Sunday, September 27, 2020

The problem is not Jacob Nkate but rather an absence of rules

For close to three weeks now, one of Botswana’s most successful politicians has been living under growing pressure to resign his position as a Senior Minister of State.

Apparently he has received some form of donations from some business interests.
It is not the first time Nkate is faced with this kind of debacle.

The misfortunes that the BDP Secretary General is going through have striking similarities to his Zakhem scandal of the 1990’s.

The only difference is that this time around Nkate is unlikely to leave cabinet, at least not voluntarily.
The real pressure therefore is on President Ian Khama to be seen to be truly implementing his 4Ds roadmap.
This is an opportunity for Khama to make a public statement of what happens when one of his chief aides does not measure up to the roadmap.

But still I doubt Khama will go the full length as to sack Nkate, not least because Nkate is not a political lightweight.

In his ten year tenure Festus Mogae never sacked a single minister.
It is unlikely that so early in his presidency, Khama will make any decisive breaks from the policy by his immediate predecessor as to sack such an immensely senior person.

It is worth noting that until recently, Nkate was a leading contender for the position of Vice President.

Everyone who knows Nkate will tell you that the man’s ultimate preferment has always been the state presidency.
I have deep admiration for the man, not least because he is where he is today almost exclusively out of hard work.
Nkate is not the best politician inside the BDP.

He is neither the most charismatic nor the most likeable.
But what he lacks in charisma and likeability, he makes up for it with hard work.

From humble origins, against many odds and with no big surname to support his ambitions Nkate has been able to rise on his own to the pinnacle of Botswana national politics.

Of course this is not to underplay the fact that his career has by any account been blunder-strewn; everyone of us still remembers the Zakhem scandal which I suspect will continue to haunt him for the rest of his life.

In the mid nineties he had to resign from cabinet under almost similar circumstances, only to rebound after a short while ÔÇô a testimony of his resilience and staying power.

While sacking Jacob Nkate from cabinet now would signal a clear shift of policy within the presidency and simultaneously convey genuine feelings of change, the truth is that such drastic measures will not address the root problems consuming Botswana politics.
The problem is much bigger than Jacob Nkate.

Right from the top to the bottom, our politicians are beholden to the country’s moneyed interests.
The situation is not any better in the opposition ranks; only they are receiving less for they have not much to give back in return anyway.

Corruption and conflict of interest are the twin evils which like cancer are eating down our political system.
We have to deal with these before our national political structure collapses.
What the country needs is a clear code of conduct, enforceable by law setting out guidelines on gifts, donations and funding of Members of Parliament and their political parties.
There is nothing wrong with political parties and MPs receiving gifts and donations.

There is nothing inherently wrong with MPs and their political parties receiving funds from business interests.
What is important is disclosure.
Gifts, however innocent they may look become questionable if they are disbursed under an insidious condition that they remain a secret.

In an accountable form of democracy which we like to pretend to be, only the voter should pay the piper.
If moneyed interests undercut such a principle then politicians easily get manipulated.

If politicians receive freebies then it is only proper that it is made mandatory that such gifts are publicly declared.
Equally important there has to be placed a ceiling on the value of gifts our politicians can receive.

Any breach should be punishable by law including automatic resignation.
Which brings us to a related but much more important point; declaration of assets.

If politicians are to be accountable only to the voter then there is need for a law compelling them to declare their assets and interests under which a public register, accessible to everyone upon request will be created through which they will declare such interests.
As of now there is a notion within the BDP that such a law would shame them.
That is not only wrong but also fallacious.

To the contrary a public register would protect our MPs.

Such register would ensure that members are accountable not to the moneyed interests (currently corrupting our politics) that dole out gifts to them in the shadows of the night but to the public that makes up the electorate.
As the English would put it, only the voter should pay the piper.
I have no problem with Nkate resigning but that is by no means a long-term solution to the crisis.

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Sunday Standard September 27 – 3 October

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 27 - 3 October, 2020.