ADAM PHETLHE ON SUNDAY
It may be too early to say so because elections are about three years away. But the tell-tale signs of being a one term President for His Excellency Dr M.E.K. Masisi are there for even the blind to see. The euphoria accompanied by the goodwill of Batswana en-route to the 2019 general election seems to have disappeared into thin air. And maybe permanently so unless and until the political compass is fundamentally redirected. I must say it without any fear of contradiction that a good chunk of well-wishers who pushed the goodwill are not your traditional Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) members. They are those who are voters but not aligned to any political party. Your swing voters. If we were to conduct an approval rating exercise on the President, we could be shocked to the marrow by the outcome. Those who genuinely believed the President was more than genuine and honest during campaigning have taken a sudden, yet painful 360 degree turn against him. I dealt with some of the issues in this respect in my previous articles. I will briefly touch them to bring context.
I have talked about the dangers of the BDP rejecting opposition motions in parliament and how these could possibly scupper the party’s success prospects in the coming 2024 general election; how the President has so far disappointed the many voters who believed in him by failing to show his desire to fulfil his election promises. By any measure, these are potential election indicators of whether the President is building winning blocks for his re-election or not. Needless to say, the current political atmosphere does not suggest so. Such atmosphere presents a gloomy picture even to his hardened supporters and sympathisers.
So much has lately emerged from the Government Enclave where very senior individuals in politics and the public service have been removed from their influential positions. Outstanding in this regard are the removals tantamount to demotions of the Minister of Finance and Economic Development Hon Dr Thapelo Matsheka and the Permanent Secretary to the President and Secretary to Cabinet Rre Elias Magosi. A host of other individuals in the same circumstances were so removed. Minister Matsheka and Rre Magosi would be regarded as the President’s chief lieutenants in the Executive and the public service respectively. For them to be removed from their positions speaks volumes. Either they stabbed the President in the back or he did so himself.
The unrelenting overdrive in moving senior public servants every other day, week or month and at the blink of an eye has become the norm these days. At the health ministry in the past twelve months or so for example, a Minister, two Permanent Secretaries and a Deputy, one Director of Health Services have been removed when Covid-19 pandemic is at its peak. Curiously, the dismissed Deputy PS has reportedly been employed at the ministry as a Consultant. Those who know say his pay package has been upgraded from which he was dismissed. Why was he dismissed in the first place? By any measure, this is a high turnover whose consequences are too ghastly to contemplate. The biggest consequence is that this Ministry stands no chance to deliver proper health services to members of the public let alone dealing specifically with the ravaging Covid-19 pandemic when strategic leadership is removed at the blink of an eye. The same pattern obtains elsewhere and in other ministries where panic, anxiety and fear reigns supreme. It would appear there is a lot of backstabbing by the senior civil servants themselves against others accompanied by gossip whose intentions are to bring others down. And the President may be falling onto this trap. At the end of it all, government as led by the President cannot deliver because of the paralysed and the terrified civil service. The sooner the President changes course, the better for him and his prospects for re-election.
On the political scene, the President will be reminded that his ascendency to his current position was not smooth sailing. In 2016 or thereabout, there were reports to the effect that some in former President Khama’s cabinet and possibly with the others who were not in cabinet wanted him (President Masisi) removed from his position as the Vice President as he was then. The former it is reported, stood by him by resisting such removal attempts. It will not come as a surprise should the same attempt be revisited. In fact, such attempts are flying thick and fast as I write.
The most powerful ministry in government is located at the Office of the President where the incumbent Minister and his Deputy are all former members of the opposition. For some in the party, this is a telling vote of no confidence on the tried and tested who have been with the party before the two. There are reports that the Secretary General of the BDP as the third most senior member of the party after the President and the Vice President should have been placed at the Office of the President. It depends on where one stands. A fair argument to make if you asked me. It is argued by some that the said Minister and Assistant are not better placed to advise the President because they are fairly new in the party and government. Some argue that the duo feed the President with adverse information against their fellow members in order to secure their positions. This is an attractive proposition not to be dismissed. If you recall, there is an Assistant Minister who was left out of cabinet after the President’s announcement of his cabinet after the 2019 general election on account that the said Assistant Minister was badmouthed by some of his colleagues. He would later be appointed probably after establishing that he was badmouthed.
