April 30, 2007

Opposition party threatens lawsuit over airline privatization

The Air Botswana (AB) privatisation saga might end up in court because the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) is contemplating suing the government over the issue. This follows Works and Transport Minister Lesego Motsumi's decision to continue negotiating with South African company, Air Link after Parliament had moved a motion halting the talks. BCP Publicity Secretary, Dumelang Saleshando, said that they were seeking possibilities of stopping negotiations through a court injunction. According to him, the negotiations violated the Air Botswana Transition Act. "We believe that the executive is compelled to respect the motions of Parliament," said Saleshando, who is also the Member of Parliament (MP) for Gaborone Central. He further said they disagreed with Attorney General Athaliah Molokomme's contention that there was nothing wrong with government continuing with the negotiations to privatise the national airline even though a parliamentary motion had been moved to the contrary.
"We think this is about protecting our democracy. Parliament is the voice of the people. The Judiciary and the Executive do not get their mandates from the people," the BCP official charged. There have been divergent views since Francistown South MP Khumongwana Maoto moved the motion that government should discontinue negotiations to privatise AB. Maoto called for the suspension of talks as the exercise was not in tandem with the Air Botswana Transition and the Civil Aviation Regulation Reform Acts. However, after the motion was adopted by Parliament, Motsumi vowed that she would continue with the negotiations. The Attorney General then came to the defence of the executive. In a statement, Molokomme said as a general principle, unlike Acts, parliamentary resolutions were not binding on the Executive but binding on Parliament. She said in this context, the Air Botswana negotiations should be seen as a process, which "falls squarely within the preserve of the executive functions and cannot be suspended simply by a parliamentary motion to that effect".
Molokomme said the outcome should not be contrary to the law, in particular the Air Botswana Transition and the Civil Aviation Regulation Reform Acts. She insisted that to proceed with negotiations in this present case was not in violation of the law, provided it was done in order to give effect to the Air Botswana Transition Act. "It is in my considered opinion that so far, the negotiations are proceeding in accordance with the letter and spirit of the Air Botswana Transition Act. Should the outcome of current negotiations deviate from the Act, the executive may have to return to Parliament to seek an amendment or repeal of the Air Botswana (Transition) Act as appropriate." Molokomme said this did not mean that Parliament could prevent the outcome by adopting a motion calling upon the Executive to suspend the ongoing process of negotiations as this "amounts to encroaching on the constitutional sphere of the executive".
She said it was critical that each organ should respect the constitutional sphere of the operation of the other. But Gaborone lawyer and politician Dick Bayford disagrees with her. He says "cabinet cannot dismiss a resolution of Parliament". According to him, Parliament had to be taken on board all the way during the privatisation process. (Mmegi/The Reporter, Gaborone)


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