Saturday, August 15, 2020

The place of the specially elected MP

Constitutionally the president of Botswana enjoys the unfettered prerogative of choosing anybody he wishes to become special elected Members of Parliament upon endorsement by elected legislators at the commencement of a given parliament term.

Lack of transparency and constitutionally entrenched guidelines on the criterion used by the president in his choice of Specially Elected Members leaves the whole process questionable and open to unmitigated abuse.

The process is currently shrouded in such deep secrecy such that it is only the President and his inner circle that is privy to who is nominated for endorsement by elected legislators to become Specially Elected Members.

The process has been used to appease rejected political activists and technocrats whose national service record is sometimes not beyond reproach.

At times people without impeccable national service record have been handpicked to fill the positions at the expense of deserving citizens whose commitment and selflessness to serve the country is beyond doubt. Simply put, the process is open to abuse and failing to satisfy national needs as provided for in the constitution.

Without pointing an accusing finger at previous and present beneficiaries, it would be prudent for the process to be reviewed to make it open and transparent such that whoever gets the nod is looked at somebody with the ability to selflessly serve the nation.

The nominees should be people with impeccable credentials who will not be despised by any quarter as having been handpicked for some undisclosed and unqualified consideration. The public should be availed a forum to either reject or confirm the nominees.

Why is the endorsement left only to the few who have been elected to parliament? The review process should entitle not only the President and elected legislators but be rather opened to the general public across the political divide for participation. 

The current status quo calls for an immediate review of the process so that the general citizenry is satisfied that the beneficiary is deserving of such appointment on account of what he has done for the country and can continue to offer instead of his alignment to the political party that wins the general election.

 The constitution allows the president to choose four special elected legislators subject to endorsement by the elected Members of Parliament following the general election.

The elected MPs are legal representatives of the people of any given constituency on account of the first past the post electoral system.

However, the process of Specially Elected MPs has at times been used to appease aggrieved and disgruntled members of the winning the party without public input. It (process) has been used to settle scores that are of little benefit to the citizenry and general economic prerequisites.

Public input in the nomination and endorsement of the candidates should be of paramount importance.

 A political pundit who does not want to be seen as meddling and encroaching on the current status quo says like judges of the High Court, the law must clear be clear with a constitutionally mandated body that oversees the process.

Although President Ian Khama has in the past disregarded with utmost impunity recommendations of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), the constitution however sets out the procedures for appointment of judges.

There is need for the general public and not only politicians to condemn such appointments which inevitably breach constitutional provisions. Incompetent lawyers have been appointed judges and are failing to prove their mettle in the bench. Some judges have been openly criticized for failing to deliver judgments expeditiously to the detriment of litigants.

There is no constitutionally entrenched independent body charged with the responsibility of advising the president on who elect as Specially Elected Members of Parliament. It is a one man’s prerogative that is difficult to challenge because it is constitutionally entrenched. A challenge of the status quo is near impossible because the courts will ultimately hold that unless parliament amends the rules, their duty is limited to implementing the constitution as it obtains to its letter and spirit.

“It is a void that parliament should rise to the occasion and rectify. It is not doing our democracy any good if one man and in this instance only the president and most probably his inner circle in addition to the majority his party enjoys in parliament to satisfy his whims of electing undeserving beneficiaries as Specially Elected Members of Parliament. Once in parliament, the specially elected MPs should serve the nation without fear and favour.

“The idea of Specially Elected Member is noble for as long as it is used to represent the marginalized groups like people with disabilities, Basarwa and other groups like women who lack financial resources to sail through to parliament. This is in further recognition of the fact that elected representatives could be without the wherewithal and knowledge to lead the economy and country efficiently.”

At times good policies end up not satisfying intended requirements if there are no checks and balances to ensure that it is only those with the appropriate acumen who eventually earn nomination.

For example, the nomination of technocrats like former President Festus Mogae and the late Baledzi Gaolathe were welcomed by the general public on account of what they had done for the country as acclaimed economists. The same applied to Kenneth Matambo before his reputation suffered a serious blow on account of the Palapye glass project. These gentlemen had projected themselves as capable economists whose addition to the National Assembly was not questionable”.

For now, the public is unsure who the winning president will nominate to the next parliament as Specially Elected MPs and what virtues he will be considering. It is an open prerogative without guidelines.

The BDP primaries were marred in so much controversy and protests that if the party wins the general election, some losers who were rejected by their constituents will be handpicked and stand a chance to serve in the National Assembly after the general election.

Speculation is rife within the BDP that if the BDP wins the general election, President Ian Khama may be forced  to elect his cousin Ramadeluka Seretse who dismally lost the primaries re-run in his erstwhile constituency of Serowe North to Kgotla Autlwetse.  
The conspiracy theory is strengthened by the fact Khama reserved Seretse’s cabinet position in the Ministry of Justice, Defence and Security when he was facing corruption charges of which he was later acquitted.

Seretse was immediately reinstated to his former ministerial post which he had resigned while fighting the corruption charges. At the time he resigned to clear his name, former police commissioner and colleague in parliament Edwin Batshu was appointed to hold fort. Batshu was later elevated to full Minister of Labour and Home Affairs, a portfolio responsibility he currently holds.

Another legislator whom Khama is likely to retain as Specially Member of Parliament is Phandu Skelemani who as foreign affairs and international cooperation minister and lead diplomat unequivocally expressed Botswana’s stand on in international matters without fear.

The current crop of winners of the BDP primaries does not present Khama with a versatile replacement for Skelemani.┬á His fearlessness in expounding the country’s position on the international arena remains impeccable although quite uncomfortable with his compatriots in the SADC region and African continent.

He has represented the president in most forums ferociously with his penchant of roof top diplomatic eloquence.

Skelemani’s loss at the primaries has been attributed to persistent absence from his constituency on account of international assignments representing President Khama who shuns to attend and articulate the country’s position on the international arena including the United Nations. He stands out as a formidable figure whose absence in the coming parliament will rob Khama of an impeccable replacement who is well versed with issues of international concern.

Matambo also counts among the few who Khama is likely to retain as his international economic acumen is beyond reproach despite the pending court case in which he seeks to be absolved regarding the Palapye Glass project as Botswana Development Corporation former managing director and subsequently as Minister of Finance and Development Planning.

His case against the National Assembly on the Palapye Glass project could also impact negatively on his eligibility to another nomination as Specially Elected Member of Parliament.

It remains anybody’s guess on who will finally qualify for nomination as the constitution is silent on the selection criteria.

RELATED STORIES

Read this week's paper

SEZA guns for job creation

By removing barriers to trade, restrictive policies and excessive bureaucracy, the Special Economic Zones Authority (SEZA) hopes to attract top shelf investors...