If there is one lesson we learnt from the 11th Parliament of the Republic of Botswana is that Members of Parliament are at liberty to skip a session of Parliament, idle outside of Parliament or just leave the house to collapse the quorum and that the Speaker of the National Assembly has no powers to order MPs into the house. From the same Parliament, we also witnessed MPs abdicating their constitutional mandate of holding the executive to account in preference for extreme bootlicking.
In particular, a majority of the MPs from within the ruling party refused to check a state president who has gone rogue and threatened to run down the economy with his eccentric model of a welfare state. Instead, the MPs made it a hobby to shout down contributions from the opposition legislators especially negative comments about then president Dr Khama.
The ruling party MPs so often used their numerical superiority to defend party and government position even when doing so reduced them to numbskulls. As a result of the herd-mentality, parliamentary business often got rowdy especially when BDP legislators were taken to task by the more astute opposition MPs and/or when they ran out of arguments.
Without coherent and persuasive arguments, they resorted to sloganeering in order to hold the party line in ways that made them a gang of rowdy honorable lawmakers. Thus, when the 11th Parliament was dissolved to give way for the 2019 general election, many people celebrated the end its term and prayed that a majority of them never find a way back to Parliament.
But as they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Whereas a majority of MPs from the 11th Parliament were vanquished, the new MPs of the current 12th Parliament look like some of the most inept and uninspiring beings ever to sit in the hallowed house. Like glue sniffing thugs, many of them prefer to idle outside when Parliament is in session.
We know that there are many MPs from across the political divide who take their responsibilities seriously. Yet, there is another large group that fit the description of the embodiment of serial school loafers who attend classes solely for the school meals. This is a situation we have come to live with more so that while Botswana has one of the highest literacy rates in Africa, the culture of learning appears not to have filtered down to a majority of our politicians.
A combination of lower levels of education and the ruling party MPs’ resolve to hold the party line means that unless the opposition MPs do something extra-ordinary to hold the executive to account and critically examine proposed policies, the 12th Parliament risk being an absolute disgrace.
Whereas the educational level of MPs has consistently remained low since the advent of Botswana’s liberal democracy, BDP MPs in previous parliaments committed themselves to subjecting proposed legislation to critical scrutiny. In doing so, MPs ensured that government conducted its business fairly well and orderly.
Their commitment to check the executive reached a climax when former President Festus Mogae lamented that some of the BDP MPs were behaving like un-castrated young male goats.
As a result of a series of events where the MPs had flexed their muscles, the BDP introduced the autocratic Party Caucus to whip MPs to toe the party line. Nonetheless, some MPs continued to be vocal in presenting the concerns and interests of their constituents and the nation at large.
However, under Dr Khama’s stewardship, like pole dancers performing an erotic dance, many BDP MPs took to caressing the leadership for a reward. One would expect the current crop of MPs to have drawn valuable lessons from previous parliaments with a view to finding the midpoint so that they would make quality contributions without offending the party leadership.
Instead, it would look like the 12th Parliament is neither willing to scrutinize proposed legislation, debate issues nor caress the party leadership for rewards. The new MPs especially from the ruling BDP belong nowhere, are neither vocal nor bootlicking. That would mean that most MPs are in Parliament chiefly for personal gain.
Perhaps this explains why newspaper reports suggest that the BDP backbenchers intend to revolt against the party if that is what it would take to have their demands met. They have hit the ground running in their commitment to accumulate a huge fortune before their term ends. Needless to say, a group of owls is called a parliament. Owls are masters of camouflage and a symbol of death. Phew! Connect the dots and draw your own conclusion.
It has to be noted that the 12th Parliament has brought in 42 new faces, meaning that only 11 MPs were retained from the previous Parliament. The honorable MPs were sworn in November 2019 and immediately thereafter Parliament was in recess for the Christmas vacation. The MPs just returned to work in February 2020 for the session of the Budget Speech.
Effectively, the 12th Parliament is less than four months in office but already the (BDP) MPs are threatening to revolt if they do not get superior accommodation and constituency vehicles.
Granted such demands predate the current Parliament but the new MPs determination to arm-twist the leadership to accede to their otherwise valid demands is legendary. It is recalled that MPs have always decried their low salaries and other benefits, culminating in former president Dr Khama branding them vultures. At some point it was reported that the MPs had secretly passed a Bill that provided for the upward adjustment of their salaries and other benefits by 40 percent.
Throughout their struggle for a reward system that commensurate with their multiple responsibilities, the public has been very supportive because it was believed that the stature of Parliament correspond to the respect accorded to the MPs and that such respect largely derives from the position of an MP in society based, in part, on the income of the individual.
It is also public knowledge that as is the case with a majority of workers in Botswana, MPs salaries compares lowly with their counterparts in the Southern African region and probably much of Africa and therefore their demands for better pay are legitimate.
However, the media has recently been awash with stories that BDPs MPs have on two occasions deliberately walked out of parliament to collapse the quorum and halt parliament business. This happened when an opposition legislator was presenting motions that were at the heart of human dignity.
These events have all the hallmarks of fraud mainly because in spite of idling outside Parliament for a good measure of the sessions, MPs claim and get paid a hefty sitting allowance. This has been going on for as many years so much that it has become an acceptable practice.
Given a combination of low levels of education, loafing and dishonesty debates in parliament are likely to become sterile and bereft of quality research, that is, if they aren’t already. This is in spite that opposition MPs had always saved the image and integrity of the hallowed house by showing the courage to attend, critique bills and challenge harmful executive decisions despite being in the minority.
In effect, MPs demands for superior accommodation and constituency vehicles must not be entertained until they behave and act responsibly and conduct quality debates in Parliament. It is absurd that ruling party MPs would even threaten to revolt against the party leadership for improved benefits while they conduct themselves worse than delinquent boys excited by the first signs of puberty.
Performance in parliament is dependent on the caliber and seriousness of individuals elected to serve in it. Thus, our parliament’s lackluster performance is indicative that Botswana is faced with a crisis in the caliber of politicians who fit the description of selfless servants of the people.
In order to safeguard our Parliament from degenerating into a village stokvel where the loudest scoundrel gets accolades for being vulgar, stingy and crooked as in the act of walking out of parliament to deliberately collapse a quorum, there is need to develop an objective framework for assessing the performance of our legislators like other public officers.
A few years ago the then Speaker of the National Assembly, Mma Kokorwe acknowledged that it was painful to watch MPs walk out of Parliament against her word. This was after former Maun West MP Tawana Moremi had reminded her that she had no powers to force MPs into the house even when they are idling outside.
In the light of this, it is imperative to develop an efficient tool to ensure that MPs discharge their responsibilities and get paid for work done. This intervention will ensure accountability for performance and compel MPs to be performance-oriented.
Many times Standing Orders have been cited as if they were job descriptions when the reality is that they are absolutely ineffective in ensuring that MPs do their work in Parliament and at their constituencies.