Friday, August 12, 2022

“Honourable MPs, you are more than constituency representatives”

For as long as I have been politically awake (around 27 years now), I have been amazed at what I can best characterize as “pettification” of serious issues by our parliamentarians.

I have sometimes wondered whether some of them even have a conscience. I have painfully witnessed perfectly sensible motions proposed by opposition members ridiculed and ultimately thrown out, instead of at least amending some of them.

Surely not all motions proposed by opposition (or, if you are in the opposition, by the ruling party) could all be all-bad. Sometimes the very motions that had previously been so rejected would be brought back to the house by a member of the ruling party, and this time around it would receive unanimous support from the very same people who, a few years ago had rejected the motion.

It had been proposed by “them” and not “us”. This has always troubled me and so I want to address myself to our (honorable) members of Parliament on this rather unfortunate mode of operation of our honorable representatives.

I write as a citizen of this country and with the understanding that what you do or do not do in Parliament can and does affect our lives, and that of our children, in a very significant way and sometimes for a very long time! First I would like to make the following points:
ÔÇó Botswana (at least by pronouncement) is a democratic country. Theoretically therefore, you are part of a government of the people, elected by the people for the sake of serving the people.

ÔÇó You were voted to Parliament by the ordinary men and women of this country (in your respective constituencies) to serve.

ÔÇó During your campaign you kindly and humbly asked for votes from those men and women promising to do precisely that: serve.

ÔÇó You recognize that by virtue of point 3 you were actually seeking employment from the people, which they gave you with their votes.

ÔÇó You purported (one way or another) that you were ready to be sent to Parliament and to serve the interests of your “employer”, i.e. the voter/taxpayer/citizen. Your focus therefore ought to remain on what those interests are, and you are to consider each policy or bill proposal from the perspective of that mandate.

ÔÇó As a Member of Parliament you fully recognize (I believe) that you wear at least two hats of responsibility, namely that of your constituency (which you put on when asking for developments in your constituency), and the national hat (which you put on when debating issues that are generally referred to as being of national importance-particularly legislation). As explained in 7 below, the two are not mutually exclusive. One is a subset of the other.

ÔÇó Even as you have your constituency hat on, you speak for all in your constituency, not only for those who belong to your party or those who voted for you. Indeed it can be said (and truly so) that any developments in your respective constituencies are an integral part of National development.

That is why (thankfully) when visiting my relatives in a different constituency I would not have to get to Mogoditshane Clinic in order to have my child receive medical attention, just because that is the constituency I live in.

Nor would one be barred from using the world-class hospital in Serowe because he is from a “foreign” constituency. It is, for example, a wonderful thing that one can enjoy the comfort and convenience offered by the availability of electricity in, say, Lobatse the same way that they can in Marapong.

It is when one is transferred from one constituency to another that they can appreciate the fact that developments in all constituencies are for all of us, regardless of where we happen to be living at the time of such developments.

ÔÇó Considered a bit more carefully, both 6 and 7 illustrate the point that strictly speaking, any development anywhere in Botswana is for the benefit of us all, and that each one of you members of Parliament therefore represent the interests of ALL citizens of Botswana, regardless of geographical location or party affiliation. The importance of your relative numbers in Parliament should therefore only serve to determine which party holds the reins of administrative power, not to sabotage one another to the detriment of the general citizenry.

ÔÇó All of you therefore, whether you are ministers or not (including those of you who were imposed on us through the undemocratic process of special nomination) are my representatives in that esteemed house called the National Assembly. I therefore rightfully expect mature, conscientious and responsible representation from ALL of you.

ÔÇó As my representatives, I expect that my welfare as a citizen should be uppermost in any debate you engage in at Parliament and any contribution that you make thereto. It is my right. I believe that a common understanding of this basic fact would unite all of you around the common goal of serving the people of this country, instead of engaging in childish and senseless opposition to motions that would enhance our democracy and improve the lives of us all, simply because such motions were tabled by an MP who wears a different party color.

ÔÇó The intellectually decrepit tradition of referring to each other as “enemies” is sad and unacceptable, particularly considering 10 above. This doctrine explains, for example, why a senior member of the ruling party once threatened that people in a certain constituency would not get any developments if they voted for the opposition! As leaders you should be able to accept the fact that a fellow party member can (even with the best of intentions) propose a motion that upon careful consideration may turn out to be not in the best interest of the citizen. You also need to accept (difficult as it may be) that conversely, an MP from the opposition may propose a motion that can advance the credentials of our democracy and welfare of our people. Given such a scenario, the best criterion for determining whether or not to support the motion should be the merits or demerits of the motion itself. After all you should operate from the premise that as compatriots, you all wish for this country to be the best that it can be for all its people. No party or group of individuals has the exclusive wisdom or ability to make laws that are best for a nation.

ÔÇó The interests of any party must of necessity be subject to the interests of the nation that the party serves, or purports to be aspiring to serve one day. It is therefore difficult to make sense of the tendency displayed by some parties whereby they preach the doctrine of “party first and the people later”. No, the party should exist for the purpose of serving the people. In the event that a party policy undermines the interests of the people, then such a policy has to be changed in order to meet the standards of our democratic ideals, namely “rule…….for the people”.

With the fore-going, I therefore find it irritatingly absurd that for decades an unfortunate tradition has been allowed to develop in Botswana, whereby on almost every issue (regardless of its merits or demerits) voting in parliament is always done along party lines. This tradition has done the people of this country a great disservice. Many would-be good laws never saw the light of day because of it. As a result we have all lost, including yourselves! Folks, you can do better than that.

We call you (and you also call each other) “honorable”. Please live up to that title. Do the honorable thing and serve this nation with honesty, truthfulness, impartiality, courage and independence of mind. Educated as most of you are, you ought to demonstrate, what Bob Marley’s referred to as, “emancipation from mental slavery”. For the sake of your fellow citizens and posterity, please free yourselves from the bondage of senseless and self-defeating tradition. Change is inevitable. Instead of watching it happen, make it happen. Otherwise you will wonder what happened! God bless you.


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