As the year 2020 came to a close and which year was full of twists and turns in legal and political terms, the limelight was on the election petitions launched by the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) wherein it alleged massive election rigging by the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) and the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) in the 2019 general election. There were also the corruption-infested National Petroleum Fund (NPF) scandal and the P 100 billion heist trials which continue to crumble at the speed with which they were enrolled in court. One cannot be oblivious to the corruption trial of the disgraced, erstwhile Permanent Secretary to the President Rre Carter Morupisi and his wife. The President’s active involvement in business with ‘borampeechane’ (a derogatory Setswana description of people particularly of Asian origin who arrived from their countries very poor but are now stinking rich here) also made its mark. The live broadcast of parliamentary proceedings is a cherry on top. The year 2020 cannot be closed without mentioning the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic which has caused, and continues to cause untold suffering to humanity the world over.
Legal talking points of 2020
When the UDC emerged from its political shell immediately after the poor performance in the 2019 general election, it launched election petitions in an endeavour to overturn the election results probably in the same fashion as would later be the case in Malawi. It was never to be! This notwithstanding the hype that was created to the effect that massive vote-rigging evidence was collected and compiled to overturn the election results. UDC’s mantra on election rigging evidence appeared convincing. But brutal truth be told, the UDC is the creator of its own ‘political misfortunes’ at critical moments as history has consistently indicated. In football language, one could say the UDC always loses the game it should have won at the death. With the calibre of its legal team led by Advocate Duma Boko, there was just one simple thing for this team to do in order to lay bare the massive vote-rigging evidence in court: comply with all the procedural legal requirements as laid down in the Electoral Act and other relevant instruments when launching an election petition and you are home and dry. Such election petitions would have gone to trial with the possibility of election results overturned depending of course on the strength of tendered evidence. With the massive evidence it claimed it possessed, I believe there was no need for the UDC ‘to take short cuts’ and later claim courts were in cahoots with the BDP and the IEC as would later be its argument. From where I stand, I believe the UDC did a great deal of unpardonable disservice to its members in particular and the nation in general. In an attempt to save face probably as a delayed afterthought, the UDC came out with a strategy called the Peoples Court whose purpose was, or is to lay bare the so-called massive evidence. On two occasions, the fictitious court failed to sit on the excuse that the person holding the massive evidence was unable to attend. Really? This can only be told to kinder garden kids. If the evidence was ever there, it should be available to be spilled as and when necessary. In the end, the UDC election petitions and the so-called Peoples Court should best be described as an appalling damp squib.
The next legal talking point should be the P 250 million NPF and the P 100 billion corruption and money laundering trials. These matters have put Botswana’s investigative and prosecutorial capabilities/capacities into serious probing. It is either these public funds were looted from the public vault with the looters seemingly protected, or no such looting took place. The truth should lie in between the two propositions. Even if it could be argued that the investigative and prosecutorial agencies are poorly resourced to match the private legal defence teams assembled by the accused, some things should remain basic and standard: perform a proper and thorough investigation to gather evidence that will be tested and stand such test at the prosecution stage. The basic and standard aspects of these matters seem to have been deliberately compromised and circumvented for a quick pre-determined outcome. Such outcome is brutally backfiring. And there can only be one possible explanation why these matters have pitifully collapsed and that should be political interference. The names of former President Ian Khama and the incumbent President Mokgweetsi Masisi have been extensively mentioned in the NPF scandal. The former is no longer protected by presidential immunity dispensation and should have been investigated for his alleged part or lack thereof as soon as he left office. The incumbent should have been investigated for the same before he ascended the presidency because he was not protected by presidential immunity back in 2017 when the scandal broke. In fact he (the President) was reportedly questioned by the DCEC but nothing came out of it. It was in my view an exercise in futility meant to pull the wool over society’s eyes. Just as much as the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture in South Africa will not be complete without Jacob Zuma’s version given his centrality thereto, the same cannot be the case with the NPF scandal without Khama and Masisi versions.
