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As an Industrial Court judgement by Justice Dawie De Villiers shows, any other employee would lose their job if they “persistently” absented themselves from work. An MP is not any other employee and for that reason, Tati East MP, Guma Moyo, can still afford to absent himself from work for the remainder of his five-year term.
Mid-way through the just-ended meeting of parliament, Moyo fled the country citing fears for his life. By his account, he had received credible intelligence that there was a plot to kill him. When parliament went into recess last week, Moyo was still AWOL. On the basis of the rules that govern parliamentary proceedings (called standing orders),the Tati East MP can still afford to miss the next meeting and not suffer any consequences. According to the standing orders, an MP can only lose his seat if s/he absents him/herself from parliament for three consecutive meetings. A parliamentary year has three meetings: the first begins in late October when the president gives the state-of-the-nation address and normally lasts eight weeks; the second, which is the longest, begins in February when the finance minister gives the budget speech and lasts about 13 weeks; and the last, which is also the shortest takes place between July and August, lasting six weeks.
Moyo missed part of the second meeting and even if he were to miss all of the next meeting, would still not suffer any consequences. Not suffering any consequences means that whereas anybody else’s salary would be docked as punishment, Moyo will continue to earn his salary and allowances. MPs used the last meeting to give themselves a pay raise and as an MP in good standing, Moyo is also entitled to such raise. However, he will not get sitting allowance because he literally didn’t sit in parliament.
If you consider such indulgence permissive, you would be lost for words where rules that govern the work of MPs outside parliament are concerned. There are none. Standing orders impose workplace requirements on MPs only when parliament is in session and give the Speaker supervisory authority over them. As the administrative head of the National Assembly, the Clerk of the National Assembly maintains something akin to an attendance register. However, out in their respective constituencies, MPs are not supervised by anyone – not the Speaker, not the Clerk and certainly not the respective political parties they belong to. As far as the Standing Orders and the constitutions of those parties are concerned, there is no such thing as the Constituency Office because it is not mentioned in those documents.
Interestingly, the Constituency Office is where most of the parliamentary work is done – or is supposed to be done. The expectation that MPs that should supervise themselves is deeply problematic in that lazy ones just don’t do any work at the Office. Under such circumstances, voters have no choice but to wait for five years for the opportunity to change out representatives at the next cycle of elections. Naturally, a party would be inclined to make some intervention when an MP plays hooky but the fact of the matter is that parties don’t have any control over MPs – which is why the latter can afford to cross the floor without the permission of a party they used to get into parliament. The absence of structured institutional oversight also means independent MPs are freest to do what they want.
Against such background, the BDP finds itself in an even trickier situation in Moyo’s case. As an MP, Moyo is part of a party structure (the Botswana Democratic Party Caucus) that is led by Letlhakeng East MP, Liakat Kablay, in his position as Government Whip. Kablay’s office is the official link between the party and parliament as a government institution. Kablay says that ordinarily fellow BDP MPs notify both him and the Speaker in advance about their absence in parliament.
“Like other MPs, I only heard about his absence from the Speaker because he didn’t notify me personally,” Kablay says of Moyo.
Officially therefore, Moyo didn’t formally notify the BDP Caucus about his absence without leave.
Kablay reveals that the BDP Caucus is gravely concerned about what he personally believes are mere theatrical antics by an elected representative.
“The Caucus is concerned about the MP’s absence because it has left his constituents without a voice in parliament. We are concerned that there is no one who will communicate what was discussed in parliament to constituents as well as relay their concerns to parliament. You have to remember that it is the MP who has boycotted the government – not his constituents. The nature of this job is that there is no Assistant MP who temporarily carries out an MP duties when he can’t do that himself,” Kablay says.
There is a deeper, more pressing concern for the party itself. In just six months and no later than October 24, Botswana goes to the polls. Going back at least two decades, the BDP’s electoral support has been steadily falling and even the much-touted popularity of former President Ian Khama couldn’t break that fall. Compounding that problem is an opposition that may go to the polls as a united force and possibly end the BDP’s 53-year rule. For that reason, every seat counts in what is essentially a numbers electoral game. Kablay says that in a situation as critical as that of an election year, the party has no idea where Moyo is as well as when and whether he will even come back before the elections. This uncertainty has prompted some party members to mull the idea of replacing Moyo with the runner-up in the primary elections.
On April 27 (next week Saturday), the BDP officially launches its election manifesto, presents candidates and distributes campaign vehicles among constituencies at a big shindig that will be held in Gaborone. Each constituency will be led by its parliamentary candidate but as at press time, there is still the question of who will lead the Tati East delegation in a ceremony that marks the start of a do-or-die campaign.
Moyo’s claim that the Directorate of Intelligence Services and Security wants to kill him has been undermined by the fact that it coincides with the taxman probe into his business dealings. He reportedly owes the Botswana Unified Revenue Services P31 million in unpaid taxes. His dealings with state institutions like the Citizen Entrepreneurial Development Agency and the Botswana Development Corporation has attracted the attention of DISS. Add to that unpaid staff wages in excess of P4million – which case would attract the attention of the Department of Labour and Social Security.
Personally, Kablay has serious doubts about the credibility of the claim that Moyo has made. The Letlhakeng East MP says that he doesn’t understand why anyone would send hit man after Guma because “ke motho wa Modimo hela” (he is an innocent soul) who wouldn’t involve himself in activity that would endanger his life.
“I frankly don’t know why he would make such an outrageous claim,” says Kablay who then reveals a nagging suspicion. “I think he just want to tarnish the country’s image.”