Botswana: Masisi's Balancing Act

14 November 2019

Despite the euphoria over cabinet appointments made during the week, where President Mokgweetsi Masisi has been applauded for a meticulous job, concerns over lack of Parliamentary democracy and independence remain.

Masisi has created a good mix of experience and youthfulness, age, gender but more importantly the new Executive is made up of cabinet ministers with relevant qualifications, expertise and experience in the portfolios they have been assigned, contrary to past administrations when emphasis was on political activism. Exciting as it appears, an observation made in the past by some scholars about Botswana cabinet -drawn from the current crop of Parliamentarians as dictated by the Constitution- being too bloated remains true to date.

Masisi has already appointed 18 full ministers and seven assistant ministers, with the number set to increase when government finally implements the decision to create two new ministries, increasing well over 25 if the new posts come with assistants. Currently 25 out of 61 MPs, almost half of Parliament (or 41 percent) form the Executive. At party level this translates into 25 out of 41 (minus 20 opposition MPs) Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) paliamentraians or out 57 percent forming the executive arm of Government. In simple terms the BDP has more cabinet ministers in Parliament that ordinary backbenchers.

Decisions in Parliament are made along party lines, with eaither side of the aisle forming a caucus to reach a concensus before debating on the floor of the August House. Only under exceptional circumstance do ruling party MPs vote with or support motions from the opposition side. The composition of Cabinet-drawn from MPs- therefore creates a serious power imbalance within the ruling party and by extension in Parliament thus compromising the ability for Legistlature to perform its oversight role. Where the numbers are skewed towards cabinet, it is unheard of that MPs from the same party will hold their colleagues sitting in cabinet accountable by engaging them in robust debates on the floor of parliament. Because of their numerical advantage cabinet will continue to ride roughshod over their colleagues and overpower them in the BDP caucus, and by extension what will be presented for discussion in parliament will essentially be cabinet proposal as opposed to a position adopted by the BDP caucus.

As a solution it has been suggested that Masisi should seriously look into the issue of the size of cabinet in proportion to MPs, or alternatively -as he has expressed desire to do befire- open up appointment of cabinet ministers from outside Parliament. A constitutional review, that Masisi has been preaching, can take care of this hurdle and give power back to Parliament to exercise its oversight role over the Executive, which currently remains just imaginary.

Big winners

Slumber Tsogwane- VP

Boteti West MP became number one winner when he was retained for second term as the Vice President, clearing any confusion over his future in BDP. Tsogwane however, remained the front runner in the choice of Masisi's vice president as he seemed to have no preferred candidate in the newly elected MPs.

Kabo Morwaeng -Presidential Affairs

Masisi has been applauded by many for making some solid appointments. Perhaps the biggest winner in the cabinet appointments has been the BDP prodigal son, who suffered numerous political misfortunes, Kabo Morwaeng, who has been given the Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration. Masisi was breaking tradition within the BDP where only party loyalists with extensive experience in the civil service were given the super ministry that comes third after President and his VP in hierarchy/ state protocol.

The newly elected Molepolole South MP has been appointed to the highest cabinet portfolio leading Office of the President. He is deputized by another new comer, Meshack Muthimkhulu who is Gaborone South legislator. Many believed that Nonofo Molefhi could be retained as the specially elected MP to come and lead the ministry or his

The ministry coordinates government affairs and public administration. It safeguards good governance which ensures that corruption and maladministration are not tolerated in all sectors of the economy. It also enhances democracy and the rule of law, where all stakeholders, government institutions, private sector, civil society organisations and citizens are accountable.

Thulaganyo Segokgo -Transport and Communications

One of the best appointments has been that of Thulaganyo Merafe Segokgo. He has been appointed the Minister of Transport and Communications. His commitment to the nation is to strive to migrate government and business service to fibre connectivity to increase the quality of services; intensifying government services on the e-Government platform particularly health, education, agriculture and facilitation of an e-commerce platform for Botswana; development and exploitation of Drones, Internet of Things, Block chain and Data Analytics technologies to usher Botswana into the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Phildah kereng -Minister of Tourism

Kereng has been brought up as the Special Elected Member of Parliament (SEMP) found herself leading the important Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism.

