All nine opposition councillors in the Gaborone City Council (GCC) walked out on President Ian Khama and his cabinet yesterday citing 'procedural flaws'. The councillors staged a walkout shortly after the media was told to leave.
"I stood up to seek clarification as to why the media had to leave since this was a full council meeting, which according to procedure should be open to the public including the media. The answer was that this was a cabinet meeting and the media had to leave. Now that was not the answer we got yesterday from the city clerk who assured us that the meeting would be a full council meeting. As you saw, both the city mayor and her deputy were wearing their ceremonial chains, which they should only wear during full council meetings. That was the understanding - that this is a full council meeting. We decided to walk out if the media is not allowed to sit in, as we would otherwise be violating the very statutes governing full council meetings. We were told that it is not a full council meeting despite all the previous assurances, and the documentation that classified it as a full council meeting so we decided to leave," councillor Ephraim Mabengano told the media outside the council chambers. He quoted Article 13 of the city council and Regulation 20 of the Township Act, which he says both stipulate a presence of the public, including the media during full council meetings. "As elected representatives of the people, it is necessary that our constituents know what we deliberate on during full council meetings, and it is through the media that our people will know what we discussed. Cabinet is not councillors and we don't see this meeting as a cabinet meeting. Even if we were called to brief cabinet, the media should still sit in. What is it that has to be so secretive about the meeting?," he wondered.
The councillors said that the meetings with Khama and his cabinet are not in the national interest but an attempt to heal the
Councillor Chanugwa Mphusu of Marang argued that despite Khama having said in his opening remarks that the meeting was for cabinet to consult with councillors, there was never any intention by to give councillors an opportunity to raise issues, or at least to respond to Khama or cabinet's statements. "The programme is so restrictive that it is clear that councillors would not have the opportunity to respond to deliberations," he said.
Councillor Themba Bawe of Tsholofelo East said they have pressing issues that they wanted the presidents to address in the presence of the public. "We are complaining about pit latrines that council has not emptied in a long time as there is only one vehicle to do the job. Our constituents are worried and we would have wanted the president to tell us what happens in the meantime as government phases out the pit latrines. That is not an issue to chase the media away for. As far as I am concerned, this is a glorified council meeting," he said.
The Botswana National Front's Olebogeng Kemele of Bontleng wondered why Khama allows the media to cover his "kgotla meetings a ora molelo" but will not allow the media to cover a similar meeting in a council hall. Other councillors who walked out include Tshepo Balatedi of Selemela Ward, specially elected Nthabiseng Jacobs and Ndiwane Kenosi of Moselewapula.
Khama's address came at a time when a number of councillors were expected to quit the BDP and join the newly formed Botswana Movement for Democracy.