The question of whether ministers and members of parliament always act ethically in their conduct of official business has once more been raised in parliament.
In the first week of the current sitting of parliament, Boteti East MP, Sethomo Lelatisitswe, asked “whether it is true that the contract of the previous representative of Boteti in Ntlo ya Dikgosi was not renewed because of suspected political alignment and his relationship with the current Minister of Local Government and Rural Development.” The latter is Slumber Tsogwane who is Boteti West MP and the representative in question is Oreagetse Machilidza. Tsogwane contested against Machilidza in the 2009 general election and following his loss, the latter went into tribal administration as Mopipi headman. After reaching the statutory retirement age, Machilidza applied for a contract but as fate would have it, it was Tsogwane who had to make the decision. The application was rejected. Through a supplementary question, Francistown South MP, Wynter Mmolotsi, suggested Tsogwane was motivated by a personal vendetta when he rejected Machilidza’s application.
Tsogwane’s role in the matter raises a genuine conflict-of-interest issue but he wanted the house to focus on possible abuse of parliamentary privilege by Lelatisitswe. He rose on a point of procedure to protest the “mischief in the question.” The minister invoked a standing order that says that “a question shall not contain a statement which the member who asked the question is not prepared to substantiate.” The standing order also says that a question is not supposed to contain “arguments, inferences, opinions, imputation or epithets or tendentious, ironical or offensive expressions.” At this point, the question could not be unasked but Tsogwane said that he wanted to prevent similar mischief in the future. The speaker’s ruling was that Tsogwane’s ministry should have rejected the question if it felt that it didn’t conform to established parliamentary rules.
The Minister of Justice, Defence and Security, Shaw Kgathi, also claimed to have been a personal victim of a malicious parliamentary question from the back benches. He didn’t give precise details but called on parliament staff to scrutinise questions more closely.
Among MPs themselves, charges have been levelled at a ruling party MP for raising on the floor, a private, non-parliamentary matter through a question. Last year, Francistown West MP, Ignatius Moswaane, asked a question about industrial plots at a Francistown area that is colloquially known as Chedu Choga. Through such question, he complained to the Minister of Local Government and Rural Development that plots in this area are not serviced, that some plot owners are using water tanks to supply water to their plots/operating businesses, and that water reticulation has been omitted in some plots. He also wanted to know what the minister would do to normalise the situation. At first, there was nothing eyebrow-raising about the question until Mmolotsi alerted the house to the fact that Moswaane has personal commercial interest at Chedu Choga. Sunday Standard established that such interest was in the form of a used-car dealership.
In response to Mmolotsi’s concern, Deputy Speaker, Kagiso Molatlhegi, spoke generally about the need for MPs to put national before personal interest.
“You swore in this parliament that you will carry out the nation’s interests before your own, so deliver on that promise. When you ask questions, we send them to the responsible ministries and they are answered in parliament. You are supposed to discipline yourselves between what is acceptable and what is not,” he said.
Moswaane played off this concern with a barbed remark about Mmolotsi being “jealous” of him.