Opposition parties say they gave the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) a blank cheque to do as they wish in adopting six-months State of Emergency and to propose regulations because the party has always wanted to have its way. Opposition parties failed to convince the ruling party against a six-months State of Public Emergency during a two-day Special Parliament Meeting in Gaborone. The opposition placed two amendments before Parliament to be considered against the six months requested by President Mokgweetsi Masisi to fight COVID-19.
The opposition first proposed for 28 days state of emergency which would run along with the lockdown but later after being defeated compromised for a three-month period which also did not see the light of day. Leader of Opposition Dumelang Saleshando said there is nothing that they could do as opposition as the BDP was not prepared to meet them halfway. He said however their decision not to continue with the debates did not mean they were in agreement with their BDP colleagues.
He argued during the debates that what the BDP government was doing was to prepare themselves for the 2024 general election, in view of the way the leadership is adamant on the six months period. Saleshando who is also Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) Vice President raised the red flag that some BDP members have been lined up to benefit from COVID-19 procurement. MP for Tonota Pono Moatlhodi expressed fear that there could be possible abuse of power as witnessed during the process of special nomination of councillors. He said the ruling party abused the process to reward undeserving individual BDP members.
Moatlhodi stated that 28 days was enough for government to orbit around COVID-19 and ask for a fresh mandate thereafter. MP for Goodhope-Mabule also Minister of Local Government and Rural Development Eric Molale argued that the proposed period by opposition is not enough to prevent and contain the virus. "This is not about giving the president sweeping powers. If we say 28 days it means our people will plan for only that period. This is why we ask for more time so that planning will also not be compromised.
“The president has indicated that we need a loner planning horizon so as to deal with COVID-19. Opposition should stop telling Batswana conspiracy theories," stated Molale. MP for Nkange Dr. Never Tshabang said since the outbreak everything had been progressing accordingly when the fight was led by health professionals. He said things got out of hand when politicians want to take the lead instead.
"We have to deal with this virus scientifically. First you start with a 28 days lockdown. When you have traced, isolated, then there is a release period which is meant for the populace to interact with the virus. “This is so that we can see if there are any changes or new infections or danger, if there is nothing we continue with release period but if there is danger then impose another lockdown," said Dr. Tshabang adding that health experts who briefed MPs earlier in the week did not link the six months state of emergency with the 28 days lockdown.
Francistown South MP Wynter Mmolotsi told the meeting that the president can have the stipulated 21 days of lockdown within six months. He said this will assist in checks and balances. "We should not be talking about giving powers to the President. We should be talking about strengthening the Public Health Act. This will help us close all the loopholes so that in future we are able to deal with such pandemics. “If the issue is about resources we can have a Contingency Fund where the President would be able to fund and spend funds to fight the pandemic,” he said.