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Masisi wants ministers appointed outside parliament

Publishing Date : 03 September, 2018

Author : ALFRED MASOKOLA

President Mokgweetsi Masisi has laid the ground for constitutional reforms after indicating that among his suggestions would be having half of cabinet ministers being appointed from outside parliament. Prior to meeting opposition leaders on Thursday, Masisi had stated that he would definitely begin a conversation of constitutional reforms.


“We are considering that [reviewing the constitution] and part of my suggestion is the possibility of having half of the cabinet being appointed outside parliament,” Masisi told the media. Botswana, at independence adopted a constitution which mirrored the Westminster system where Ministers are drawn from members of parliament. Coincidentally, Britain has stated the debate on the possibility of the appointment of non-parliamentary ministers: ‘A prime minister could appoint a small number of unelected ministers of state, who would be answerable to Parliament without being members of parliament.


Masisi’s press conference has been preceded by an announcement that the All Party Conference will be revived and also be reformed to give it a broad mandate. All Party Conference was instrumental in ushering in the 1997 constitutional reforms, which brought among others; 10 years presidential term limit, establishment of Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) as well as reduction of voting age from 21 years to 18 years. The forum has however been dormant for a period exceeding 10 years. The reforms have been a debate has been ongoing in various quarters including in the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) and also in the opposition and trade unions.


BDP PROPONENTS OF CONSTITUTIONAL REFORMS


In 2015, former party legislator, Botsalo Ntuane, who was contesting for the party Secretary General position instigated a debate on what he called the reform agenda.  Part of Ntuane inspired reforms is to avail party funding for all political parties participating in the general elections and introduction of a hybrid electoral system, which has the features of both the First-Past-The-Post (currently used by Botswana) and Proportional Representation.


A resolution was passed by BDP delegates at Mmadinare Congress and party Sub-Committee on Political Education and Election Committee (PEEC) chaired by the late GUS Matlhabaphiri was mandated with exploring the feasibility of the proposed political and electoral reforms.  The committee has also been tasked with exploring through benchmarking whether consideration should be given to party political funding by government.


Its finding however had never been further discussed in subsequent congresses amid reports that the then former president, Lt Gen Ian Khama was not in favour of the proposed report. In 2016, BDP legislator, Polson Majaga, who is also MP for Nata/Gweta noticed a motion that sought to introduce a direct election of president as well as allow for president to appoint cabinet outside parliament.


Majaga argued that president has many powers under the current constitution and wields so much authority therefore parliament should not elect him on behalf of the people. Majaga was speaking in reference to chapter 4, section 32 of the constitution which states that the President of the republic shall be determined by the number of parliamentary seats his party has won in a general election.


Majaga who spoke in favour of cabinet ministers who not selected from sitting Members of Parliament as the current status quo asserted that cabinet ministers are constrained and overstretched as they have to meet the demands of the ministry and the constituency they represent. He went on to say that, should ministers be selected from outside Parliament, the President would be able to bring experts with a wealth of experience to head the ministries.


“I believe ministers should focus on their ministerial portfolios and account to Parliament. In the current system, Permanent Secretaries are the ones who represent ministries during their meetings with the Public Accounts Committee instead of ministers,” he told Weekend Post then. He also shared the same sentiments with opposition legislators that selecting ministers from sitting MPs was weakening Parliament as those ministers automatically become part of the executive.


The idea of constitutional reforms has also been supported by former party Chairman Moyo Guma who is also a MP for Tati West had the intention of tabling a private member bill calling for direct election of President. The bill is yet to be tabled in parliament.

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