Given the poor performance by the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) both in the National Assembly and the Executive, and which poor performance would have triggered the much publicised retreat, nothing extraordinary from what I already know emerged therefrom. For starters, one would have expected the BDP to have held the retreat immediately after winning the 2019 general election in order to develop the strategic plan anchored around its election manifesto. Almost half way into its term, the BDP should at this stage be reviewing the said strategic plan particularly in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic which admittedly, has scuppered in large measure plans which would have been in place before it emerged. But lo and behold, the BDP is as good as just beginning. Truth be told, the retreat was necessitated more than anything else, by the disgruntlement of the party’s backbenchers over a myriad of issues. At the time of writing, it had not become clear if the backbenchers’ complaints were resolved and how. I am not persuaded we are any wiser in the political and socio-economic fronts after the retreat if one considers the televised speech of the President following the retreat. In this conversation, my argument is grounded on corruption as an impediment to the President’s priorities as listed in his speech.
The retreat came about reportedly as a result of the disgruntlement of BDP MPs particularly the backbenchers. They were concerned about the public outcry over the real or perceived general deterioration in the administration of the country as regards the socio-economic circumstances of Batswana. BDP MPs particularly the backbenchers had their own political issues within their party. In the main therefore, the retreat was expected to resolve sticking political issues for the good of the party and its government on one hand, and the deteriorating socio-economic circumstances of Batswana on the other. This is important given that the BDP is the ruling party whose policies and programmes impact directly on the citizenry. It stands to reason that if the disgruntlements have not been resolved, these policies and programmes will not receive a firm buy-in from the top political leadership let alone the citizenry.
I am disappointed by the President’s failure to address the question of corruption in his speech. Like I said in my last week’s article, his Members of Parliament have not been of any help in dealing with the issue in the National Assembly other than mentioning it in passing and without discernible conviction and resolve. I classify corruption as an economic pandemic because it has for time immemorial ravaged society as is currently Covid-19. Government has pulled almost all of her resources to fight against Covid-19 pandemic and justifiably so. That said, government has developed cold feet in decisively dealing with the other pandemic that is corruption beyond the predictable but tired rhetoric, ‘we are fighting corruption.’ The fact that the President does not have corruption as one of his listed priorities in his speech well and truly confirms that he does not regard it as an economic pandemic worth the time and space at the retreat. The end result is that public perceptions on the popular argument that corruption is not taken seriously is because the powers that be are knee-deep into corruption will forever stand. It is worth noting that corruption was at the top of the President’s agenda when campaigning for the 2019 general election. For it to now be mentioned in passing should be a serious indictment on the President. In this regard therefore, the needle is still refusing to move and nothing suggests it will do so anytime soon.
The President has listed his immediate priorities to turnaround Botswana as Mindset Change, Digitisation, Aligning Botswana Government machinery to the Presidential Agenda, Value Chain Development, Saving Botswana’s population from Covid-19. I will only pick the first one for purposes of this conversation.
I fully concur with the President that mindset change is paramount to the political and socio-economic well-being of Batswana. It is not in dispute that Batswana are a very angry people who go to the extent of wishing death on their compatriots. Political differences have worsened the situation. It cannot be. But there are underlying factors which have been allowed to cause Batswana to be an unhappy nation. The 2019 World Happiness Report lists Botswana at an index score of 148 out of 156 countries analysed. This score places us between Haiti and Syria. Imagine Botswana ranked next to Syria as an angry country. The Report says the unhappiness is as a result of amongst others lack of social support, income inequality, perceptions of runaway corruption and, high levels of Gender-based violence. To ensure that mindset is changed and achieved, it should stand to reason that factors which led to Batswana being an unhappy lot should significantly be reversed. The gap in income inequalities (caused in some measure by high levels of unemployment across the board which by itself leads to poverty) should not only be closed but should be seen to be closed; there should be meaningful reforms to corruption legislation to also ensure that runaway and high levels of institutionalised corruption are decisively dealt with. We should be witnessing perpetrators of corruption successfully prosecuted and convicted to serve jail time. The same should go for the GBV scourge whose numbers exponentially increase on a daily basis the result of which is the serious lack of social cohesion. The inevitable question should be: has the President offered compelling and tangible plans to reverse the unhappiness conundrum whose end result would change the minds of Batswana?
I am afraid not. Like I said above when dealing with the corruption issue, the President looks not prepared to temper with corruption legislation. He seems to be adopting the position don’t fix it if it is not broken notwithstanding abundant evidence that almost everything is broken. It is an open secret that the current legislation has not been able to deal with runaway corruption given the high numbers of corruption incidents with perpetrators roaming the streets. Corruption brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic has taken the centre stage and looks to continue as long as the pandemic is still the greatest threat to our well-being. Something is inherently wrong and the quicker corruption legislation and other attendant matters are addressed, the mindset change project will fall heavily on its belly. For the President’s priorities to take off and have the desired positive impact on our socio-economic circumstances, there has to be almost zero presence of corruption. Our socio-economic circumstances are where they are primarily because corruption has been allowed to be a serious impediment and with impunity if I may add.
It is not enough for the President to be still saying ‘We must obliterate silos of debilitating corruption.’ We have long passed the stage of making rhetoric statements on corruption. What is of importance is the HOW part of obliterating silos. From what one gathers, the BDP retreat has not come out with tangible strategies to decisively deal with corruption. The President’s priorities meant to change the minds of Batswana remain priorities on paper and therefore, standing very little chance if any, to make any difference when he is still making public statements not followed by action on corruption. Newspapers are reporting that the Acting Permanent Secretary to the President has a docket at DCEC on issues corruption. At the very least, the officer should have been suspended in terms of the relevant provisions of the Public Service Act. And you tell me we should obliterate debilitating corruption. The needle is yet to move to change our mind sets. Nothing suggests this will happen anytime soon. I am prepared to be persuaded otherwise as always. Judge for Yourself!
Kindly be reminded that we are not out of the woods as yet with respect to Covid-19 virus. Let us all comply with Covid-19 protocols. It is neither hard nor difficult to do so.