Sunday, October 17, 2021

Parliament more concerned with keeping time than solving problems

You would think that a prime national institution that exists to protect public interest would be adequately curious about a pressing essential-need matter in which members of the public are being short-changed. Think again.

When parliament discussed how a private sector company came to alter the terms of a 15-year old PPP that was designed to benefit some 433 low-income earners, the Speaker kept his eyes not on the prize but on the clock and.

Beginning last year May, the Gaborone North MP, Haskins Nkaigwa, has, in essence, been waging a campaign to scuttle a deal that would see a company called Zimmal Reliance acquire land that it has failed to develop for the statutorily-defined period of two years. Through a PPP deal entered with the Ministry of Lands and Housing (renamed the Ministry of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services), the company was to build 433 “affordable” houses on a parcel of land in Nkaigwa’s constituency that has lied fallow for far too long. What “affordable” says is that these houses were to benefit the low-income group which is the worst affected by the house shortage problem in Gaborone. As Nkaigwa told parliament last month, Zimmal will now build a shopping complex with a petrol station on the land in question.

For the second time in 2017, the MP had spotlighted the issue by way of a parliamentary question that, as the first time, was answered by the Assistant Minister of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services, Itumeleng Moipisi. Dissatisfied with what the minister said, Nkaigwa tried to get more information that wouldn’t voluntarily come out through a supplementary question.

“Are you aware that Zimmal is no longer going to build the 433 houses you speak of?” Nkaigwa pressed Moipisi through a double-pronged question liberally leavened with pointed commentary. “Zimmal is going to build a shopping complex with a petrol filling station on that land. What do you say about that because it compromises the initial objective which the government and Zimmal contracted over, whose basis was a PPP to benefit Batswana? Now only Zimmal will benefit from the PPP.”

Moipisi sidestepped those points, instead deviating to expound more generally on a policy of leniency by his ministry that Nkaigwa has himself personally benefitted from. However, Nkaigwa and a colleague of his from across the aisle, Specially-elected MP Mephato Reatile, still had more questions but ordering both to sit down, the Deputy Speaker, Kagiso Molatlhegi, said that he could not allocate any more time to the issue.

“That was the last supplementary question,” said Molatlhegi, essentially closing the debate on the controversial Zimmal deal.

It would be easy to blame Molatlhegi ÔÇô or the Speaker Gladys Kokorwe for that matter ÔÇô but parliament has a long-standing tradition of fixating on process than substance. One of the Speaker’s responsibilities is to ensure that the time allocated for questions at the beginning of the daily meetings doesn’t run over, not whether problematic issues raised during debates are exhaustively dealt with. At a time that Discovery Metals Boseto Copper Mine was closing down and retrenching some 400 workers, Gaborone Bonnington South MP, Ndaba Gaolathe, was cut off when he tried to warn the house about suspect business practices that some multinational investors (like Boseto) habitually engage in. The Speaker wasn’t concerned with the usefulness of what Gaolathe ÔÇô who is the only financial economist in parliament, was saying but with whether his input was technically compatible with the point he had risen on.

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