Last Updated
Thursday 18 December 2014, 14:58 pm.
Empty promises

Part Three of Leader of Opposition DUMELANG SALESHANDO response to the State of the Nation Address
By Staff Writer Fri 19 Dec 2014, 16:20 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: Empty promises

The BCP bewails abuse of public media, in particular Botswana Television, by the state. Opposition parties are inadequately and inappropriately covered by BTV. Through BTV (and RB 1 and 2 and the Daily News), propaganda is disseminated under the guise of objective public information by the government. The President and his Ministers dominate the airwaves and space in the state media. All BTV political  programmes are not live broadcasts simply because the state interferes in the editorial independence, including the editing and decision to air or not to air the programme. The private media, have held the government and the ruling party accountable and have exposed incidents of corruption, non-accountability, mismanagement and unethical practices. Has the Daily News, Radio Botswana or BTV ever exposed any act of corruption within government?

Deportation of foreign nationals in Botswana is becoming a common thing. This development, albeit not new, has the propensity to dent Botswana's image internationally. Declaring foreigners Prohibited Immigrants is reminiscent of undemocratic regimes of brutal dictators in the past which deported any foreign national who disagreed with the system. The problem with the deportation laws is that the President is not obliged to give reasons for the deportation. This law violates the constitutional rights of non citizens. It is possible that the President can deport a foreign national who is a potential or actual business competitor to him, his family or close associates. It is possible that the president can declare a foreigner who may incriminate him, his family or close associates an undesirable element. What harm does it do for people to be tried in our courts for their alleged felonies and misdemeanors? The deportation laws can and have been also utilised to restrict information and control opinion like in the case of deportations of journalist, civic leaders and academics. The latest victims of the deportation laws include people who allegedly insult, slur and/or disrespect the President. This law must be amended to allow PIs to challenge their deportations in the courts and the President must be obliged to give reasons for declaring someone a PI to avert possible injustice. No President is perfect and decisions by the Presidency must be scrutinised or reviewed by the courts. The courts are unable to do so because the president is not obliged to disclose reasons for declaring someone a PI.

It is our considered view that the current State of the Nation Address, like the previous ones, lacks clear policy direction on pertinent national issues. At best, it is full of promises that never get fulfilled. We are not surprised that in his address, the President has shied away from making clear bold promises to the nation on how he plans to deal with the challenges of the day.  He has in the past made promises that he has dismally failed to deliver on.  On account of limited time, I will just give 10 examples of pledges that were made in the past addresses but never delivered on, by a President who had undertaken to make DELIVERY a hallmark of his term.  We sample the following by way of making our point:

Failed Promises by the President
In 2008 when delivering his first State of the Nation Address in paragraph 45 the President had this to say; "Mr. Speaker, financial institutions have often been reluctant to offer loans to farmers in the absence of an agricultural insurance scheme.  To facilitate such loan access, and also minimize the risks caused by climatic variability and natural disasters, Government is in the process of introducing a Botswana Contributory Agricultural Insurance Scheme."  While this announcement was met by loud ululations from the farming community, no such scheme is in place four years later.  Is this delivery?

In the same address at paragraph 48 the President stated the following;  "Mr. Speaker, the Health Hub is being established to identify projects and programs that will make Botswna a center of excellence in the provision of healthcare services. Amongst it's primary projects is the outsourcing of the freight and logistics function of the Central Medical Stores.  This project should end the current problems being experienced by the institution, where ineffective structures and processes have created opportunities for fraud, while causing drug shortages and wastage of expired drugs that had gone undelivered." Medical facilities continue to operate with insufficient drugs and recently the Ministry of Health confirmed that it was seeking permission to burn expired drugs with a market value of about P 116 million.  Is this delivery?

Still in 2008' the President stated in paragraph 51 of the State of the Nation Address that, "Not many Batswana can afford medical expenses for complex ailments requiring organ transplants and specialised therapies.  The Ministry of Health has recently developed a policy to improve affordability and accessibility for such ailments.  Implementation is on a selective basis using age, probability of success and cost of maintenance as criteria."   As we speak today, there is no such policy in place and many young lives continue to be lost on account of unaffordable specialized therapies. Is this delivery?

Paragraph 57 of the 2008 speech stated that "To better ensure discipline among teachers a Teaching Council is being established and the existing Code of Regulations is being reviewed." There is no Teaching Council in place 48 months later. Is this delivery?

In 2009, at the height of unprecedented increase in cases involving the killing of innocent members if the public by the security forces and the popularization of the term "extra judicial killings" which was previously an unknown term in Botswana public discourse, the President assured the nation that members of the security forces are not above the law.  At paragraph 16 of the 2009 address the President stated as follows;

"Our law enforcement agencies exist to uphold the law, not to break it.  At the same time we do recognise that instances of individual transgressions can occur in any organization.  Whenever credible allegations of serious abuse by security personnel arise, they shall continue to be impartially investigated in accordance with the law and demands of due process..."

With the experience of the case of the Kalafatis brutal murder, we now know that agents within the security services who have committed murder, found guilty by the courts of law, can be pardoned without explanation and further rewarded with re-employment within the security forces.  The 2009 pledge to hold the security forces accountable for their actions was not sincere.
It was further reported in 2009 that the Ministry of Local Government was in the process of developing a comprehensive decentralisation policy to give more powers to local level structures. The President stated in paragraph 137 of his address that "It is anticipated that the policy will guide government during the course of NDP 10 in revolving more decision making powers and responsibilities to Local Authorities, which should enhance accountability and responsiveness to constituency needs."

