Monday, March 20, 2023

Is it a good idea to allow schoolchildren inside parliament?

Every day that parliament is sitting during school holidays, there is a group of students from somewhere in the country to observe proceedings of the house. This seems a good thing because the students get to supplement classroom learning with real-life experience. However, there is a very serious downside that should cause the Ministry of Education and parliament management to think twice about this learning programme.
Given some other things that come standard with parliamentary proceedings it might not be a good idea to allow children inside the chamber. In the final days of the last meeting, Gantsi North MP, Noah Salakae, asked the Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport, Thapelo Olopeng, a question. The MP was not satisfied with the written response and followed up with a supplementary question which required the minister to think on his feet. Still dissatisfied, Salakae stated that “If we are going to allow the ministers to answer this way, it means even Standard Sevens can become ministers.” At the precise moment that he said that, students from Middlepits Primary School in Kgalagadi South and Letlhakane Primary School in Boteti East were sitting in the public gallery. In line with new protocol, the Speaker, Gladys Kokorwe, had officially communicated such information to MPs when the afternoon meeting started.
When it looked like Kokorwe was not going to reprimand Salakae for his remarks, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, interjected on a point of order to make such intervention.
“I find that it’s objectionable for the honourable member to say even Standard Sevens can become ministers. We have got children in the house whom we would like to groom to become something in future,” Venson-Moitoi said.
Salakae ended up withdrawing his words but what he said was nothing compared to the unbridled language and conduct of some of his colleagues. There is a danger that schoolchildren, some of them still very young, may be learning language they should not even know exist. Francistown West MP, Ignatius Moswaane, is easily the best-performing in terms of using language that children shouldn’t be exposed to.  Once before he objected to a ruling by the Deputy Speaker, Kagiso Molatlhegi, by stating that he doesn’t worship idols ÔÇô false gods. He has called opposition MPs “bo-tlhogwana moimele” and not too long ago alternately called Molatlhegi a “professional liar” and “blue liar.” Moswaane also comes across as politically incorrect because in the winter session, he likened the Botswana’s parliament to a disabled person in unflattering terms.
Ironically, when Parliament is supposed to assist learning, some of the things that MPs say impede such learning. Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi may only have been joking when he said that all MPs hold honorary PhDs.
“I thought yours was an honorary doctorate, Dr. Mmatli. Even yours too, Dr. Phenyo Butale,” he said addressing himself to the only two MPs (Dr. Tlamelo Mmatli of Molepolole South and Dr. Butale of Gaborone Central) who earned their PhDs.
The danger is if any one student in the public gallery didn’t get the joke and internalises such information.
Masisi would go on to liken the economic stimulus package that Botswana plans to introduce to revive the economy to that applied in the United States in 2009 by the newly elected President Barack Obama. Masisi said that this ESP “was aimed at increasing employment and recovery of the US economy.” The fact of the matter is that despite its name, the Obama’s ESP was actually meant to revive the financial sector and not all other sectors of the entire economy.
Allowing children in parliament may also not be a good idea because as an incident on the first day of the winter session showed, physical violence may have become part of conducting parliamentary business in Botswana. On that day, Butale was carried out kicking and screaming by security guards.


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