The independence of Parliament and the integrity of the Speaker of the National Assembly were the first casualties in a heated war of words between the deputy speaker and opposition MPs Thursday evening.
Standing orders were thrown out of the window and parliament was reduced to an orgy of nasty remarks as the Deputy Speaker, Pono Moatlhodi, lost control of the house and traded verbal blows with opposition MPs during the second reading of the unpopular constitutional amendment bill meant to curb floor crossing.
Parliament erupted in to chaos as opposition MPs defied the speaker of the national assembly whom they branded biased, a “disgrace” and a “stooge” of President Khama.
Deputy Speaker Moatlhodi, who was standing in for the substantive speaker, Margaret Nasha, lost control of the house and openly exchanged nasty remarks with opposition MPs.
The pandemonium that erupted came to an exchange of verbal blows as opposition legislators charged at Moatlhodi for ignoring them and trying to cut them short while they were debating the bill in an apparent bid to railroad the bill through parliament.
Google eyes, raised voices, frothing mouths and explosive exchanges characterized the mood in parliament that was so tense you could cut it with a knife.
Peeved by the Speaker’s apparent bias, opposition legislators openly defied Moatlhodi and sat down in protest as ruling party MPs gave him a standing ovation while marching out of parliament following a controversial adjournment of parliament.
Trouble began when Moatlhodi adjourned parliament hastily to consult what he referred to as ‘elders’ while Dumelang Saleshando was on the floor. He stuck to his corner and refused to explain to MPs who were puzzled by what he meant by elders and why he claimed the consultation was for MPs’ benefit.
When the house reconvened, he tried to convince MPs about who he had gone to consult. Opposition MPs appeared unconvinced when he told parliament that he had adjourned the house to consult with the Attorney General’s office.
Moatlhodi’s attempt to bring order to the house by throwing MPs out did not help the situation as the number of dissenting voices querying his conduct grew louder.
“I will kick all of you out of this parliament,” he warned.
Moatlhodi, who was supposed to be an independent arbiter, hijacked and demanded MPs to speed up the debate.
As MP Botsalo Ntuane moved his amendment to a clause on the bill that sought to give constituents power to sack non performing MPs, Moatlhodi choked the debate and disallowed attempts by MPs to seek clarification on the issue. He also disallowed interventions on points of order, corrections and elucidations and shocked the house when he gave the MPs just 7 minutes to debate the clauses.
“This is getting comical,” said MP Tawana Moremi in disbelief.
Pressed for time and pushing for the bill to be concluded before the close of business, Moatlhodi did not allow MPs to ask questions or make any procedural interjections. MPs Tawana Moremi, Odirile Motlhale and Gilson Saleshando were barred from making any attempts to make clarifications and comments.
The speaker, who was controlling the house with an iron fist, truncated a debate in one of the clauses.
“This is not the way to run parliament, no Mr Speaker, no Mr Speaker…it can’t be right,” complained MP Wynter Mmolotsi.
As Moatlhodi persisted, an emotionally overwhelmed Saleshando stepped in rebuke and challenged Motlhodi’s apparent abuse of discretion.
“You are not greater than the standing orders ….” said Saleshando. He said that, as legislators, they were not in parliament to pursue errands for the executive. He accused Motlhodi of being President Ian Khama’s stooge.
“This is not what I contested elections to come and do,” stated Saleshando.
The BCP leader further called on Moatlhodi to allow MPs to openly debate the bill on floor crossing.
Opposition legislators did not even take part in the vote on the clause by clause amendments.
On the other side of the House, Vice President Mompati Merafhe, who saw nothing amiss, accused opposition MPs of trying to delay procedures.
“There is a deliberate attempt by some members to frustrate progress,” said Merafhe, who also advised the Speaker to use his standing orders to bring order inside parliament.
“…this is an assault on the integrity of this parliament and you are not impartial…what you are engaged in is political expediency,” said Ntuane MP after Merafhe had spoken.
As the scene turned into a freedom square, Moatlhodi adjourned parliament and was booed by MP Mephato Reatile, who dismissed him as a disgrace for failing to smoothly run parliament in the absence of the substantive Margaret Nasha who is away on official business.
The proceedings were halted after the exchanges between the Speaker and the legislators got out of control.
Owing to the disruptions on Thursday, Government announced on Friday that it was withdrawing the bill to seek further consultation.