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BDP MPs who famously opposed DIS legislation

Publishing Date : 23 April, 2018

Author : ALFRED MASOKOLA

The ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) backbench, among them former Vice President Ponatshego Kedikilwe famously joined hands with the 13 opposition legislators to oppose the intelligence security bill, which created the notorious Directorate on Intelligence Security Services, commonly known as the DIS.


When then Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration Phandu Skelemani tabled the bill, the BDP backbench went for the jugular, stating profusely that it was a bad Bill. Among the cohort of MPs who joined Kedikilwe in resiliently opposing the Bill were Botsalo Ntuane (Specially Elected) , Gaotlhaetse Matlhabaphiri (Molepolole North), Duke Lefhoko (Shoshong) and Keletso Rakhudu (Gaborone North).


The Intelligence bill came at a time when BDP was polarised in the wake of the 2003 and 2005 Congresses in which the A- Team faction took control of the party. Mogae had dropped Barataphathi kingpins; Kedikilwe and Daniel Kwelagobe from the cabinet. The decision to leave out Barataphathi faction from the cabinet after the 2004 election saw the emergence of maverick MPs who made it a habit that they scrutinised government bills with the same grit as of the opposition parties.  


When debating the bill after tabling, Kedikilwe said the bill could not pass because there was a huge potential for abuse by those in power especially the president. Kedikilwe wanted incorporation of a clause making it possible for parliament to impeach a sitting State President if it is established that the President abused the intelligence law.


PHK, who had fallen out of favour with Mogae said there was no guarantee that Botswana would continue to be as fortunate as she has been over the years where there has been no free reign in the abuse of legal instruments. Kedikilwe is quoted in one of the local publications as having said: “We have been fortunate in the past and it is evident that we are likely to be fortunate in the foreseeable future. But there can be no guarantee that we shall continue to be as fortunate as we have been. Therefore we must have built-in mechanisms.”


Kedikilwe called for the Intelligence bill to be referred to the Parliament Select Committee to study and have it properly constituted to protect both the individuals from harassment by state agents as well as abuse by the executive and the sitting president. Buoyed by the backing of powerful figures such as PHK, then young legislator, Ntuane was perhaps the most vehement in opposing the bill. Ntuane told parliament then that cases involving searches on private property had to be treated with extreme caution.


"Africans must be protected from themselves," said Ntuane. Ntuane argued that history had shown that African countries had a tendency to use their intelligence units to invade the civil liberties of fellow Africans. Ntuane’s opposition to the bill was based primarily on the fear that DIS would violate people’s civil liberties.


Matlhabaphiri garnered enough support in the initial stages of the debate as the bill was suspended, after the then Molepolole North MP called for the bill to be referred to the parliament select committee. Among other MPs who supported Matlhabaphiri’s proposition to refer the bill to the committee was Botlogile Tshireletso.  


MOGAE CABINET RE-SHUFFLE AND PASSING OF THE BILL

Following resistance from the backbench to pass the bill, under pressure Mogae, in a strategic reshuffled cabinet and brought in Barataphathi kingpins to cabinet. Mogae created new ministerial posts to accommodate Barataphathi factions. New ministries included Ministry of Defence, Justice and Security, Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture as well as several assistant minister portfolios. In the the resultant cabinet reshuffle, Kwelaboge (Presidential Affairs and Public Administration), Kedikilwe (Minerals, Energy and Water Resources) and Matlhabaphiri (Assistant Minister, Labour and Home Affairs).   


The appointment to cabinet of key Barataphathi faction MPs impaired what initially looked like a victory for the backbench and the opposition. The trio, as members of cabinet were forced to go mum on their earlier hard stance. Even Skelemani, who had promised to support the idea of having the bill referred to the Parliament Select Committee for review of its  clauses as requested by MPs, reneged on his promise and went ahead with the bill.


Rakhudu and Lefhoko joined the civil society hand in the final moments leading to the enactment of the bill, as they tried to kill the bill. Botswana Council of Non Governmental Organisation (BOCONGO) called an emergency meeting, which was also attended by the current Vice President Slumber Tsogwane, meant to find ways of influencing improvements on the bill to address issues of concern to the civil society and the public in general.


"We were of the understanding that generally the minister was not unfriendly to the idea of consultations especially having the piece of legislation put to a parliamentary committee but we were surprised when he seemed to turn against that. MPs are not averse to the bill going through; we are just concerned that this is a very sophisticated bill.


We want certain aspects of it to be changed and we worry that any mishandling of such legislation may have major repercussions for our society in the future,” Rakhudu was quoted as saying by the media. This was after his motion to have the motion referred to the Parliament Select Committee was defeated.


DID OPPOSITION MPS ABDICATE THEIR RESPONSIBILITY?


The 13 members of the opposition, among them Botswana Congress Party (BCP) leader Dumelang Saleshando received criticism from the then BOCONGO Executive Secretary Baboloki Tlale who said while he understood their grievances in Parliament, it was important for them to join the debate in order to have an input on the bill.


“The walkout has had its time. I think the opposition should move back into the House and tough it out. They have the responsibility to represent their voters and they should get back and make their numbers count by having their amendments adopted. The boycott is not helping,” Baboloki was quoted as saying by Mmegi.


Ntuane, who was part of the brigade which fought the bill until the end, also expressed his disappointment in parliament.  "By playing to the gallery the opposition is letting not only this House down but the nation at large," he said. "It would have made more sense that the fellow MPs sit through this process, get their amendments debated and fight for them so they can have an influence on the events rather than boycott.

 
They are missing out on an opportunity to have their views on this Bill heard," said Ntuane. The former Gaborone West South legislator said the opposition had abdicated its responsibility, warning that despite their boycott "they are going to live under this creature".

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