Quite to the contrary, we have seen a systematic process of centralisation that has removed responsibilities from local authorities to central government and parastatals.  Clinics, provision of housing through SHHA as well as provision of water have all been removed from local authorities.  There is no decentralization policy in place.

In 2010, the President raised the issue for all Members of Parliament to respect the people's mandate to work together in a constructive manner for the benefit of the nation.  While the President talked of the need for all of us to accept our common responsibility, he stressed that democracy is more than elections and deliberations in the National Assembly as we all need to be engaged with the people at all times. The President stressed the need for engagement and the role played by the Kgotla when he stated the following at paragraph 11;

"As has been the case since time immemorial, the Kgotla remains the bedrock for dialogue.  It is for this reason that members of Cabinet, and I, have made Kgotla attendance, in communities large and small, a routine part of our work schedule."
This begs the question, if the President is genuinely of the view that we have a shared responsibility to address the expectations of the nation, why is it that in practice, he is of the view that the "Kgotla as the bedrock for dialogue" is for the exclusive use for the cabinet?

The President stated in 2008 in paragraph 67 that, "In line with the Vision 2016 pillar of a United and Proud Nation, Government has taken the initiative to support different codes of sports.  In this regard, appearance fees for official national team games and monthly allowances for local athletes in the Premier League, First Division (North and South) and other sport codes have been introduced." As a matter of fact, no such appearance fees and monthly allowances have been introduced up to this day.

In the 2008 address in paragraph 89, the President stated as follows, "Government will also provide support for a new Installment Purchase Scheme to be administered by Botswana Housing Corporation.  This scheme will provide expanded accessible and affordable housing for rent and purchase by citizens, with those without any form of housing being given priority.  To promote ownership a special fund will be set up to facilitate the financing of loans.  This will be a big project, for which we are now seeking additional finance." Four years down the line there is no Installment Purchase Scheme and the housing problem is spiraling out of control.

The 2011 State of the Nation Address in paragraph 24 promised the introduction of "Whistle Blowing Legislation to protect individuals who in the public interest disclose information that relates to corrupt and illegal activities."  With reports of corruption on the increase and implicating some of the security agencies that ought to participate in the fight against corruption, there is no such legislation being introduced.

In view of the above, we will not allow ourselves to be led into the trap of debating a sterile State of the Nation Address and have chosen to chart our own path for the coming 12 months in Parliament.  We will be presenting the following motions and bills over the coming months to address what we consider to be critical issues worthy of a State of the Nation Address.
The BCP 12 months plan for the fourth session of the tenth Parliament

*Commission of enquiry to investigate the declining performance of the beef industry and Botswana Meat Commission
*Establishment of a comprehensive land audit
*Introduction of political party funding
*Review of the minimum wage policy
*Regional based development tax for areas with natural resources
*Introduction of mother tongue in the education system
*Review of the land tenure system
*Adoption of the SADC Protocol on Gender
*Setting up of a national rehabilitation center for drug and alcohol addicts

The following will be presented as private member bills

*Amendment of the constitution on the number of constituencies
*Disclosure of Assets and Liabilities for national leaders
*Amendment of the electoral law
*Amendment of the sectional title law
*Amendment of the employment law

The role played by the opposition in a multi-party democracy is an indispensable one, which if diligently executed, can deliver a much superior brand of democracy where accountability is the norm and political power never resides in the hands of any one political player for an inordinately long period of time.  In the case of Botswana, there is a perception that the opposition should be equated to a deficit of patriotism on the part of those who identify with the opposition.  The ruling party has over the years treated the opposition as an illegitimate participant in the development of our country, an irritant only tolerated because banning the opposition would tarnish the image that has set us apart from undemocratic states that were for many years surrounding Botswana.

This process of branding the opposition as an unworthy part of our politics has manifested itself in many ways, including denying the opposition reasonable access to state media, rejecting motions in Parliament for the simple reasons that they are sponsored by the wrong side of the house, refusing to introduce public funding of political parties while the ruling party abuses it's incumbency to use public resources for its benefit, instructing government officials not to allow the leader of opposition access to the Kgotla for interaction with Batswana, let alone to visit public institutions such as schools.

I wish to assure the nation that as the official opposition, the BCP will not be coerced into submission.  It is not for the BDP to dictate to us what we may do or may not do as an opposition party.  We take our responsibilities seriously and will do all it takes to fulfill our mandate.  Any party that holds the seat of the main opposition deserves to be treated as a government in waiting.  As part of the new beginning for the opposition, the nation can expect greater calls for accountability and transparency.  It must be understood that the BDP is not presiding over party resources but public resources for which they have to account.  The public can expect a strong voice to defend the values they sought to defend when they entrusted us (BCP) with 22 percent of the popular vote, and 48 percent as the collective opposition.  Those values include good governance, fair play in business and politics, respect for civil liberties and human rights, and above all, a society that offers equal opportunities for all as opposed to the current deep rooted social and economic inequalities.

Our criticism of the President and his government should never be equated to an act of subversion or treason. We are loyal to the constitution of the Republic. We have a legitimate role to play in the business of the House.

Finally, I wish to convey my good wishes to the President of the republic and wish him good health.  I hope that with time, he will come to realise that we are partners in the development journey of the Republic.  We may differ in term of the vision we have for the country, but we need not treat each other as sworn rivals.  I hope and pray that the All Mighty will bless him with the wisdom to realise that actions such as amending laws or regulations to undermine and control the office of leader of the opposition, as was recently done with the Green Book, do not reflect the dignity of the office he holds.

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