We know President Ian Khama has vast executive powers, but I do not know that he considers himself above the Constitution. Happily the appointment of the Delimitation Commission by the Judicial Service Committee puts all doubts to rest.
Names of members of Delimitation Commission are: Justice Terence Rannowane (chairman), Kingsley Sebele, former Botswana ambassador to the US, Serwalo Tumelo, former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, Godfrey Habana and former deputy Attorney General Daphne Matlakala.
The task of the commission as outlined in the Constitution is basically being to see whether any alteration to the number of the constituencies as existed at the last general elections or any alteration to the constituency boundaries is necessary. The commission thereafter shall submit its report to the president. The president is not vested with any powers by the Constitution to tamper with the report of the commission. The report can be reviewed, on reading the law, following rigorous legal principles. The principles must rely on the Constitution or judicially created principles. This implies that anyone who applies for a review must obviously have a watertight case to prove against the determination of the Delimitation Commission.
At independence in 1966, the Botswana National Assembly had 31 seats. It is not clear how the number of seats was arrived at or how they were demarcated. The seats in 1969 elections stayed at 31. In 1974, the seats went up by one to 32 and had no additions in 1979. In 1984, two more seats were added. But in 1989 there were no additions till 1994 when six were created. This was a huge jump. The number zoomed to the current 57, which was an unprecedented leap of 17 in 2004. The number stayed there in 2009. The pattern appears to be an increment after every 10 years. If the pattern is followed, we are likely to have another increase for the 2014 general elections. With the population at over two million, the speculation is by what number will the seats rise? That is the DC's baby. Rona ga reyo!
Lesotho with a population about one-and-half times larger than Botswana and with a far greater density of population, at my last count, has about 120 seats. Based on this ratio, Botswana could go up to 80 seats. That would be a jump of 23 seats, which our commissioners taking the 'ga gona madi' cue from on high, would find very hard to violate. Could it be 13 to make it a round figure of 70?
Delimitation of constituencies is an onerous task and I wonder whether the newly-appointed commission has sufficient time to do justice to its assignment. The commission has to balance the number of voters in constituencies with other factors of terrain, natural community of interest, availability of transport and communication services. We do not expect the differences in numbers per seat to be too big to make the exercise unfair and unjust. The previous commission made some alarming demarcations where you find two adjacent wards in the same constituency, one with half the population of the other! Obviously, the new commission will have to correct some of the glaring mistakes made by the previous one. It takes time, which appears to be at a premium.
Delimitation is the very first step of the election process and my contention is that the commission be incorporated into the IEC structure instead of being a stand-alone body. The commission's duties should fall under the ambit of the IEC. It is one of the two elements that I find missing in the IEC, to make it self-sufficient and a composite whole; the other element is the establishment of the commission as a department, a tribunal of IEC dealing with disputes that arise from election results; such a department would expedite settlements of disputes at the source of origin, instead of referring the litigation to the regular courts of law which the poor in the opposition cannot afford and often a party (ruling) with money wins by default because it is not challenged when it ought to be. A truly independent IEC should have all these elements to round up its claim of true independence.
The Delimitation Commission is in terms of the Constitution, independent. The Constitution stipulates: "In the exercise of its duties ... the Delimitation Commission shall not be subject to the direction or control of any other person or authority".
The concept of independence in institutions is never a simple one. In terms of the principle of checks and balance, an independent body, if it is appointed by and reports to the executive, is unmonitored by the legislature or the judiciary. In some way, its independence will always be dubious. Who appoints the Judicial Service Commission which appoints the Delimitation Commission? Does it mean the JSC whose independence may be suspect because it is appointed by a partisan president may taint the Delimitation Commission because of its link with the president? You never know.
There is a bit of consolation in that the chain of appointment may be too long to break the effects of contamination. We must give the Delimitation Commission the benefit of doubt, particularly that it involves political parties who are stakeholders in its deliberations. But this will only be, if these are men and women of knowledge and experience, conversant with requirements of delimitation and prepared to argue their case intelligently and convincingly.
Finally, I hope the appointed commission will review the names of constituencies and adopt popular ones. For example why not rename South East South and South East North, Ramotswa and Tlokweng respectively? Must we be inundated with all these names based on cardinal points?