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Maun sub council chair talks governance

COUNCIL CHAIR: Vepaune Moreti

At the age of 28, he was elected councillor for Boseja ward in Maun.

Now aged 39, Vepaune Moreti sits as the council chairperson for Maun sub council in Maun Administration Authority (MAA).

In this interview with FRANCINAH BAAITSE, Moreti speaks about the frustrations of heading an opposition party led council which depends on the ruling party led central government for financial support.

In 2009 and 2014 you were elected to the council under the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) ticket, but you joined opposition Botswana Congress Party (BCP) around 2017, which is now a member of the country’s main opposition party; Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), kindly remind us of what had happened for you to cross the floor?

We defied party caucus and we were expelled from the BDP. At the time the North West District council was under BDP leadership and Reaboka Mbulawa was the chairman.

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At the beginning of the term he wanted re-election but we were not happy with the way he was running things so we challenged him.

The BDP leadership wanted Mbulawa to retain the seat but councillors wanted Duncan Enga to replace him so at the council we submitted names to challenge him and we were given the boot fro the ruling party.

Having served one and half terms for both BDP and UDC, what is it that you can say differentiates the two parties?

At UDC, we put people first rather than the institution, but the BDP membership put its party first before the people, that’s what sets the two parties apart.

The typical example is when we were almost killed for defying a caucus; for standing against the leadership’s favourite candidate.

Almost killed you say?

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Yes, being kicked out of the party is tantamount to murder of one’s political career!

But wouldn’t you have gotten a similar reprimand from UDC had you defied a caucus?

No, at UDC we believe in freedom of expression and the leadership does not dictate or impose names of favourite candidates on people.

We believe in open democracy , we select leadership, discuss and reach consensus.

While BDP believes in compromise we believe in consensus.

Interesting indeed. So what are the challenges you face as a council chairperson?

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Being a leader on its own is a challenge so there are so many to count.

But you see at council level sometimes you have to deal with unhappy councillors who may not like the way you chair debates and feel you did not give them ample time to discuss issues affecting their wards and electorates.

But we do make them see that the council is run through standing orders that guide procedures, so we always try to bring and balance the equation so that they understand that things have to be done fairly.

MAA is run by UDC who make majority of councillors both at sub council level and the district, but at ministry level, it is under BDP, does this in any way affect service delivery?

Very much so! First we do not have policies of our own as UDC to run the council with.

We run the council with policies and programmes drawn by BDP so we are basically an instrument,which is implementing what BDP wants because even though we have our manifesto as UDC, we cannot implement that because we are not the ruling party. We are not happy with that.

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Do you have examples of services that you’d rather be implementing differently but being forced by the current status quo to do them otherwise?

For instance for one to qualify for LIMID they are not supposed to be earning more than P150, meaning anyone who gets piece jobs which pays them above that, would not qualify for the programme.

Many people have failed to benefit from it because of that P150 cap, but exactly what is P150 in this era?

These are outdated policies and we should not be subjecting our people to such policies and programmes.

If it were you, how much would you have suggested as a cut off-line?

As UDC we would have thought of a reasonable amount because even the P550 earned through Ipelegeng programme is not enough to sustain anyone.

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We have suggested a minimum wage of P3000. Through our manifesto we also called for at least P1500 as pension grant and free tablets for students.

These things are possible, it is just that the BDP government doesn’t want to commit itself to these services.

But if there is a will, they can, because look what they are doing today, they have reduced student-teacher ratio, the same way as we had said should be done.

It took COVID-19 for them to make these changes, before COVID they said it was impossible but now they are doing exactly what opposition was saying.

They are just on that track because we as UDC have a prophetic eye when it comes to service delivery, but we are saying these needs to be done, COVID or no COVID, people must come first.

Are there any other policies that are frustrating besides the ones you have just mentioned?

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There are plenty. The major problem is that developments have to be funded from central government level.

We need to service our wards in terms of infrastructural development but it is Ministry of local government which has to fund these, so when we ask say for P5, for argument’s sake we always get at most P1.

The constituency community development programme (CCP) was supposed to help us push this agenda but it has since been cancelled that is why instead of building and maintaining internal roads we have resorted to creating pavements because with an P800 000 budget for a road, what can you do with it?

Talking about CCP, how far is the council with construction of Boro satellite school which was supposed to be done with P2 million from the programme?

The two-teacher satellite school was supposed to have been built to reduce the long distance which the children travel daily to and from school.

It is quite a distance and a risky journey by foot from Boro to Maun but unfortunately the development was delayed.

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When COVID-19 struck, the CCP was stopped and the money was returned to central government coffers.

Very sad development indeed. Moving away from CCP, a few months back you were accused and investigated for misusing office to claim for transport allowance even though you were transported by institutional vehicle, how was the matter settled?

Yes, that was brought up by one of the councillors and I will say that was cheap politics and witch hunt.

Indeed an investigation was done, and my name was cleared.

The thing is I used my personal vehicle and like all other councillors, I claimed for the due amount.

Having been a member of the BDP, how true is it that they are trying to recruit you back into their kraal?

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BDP has no substance so there is nothing they can use to lure me to their kraal. None of them can win me over, not a single one of them.

They know me well, I know BDP. BDP has entered its dying period so they are trying to resuscitate a dying horse; they are trying everything, giving it vaccine but the horse ain’t getting any better, it is jumping and kicking and slowly dying but the reality is that it cannot be resuscitated.

What is your dream for Maun and do you see yourself achieving it by the end of your term?

Infrastructural development, we have no roads, Maun is dark and needs to be lit through streets and tower lights.

There were times when water was a problem but that is almost behind us, but infrastructure remains an eye sore.

So if the government was under UDC, I would say yes I will achieve the dream I have for this town, because UDC is concerned about issues affecting Batswana, not empty promises, but I am sitting here as an agent of BDP, implementing their policies and painfully trying to reach and achieve the people’s dream .

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There is a lot of potential here. We cannot keep saying Maun is a tourism hub when there is nothing to show for it.

When I got here, we were making over P10 million in Tourism royalties, so I believe we are making more than P50 million to date because the sector has grown but all the money goes to central government.