, political funding and the media in election campaigns, to cite a few examples. The BNF’s contribution to democracy compares favourably. Yet Mogapi visits the BNF with a barrage of vituperative.

The BNF has always held that political funding and financial disclosure are a major influence on the electoral process. Most political systems have developed control mechanisms designed to guarantee an impartial balance between various contestants in democratic elections including those with respect to the financing of political parties and candidates.

The BNF first broached the idea of public financial assistance and disclosure at the First All-Party Conference in March 1986. Government and the BDP resisted, contending that the national economic situation could not afford granting such assistance, and in May 1998, that public funding “would encourage the proliferation of political parties and would discriminate against parties that are outside Parliament”. The law on election expenses exists but is inadequate. For example, while the Electoral Act regulates the amount that may be spent by or on a candidate in a parliamentary election campaign, it excludes expenditure spent in the general interests of a political party or its candidates generally.

On what legal basis are we entitled to call upon Moupo to make a public declaration of his financial affairs?

*Michael Motlhobi is Law Lecturer at the University of Botswana

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Sunday Standard September 20 – 26

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 20 - 26, 2020.