• The end of the BDP backbench
• Seretse Khama’s 1974 cabinet was only 49% of elected BDP MPs, Ian Khama’s 2016 cabinet makes up 73%
• After two extra Ministers, cabinet may make up 85% of all elected BDP MPs
• Two ministers and assistants come at a cost.
Cabinet which has been slowly nibbling away at the backbench, will in the next week or so perform the final act – take a whole chunk, munch and gobble it up. The final absorption of the little morsels of what was left of the backbench into the executive will have both political and financial implications for both party and government.
In 1974 in the post-elections period Sir Seretse Khama announced his Cabinet – 11 ministerial positions and two assistant ministerial positions. In the general elections preceding this new Cabinet, the ruling party had a successful campaign netting 27 MPs out of a possible 32.
In simple percentages, by appointing 13 out the 27 into Cabinet, Khama left out just more than half of his MPs to do duty as backbenchers. The Cabinet was 48 percent of BDP MPs, and 41 percent of the total MPs in Parliament.
Fast foward 42 years on, last week, President Ian Khama announced that he would add another two Cabinet ministers and their assistants to his team to head two newly created government ministries– Ministry of Women and Children and Ministry of Public Enterprise.
There are two main points to be kept in mind, the share of the BDP MPs in Parliament is much lower this time around, so ultimately Khama has a smaller slice from which to cut from for Cabinet. There are 16 Cabinet ministers and eight assistants, totaling 24 Cabinet members. Khama will up the tally to18 ministers and 10 assistants, which would take the number to 28 Cabinet members.
In the last elections the ruling party won 33 out of the 57 parliamentary seats. As a percentage of the total BDP MPs, Cabinet currently stands at 73 percent, against 1974’s 48 percent. However, if you include the new Cabinet positions, the executive will command a staggering 85 percent of the total BDP elected MPs.
The opposition has already described the Cabinet expansion as a waste of money, and critics say it is a convenient ploy to serve factional interests within the ruling party.
The Business Weekly & Review calculates that the increase will cost taxpayers P7.2 million a year, accumulating to around just under P30 million the next general elections.
According to Bill No 2 of 2016 on Ministerial Offices (Amendment) Bill, government will increase ministers from 16 to 18. The same Bill will increase assistant ministers from eight to 10. Recently Parliament increased salaries of ministers and assistant ministers by an average 26 percent pushing Khama’s annual salary to P650 000. There are other benefits and privileges Cabinet members recieve but the ministerial handbook is a guide to the salaries, benefits and privileges that Cabinet ministers are entitled to. Government views the “Green Book” as a classified document
The Business Weekly & Review managed to publish the 2014 version of the handbook, which has not been amended so far, affording ordinary Batswana a glimpse into how far Cabinet members’ perks stretch. Elected officials have been adjusting their wages and perks on an annual basis according to the Green Book, despite repeated talks of belt tightening.
In 2015, ministers increased their salaries by 27 percent to P439 656 per year, meaning that a minister earns around P40 000 a month in basic salary, with a communication allowance and hospitality allowance. Similarly, assistant ministers’ salaries increased by 28 percent from P266 000 to P370 000 per year.
The two new proposed ministers are expected to cost tax payers around P1 million a year in basic salaries, hospitality allowance and communications allowance.
The two proposed assistant ministers will, on the other hand, cost taxpayers in excess of P740 000 per year. They are also entitled to a total of P40 000 in hospitality allowance and around P63 000 in communication allowance.
Ministers and assistant ministers are entitled to at least two official vehicles; a BMW 530i worth around P440 000 and a Toyota Prado worth around P700 000. Four official vehicles will cost around P4.5 million.
According to the ministers handbook of 2014, elected officials were entitled to subsistence allowance of P443.80 per night, sitting allowance, constituency allowance, gardener and maid allowance at P22.488 per year, subsidised water and electricity, free housing worth P18 000 a month and highly subsidised internet in which ministers pay 10 percent of the bill. The figures might have increased with the 2015 adjustments.It is not clear why Khama has opted to increase his Cabinet from 24 to 28 when he is left with 15 months in office.
But those are financial considerations, the politics may be prove more complex. It is safe to say the BDP is coming into a new era, where the backbench is not silenced but outrightly non-existent, numerically. It may be helpful for Khama to have all his necessary shoulders behind the wheel, but it is questionable whether the BDP, without a working backbench, is a party in the most optimum shape to handle the onslaught from the opposition.
Khama can be forgiven for not condoning dissenting voices on the right side of the House. After all his predecessor Festus Mogae had serious run-ins with his own vociferous backbench, and in many occasions questioned the very loyalty of the MPs to the ruling party’s national agenda. By the end of his term Mogae was dealing with a backbench so critical that some people in the ruling party were openly questioning their dedication to the cause.
Backbench dynamics are complex. It is true that some backbench dissent may be an expression of factional tussles within the party.In one particular incident the backbench stalled Mogae’s attempts at privatising Air Botswana, questioning the Airlink connection in the deal. In 2007 Parliament adopted a motion by then Francistown South MP Khumongwana Maoto requesting Cabinet to freeze the negotiations with SA Airlink of South Africa. However, Cabinet went ahead with the negotiations causing further divisions between Parliament and the executive. The Air Botswana privatisation project collapsed for many other reasons but among them the questionable fashion it was being handled.
Veteran politician and former speaker Matlapeng Ray Molomo in his book, Democratic Deficit in the Parliament of Botswana, positions the backbench and the opposition at the very centre of a vibrant legislature that can provide oversight over executive performance.
However, as the defection of some BDP members to form the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) shows, the backbench could be seen as a release valve for dissenting views within a ruling party.
Khama faces the spectre of a Parliament without a backbench therefore the ruling party faces the danger of being seen to be unaware of alternative views on executive policy. It is not important that the opposition offers the alternative, it is equally more important that the ruling party shows itself to have the space and indeed the appetite for critical views.
Cabinet by its very nature works on collective responsibility thus Cabinet ministers have no option to express dissenting positions on government. However, the backbench has no such responsibility – the backbench has the uncanny position of being part of a ruling party while also free to give expression to alternative views. It is a useful role for it projects the ruling party as open to a variety of views.
The current problem with an all-executive ruling party is that alternative views may be driven underground causing frustration or creating dissenters who lie in wait for the latest excuse to rebel. It may not be good for a ruling party leadership.