Friday, February 26, 2021

MPs supposed to police themselves on conflict-of-interest questions

Can MPs ask parliamentary questions that relate directly to their very own personal, non-parliamentary business?

In a Francistown industrial district that is colloquially known as “Chedu Choga”, Francistown West MP, Ignatius Moswaane, has a used-car dealership. When the current session of parliament opened, the very first question he asked was whether the Minister of Local Government and Rural Development is aware 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, (like Number 14040 to 14052). He also wanted to know what the minister will do to normalise the situation.

On the face of it that looks like a standard parliamentary question but Moswaane’s colleague from across town, Wynter Mmolotsi, smelled a rat. Standing on a point of order after the question had been answered, Mmolotsi, who is the Francistown South MP, asked the Deputy Speaker, Kagiso Molatlhegi, to “kindly enlighten this parliament as to whether it is acceptable to ask a private business question as Honourable Moswaane did just now.” Electing to go beyond the simple yes or no answer that the question clearly sought, Molatlhegi said that parliament accepts questions as they are and that there is no way of telling whether they are for anybody’s personal benefit.

“It is just a question. Let it be answered; I don’t know about anyone’s private business here,” he said.

The precise answer Mmolotsi sought never came because the Speaker spoke generally about the need for MPs to put national above personal interest. In response, Mmolotsi said that now that he had alerted the house, was there not a case of conflict of 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. I do not think it is wrong if the question is in regard to his constituency,” the Speaker said.

Moswaane played off this concern with a barbed remark suggesting “jealousy” on Mmolotsi’s part.

“Mr. Speaker, it is fortunate that I am not the jealous type,” he said.

About the Chedu Choga plots, it turns out that they were sold at discounted prices back in 1999 and 2000 when the Ministry of Lands and Housing parceled them out. There was an agreement between the two parties that the plot owners would pay for the servicing.

“Recently my ministry, through Francistown City Council, met with representatives and some of the plot owners were actually working on modalities of servicing the plots. Some plots owners have already opened a trust account which will facilitate servicing the above named plots. The representatives were soliciting support to assist in mobilising other plots owners to come in the endeavour to service the plots,” said Frans Van Der Westerhuizen, the Assistant Minister of Local Government and Rural Development.

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