The Societies Amendment Bill gave the Assistant Minister of State President, Meshack Mthimkhulu, an opportunity to launch a baseless attack against the Maun West MP, Dumelang Saleshando. Two days later however, the minister’s words were removed from the parliamentary record of proceedings.
First not mentioning names but leaving no doubt whom he was talking about, Mthimkhulu, who is also the Gaborone South MP, slipped in details that compromised the identity of the subject. He said that the house of one opposition leader was to be auctioned off on August 25 and a short while thereafter, identified that leader as the president of the Botswana Congress Party. While he didn’t mention that leader, it was clear that he was talking about Saleshando. In the next breath, he dropped all pretence and did mention him by name.
Mthimkhulu said that the new bill had been purposefully crafted to prevent fraud that takes the form of politicians using pyramid schemes to raise money which they then use to pay for personal expenditure – like settling debts. Such schemes, he alleged, are facilitated through otherwise legitimate political fundraising. He argued that the new law will impose a strict requirement on political parties to “account for funds.” The latter assertion was contested by the Leader of the Opposition, Dithapelo Keorapetse, who said that, as it is, Botswana’s political parties are already being audited.
A detailed explanation of how this scheme works would have been helpful but Mthimkhulu never gave one and the MPs themselves never asked him to do that. Then again, it could have been that the Assistant Minister and his audience knew how such scheme operates but they forgot the national audience. To objection that he shouldn’t raise what appears to be a personal matter that has absolutely no relationship with the bill, Mthimkhulu said that such relationship exists because some political leaders use the façade of legitimate political fundraising to relieve themselves of financial stress. In part, the Bill disqualifies those in debt from holding political office.
Numerous interjections by opposition MPs would prompt the Minister of State President, Kabo Morwaeng, to implore those MPs to let Mthimkhulu make his contribution unhindered.
“If what he is saying pains you, just endure that pain for 10 minutes,” he said.
Francistown MP, Ignatius Moswaane, said that Mthimkhulu’s contribution, which he determined to have elements of “defamation” and “character assassination” was “a project to destroy Saleshando’s career.”
Mthimkhulu, who is a lawyer, also faulted BCP MPs to have contravened already existing law with regard to floor-crossing.
Ahead of the 2019 general election, the BCP joined the Umbrella for Democratic Change, a loose opposition coalition, and emerged as the best-performing party in terms of the number of parliamentary seats won. However, the party failed to find common ground with the Botswana National Front and has since left UDC. Mthimkhulu said that in terms of the law on floor-crossing, BCP MPs should have forfeited their seats and didn’t deserve to be in parliament.
“Chase them out,” he said to the Speaker. “They are dishonest, starting with their president.”
That was on Wednesday night when Parliament ran over its normal business hours to exhaust pending business. On Friday morning, Speaker Phandu Skelemani ruled that Mthimkhulu’s allegations were baseless and should be “expunged” (removed) from the Hansard. Going back decades, MPs across the board typically abuse their immunity from prosecution by making often outrageously defamatory statements inside the house. They wouldn’t dare repeat such statements outside the house (where their speech is not protected) because they would be hit with defamation lawsuits they would have no defence against.