Botswana: Greediness? MPs Anger Voters

There has been a groundswell of public anger at the decision by Members of Parliament (MPs) to pass a bill increasing their own salaries by 15 percent with 11 percent of the amount representing a move to delink their pay from that of public servants.

A raft of their allowances from sitting to constituency and communication was also increased with substantial amounts.

Stoking protests against them is that this move comes only a few months after they had rejected a motion calling for a Policy on Living Wage. Their percentage increase is also far higher than the 6 to 10 percent awarded public servants for the next two years.

President Mokgweetsi Masisi will be smiling all the way to the bank with a P89 588 per month salary; his vice at P78 586 per month, Ministers at P60 416 per month, Speaker P60 416, Deputy Speaker and Leader of Opposition at P46 490 per month, Govt. Chief Whip P40 784, Opposition Chief Whip P39 984 and MPs P39 000. Most importantly this sets a level from which their gratuities will be calculated; meaning this was perfectly timed to boost up what some of them will take into their retirement.

It has been common that at the end of their terms some MPs face the embarrassment of facing Deputy Sheriffs as financial institutions demand their share of the Gratuity as some have a tendency of borrowing forward using it as security.

The timing of the presentation of this Bill has also left observers feeling it was deliberately timed to avoid any backlash that could have resulted with serious stand-off. This came after Government had negotiated and agreed increments with public sector unions and other sectors of the economy. Unions in particular would have demanded more had the MPs passed their pay increase earlier.

Independent panel

The MP for Bonnington South and leader of the Alliance for Progressives, Ndaba Gaolathe, has called for the appointment of an independent panel that can review MPs salaries, rather having them doing that on their own since they are conflicted.

Political analyst Anthony Morima has labeled the 15% own salary increment by the legislators as unlawful act since they deeply conflicted. He called for the establishment of an independent body to review political representatives' salaries and benefits.

"A move by the local MPs to increase their own salaries comes as big shame for several reasons. Most importantly they have failed to address the issue of living wage which is still pending and this means that there is a lot greediness and selfishness by our politicians. They have ignored the living wage hence sidelining the needs of the working class putting forth first their own selfish interest," he said.

Morima said in other democratic and constitutional respecting countries, when the salaries of the MPs are done an independent body or commission is set up to dealing with the process.

He cited that the Modi government in India in 2015 formed an independent commission to determine the salary and allowances of MPs.

Living wage

MP for Jwaneng Mabutsane Shawn Ntlhaile last year tabled a motion calling for the adoption of a Living Wage law so that the lowly paid employees could be legally protected. However, this was thrown out by Parliament with no solid grounds. Some of the MPs who opposed this warned against adopting policies and systems from other countries while ignoring Botswana's peculiar situation.

Strangely however when the MPs called for an increase in their pay, they strongly relied on a comparison with other countries in the region.

"People who seek to call us all sorts of names for engaging in this exercise, they never at any point in time assess the conditions of service of Members of Parliament across the region. If you do that, you will come to a conclusion that Members of Parliament in this Republic are really volunteers, volunteers who have left their plum jobs," charged MP for Selebi-Phikwe West Dithapelo Keorapetse.

But Ntlhaile remained resolute this week as he once more called on the consciousness of his Parliamentary colleagues about the welfare of those they claim to represent.

"BDP government is playing games with us. Why rush the bill on the National Assembly (salaries and allowances) bill when they voted against the living wage bill," he protested once more in Parliament on Thursday. He had few friends even on the opposition bench with Mogoditshane MP Sedirwa Kgoroba suggesting that he should donate his pay to charity since he doesn't appear to want it. But on social media, Nthaile was hailed as hero for the downtrodden.

One Calvin Kenaleone Pule posted on The Patriot on Sunday Facebook page: "A lot of good motions shot down for no good reason by parly and you Just proved to be with the suffering lot, good short on target but I think the referee has just blown the final whistle. I don't think your goal will count."

Kgoroba also posted: "There is a committee called members rights. That is the committee that has been negotiating for members of parliament. Nthaile is a member of that committee and was there when all this was negotiated and never raised these concerns."

Khama denied increases

Former President Ian Khama went eye-ball to eye-ball when civil servants engaged in the longest running strike Botswana has ever seen in 2011 and denied their demand for a huge increase in salaries.

Even before then, Khama prevailed against MPs in 1999 when former MP for Ngwaketse West Michael Tshipinare moved a motion calling for increase of MPs salaries and their benefits. Khama warned politicians against the tendencies of rushing to increase their pay when the public wallowed in poverty. Though this was seen as one of his populist steps, he nevertheless never relented from this with a constant 3 per cent increase of salaries being the highest he offered civil servants. However, there have been reports that the executive was able to secretly increase its pay.

Throwing money at problems

There is also an increasing worry that Masisi's government has been too generous in offering huge pay increases and restructuring of various pay structures of various security services which come at huge cost. This is happening on the back of the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) long standing warning to Botswana Government about its huge wage bill. This huge spend has not been accompanied by an elaborate restructuring of the civil service to ensure that Government keeps the amount of employees that it can afford. Job creation has also not come through, meaning that the priorities urgently require to be balanced with the aim of boosting economic production to bring more people, particularly the youth into employment.

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