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What happened to Masisi’s ‘consultation’ on the Declaration of Assets and Liabilities Bill?

Publishing Date : 20 August, 2019


Last week, I promised that this week I will compare Botswana’s Declaration of Assets and Liabilities Bill with that of other countries, not only in Africa but the world over. When the promise was made, it was hoped that the Parliamentary debate on the Bill will still be ongoing by now. It was, therefore, hoped that such comparison would assist in the debate and would, hopefully, influence the outcome of the debate.

However, as you are aware, the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) used its Parliamentary majority and rushed the Bill through the law making stages and passed it in the dead of night despite reservations, especially by the Opposition in Parliament. The cut-throat manner in which the BDP passed the Bill was reminiscent of the passage of the Intelligence and Security Services Bill, whose passage the Opposition in Parliament boycotted, leaving the BDP to pass it alone.

One could see that the BDP Members of Parliament (MPs) were acting on instructions to pass the Bill before Parliament was dissolved. Of course, such instructions often come from the party’s Parliamentary Caucus, but this time it was clear that they came from the President himself. It is common knowledge that the Intelligence and Security Services Act has been very divisive and has cost our country a lot, especially in as far as national unity and stability are concerned.

In my view, one of the reasons why former president, Lieutenant General Dr. Seretse Khama Ian Khama, is so unpopular is the Intelligence and Security Services Act in terms of which the infamous former Director General of the Directorate on Intelligence & Security Services (DISS), Colonel Isaac Kgosi, was appointed. Of course, considering the fact that the merits of the Declaration of Assets and Liabilities Bill far outweigh its demerits, it cannot be compared to the Intelligence and Security Services Act, but the way in which it was rushed through Parliament raises eye brows.

This is especially true considering the fact that one of the highly contested aspects of the Bill, i.e. the authority to which declarations will be made, is so critical that it has the potential to render the Bill ineffectual. It is incontrovertible that when all is said and done, the most important element of declaration of assets and liabilities bill is the system’s integrity. So, when many MPs, albeit in the minority and mainly from the Opposition, expressed reservation with respect to the provision that declarations will be made to the Director of the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC), the BDP should have listened.

It is incontrovertible that these reservations were not without basis. The concern is that the Director of the DCEC is partial authority since he or she is appointed by the President, acting alone, on terms and conditions determined only by him or her. His Excellency the President, Dr. Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi, a self-declared proponent of consultation, should have been concerned at the opposition to the Bill by the Opposition which has long called for the Bill’s enactment.

Of course, some in the Opposition could have been playing politics by opposing the BDP- sponsored Bill so that they deny the BDP of political victory, but the concerns were not only from the Opposition, they were also raised by civil society, the media and political analysts.  
Consequently, while H.E Dr. Masisi deserves commendation for delivering on his promise, it is the Bill’s rushed passage that, in my view, diminishes his achievement.

As you are aware, this Bill was first materially brought to Parliament by a BDP Legislator, former MP Joy Phumaphi, about twenty years ago. Since then, Opposition MPs, including former Legislator, Dumelang Saleshando, have attempted to table the Bill through the Private Member’s Bill procedure, but their efforts were thwarted by the BDP, for purely political motives. H.E Dr. Masisi had been in office for one year three months when the Bill was passed. He had, during his inaugural speech in April 2018, promised to table the Bill by the end of 2018, but he did not.

Therefore, one cannot help but wonder why the BDP, which had failed to pass the Bill for more than twenty years, was in such a hurry to pass the Bill that it passed it in the dead of night, to the exclusion of the Opposition. H.E Dr. Masisi is on record apologising to Batswana for passing, during Dr. Khama’s era, the amendments to the Act on former Presidents’ Pension & Retirement benefits in the dead of night despite opposition from the Opposition, but he has done exactly what Dr. Khama did.

In my view, it is not unreasonable to conclude that, in rushing the Bill through Parliament, the BDP and H.E Dr. Masisi himself were motivated more by political expediency than national interest. This thought is not far-fetched, especially considering the fact that general elections are only about two (2) months away. Of course, it would be disingenuous for one to argue that the Bill, as it is, serves no national interest, but, in my view, national interest would have been better served if more consultation had been made so that the Bill is improved.

It would appear that H.E Dr. Masisi’s quest to deliver this Bill, which had eluded his party for the past twenty (20) years, blurred his judgment to the extent that he compromised one of the principles he has said underpins his leadership style-consultation. What harm could have been caused if the BDP had delayed the Bill and subjected it to public and Parliamentary scrutiny, especially that it touches on a very emotive issue-corruption. The BDP could still win the forthcoming general elections without the Bill. After all, the majority of its voters, especially those in rural arears, know nothing about the importance of a Declaration of Assets & Liabilities Bill.

In my view, there is nothing at stake which could have compelled the BDP or H.E Dr. Masisi to take such a political risk by abdicating a principle as cardinal as consultation. Consultation, like all virtues, should not only be upheld when it is convenient to do so. They should be upheld at all times. So, even if H.E Dr. Masisi anticipated that some of the provisions in the Declaration of Assets & Liabilities Bill would face opposition, he should still have subjected it to public scrutiny.

The president of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) and Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, Honourable Advocate Duma Boko, held a public lecture regarding the Bill. Following the lecture, many Batswana commented on the Bill during radio shows, but before they knew what happened the Bill was passed by Parliament. Many will never know when the President assents to the Bill to make it into law.  

Granted, there is no legal requirement for public consultations in our law making process, but if H.E Dr. Masisi truly believes in consultation, he does not need such law to uphold the virtue of consultation, especially in the passage of such a fundamental piece of legislation as the one on Declaration of Assets & Liabilities Bill. If he has not already done so, it is almost a given that H.E Dr. Masisi will assent to the Bill, making it law. But he should know that the manner in which the Bill was passed may haunt his presidency and hurt his legacy just like the Intelligence and Security Services Act did for Dr. Khama.



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