Monday, July 5, 2010

15/6/10: Ministry of local Government Responds to Media Distortions of the Local Government Bill

source: Republic of Botswana (20/6/10) TAUTONA TIMES no 8 of 2010
The Electronic Press Circular of the Office of the President
"Democracy, Development, Dignity, Discipline and Delivery"

C5) 15/6/10: Ministry of local Government Responds to Media Distortions of the Local Government Bill

Media reports and commentary on the Local Government Bill reflect a gross misunderstanding of the spirit and letter of the proposed legislative statue. The Ministry of Local Government wishes to set the record straight and shed light on the proposed Bill.

The local government system in Botswana is not immune to the growing demands of society, the complexity towards accommodating the diversity of people and the global move towards embracing democratic principles and practices. In this regard the Ministry of Local Government will continue to transform the institutional framework of local government with the aim of enhancing Botswana's democratic processes.

Contrary to the Sunday Standard media commentary (June 13th - 19th, 2010), the proposed Local Government Bill embraces progressive ideas that espouse transparency, inclusiveness, customer-focus and decentralized administrative and political structures to mention a few.

Regrettably, coverage of the Bill by the media has been glaringly selective and hugely out of context. Undue focus has been placed on three sections of the Bill at the exclusion of an entire document with 132 sections.

There is a misconception that, "the proposed act seeks to, among others, bestow on the Minister the powers to fire incompetent Councillors." The truth of the matter is that nowhere in the Bill is there any reference of, "the Minister being given any powers to fire incompetent Councillors."

Section 13 (1) of the Bill states that the seat of member of Council, other than an ex officio member, shall become vacant in the event of a number of occurrences, none of which is summary dismissal of a Councillor by the Minister for poor work ethic or incompetence. There is no doubt that the Bill proposes the suspension of a Councillor. This should however not be read in isolation. It should be read with clause 13 on vacation of seat by a Councillor.

It is true that at clause 15, the Bill proposes an extension of the tenure of office for Mayors and Council Chairpersons from two years to five years. Section 15 (1) states that, "Election to the position of Chairperson and Mayor shall be held every five years." This is intended to facilitate continuity and allow Councillors to apply their minds seriously when they elect their colleagues into positions of leadership. The section was brought about by calls for intervention following persistent changing of Council leadership.

According to media reports, the third contentious issue in the proposed Bill is the perception that it, "proposes to give the Minister unlimited power to dissolve a district council, town council or city council." From the premise that it is the Minister who establishes Councils as corporate bodies, as stated in Section 3 of the Bill, it stands to reason that structural and strategic shifts in the evolution of local government may demand the dissolution of certain Councils to create others.

By way of example, it may in future be necessary to dissolve Sowa Township to create a lager district that would be a merger with probably Nata sub-district. Under such circumstances, the Minister my invoke Section 122 of the proposed Bill to facilitate such a growth. Without such a provision, it may not be easy to transfer the assets of an existing Council to a newly established one.

I trust the foregoing will assist in shedding light on the proposed Bill and clear prevailing misconception around it.

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