Whither the Citizen Empowerment Bill?

Bill yet to reach Parliament


President Mokgweetsi Masisi and his cabinet appear to be far from finalising the Citizen Economic Empowerment Bill. The ruling Botswana Democratic Party has come under fire from the opposition for failing to include citizens in the mainstream economy after more than five decades of independence. In response, President Masisi has conceded that the country’s economy is not in the hands of indigenous citizens and promised sweeping changes if his party was returned to power, which it did in the general elections of 2019.
Ahead of the declaration of the first state of emergency (SoE) in April 2020, Masisi told the nation that he would do everything in his power to have the citizen empowerment bill before Parliament without delay. Expectation was that the bill would be tabled before the end of 2020, but almost a year later the bill is yet to be tabled.

BDP chief whip Liakat Kablay previously told this publication that former trade and industry minister Peggy Serame had told a BDP caucus that the bill was still at the drafting stage but no timeline was given. Some speculated that the delay could be the result of Masisi bowing down to pressure from BDP financiers, most of whom are of foreign origin.
It is believed to be the same pressure that saw Masisi fail to act when certain foreign owned companies ‘unlawfully’ retrenched employees in their reaction to a squeeze from COVID-19. In a national address, the President described the retrenchments as“not considerate”and “disrespectful.”

There have been reports that terminology of the bill is likely to change from citizen economic empowerment to citizen economic inclusion.

President Masisi emphasised that the time had come to have citizens as the major players in the country’s economy and that he had instructed his ministers accordingly. However, a few months following that address, the President made another statement in which he pleaded with Batswana to be tolerant and supportive of foreign investors in Botswana.
Meanwhile, a total of five bills are expected to be tabled in this winter sitting of Parliament. These are the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, the Change of Surname Bill 2021, and the Married Persons Property (Amendment) Bill 2021 by the Minister of Nationality, Immigration and Gender Affairs; the Diamond Cutting (Amendment) Bill 2021 by the Minister of Mineral Resources, Green Technology and Energy Security and the Declaration of Assets and of Liabilities (Amendment) Bill by the Minister for Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration,