Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Strike debacle: Parliament should shoulder its share of the blame

It is a pity that Members of Parliament have been going around without answers even as the public service unions went on an indefinite strike.

They are passing the buck to President Ian Khama and want the nation to believe that they were helpless when government decided to award a zero percent increment to the civil service employees.
That cannot be the case.

MPs, especially in the opposition, should stop playing double standards as if they were not party to approving the 2011/12 budget that denied the public service an increment.

If they had a genuine concern about the plight of the workers, they should have simply refused to approve the current budget. Frequently, MPs want us to believe and sympathise with them that they are helpless and are forced to rubber stamp government decisions yet they possess the unlimited power to reject government decisions with contempt when presented for approval.

We vividly recall that when David Magang was Minister of Transport and Communications, parliament rejected to approve his budget proposals for NDP 9.

Of course, that was a different crop of MPs. But by rejecting the proposal, parliament was stamping its supreme authority over a government decision. To date, parliament still wields that authority and its failure to exercise it can never be an excuse for any national wrong committed.

The current strike should be a serious wake up call for parliament to start exercising its power, lest we also hold them responsible for the troubles bedeviling the nation. They should have simply rejected Finance Minister Kenneth Matambo’s budget proposal for the current financial year without blinking because it had omitted a fundamental item – salary increase.

Playing double standards by parliament is not acceptable. Parliament must equally shoulder the blame for the current strike debacle.

Not a single Member of Parliament walked out in protest because the budget had denied the government employees an increment, which they had gone for a solid three years without, despite rising inflation. 

They should have prevailed over government to go back to the drawing board and come up with a budget that took the workers plight aboard.

They were sold a dummy in the justification that the civil service salaries had been increased in the previous year following the adoption of the New Public Service Act and they fell for it. They never averted their minds to the fact that the employees’ purchasing power had been eroded by inflation over the years.

Parliament should, from now on, know that whatever law or budget it approves, the nation will not turn around and pass the blame to the Chief Executive Officer, in the form of the President when they were party to the homicide.

It is only hoped that the strike is just one incident, which should, by all means, show parliament that it can use the powers vested by the public to forthrightly dismiss any government ill. Parliament is a messenger of the public and it should simply execute that mandate.

We need not remind MPs that when the Corruption and Economic Crime Act was passed, some members, among them Honourable Gus Matlhabaphiri, walked out in protest because there were certain clauses that they were not amenable to.

We are reminded of their power because even when the DIS Act was passed, they deliberately slept on their power to reject it only to cry foul afterwards.

Had anyone of them walked out in protest against the passing of the budget bill or any other piece of law, he would certainly be the only legislator deserving our sympathy in the event of a national crisis resulting from the current strike.

We just hope next time parliament will not shy away from using its power to reject what is tabled before it for as long as it is convinced that such an act is not in the public interest.

Parliament has the power, and the House has to use its powers with much vigour and wisdom otherwise we will never forgive them for their failures.

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Sunday Standard May 24 – 30

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of May 24 - 30, 2020.