As society develops and citizens become better enlightened, there will be increased pressures on elected representatives to take on more responsibilities and better perform their roles of representation, legislation and oversight. Our submission is guided by the simple fact that in the Delimitation exercise following the 2001 population census, when the population of Botswana had grown to 1,680,862 yielded 57 constituencies, implying that a population quota of just over 29,000 which had been approved by Parliament had been used. While there could be justifiable calls for the reduction in the quota, we are of the view that at the minimum, the 2001 quota should be maintained. We therefore propose that the previous quota be maintained as an increase in the quota would be inconsistent with the reality that our society has grown, leading to higher expectation on the part of the public for elected representatives to be more accessible.
Prior to the appointment of the Delimitation Commission but subsequent to the national population census, the member of Parliament for Okovango, Honourable Bagalatia Arone tabled a bill pursuant to section 64(2)(a) of the constitution seeking to alter the number of seats of elected members in the National Assembly by increasing them to 69. By so tabling the Bill before Parliament, the National Assembly became seized with the matter.
However, the JNC decided to establish the Delimitation Commission before Parliament deliberated on the matter, thus triggering a parallel process. Hence the confusion as to whether the Delimitation Commission has the power to determine the number of constituencies. The JSC proceeded in terms of Section 64(2)(b) of the constitution of Botswana. There is therefore a need for the Delimitation Commission to give guidance on what will need to be done to allow for the ongoing process to yield an increased number of constituencies.
Size of Botswana Parliament versus other SADC Countries
It is important to draw comparisons between Botswana and other countries within the region with comparable population sizes. This should help to address the question of whether or not Botswana has a bloated Parliament or an overly lean one that needs to be expanded. Within the SADC region, the two countries with populations comparable to that of Botswana are Lesotho and Namibia, both have a population of about 2.1 million.
Lesotho has a Parliament of 120 seats (80 elected through First Past the Post Electoral System while 40 hold Proportional Representation seats). The 80 elected Members of Parliament are linked to constituencies, which gives an average quota of just over 26,000. The additional 40 MPs also serve members of the public, which increases the level of accessibility by the electorates to elected Members of Parliament further.
In the case of Namibia, the National Assembly is made up of 78 members, out of which 72 are elected while six are appointees of the President. Though Namibia uses proportional representation, it can be assumed that overall; an MP is responsible for a population of about 29,000 voters.Maintaining the 2001 quota will therefore allow Botswana to be in line with countries that have comparable population sizes within our region
Growth of Botswana Parliament
The Botswana Parliament, like any other institution, should be allowed to grow. Such growth has taken different forms. In the past, Parliament has created different committees that have allowed it to take on additional responsibilities and better give effect to its mandate than was the case in the past. An example is the establishment of the portfolio committees, which provide greater scrutiny to Ministries. The portfolio committees were set in place during the 10th Parliament, leading to MPs taking a heavier workload as some were called upon to serve in more than three such committees. Botswana Parliament is a member of various regional and international bodies such as the SADC Parliamentary Forum, Pan African Parliament, International Parliamentary Union, and Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and participates in some structures of the European Union. The reality is that Botswana cannot avoid remaining outside international organisations and will have to participate in more international bodies as and when the opportunity arises. More global bodies are opening up to Parliaments on issues such as global warming and trade. The Botswana delegations to some of the international meetings have composed of the minimum permissible size, owing to the fact that MPs are over stretched by virtue of serving in numerous committees. One of the key roles of Parliament is oversight. This oversight at times requires Parliament to set up investigative committees, as was recently the case with the Botswana Development Corporation. There are clear indications that there will be more, not less, such committees in the future.
Parliament is presently debating a motion for the setting up of a select committee to probe developments in the livestock industry. Such work of Parliament is common across the world and the Botswana Parliament can only expect to do more in the future. For this to be possible, Parliament needs an expanded pool of diverse talents to tap from, hence the need to increase its size.
Parliament versus the Executive
Another factor that is worth considering is the balance of power between the Executive and the Legislature. Currently 43% of the Members of Parliament are members of the executive. Under this scenario the balance of power is tilted in favour of the Executive. In line with the principle of separation of powers, it is important to try and maintain a semblance of independence of Parliament, which is diminished when a significant percentage of its members also serve as members of the executive. In terms of the present standing orders, cabinet has the numerical strength of meeting the quorum for Parliamentary business and can sustain the business of the house if back benchers were to be absent on account of other activities.
We are aware that the Delimitation Commission has been advocating for a population quota of 35 000 the basis of which has not been fully explained. Traditionally the Judicial Service Commission (JSC)ww established the Delimitation Commission after the Legislature has pronounced on the number of constituencies following the population census. The role of the Delimitation Commission was to draw constituency boundaries as determined by parliament. We are also aware that the President of the Republic of Botswana has pronounced in one of his Kgotla meetings that there will be no increase of constituencies on account of the economic difficulties the country is facing. The pronouncement by the President runs contrary to the fact that at the time when the economic crisis was still a major issue in 2009, the Office of the President tabled a Bill in Parliament proposing that the number of specially elected MPs be increased. It is possible that this Bill may still be re-tabled, the economic hardships notwithstanding.
It would be a drawback to our democracy if an independent body such as the Delimitation Commission was to be seen to be pursuing the interests of one of the political players instead of carrying out an objective review of developments that require a review of our constituencies. We suggest that in rezoning new constituencies, this must take cognisance of the following: Administrative clustering by Main Districts Population density of constituency
Geographical expansiveness of the constituency
The 2011 quota of 29 0000 be maintained and constituencies be increased to 69 * This was the opposition Botswana Congress Party's presentation to the Delimitation Commission made yesterday afternoon.