The President has been widely criticised (including by myself) of engaging in private business dealings while holding the highest position in the land. I have personally argued that it is simplistic and convenient for him to regard himself as an ordinary ‘fellow’ from the next door like me. The office he holds goes far beyond the simple argument that no law bars or precludes him from engaging in business deals while still occupying his position. I have argued that ethical morality demands that the President conducts himself beyond the prescripts of the law because such conduct becomes the mirror for us poor souls to look at. He should be the mentor and role model for all of us to aspire to. The present circumstances of the President seriously disables him from acting against other people particularly those close to him who may be acting like him outside the boundaries of ethical and moral conduct. This issue has the potential of rendering him unfit to hold office not only from the opposition but from his own party
The socio-economic circumstances of the citizens have not fundamentally changed for the better but if you asked me, for worse. The Covid-19 excuse has come and gone and no one, save for those who have chosen to either see no evil or hear no evil, are still very much attached and attracted to the excuse. The hard core denialists! The President looks exceedingly overpowered by the socio-economic circumstances and realities Batswana face on a daily basis. If he does, he does not have definitive, sustainable solutions whether in the short to long terms. As a consequence, knee-jerk reaction to have solutions seems to be the escape route albeit temporarily and dangerously. To be fair to the President, he will argue and perhaps to some degree of justifiability, that his greatest challenge to the current state of affairs is Covid-19 pandemic. I will counter this argument by saying: it is more about how he has handled the management of the pandemic than anything else. Even without anyone telling him so, his own judgement should have dictated so given the abundance of intellect he is endowed with.
The pandemic, not so of itself but by its overall management, has left bitter tastes in the mouths of many particularly in the business sector. While the buzz word is that of the New Normal, the President has to date not been able to make business conditions conducive to some in the sector. If the New Normal as hyped by everyone in general and government in particular is anything to go by, it remains just that-a buzz word with no meaningful impact. Nothing impactful suggests the business world will co-exist with the pandemic for as long as it exists. The fact that Business Botswana and other stakeholders are very uncomfortable with the State of Public Emergency yet it sits in some structure of the Presidential Covid-19 Task Force speaks volumes if the recent statement by its President Rre Gobusamang Keebine is anything to go by. The transport sector for example, operates at full carrying capacities while others don’t yet, the pandemic protocols like social distancing apply to all situations. I have never understood why social distancing is not applicable to the road transport sector.
Corruption has been the Achilles Heel not only for the President but his predecessors. It remains so to this day with nothing apart from the usual and tired rhetoric that something is done to deal with it. While it will be argued that corruption has been with us for the longest time and yet the BDP continued to win elections, Covid-19 pandemic worsened the situation by unveiling corruption of its own. Covid-19 corruption has hit the ordinary citizens on the street more than the conventional one. Reports that millions if not billions of Pula have been paid to companies some of which were registered as soon as the pandemic hit our shores yet delivery of goods and services in some instances remains undelivered, indicates the depth of Covid-19 corruption. In the process, people who are supposed to be the recipients of Covid-19 goods and services remain in the lurch. Citizens have repeatedly said they are dying not so much from Covid-19 virus but from serious lack of proper health care occasioned by failure to improve conditions in hospitals; no new health facilities built from the billions of Pula meant to deal with Covid-19 pandemic; frontline health workers constant complaint about lack of PPEs; quarantine and isolation in poor state. While conventional corruption has not been an impediment to the BDP winning previous elections, Covid-19 corruption remains a serious threat to the President’s re-election since it has hit almost every household directly and with deleterious consequences-death. If due care was exercised in protecting Covid-19 funds, many lives may have been saved.
While the President may find some comfort from the fact that opposition parties are as fragmented as they have been for the longest time and therefore posing no real threat to his election, he will be advised to think strategically and pragmatically. He doesn’t know whether the very opposition will still be fragmented or not. My unsolicited advice to him is simple: Change course to reverse all of the above and you are home and dry. I am prepared to be persuaded otherwise as always. Judge for Yourself!
Covid-19 virus is our immediate threat. Let’s all do our level best to keep the virus at bay.