The Secretary General of Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) and Member of Parliament for Gaborone North Hon Mpho Balopi has of late since resigning from cabinet notably asked Ministers hard and difficult parliamentary questions. Hard and difficult in the sense that as the third most senior member of the party in government after the President and his Deputy, Hon Balopi would ordinarily not be expected by some members of his own party to ask Ministers of his own party hard and difficult questions that could embarrass the party leadership particularly the President. From where I stand however, Hon Balopi is asking pertinent and pointed questions in the public interest. Questions will predictably be asked why now and not then. I argue these questions do not serve any meaningful purpose because as a backbencher, he is performing his parliamentary duty to hold his Ministers and by extension his political party in government to account for its actions and decisions. He is unflinchingly fulfilling the principle of Separation of Powers.
It is widely argued and justifiably so in my view that the reported strained relationship between him and the President that preceded his resignation from cabinet and continuing subsequently, has led him to ask the type of questions he currently poses to Ministers in the current session of parliament. I want to believe Hon Balopi is well aware of the challenges he is very likely to face from some members of the BDP who are fighting in the President’s corner together with State institutions which become handy in the context of African politics to fight those viewed to be hostile to the sitting President. Former Minister Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi has said she was followed by members of the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS) almost immediately after being dropped from cabinet and when she sought to challenge the President to lead the BDP. Hon Balopi is not alone in playing his oversight role as a backbencher by holding his own party to account. One such individual is Specially Elected Member of Parliament Hon Dr Unity Dow who not so long ago made a statement in parliament wherein she tore the DISS to shreds to the utter dismay of some of her party colleagues some of whom even called her to be disciplined. To some, she has loudly struck the correct cord and tune. It will be remembered Dr Dow and Hon Balopi resigned from cabinet within four months or so of each other. The most recent one is the former Minister of Finance and Economic Development Hon Dr Thapelo Matsheka who has of late since being relegated to the backbenches, become sharply critical of his own government policies if his debates and contributions on the budget speech are anything to go by. Given this brief context, it goes without saying that Hon Balopi is sparing no hard punches for the BDP which otherwise would be spared for the Opposition.
Hon Balopi threw the first salvo by asking his erstwhile colleague in cabinet in the person of the Minister of Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration Hon Kabo Morwaeng whether (and I am paraphrasing here), parts of the BDP manifesto promises have been included in the National Development Plan. This reminded me of former Secretary General of the BDP Rre Botsalo Ntuane’s 2015 ‘Reform Agenda Conversation: 23 Discussion Points’ wherein amongst others, he called on his party to ‘reclaim its authority over government. The party must lead government and not be subordinate as is the case presently’. Hon Balopi’s question almost buttresses Rre Ntuane’s proposition. Coincidentally, this was the period when he (Ntuane) appeared not to be in good books with the former President Ian Khama and by extension some members of the party. And this is the period when the BDP was about to hold its elective congress in Mmadinare where Hon Balopi was in the Vice President Masisi slate as he was then for the party chairmanship. Their slate went on to win all the bets on tables. Whether Hon Balopi is signing his political obituary will be revealed during the upcoming BDP elective congress.
In parliament’s Order Paper released early this week, Hon Balopi was scheduled to ask Hon Morwaeng (i) ‘the operations of the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DIS) and whether he does not consider some of its actions to be tarnishing the Government image; (ii) how many court cases have been brought against the DIS for wrongful arrest, harassment and unlawful undertakings and how many it has successfully defended; and (iii) whether Government will consider limiting DIS operations to investigations and that other enforcement actions be left to institutions like the Botswana Police Service (BPS)’. This type of questions have become synonymous with the Opposition because BDP MPs are not known to ask such because like I have alluded to above, they will consciously or unconsciously embarrass the BDP leadership particularly the President and perhaps more importantly, they could jeopardise their own chances of being appointed Ministers rewarded in some way. Similar questions to the one by Hon Balopi on DIS have previously being asked by the Opposition with Minister Morwaeng or his deputy Hon Mthimkhulu in my view skirting around the question. The standard answer on DIS is that it operates within the legal framework of its founding Act almost suggesting it never crosses the line. Evidence to this is where the DIS has accused Chinese construction companies in particular and others of corruption without providing tangible evidence when asked to do so. In the process, government loses huge amounts of money in litigations as was demonstrated recently where Water Utilities Corporation reportedly paid a Chinese company over P100 million for having allegedly accused it of corruption under the guise of national security.
There are political and other implications to the hard and difficult questions as asked by Hon Balopi. I have partially touched on some of them above. But more crucially in my view is the fall-out between him and his boss the President. If he had resigned from cabinet on a mutual understanding with his boss, it is hard to imagine if he could be asking these types of questions otherwise considered taboo from BDP MPs. Hon Balopi is no newbie to Botswana and BDP politics. Complaints from a wide section of the population about DIS have been there long before and after he became an MP and Minister. Around June 2020, there were reports about a company called World of Oath that was demanding P 15 million payment from DIS for allegedly having provided some services to it in the 2019 general election. Predictably, these allegations were bound to hook the BDP onto the crime scene on account of the party having won the controversial election where the Opposition lodged election petitions albeit unsuccessfully. At the time, Hon Balopi was quoted by the Botswana Gazette online edition dated 17 June 2020 under the headline ‘BDP Disowns DISS in P 15 million Elections Controversy’ wherein the quote posits ‘…..DISS is part of the government and therefore warrants an investigation when it is mentioned in such serious allegations …..We will share the results with the nation once our investigations are done….’ I stand corrected but to the best of my recollection, the World of Oath issue seems like it died a silent death. I also don’t recall the BDP sharing the results of their investigations as promised by Hon Balopi. If this is so, I hold it is a serious indictment on him for having failed to inform the nation.
It is reasonable to conclude the parliamentary question on DISS by Hon Balopi when viewed against the foregoing, bears the hallmarks of when political alliances shift, so do are political thoughts and realignments. To the neutrals like me however, the hard and difficult questions asked by Hon Balopi and his colleagues who have left cabinet are what the doctor ordered. They are performing their duties as should the true backbenchers. Political and other considerations and whatever they could be, will be attended to elsewhere. How I wished his other fellow backbenchers could emulate him by asking hard and difficult questions. I am prepared to be persuaded otherwise as always. Judge for Yourself!
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