Monday, October 25, 2021

New Standing Orders limit MPs to two motions per session

In a past order that allowed an MP to table as many motions as s/he wanted, some would hog all the floor time allocated for debating motions from the first to the last week of a session.

The star performer in the ninth and 10th parliament was Tonota MP, Pono Moatlhodi, who later doubled as Deputy Speaker. Moatlhodi’s re-election bid failed in 2014 and he was promptly replaced by an MP from the neighbouring constituency of Francistown West, Ignatius Moswaane. Giving notice of parliamentary questions and motions is a fierce rat race whose results don’t favour some MPs. An MP gives written notice of a motion to the National Assembly’s administrative staff and that motion gets on a waiting list. While standing orders allow MPs to table motions on a notice of urgency, they also give the Speaker the prerogative of determining such urgency. The latter has proved to be controversial with a speakership that the opposition considers to be biased in favour of the ruling party.

The major flaw in the system is that an MP can hog the house’s time by bringing too many motions. The first-come-first-served system means that there is no consideration of the quality of a motion, which means that the house can be reduced to debating inconsequential motions while more important ones slowly crawl up the list. In terms of the new standing orders, MPs are allowed only two motions per session in order that the time allocated for motions (Fridays sittings) can be evenly distributed. That means that MPs can table only six motions in a parliamentary year ÔÇô which has three sessions.

Motions do more than spotlight problematic areas that political and other leaders need to solve but also add wattage to the mover’s star. The MP who asks far too many questions or tables many motions hogs not just the house’s sitting hours but also airtime on national airwaves as well as editorial acreage in newspapers. If on a particular day, an MP asks five questions, radio stations (which typically mention the name of the MP who asked a question) will report the issue for an entire news cycle. That can greatly impress constituents back home who are listening to the radio.

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