FRANCISTOWN: When President Ian Khama announces his cabinet reshuffle any time soon, he is likely to be influenced by two main factors: Service delivery at government level and bolstering the deepening voice of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) in Parliament.
He may however, consider other diverse factors as he battles to re-build his party whose fortunes have been experiencing a decline in recent years. Khama recently signed into law, bills seeking to increase the number of substantive state ministers by two, assistant ministers and specially elected Members of Parliament by two respectively.
Under normal circumstances, the President will consider many factors when appointing his Cabinet, which includes gender, age, experience, tribe and geographical considerations amongst others.
But, it seems the impending reshuffle will not be a normal one and all the above considerations may take the backseat while political expediency goes to the fore.
Two years after the country’s general elections it is time that Khama looks at the performance scorecards of his Cabinet. At least by now, he has an idea of who are star performers and non-performers. It is time Khama strategised and deployed certain people in an endeavour to reinforce the running of the ministries.
It goes without saying that Khama has identified talent from the backbench due for promotion. After the general elections, Parliament becomes the most important centre of national politics, therefore, Khama and his handlers could be worried by the amount of mileage gained by the opposition bloc of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) and its Botswana Congress Party (BCP) partners.
Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi definitely wants to get a firm grip on the seat of power and that could mainly be granted if his principal (Khama) could grant him his wish by appointing his choice of people.
As for Khama it is about what legacy he leaves behind when he exits his seat in April 2018. He would not want to leave weak institutions: the BDP and government.
As for the issue of service delivery, Khama, the master strategist, is expected to come up with a simple approach of making life easier for his government to deliver with ease especially in the problematic ministry of education and skills development (MoESD) and another equally seemingly overloaded ministry of minerals, energy and water resources.
Trimming the size of the two big ministries seems to be an obvious option motivated apparently by a desire to achieve improved service delivery.
The MoESD is one area that that has seen the government at loggerheads with the parents and the teacher trade unions over poor results. It has become a sensitive area in which Khama’s government is left with no choice but to prove its mettle by taking an appropriate action.
Speculation is rife that the MoESD could be divided into two: basic education and higher education. This will purely be motivated by a desire to improve performance as the general perception today is that the Khama-led government has failed the country’s education system. In other jurisdictions, the ministry of minerals, energy and water resources is split twice to enable the system to deliver to expected levels. At a time when the markets are volatile, Khama could also be worried that his government is yet to effectively diversify the national economy from being diamond-led and on the other hand, the diamond is yet to play a pivotal role in the economy.
Today’s challenges in this sector require someone to give the mineral sector an undivided attention and allow the diamond industry to play its role in the economy.
A ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BFP) Young Turk who preferred anonymity posited: “ As for service delivery, Khama has to take cognisant of the fact that his ministers can do well provided they are supported by strong permanent secretaries. Government is civil service and civil service is government.”
He observed that Khama’s position on the impending reshuffle will take cognisant of the fact that, for his party to survive, the BDP has to raise the bar of debate and raise eloquent, charismatic
“The current crop of BDP MPs are not keen to debate,” said the source indicating that it may be Khama’s time to unearth new talent from outside Parliament to bolster the voice of the BDP MPs.
His position is, “Khama has to unearth a new gem to ruffle a few feathers and unsettle opposition in Parliament like the late former vice president Mompati Merafhe would do during his time as the Leader of the House.”
Merafhe would rap the opposition on the knuckles and put them in their place.
“Masisi has since assumed the position of Merafhe as a lone ranger in Parliament. He can stand and defend the party, government and his president from being attacked by the opposition and it’s not the same case with a lot of BDP MPs.
It is apparent a lot of BDP MPs are still in the ‘constituency league’ and content with talking constituency politics instead of defending the party and its president during the hour of need. “When the BDP future is at stake; they simply choose to dwell on narrow constituency political issues than national issues,” he said indicating that they have reduced the BDP-dominated Parliament simply into a case of everybody for himself. “The BDP needs powerful debaters to raise the profile of the party. Even if the party was to perform well at ministerial level, that does not guarantee it the future as the party on its own has to perform, hence Khama would have to strike a balance between the two institutions.”
The Young Turk observed that one of the things that might occupy Khama in the process of the cabinet reshuffle might be that a lot of the people that he has entrusted with responsibilities are “rather ball watching and not spiritually engaged in politics, which makes the party to become so vulnerable.
“Look, some of the BDP politicians are concerned about their survival and not necessarily concerned about the continued survival of the BDP.”
Of course, the timing of the impending reshuffle is another important factor that could determine Khama’s choice.
As political commentator, Anthony Morima puts it, Khama is in his lame duck period and his Vice President, Mokgweetsi Masisi is battling hard to position himself as the heir apparent and he (Masisi) may prefer that his loyalists be given preference to others to bolster his position. Concedes Morima: “This is not going to be a normal reshuffle. We may see political expediency taking centre stage over any other considerations or so, when Khama reshuffles is Cabinet.”
University of Botswana (UB) political scientist Leonard Sesa acknowledges that performance is one factor that Khama could consider when he reshuffles his Cabinet after scrutinising their performances.
He is convinced that the performance of opposition MPs in Parliament is something that is giving Khama sleepless nights, as they are educated, present thoroughly researched issues in Parliament and the majority of them are great orators.
He noted that the impending reshuffle might help the BDP cover itself up especially that during the Speaker of the National Assembly’s visits across the country, Batswana proposed that parliamentary debates be televised.
“It’s obvious that Khama is going to consider strengthening both Cabinet and backbench so that when Parliament debates are made live his party and government do not suffer any embarrassment at all,” observed the political scientist. The UB academic further enthused that the BDP might use the opportunity to appoint one of its newly recruits to a position of responsibility to use that as a catch for more.
“Khama is likely to bolster the BDP’s ongoing recruitment exercise from the opposition by appointing one of their new recruits so that it becomes much easier to sell their campaign,” said Sesa.