Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Masisi rightly feared TV cameras in parliament would be a bad idea  

In a period of time that beans canned in the C-suites of the Government Enclave are being spilled, former Mass Media Complex boss, Mogomotsi Kaboeamodimo, has alleged that then Vice President, Mokgweetsi Masisi, was opposed to the idea of live broadcasting of parliament.

In an audio tape that he released last Wednesday, Kaboeamodimo talks about the bad blood between him and now President Masisi – whom he accuses of “jealousy.”

Kaboeamodimo attributes his problem with Masisi to the latter’s “jealousy” after then President Ian Khama recognised and delegated him to undertake certain important national assignments. Those he mentions are accompanying Khama to a Tokyo International Conference on African Development in Japan; his appointment to head a digital migration taskforce as well as appointment to another taskforce to investigate allegations that Botswana was destabilising Zimbabwe. The latter taskforce consisted of then Commander of the Botswana Defence Force, Lieutenant General Tebogo Masire, Major General Gaolathe Galebotswe and Brigadier Letsogile Motsumi, the Commander of the Umbutfo Eswatini Defence Force as well as representatives of the Zimbabwean government. For its digital migration, Botswana has adopted Japanese standards and so there was a lot of travel between Gaborone and Tokyo. Kaboeamodimo said that he would travel with Masisi during some of these trips.

Kaboeamodimo doesn’t quite drive the point about the jealousy home but what he says suggests that Masisi wanted Khama to have given such high-profile assignments to him and not Kaboeamodimo.

The part about TV cameras in parliament is brief but contains some interesting details. Kaboeamodimo’s account is that when he was still veep, Masisi summoned him to a meeting in his office at the Office of the President. His “offence” (he uses the Setswana equivalent, “molato”) was that he was putting together plans to broadcast parliamentary debates live on Btv and Radio Botswana. Other people at that meeting were then Speaker of the National Assembly, Gladys Kokorwe; Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration, Eric Molale and his deputy, Phillip Makgalemele; as well as Permanent Secretary to the President, Carter Morupisi. Kaboeamodimo doesn’t reveal the positions of the last two on the matter but says that while he and Kokorwe were keen on the live broadcasting, Masisi and Molale were not.

At least one plot element in the latter story doesn’t quite dovetail on account of an information gap in Kaboeamodimo’s account. If Vice President Masisi didn’t want parliament proceedings to be broadcast live, why was that done when he had more power as president?

Away from whether Masisi was or wasn’t opposed to live broadcasting of parliament proceedings, there is an important stand-alone issue regarding whether that was a good idea to start with. All in all, this is an issue with pros and cons and it is likely that two years after this development, the cons outweigh the pros.

The pros are that live broadcasting allows a more open relationship between parliament and the people they represent; enables the employers (voters) to monitor the performance of their employees (MPs); enhances citizens’ access to knowledge – which citizens are the real owners of official data; and also engenders the “inclusivity, transparency and accountability” that the Minister for State President, Kabo Morwaeng touted when he announced the decision to start the live broadcasting.

The cons that Masisi and Molale feared would occur as a result of live broadcasting have become stark and were the reason Takatokwane MP, Tshoganetso Leuwe, proposed that the broadcasting should be discontinued.

Leuwe’s concern related to thuggish conduct by some MPs. The Speaker periodically has to rein in this conduct but doesn’t always succeed. This group of MPs routinely exchanges insults on the floor of the house and both the sound and images of this scandalous conduct is relayed over airwaves into homes, offices and vehicles across the country.  The Assistant Minister of Education and Skills Development Nnaniki Makwinja, has told parliament 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. The Minister of Youth, Gender, Sport and Culture, Tumiso Rakgare, has himself suggested that the epidemic of student indiscipline was likely a result of MPs modelling thuggish conduct to the nation.

This conduct had already taken root way before TV cameras were introduced to parliament and would evidently have factored in the calculation made by Masisi and Molale. However, the two men would also have been making other considerations, one of which would have been that TV cameras bring a lot of PR peril for political parties – part of it a result of the already stated thuggish conduct by some MPs.

This PR peril takes two other forms: sub-par performance by MPs, which lowers the quality of representation by a party and perpetual late-coming or absence in the house as an aspect of a generally poor work ethic.

There are some really smart MPs who have a sophisticated understanding of hugely complex issues of national governance and on the basis of the latter, can hold their own during parliamentary debates. However, there are also C and D students who hustled hard to get into parliament and are clueless about a lot of things. In the 2009-2014 parliament, one such MP from the ruling Botswana Democratic Party said that there was no need for the Bank of Botswana to hire a foreigner (who was Zimbabwean) as a security manager because the only things that one needs to do the job are a peaked cap and baton. He would have been thinking of the 75-year old nightwatchman at the store in his village because the security manager at BoB requires a professional who holds advanced degrees in IT security.

This cluelessness persists to this day and is found on both sides of the aisle, including the Opposition Bench, which some mistakenly believe will fundamentally transform Botswana. Ironically, it is the opposition parties that have long agitated for the live broadcasting of parliament proceedings. In the distant past, a Botswana National Front MP proposed that the country should spur economic growth by “manufacturing weapons of mass destruction.” In the current parliament, there is a comrade of his who approaches each issue with half-baked humour.

Each time an MP says something that reveals their ignorance, the party to which such MP belongs loses a lot of cool points and voters question whether the quality of leadership in that party qualifies to run national affairs.

Going back to the administration of President Sir Ketumile Masire, Botswana started experiencing a still-ongoing labour-productivity crisis that has impacted negatively on national development. A swashbuckling Vice President Ian Khama, freshly retired from the army where he was a no-nonsense commander, was supposed to end this crisis once and for all. However, when he left office on April 1, 2018, it still persisted. TV cameras have revealed that the parliament has not been spared this crisis: one too many MPs show up late, periodically disappear during proceedings, absent themselves from the house, nitpick on procedural issues to delay tackling substantive issues – and display cluelessness that reveals that they don’t keep themselves informed. Exposing this poor work ethic to the nation is not good PR for any party.

There is another problem that has nothing to do with MPs but reinforces the fact that, as far as video technology goes, the Botswana parliament was not ready to go live. Where MPs themselves are unable to manipulate basic technology, the latter periodically gives out on its own. The meeting that Kaboeamodimo referred to happened before Covid-19 and so this factor wouldn’t have been considered. Still, it proves the lack of readiness.


Read this week's paper