The new species of MP (recalcitrant, combative, foul-mouthed and disrespectful to both colleagues and the nation) has compelled the National Assembly’s Members Rights and Privileges Committee to develop a new code of conduct for MPs. In one respect, this code is implicit admission that the Standing Orders which have been used since 1966 are no longer working.
According to the Assistant Minister for State President, Meshack Mthimkhulu, the code is still in draft form and will be tabled before parliament at a date that will be agreed upon at the general assembly, the joint closed-session attended by MPs from all parties. Once adopted, the code will provide guidance on “how best MPs can carry out their duties in a respectable and responsible manner, observing the core values of botho and kagisanyo.”
The Setswana words have been reproduced from a question that Gaborone North MP, Mpho Balopi, put to Mthimkhulu about the circus that parliament has become. While the house retains the “honourable” honorific for its members, some of them routinely engage in less-than-honourable conduct. Naturally, MPs who don’t engage in this sort of conduct are gravely concerned and through his question, Balopi asked Mthimkhulu “whether the Government is not concerned that some forms of conduct and language displayed in the National Assembly are contrary to Botswana’s core values.” The government is itself concerned and the code of conduct is an attempt to rein in wayward MPs. The draft code would require MPs to conduct themselves honourably both in and outside parliament.
Balopi also wanted to know “whether Government will not consider introducing stiff penalties for offensive conduct and language so that all leaders may be wary of the need to observe good decorum, especially in the era of live broadcast of Parliament which may set bad example to Batswana viewers.” In response, Mthimkhulu told parliament that the code of conduct spells out action that will be taken when MPs violate the agreed rules of parliamentary decorum.
The part about MPs setting a bad example was actually confirmed by the Minister of Youth, Gender, Sport and Culture, Tumiso Rakgare on the last day of the last session of parliament. He said that there can be no denying that some impressionable young people will model their misconduct on that they see being displayed by some MPs on Btv. Takatokwane MP, Tshoganetso Leuwe, said that in his own house, he has taught his children to never say “O a yaka.” While western culture is tolerant of that expression’s equivalent (“you are lying”) in most Botswana indigenous cultures, its use is considered bad manners at best and insulting at worst – especially when used cross-generationally. In place of “O a yaka”, the MP said that his children use more polite language in the form of “o a fosa”, meaning “you are wrong.” Leuwe said that not too long ago, his children asked him why elderly people in parliament are in the habit of saying “O a yaka” to one another.
“This shows that we are setting a bad example,” the MP said.
Many more people beyond the Takatokwane MP are shocked. He said that as he travels around the country, some of the people he meets also complain about the coarse language that MPs use in parliament during debates.
“They actually quote incidents and name names of when so-and-so said this or so-and-so said that,” he said.
The Assistant Minister of Education and Skills Development, Nnaniki Makwinja, said that some elderly people have been so repulsed by the misconduct of MPs that they no longer follow parliamentary debates on Btv or Radio Botswana.
“Our conduct as MPs leaves a lot to be desired,” she said.
With some elderly people having so boycotted Btv and Radio Botswana, Leuwe asked the Minister for State President, Kabo Morwaeng, whether the government would consider discontinuing live broadcasts because of the misconduct by some MPs.
Mthimkhulu took care to sidestep one of Balopi’s supplementary questions: do MPs have botho to begin with if they require a code of conduct that requires them to display such attribute in their dealings with each other?