As the 2019 general election contest appeared too close to call given that the UDC was matching the BDP pound for pound in election campaigns and resources coupled with the Ian Khama’s potential influence and threat on the election outcome, a populist agenda was probably hatched by the latter to win that election by hook or crook. While the NPF matter started in December 2017, it became handy to propel the fighting corruption rhetoric in the lead up to the 2019 general. With the clumsy and the school boy manner these matters have so far been handled, it is difficult to discount that political pressure was never exerted on the investigative and prosecutorial agencies to concoct whatever semblance of a true court case could be made out. I have said it before and I still repeat that professional, ethical and moral standards escape professional people to a point where a prosecutor would take a matter to court even when they know deep down their consciences that such matters do not stand to beat the first hurdle of a well investigated criminal case. In any event, they are assured of their complete salary slips at the end of every month. The manner and reasoning by the magistrate and high courts in these matters simply point to this proposition. The only high profile matter resembling a fair amount of proper investigation with a good chance of conviction is that of the Morupisis. The prosecution has so far overcome the no case to answer hurdle brought about by the Morupisis defence. All in all, it is fair to argue that a solid political hand was involved in the NPF and the P 100 billion matters to hoodwink the electorate in the 2019 general election.
Political talking points of 2020
One issue the BDP is skirting around with no clear direction and conviction is corruption. I have come to the conclusion that the party is not showing any demonstrable willingness to deal with it except the tired pronouncements I have heard from the President and his colleagues. Instead of coming up with a Bill to reform the DCEC in terms of removing it from the office of the President; appointment of its head; security of tenure of such head amongst others, the BDP would rather be preoccupied with the floor crossing of MPs and Councillors. Yet corruption is growing and increasing at the pace of Covid-19 virus-exponentially.
The live broadcasting of parliamentary proceedings is a welcome development that has illuminated the political space probably more than ever before. Everyone sees and hears for themselves what the MPs are up to. It is the platform where all and sundry have started to measure those they elected across the aisle. Members of Parliament may very well be making or breaking their cases for re-election or not at the end of the 12th parliament. It was always a given that the BDP will use its numbers to shoot down each and every Motion or the Private Members Bill brought by the opposition because success of the same would put the latter onto a big political pedestal. While the opposition is aware that whatever it puts on the table will not be accepted by the BDP, the former is in the meantime exposing the latter to the electorate as a party resolute in opposing anything from them whatever the value such could benefit Batswana. What is even more exposing, embarrassing and disappointing for the BDP is that it rejected some of the issues it promised during campaigns. It rejected self-servingly, the repeal of the Private Media Practitioners Act as brought by the opposition and to be precise, the UDC and the motion brought by Hon Yandani Boko on GBV. These were rejected by reason that the UDC could politically benefit therefrom at the detriment of the BDP.
The President’s appetite to actively engage in business partnerships while still occupying the highest office in the land came into sharp criticism from other Batswana including myself. But regrettably the President through his Press Secretary brushed off the criticism by relying heavily on legality than on moral and ethical conduct. But it is neither shocking nor surprising because in politics, morality and ethics count for nothing. Politicians want us the poor souls to do what they want to which they self-servingly again, look allergic to. Someone said ‘to turn all moral obligations into legal obligation is to destroy morality.’ I cannot agree more.
The last political straw should be the Notwane Farm meeting between the BDP and the BDP itself. Buoyed by long incumbency and larger than life attitude which inevitably has bred complacency, this meeting demonstrated the wilful and serious blurring of lines between Party and the State. The BDP is a political party in power and it is entitled to deploy its cadres on a limited scale in government. But to involve public servants who are expected to be apolitical in party political activity as was the Notwane Farm meeting is to further politicise the already politicised civil service. It is reported that the BDP is considering to appoint their own cadres to civil service positions to ensure service delivery because any other Motswana who is not a BDP member is sabotaging service delivery. This is absurd if not frightening because this is where and how dictatorship begins. Look at the South African situation where the ANC has deployed its cadres in the public service some of whom are clueless about their positions. The end result is institutionalised and runaway corruption and abuse of office amongst others. The BDP must be told to its face that Botswana belongs to Batswana in equal measure and that it does not have the monopoly of skills and know-how to perform in the civil service. The era of unrestricted patronage, jobs for pals underpinned by political and other considerations has long passed its sell-by date. It is only available in dictatorship or repressive ‘democracies’. The public service is anchored and run on legal instruments duly promulgated by competent authorities. Any public official who is therefore not equal to its vision and mission for whatever reason, must be fairly dealt with through such legal instruments.
With 2021 beginning with equally explosive political developments particularly in the UDC camp, 2020 stands out as a year full of intriguing legal and political talking points. These will undoubtedly spill over into the New Year. But one thing is indisputable: the country’s prosecution agency is in the ICU ward where its life is holding literally, on threadbare. Political shenanigans and machinations across the board are set to dramatically unfold as the year progresses.
*Political commentator & Columnist