FRANCISTOWN: The Botswana Democratic Party's (BDP) decision to choose nominated councillors at Sowa Town Council (STC) using 'political patronage' may haunt it in future, a legal expert has warned.
Although the party does not play any role in the selection of nominated councillors, its detractors are implicating it in the matter.
Their argument is that the decision to choose nominated councillors rests squarely on the Minister of Local Government and Rural Development who is appointed to serve in Cabinet at the pleasure of the President of Botswana and BDP.
STC is currently embroiled in a legal battle with its past two immediate nominated councillors over some allowances. The ex-nominated councillors, Botho Ntirang and Pearl Goitseone Lekau, had taken STC to the Francistown High Court over mileage and subsistence allowances (plus interest) they claim the municipality owes them.
Ntirang and Lekau’s court papers show that their primary residences are Tonota and Francistown respectively.
The duo’s bone of contention is that from October 2014 up to October 23, 2019, they used their private motor vehicles to travel from their respective places of abode whenever they attended official business in Sowa Town (ST).
In the process, they added, they incurred travel and other associated costs whenever they traveled to ST for official business hence their application to court for redress. Also, when the councillors attended official business at ST, they were not provided with official accommodation during their stay in ST-a state of affairs that still obtains today. This situation forced most of the civic leaders to return to their primary residences everyday following the completion of council business.
They had to return the following day if the municipality’s business was scheduled for consecutive days-a situation which increased their financial constraints. STC is made up of nine councillors. Out of this number, only one councillor was and/is elected directly by voters during the general elections while the rest are nominated councillors from various places in the country.
For example, in the past STC used to have councillors from Selebi-Phikwe, Tonota and Francistown but it now has some from Palapye and Mopipi among others. Currently, the mayor of ST, Oliphant Mfa (former Assistant Minister of Local Government) and his deputy Bethuel Botumile are from Borolong and Serowe respectively. Councillors Kgomotso Seduke, Bahiti Ratora, Mabunya Gadibolae, Kgathego Olothantse, Iponeng Motsumi and Ontiretse Kabalele are from Nata, Serowe, Gweta, Palapye and Mopipi respectively while councillor John Ntebalang is from ST.
A lawyer who is closely following the issue said that should Ntirang and Lekau succeed in court, it is a given that when the current crop of nominated councillors complete their term, they would also demand their mileage and subsistence allowances using the legal way if need be. But, the attorney added, since they will be precedent, the case will be easily settled out of court in favor of the councillors.
A reliable source told Mmegi that some of the current
The source added that what irks the current and former councillors the most is the fact that numerous council sessions have resolved that the municipality should compensate them for mileage and subsistence allowances whenever they attend official council business in STC.
However, the council does not budge, the source said. The issue of STC was also raised in Parliament in 2014. This publication then reported that out of the 119 nominated councillors, BDP had 115, while the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) had four. The Botswana Congress Party (BCP) had no representation. Quizzed about the disproportionate nomination of councillors at the time, officials at the Ministry of Local Government found nothing wrong with the heavy imbalance in favor of the BDP.
The Ministry told Mmegi that academic qualifications and gender among others were considered in the nomination of councillors. “When constituting Councils, the Minister takes into consideration the experience, qualifications, gender balance, youth and other disadvantaged groups within a particular locality. Taking all this into consideration, it should not be construed that the ruling party dominates specially nominated Councillors,” the Ministry said in response.
However, the issuetook a different twist when current Vice President, Slumber Tsogwane, then Minister of Local Government answered the question in Parliament. Tsogwane was unable to provide Parliament with an answer about the number of those who were candidates for the BDP during the 2014 general elections.
Tsogwane was answering a question from MP for Francistown South Wynter Mmolotsi who wanted to know the number of nominated councillors who were candidates for the BDP in the October 2014 general elections and how many of them were nominated for STC.
Mmolotsi also wanted to know how many of the nominated councillors lost in the BDP primaries. “The councillors who were elected are the ones who have wards which fall under their constituencies. For nominated councillors they are not chosen on constituency basis.
The same applies for nomination of councillors for STC,” Tsogwane replied then. He was also unable to state the number of nominated councillors who contested in the BDP primary elections.
Officials at the Local Government then insisted that Tsogwane did not depart from normal procedure when selecting nominated councillors but stated that he followed the Local Government Act of 2012.
“Where the opposition party is a majority in a Council, they too qualify for a nomination, which they were duly accorded,” the Ministry officials said. Despite the Ministry’s insistence, the opposite was not the case then.
According to the results of the 2014 general elections, BDP only got 46% of the popular vote.