Cash-strapped political parties cry for State bankrolling

UDC activists
UDC activists

FRANCISTOWN: As political party activities heighten in an election year, it is apparent that political party funding, which has been a topical issue since Independence is still a worrying impediment to democracy.

Botswana, one of the oldest democracies in the region, seems to be taking too long to enrich democracy as political parties incessantly struggle to make ends meet, more especially during election year.

Elections are proving to be an expensive engagement that requires large sums of money to run an effective campaign that could bring the desired results. Political organisations continue to beg from generous donors.

Going into the general elections for the first time, Alliance for Progressives (AP) is already feeling the stress of struggling to raise sufficient funds for its desired campaigns.

AP secretary general, Phenyo Butale revealed this week: “It’s a different situation as AP derives most of its resources from our sympathisers, which accords us to produce merchandise and small things that matter in our campaigns”.

With the meagre resources, Butale says they are ready as the AP to compete against the well-resourced parties. The AP campaigns, by Butale’s admission, are not centred on abundant resources, as their people are willing to sacrifice a lot.

It’s obvious that people who donate to the AP choose to remain faceless for fear of losing opportunities from the government, which is the main player in the domestic economy as the private sector also strongly depends on the government.

The AP is unfortunate as Butale articulates its situation that the party doesn’t have blessers who dole out resources needed to run a strong campaign. In his view, political funding requires a level playing field to accord the parties the strength to compete.

He speaks of control measures to monitor foreign bodies flooding our shores with their unknown agendas.

He particularly fingered the opposition Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) to be having foreign funders just like Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), which in the past was bankrolled by faceless foreign entities. He insisted, “there is no such thing as a free lunch”.

Moeti Mohwasa, UDC spokesperson says systematic and transparent State political funding can assist the political parties to stabilise even in between the years just outside the general election.

His take is that people and other entities do help when parties go to the general election. He stressed that since 1965, the BDP has been enjoying financial assistance from foreign entities. “The only difference is what conditions that assistance comes with”. Mohwasa decried that local businesspeople prefer to give opposition a pittance with the BDP given the lion’s share.

“The only company that once gave out money to the local political parties according to their individual strengths was Kgalagadi Breweries Limited,” he said.

BDP spokesperson, Kagelelo Banks Kentse clarified confusion over the State President and Vice President that the law to use the State resources protects them and will do so to anyone in power.

Kentse has a feeling that in the 2019 general election campaigns, the funders are giving the opposition UDC a lot of money in return for a number of concessions. He could not elaborate further though.

He says the BDP could be having a lot of sympathisers, “but we are now struggling. We can’t even hire a PR agency to do our bidding. It’s a tough year for us”.

He doesn’t know how much was budgeted for, indicating that even a budget is one thing while reality is another.

On political party funding, he thinks in a modern democracy that is very important. In Masisi, he is proud that the BDP has a liberal leader who will be open to such a discussion.

He denies that in the past, controversial South African businessperson Zunaid Modi, who is reputed to be currently the main sponsor for the UDC, funded BDP campaigns. 

He claims that the BDP has no past linkages with Modi, claiming that there is no record whatsoever on such allegations.

Justice Motlhabani, spokesperson for the newly-registered Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) concedes that it has really been rough at their party. In its formative days, the BPF has been surviving on the goodwill of some loyal members donating cattle, cash and others. “When we do events, people usually make contributions. Parliamentary candidates dole out P1,000, council hopefuls pay about P400 just to register as a candidate,” he explained.

Motlhabani wishes that his party could get funds from big organisations as canvassing in an election year requires a lot of money to stage an effective campaign.

“Here and there, we have people who don’t feel free to be identified for donations,” Motlhabani said, presenting a sorry picture about his party.

He is very categorical about political party funding, which he presents as a panacea to the real troubles that his party is facing today.

“Look, some rogue organisations are funded by terrorist organisations, so with political party funding it will really avoid such situations and duly enrich our democracy, which is still backwards and overtaken by new democracies like South Africa, Namibia and even Zimbabwe where there is political party funding,” he said.

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