Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) Members of Parliament who are not in the Executive are reportedly meeting His Excellency the President Dr M.E.K. Masisi this weekend over a variety of matters affecting the party and government. While the meeting is said to be the brainchild of the backbenchers in the main, it appears there are some from the Executive who share their concerns. According to those in the know, this meeting was sought immediately after the 2019 general election but was inexplicably delayed until this weekend. It should raise questions why they allowed this meeting to be delayed for so long when on their version, they had legitimate, hard-pressing national issues to be discussed. It is important to mention that the meeting comes when there are notable political fissures in the BDP occasioned by the latest turn of events in public service appointments and the general administration of the country by the President.
BDP MPs have in the public eye, been the staunchest defenders of the President particularly in the National Assembly wherein they took serious umbrage at any criticism directed at him presumably to curry favour for the longevity of their political careers. By not seriously and meaningfully calling out the Executive as it is its duty to do so, the backbenchers cannot therefore claim any thread of legitimacy when they stayed complicit in so far as it relates to the performance of the BDP on one hand and that of the President on the other.
While I do not have any qualms with the backbenchers taking on the President on party and government business which is essentially one of their core duties, I believe they are being conveniently disingenuous to the President and therefore throwing him under the bus. Particularly because they have since becoming MPs, decided to forego their oversight function on the Executive by being its lapdog as some would say. To them, the principle of Separation of Powers does not apply and it appears it may not do so anytime soon. It is fair to say it is not in their vocabulary given their lackadaisical conduct and attitude particularly in the National Assembly. Backbenchers behave like individuals whose primary mandate has been synchronised to shoot down anything from the Opposition irrespective of how it could positively impact the lives of Batswana. While this is a political tactic generally used not to give the opposition some limelight or mileage over which it could benefit as a campaign tool, it stands to backfire on the same majority party where it loses public confidence as it increasingly appears to be the case. All Motions and Bills presented to the National Assembly by various Ministers have been seriously defended, supported and endorsed by the backbenchers in full view of Batswana through Botswana Television. On the basis of the foregoing therefore, they cannot turn around and fault the President when they themselves, sat on their rights to bring him to order. What is acutely pushing BDP backbenchers on meeting the President?
Backbenchers and other BDP MPs who are also Ministers are feeling the heat from their constituents owing to their poor performance in the National Assembly. Live broadcast of the National Assembly proceedings have all but exposed their serious shortcomings, ineptitude and downright arrogance in terms of articulating bread and butter issues affecting the constituents. Corruption in this country is as old as Botswana is and yet, no BDP backbencher has come out in the open in the National Assembly to present a Motion or Bill to ask the Executive to decisively deal with corruption in terms of reforming DCEC legislation on the same. This is a serious failure on their part considering the Executive is not interested in dealing with corruption.
As if the ‘conventional’ corruption was not enough, Covid-19 corruption has exponentially raised the corruption bar to another level. Consequent to Covid-19 corruption, Batswana have not been able to receive the expected care for various Covid-19 requirements in terms of those in quarantine or isolation as an example. When a suggestion was put before the House to say: let the Minister of Finance and Economic Development produce quarterly reports on Covid-19 expenditure, it was ferociously shot down by the leading voices of the backbenchers. None of them regarded this as a means of curbing the rampant Covid-19 corruption which in the process would erase from the minds of all and sundry that Covid-19 procurement of goods and services is beyond reproach. Backbenchers, barring one or two, were steadfast in opposing the waiver to the introduction of Botswana Housing Corporation rentals by one year considering the socio-economic circumstances of tenants brought by Covid-19 pandemic. This Motion and truth be told, was in the public interest but backbenchers defended a party position and by extension that of the President as opposed to the interests of Batswana. When a question was posed on the electric car promised by the BDP in the lead up to the 2019 general election, none of the backbenchers stood up to say to the relevant Minister: organise a trip to Mogoditshane where MPs would be taken on a conducted tour of the factory working on the project for them to have first-hand appreciation of the said project and to importantly, allay fears that this was not an empty promise. Unexpectedly, Batswana have now turned the heat on BDP MPs by suggesting and justifiably so, that they represent their jackets more than anything else. It therefore stands to reason that the backbenchers in the main, are sensing the highly likely event of the BDP members in particular not re-electing them in BDP bulela ditswe elections let alone the general electorate in the 2024 general election should they miraculously pass the bulela ditswe hurdle. Do the backbenchers have the conviction and courage to take the President head-on?
I doubt it. They will be reminded that when some of them won their bulela ditswe elections enroute to the 2019 general election, the President is reported to have said that some if not all of them, were of such inferior quality that they wouldn’t be qualified enough to make it into his cabinet. This, put differently, was a serious vote of no confidence in them. I don’t remember them taking offence at the President’s unfortunate remark. Instead, they blindly followed him to the point of now complaining to some extent, about issues they have supported him on. Backbenchers have loudly sang the chorus that the President’s administration is that of morero (consultation) which by inference, should say they themselves, have been consulted on various matters. The fact that it took them about two years to have a full blown meeting with him could be interpreted as a sign that he doesn’t take them seriously but that he does so only on the ground of political convenience. The backbenchers will be reminded that when they voted for the floor crossing law, the President told them in no uncertain terms that those who felt uncomfortable with the BDP could exit before the door was firmly shut. Nothing suggests remotely or otherwise that the backbenchers will get something substantial if anything, from the meeting. Are they prepared to support a Motion of No Confidence in the President if push comes to shove?
Not by any stretch of imagination. They know very well the implications of such Motion particularly with respect to their own personal circumstances. With the current political atmosphere in mind, it will be foolhardy and some political suicide of note to go for an election. The damage they have already done to the BDP brand and themselves in the National Assembly has armed the electorate with sharp objects to finish them off. Some of them are still looking up to the President for patronage in whatever form or shape and prospects to further their political and other careers. As it stands therefore, they are at the mercy of the President in more ways than one because like I have alluded to above, they have allowed their blind loyalty to him to outweigh that of their constituents.
The political and socio-economic challenges facing this country emanate from the fact that the backbenchers have allowed themselves to be the extension of the Executive. If they had taken their oath of office very seriously to serve their constituents in particular and the Republic in general, we could have in large measure, not be in the precarious situation we find ourselves in. They should have pushed their party to at least honour their election promises like the comprehensive Review of the Constitution; repealing the Media Practitioners Act; the resuscitation of the Public Service Bargaining Council and others. Unless and until they play their true role in the National Assembly by meaningfully holding the Executive and by extension the President truly accountable, they will remain subservient to the same Executive and the President. That said, I will give them the benefit of the doubt in order to see what comes out of the meeting. From where I stand however, I don’t expect anything from the meeting. Judge for Yourself!
‘No one is safe until everyone is safe’. Let us all adhere to all Covid-19 protocols. It is not a big ask.