Sunday, September 27, 2020

The proposed law is a sure way to kill councils

The Minster of Local Government, Lebonaamang Mokalake, and his assistants, Botlogile Tshireletso and Kentse Rammidi, have over the past weeks been criss-crossing the country, briefing municipal authorities, councillors to be specific, about a law that minister Mokalake intends to bring to parliament.

This week government sent a delegation led by Permanent Secretary to Kgatleng District to consult with councillors while in Gaborone, a junior minister briefed the city councillors.
Through the new law to be put before parliament later in the year, we are told government intends to amalgamate and review the District Council Act, Township Act and other pieces of legislation that govern operations of local authorities.

While the move to merge the laws governing local government authorities is welcome, the same cannot be said about the draft bill.
A perusal of the proposed law and listening to the deliberations by the minister and his assistants indicates clearly that government’s priorities are misplaced.

Interestingly, the proposed act seeks to, among others, bestow on the minister the powers to fire incompetent councillors. This specific provision in our view falls short of an insult to the country’s electoral democracy.

Councillors are not government employees and their competence cannot be determined by a fellow politician, possibly unelected whose political motives will always be questionable should such an issue arise.

At least public servants have a clearly spelt out job description, when compared with councillors. It has to be emphasised that Councillors are employed by the electorate, their role is to represent the electorates and how they represent the electorate can only be gauged by the very persons who roped them into office.
If councillors are to be fired or recalled it has to be the electorate who p0erform the task. All the Government needs to do is to put in place a framework through which such can be done.
It is therefore absurd to seek to empower the minister, a political official like them, to fire elected councillors.

With this kind of reasoning, we should not be surprised if somewhere down line a minister of Presidential Affairs seeks to table a law proposing to give State President authority to sack MPs.
The draft bill also carries a proposal to introduce a new tenure of office for mayors/council chairpersons from two years to 5 years. It’s amazing that in the processes of merging the laws, government is all of sudden concerned about who chairs a council and for what duration. Why should government meddle in such matters that should by all purposes be the jurisdiction of councillors?
As if these far reaching powers sought by government are not enough, the new law also proposes to give the minister unlimited power to dissolve a district council, town council and city council. This, in our view, is sheer madness. It is also an assault on electoral democracy and shows a lack of empathy for the views and sanctity of the electorate.

The world over has embraced globalization. Local authorities in Botswana have for a long time complained that so much power is concentrated at the central government. While the world over is making reforms by devolving more power and responsibilities to local authorities, it seems our government has taken a different route.

As the English saying goes ‘he who pays the piper calls the tune’, however, this does not mean that because the central government funds the local authorities it should formulate laws that swallow council and render them non-existent. It is not surprising that government not only seeks to prescribe the role, power of local authorities but also wants to clamp down on elected local authority officials.

Frankly speaking, to say that government has a right to control local authorities because they are subordinate to the central government is short sightedness, if not sheer abuse of power. Legislation for the sake of legislation will never get this nation anywhere.
Government should be lobbying for a law that will not only coordinate the efficient running of local authorities but a law that also empowers local authorities.

Government, in our view, seeks a law that would keep elected representatives on the leash. This is a time when we should all be rallying behind autonomy for municipal authorities. After all, the ultimate goal is to deliver the basic amenities to the electorates.

We had hoped that if the law governing affairs at the local government level were to be reviewed, then priorities would be on improving efficiency through empowering them with authority to make substantive decisions.

Over and above delivering on a defined set of services, local authorities have a duty to shape overall future of each municipality. Councils have a duty to secure economic, social as well as environmental well-being.

Therefore, giving responsibilities without accompanying powers is but an unhelpful initiative, which only serves to derail delivery.
Minster Mokalake and his lieutenants at the Ministry of Local Government should go back to the drawing board and come up with a law that seeks to decentralise power for quality delivery of services, instead of trying to usher in a law that seeks to make themselves little gods while turning local authorities into dumb mascots.

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Sunday Standard September 27 – 3 October

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