President Ian Khama has been accused of trying to govern the country like his own household, undermining transparency and protocols that govern the constitution. Botswana Congress Party (BCP) spokesman, Dumelang Saleshando told Mmegi that by barring private media from covering cabinet visits to councils, Khama thinks he can "come and make his own rules, circumventing the existing ones".
The Gaborone Central MP was speaking after opposition councillors walked out of a full council meeting yesterday attended by Khama and the cabinet at the Gaborone City Council. The councillors took the action to protest the prevention of the private media from covering the meeting.
"No full council meetings are held in camera but it looks like this president wants to run this country like his own household, where he says who comes and who doesn't come to the meetings. You can't pick and choose who should cover and who should not cover your events," he said.
The BCP spokesman said the opposition councillors had inquired about the status of the meeting and they were told it would be a full council meeting. "A full council is regulated by the Township Act, together with Standing Orders and they are clear that it (full council) is open to the public. This is an international practice. When former president Festus Mogae addressed the South African Parliament we saw the address on television. That is why at BCP, though we have issues with the state media, we still don't bar them from our events. This really shows that the president does not understand anything about freedom of the press," he said.
Saleshando was not happy with a letter from cabinet minister, Shaw Kgathi which berates opposition councillors for walking out on Khama. It has since emerged that Khama and his cabinet is not keen to have their meeting covered by the private media.
They only allow coverage of the opening session. Kgathi explained that the Gaborone City Council meeting was convened as part of Khama's efforts to take cabinet to local authorities. "We would like to strongly condemn opposition parties for their untimely walk as an absolute demonstration of irresponsibility by a group of people who have been duly elected to represent their constituents at local government and by
Kgathi berates the councillors for walking out from a meeting that they have been duly informed was a cabinet meeting for the simple reason that the private media was barred from attending.
"It was in extreme poor taste and grossly misinformed that a councillor of the BCP moved a point that attempted to alter procedures and rules of conduct of government business. In addition, these councillors' walkout was a choice they made hence denying their voters a chance of being represented at the highest level of government...It is interesting to learn that the same councillors are willing and interested in submitting their sitting allowance of the day for the meeting they walked out," he said.
Responding to the rebuke against opposition councillors, Saleshando said that Khama is the one who has been getting paid as an MP "yet he never sets foot in Parliament. He actually holds the record of absenteeism in Parliament".
Botswana National Front spokesman, Moeti Mohwasa said that the private media should not have been barred from covering the meeting as they play a crucial role in disseminating information to the public. "I think Kgathi is mistaken if he thinks they can just let the state media to be there while the private press in barred. It does not happen in a democracy and what these councillors were doing was simply to correct this anomaly," he said.