Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Presentation of the Constitution Amendment Bill by the Hon. Dr. M.N. Nasha, PH, MP, Minister for Presidential Affairs and Public Administration

source: Republic of Botswana (22/8/09): TAUTONA TIMES no 22 of 2009
The Electronic Press Circular of the Office of the President
"Democracy, Development, Dignity and Discipline"


Mr. Speaker, I beg to move that the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2009 (NO.7 of 2009) be read a second time.

1. The object of this Bill, is to amend Section 58 (2) (b) of the Constitution of Botswana, in order to provide for an increase in the number of Specially Elected Members of Parliament, from four (4) to eight (8).

2. Mr. Speaker, there was a drafting error in the Bill when it was first presented to this house on 22nd June 2009. In addition to amending Section 58(2)(b), the Bill also sought to amend Section 42(3)(i) of the Constitution, which should not have been the case. I must say therefore, that I intend to move an amendment at Committee stage to correct that error, and I would therefore urge members not to focus their debate on it. My apologies to Honourable Members for this error.

Mr. Speaker, I propose:

* that Section 58 (2) (b) of the Constitution be amended by substituting for the words "four specially elected members" which appear therein, the words "eight specially elected members", and

* that the first schedule to the Constitution be amended by substituting for the words "four" the words "eight" wherever it appears.

Two main reasons have been advanced for the proposal to increase the number of Specially Elected Members:

(i) That the number 4 has been in place for 44 years although the number of elected MPs has been increasing gradually from the original 30 in 1965 to 57 to-date, as a result of the delimitation exercises that have taken place since then. As Honourable Members may recall the number of elected MPs then, was inclusive of the Prime Minister, Seretse Khama who was then Member of Parliament for Serowe North. And the first group of 4 Specially Elected Members which brought the total number of MPs to 34, composed of 4 gentlemen - J. P. Morgan, Ramsy D. Molefe, James Haskins & George Sim.

(ii) Secondly, there has been enormous pressure, from many quarters, to increase the number of Specially Elected MP positions, and use them to appoint women, youth and people with disabilities, all of whom have so far had difficulties being voted into Parliament, not because they are in any way less capable or less intelligent.

Given the opportunity, all these categories of people can and have in the past proved their mettle. But over time, it has proved rather difficult for them to break through the political glass ceiling for various reasons. The following are just a few of those reasons:-

a) lack of resources to run a campaign, since they are, generally speaking, not in control of even the property that they themselves could actually have accumulated and created.

b) The traditional practices and beliefs, which have so far impeded women and youth from participating in leadership, have also led to lack of support for their candidature.

c) the electoral system currently in place in Botswana, good as it is, in terms of providing leadership that the electorate can easily identify with and turn to in times of need, does not provide a window for deliberate inclusion of any of these categories of people;

d) the electoral processes employed by all political parties in this country, also tend to be exclusive in their nature, and the Parties themselves have not been amenable to change.

Mr. Speaker, we continue to need this provision in order to cater for certain critical skills and expertise that we otherwise are not able to bring into Parliament through a general election, and Botswana is not alone in this regard. There is need to ensure that the marginalised sections of our society who are unable to get representation in Parliament through a normal election process are catered for. In this regard, it is my sincere hope that this provision will be put to good use to ensure that historically disadvantaged groups are accommodated.

3. Mr. Speaker, this Bill was referred to Ntlo ya Dikgosi in accordance with Section 88(2) of the Constitution. Copies of the Ntlo ya Dikgosi Resolution, made at it's 9th Meeting held from 7th to 9th July 2009, have already been made available to Honourable Members. Dikgosi, as would be expected, raised some observations prior to resolving on the bill, and I wish to take just a few minutes to comment on those.

a) At paragraph 3.1 Dikgosi opined that the increase of the number of specially elected members would be so significant as to distort electoral outcomes.

I beg to differ, Mr. Speaker, and as I have indeed demonstrated in this presentation, the number of elected Members of this Assembly has almost doubled since 1965 and the proposal to do likewise with specially
Elected Members, is timely.

b) At paragraph 3.2, Dikgosi expressed fears that the positions would be used to benefit ruling party members, especially those who lose elections. Mr. Speaker, we need to appreciate that unlike in other Parliaments where specially Elected MPs are chosen by the President, our system is much more open, transparent and democratic. Specially Elected MPs are elected by elected Members of Parliament, and the process is provided for in the First Schedule of our constitution. In any event Mr. Speaker, we have to appreciate that there are many reasons why people lose elections, and that loss of elections has nothing to do with their ability to perform if given an opportunity to serve this nation.

At paragraph 3.5 of the Ntlo ya Dikgosi resolution, Dikgosi felt that the proposed amendment should be subjected to greater public debate through a referendum. I am sure that Honourable Members are aware that the constitution is quite explicit as to which amendments should be subjected to a referendum, and this is not one of them.

Mr. Speaker, I am happy, to report that after this lively debate, Members of Ntlo ya Dikgosi resolved "to endorse the amendment of Section 58 (2) (b) of the constitution, to increase the number of Specially Elected Members of Parliament from four to eight. In addition, that the First Schedule of the constitution be amended by substituting for the word "four" the word "eight" which appears in the schedule"

4. In conclusion Mr. Speaker, I am aware of the concerns which have been expressed by Members both in this House, and at Ntlo ya Dikgosi, regarding the issue of gender imbalance in Parliament. May I say Mr. Speaker, that I am amenable to introducing an appropriate amendment at Committee stage of this bill, to address these concerns.

5. With that Mr. Speaker, I move that the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2009 (NO.7 of 2009) be read a second time. I thank you.

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