One of her major assignments lying ahead of her is to address the burning issue of human wildlife conflict and breaking the record by being the first ever woman to lead the ministry. Kereng is a social activist and human rights advocate by profession and people have anticipated that Machana Shamukuni again stood the chance of being appointed the minister in this aspect.

Thapelo Matsheka- Finance

Despite being new comer to parliament, Dr Thapelo Matsheka by profession is an economist hence a suitable appointment in finance ministry.

Matsheka is tasked with delivering the first budget speech in February next year entering an economy that is besieged by high levels of unemployment, income equality and poverty too. His predecessor Kenneth Matambo has in several occasion reiterated that the government's mandate is not to create jobs but to provide a conducive environment for the private sector. All eyes will be on him to see how he shares the cake in the next financial year in the midst of government's budget that is running in a big deficit with huge delayed development projects.

Kagiso Mmusi - Defense, Justice and Security

He is taking one of the important departments of the country in matters of ensuring that the national security is not compromised as well as that of the president to some extent as well. Kagiso Mmusi became the preferential candidate for the ministerial portfolio which many have viewed Dr Unity Dow to be the best candidate to lead it based on her educational credentials.

Other new appointees include Dr Douglas Letsholathebe is appointed the Minister of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology, Dr Edwin Gorataone Dikoloti, Minister of Agricultural Development and Food Security, Dr Lemogang Kwape is appointed the Minister of Health and Wellness, Tumiso Macdonald Rakgare as Minister of Youth Empowerment, Sport and Culture Development, Lefoko Maxwell Moagi as Minister of Mineral Resources, Green Technology and Energy Security, Mmusi Kgafela as Minister of Infrastructure and Housing Development and Peggy Onkutlwile Serame as Minister of Investment, Trade and Industry. Serame won big also appointed the Minister of Investment, Trade and Industry taking over from her former boss Bogolo Kenewendo who was not elected a special for a second term.

Masisi has retained Eric Molale, Kefentse Mzwinila and Fidellis Molao as full ministers in the new cabinet leading ministries of Local Government, Lands and Basic Education respectively. Former Serowe North Member of parliament Kgotla Autlwetse's dwindling political career has been revived by Masisi being elected SEMP following his shock polls defeat to BPF in Serowe.

Surprise ommissions

Former Assistant Minister of Presidential Affairs Machana Shamukuni looked like a good candidate to take over the baton from Nonofo Molefhi. However, Shamukuni could not make a final cut in cabinet but, has said he supports Masisi's decision on appointing his choices for the cabinet saying he appreciates the chance given before.

"Cabinet serves at the pleasure of His Excellency the President. The constitution gives him the prerogative to choose a team as he deems fit. I was privileged at some point to be part of the front bench. It was a growth opportunity for me and I gave it by best shot. Today His Excellency chose a team that we must rally behind as a nation. I am fully behind the team and be assured of my support".

Shamukuni, a conservationist since his high school days, Shamukuni led the Wildlife Club at the University of Botswana before graduating with a single major in Biology (Ecology). Even politically, Shamukuni was a member of the BDP central committe from as far back as his university days.

For some another surprising omission was Thapelo Letsholo. With his corporate experience especially with matters related to the youth, he would have been great at MYSC perhaps with Rakgare as his deputy.

Gender balance

The Gender Balance is not looking good overall. A lot to do with our electoral system and soci-economic history where male candidates, who are usually better resourced launch big campaigns that women can only dream of. Currently there only seven female MPs, representing only 11 percent. In addition, only three of the seven women in Parliament are elected members, while the other four are Specially Elected Members. This however, improves in cabinet where six of the seven women MPs are in cabinet, representing 24 percent representation.

In 2014, a majority of voters were women at 456, 087 while only 368, 347 voted out of a total 824, 434 total votes.

New faces dominate

President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi has this week announced his new cabinet setting the pace, appointing new faces in top cabinet posts while he also snubbed some who served him before. Masisi was inaugurated as the fifth president last week on the absence of his predecessor Ian Khama turned to be center of debate until he pronounced his cabinet that is debated as well.

The six (6) Specially Elected Members of Parliament (SEMP) also caused an uproar amongst the opposition cadres who had accused Masisi of nepotism while nominating the six members. In appointing the cabinet new members of parliament have surpassed the senior party stalwarts attaining top cabinet portfolios such as minister of presidential affairs, minerals and tourism too.

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