Botswana: Removal of Pule Will Not Heal BDP MPs, Ministers' Ineptitude

ADAM PHETLHE

By the time you read this article, a new Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly in the person of Pono Moatlhodi, the Member of Parliament for Tonota, would have been elected following a palace coup on the outgoing Mabuse Pule. The coup was swift and clinical following its initiation by the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) Members of Parliament early this year. Their gripe with Pule was the alleged unfair treatment they experienced from him when chairing the House which unfair treatment exposed them to the ridicule of opposition MPs. Truth be told, BDP MPs were simply barking up the wrong tree as a scapegoat to the sheer incompetence exhibited by Ministers who are always at sixes and sevens in answering questions in the House amongst others. They have been cruelly exposed for what they are. Nothing suggests remotely or otherwise that neither Pule exhibited any bias against them to the advantage of their opposition colleagues nor was he hopelessly incompetent. I am afraid the sheer incompetence of BDP MPs who are Ministers will not be cured by the reshuffle.

Once again, the long held view that the President of Botswana commands unfettered control and command over other arms of government has painfully been confirmed by the manner in which Pule was swiftly bundled out to the Executive. As an MP first and a Deputy Speaker second, Pule is eligible to be appointed to cabinet on the basis of him being a back bencher when not wearing a Deputy Speaker hat. It goes without saying that the removal from the deputy speakership and appointment as Assistant Minister would have long been discussed between the President and Pule on one hand, and the Speaker on the other before the National Assembly reconvened on Monday.

Consequently, Pule would have had enough time to resign from his deputy speakership position and 'temporarily' assume the back bench position pending the appointment to cabinet. On the first day of the meeting and with the Speaker fully aware of his subordinate's imminent departure, a statement in that regard would have been made to the full sitting of the National Assembly. Thereafter, the President would announce the appointment. If this scenario had ensued, the question of the President having unfettered control and command over other arms of government would not arise.

This feeds into the modus operandi where the President has been transferring and redeploying senior public officers in the public service. This narrative has spilled over into the other arm of government-the National Assembly to be specific that is not under the political or administrative purview of the President provided the Separation of Powers doctrine still applies. It takes only brave people like the Director General of the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime Rre Tymon Katlholo to challenge the President's decisions like recently when he rejected the transfer of some of his staff. The President duly obliged.

Under normal circumstances and when the National Assembly was not a lap dog of the Executive, MPs particularly from the BDP would have required cogent reasons why one of them was taken away from them. They could argue that there are several other back bench MPs who could be appointed to cabinet positions. But because they are the ones who have decided to sacrifice one of their own for narrow political expediency and short sightedness, their argument could not arise. There is no sign, remotely or otherwise, that the National Assembly will anytime soon be independent in the true definition of the word from the Executive. The President of Botswana will continue to reign supreme particularly with respect to the National Assembly until BDP MPs wake up from their slumber.

The doctrine in the body politic of Botswana particularly with respect to the National Assembly is a far cry from what it should be. This to some extent stems from the immense power the President enjoys from the Constitution. To put it bluntly, the President of Botswana is above the law while s/he still holds the position whether in his private or official capacities. It will be remembered how the former President Ian Khama initially refused to appoint Justice Omphemetse Motumise to the bench without showing good cause when the Judicial Service Commission had interviewed and recommended him for appointment. The Court of Appeal had to direct him to do so. He ended up appointing him albeit grudgingly.

As it has emerged, Members of Parliament were informed by the Speaker of the National Assembly through a letter dated 7 July 2021 about the vacant position of the Deputy Speaker. The letter states the vacancy was created in line with Section 60(2) of the Constitution which states 'The Members of the National Assembly shall elect a person to the office of Deputy Speaker when the Assembly first sits after any dissolution and, if the office becomes vacant otherwise than by reason of the dissolution of the Assembly, at the first sitting of the Assembly after the office becomes vacant.' The office has become vacant because the President has removed Pule and appointed him an Assistant Minister if my interpretation of the phrase 'vacant otherwise than' is correct. It is reasonable and fair to suggest in my view he was appointed Assistant Minister before the structure that elected him was properly informed.

Was Pule's appointment so urgent particularly to the ministry he has so been appointed to? Not by any stretch of the imagination if you asked me. The said ministry already has a full Minister and two Assistants. I am not aware whether any of the Assistants has been moved elsewhere to create space for Hon Pule or whether the ministry will have three Assistant Ministers going forward. The removal of Pule is purely for political expediency created by the loud noise from BDP MPs. The back benchers have lately and with some degree of conviction, decided to take the President head-on on numerous issues. Most of their issues whether meritorious or not, have not been taken further from their pronouncements. BDP MPs are feeling the heat from their constituents in particular and the general public in general. The socio-economic circumstances brought about particularly by Covid-19 pandemic coupled with the effects of the State of Public Emergency have exacerbated the situation. These MPs openly state the likelihood of being ndefeated in 2024 should government still be moving at snail's pace with respect to bettering the socio-economic circumstances of Batswana.

Given the political and other pressures the President is under from his MPs particularly the back bench, they have prevailed upon him to remove Pule from his position as the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly. But it is a hollow victory particularly for Ministers and their Assistants if you asked me because their imagined problems with Pule are self-created from their ineptitude and incapacity to articulate themselves. That is why the President was too eager to submit to their request and desire to remove Pule. Ministers for example have dismally failed to make a compelling case for the State of Public Emergency beyond saying it is meant to fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. A replacement of the Deputy Speaker cannot and will not erase their palpable ineptitude which at times borders on sheer arrogance and contempt. My advice to BDP MPs is to up their game and fight for their institution to be truly independent. I am prepared to be persuaded otherwise as always. Judge for Yourself!

'No one is safe until everyone is safe.'

adamphetlhe08@gmail.com

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