Thursday, May 23, 2024

The Presidency must uphold the independence and sanctity of Parliament

In India, it is called the Lok Sabha; Israel calls it the Knesset, while in Japan it is known as the Diet.

The Russians prefer to call it the State Duma but Botswana humbly calls it Parliament.
So do countries like South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Wherever it is and whatever they call it, parliament, in any language, has respect reserved for it because it is deemed to be the only island of freedom of speech not subject to court of law. One should not be sued for what they say during parliamentary debates in “the august house”.

Many countries, including Botswana, have statutes that protect parliamentarians from being sued for what they say in parliament because parliament is expected to be a place of open discussion.

A parliament is a legislature; it holds preconceived notions of fairness, openness and allegiance to the nation rather than to a political party.

People there are serious dudes who make laws that bind us all, including a president of a country.

In a democracy, Parliament is the law-making body of the national government and has the authority to make and enact laws. It is the third leg in a trinity that includes the Presidency and the Judiciary.

These three, by the nature of their roles, authority and stature, are guaranteed total respect until they start to pee into the watering hole.

Whether they have won by half a vote or by landslide,we immediately call them ‘Honourable MP so and so’.

We respect them before they are even sworn-in because respect is for the office they occupy, whether or not they justify that they deserve it.

Painfully, even those hand-picked through bootlicking are immediately bestowed with the tag ‘Honourable’ before we have had a chance to gauge their honour.

But it is all done in good faith because we always expect the best in fairness and decency from our lawmakers.

Members of Parliament represent us, formulate our national laws and lobby for causes in our constituencies.

Representing us is, by far, the most important role they play because they bring us to par with fellow citizens across the nation, showing what’s needed to be done in particular areas of our country and how to maintain the welfare of the nation.

We always tend to lose sight of the fact that a Member of Parliament is above a Cabinet minister because cabinet, either individually or as a whole, is answerable to Parliament, not the other way around.

But we do not see that happening because the president can include Specially Elected Members of Parliament in his Cabinet.

This disgusting practice, adopted across Africa to include a president’s cronies on what always ends up as “a gravy train”, is an insult to democracy.

Specially Elected MPs have no constituency; their constituency is the man who gave them the job yet they cast parliamentary votes alongside those who represent live constituencies and this becomes a weapon used by presidents to tilt the tripod in his own fervor and that affects the three arms of government.

However, the sanctity of Parliament must, of necessity, be maintained and respected.

What happened to Phenyo Butale early this month was a shameful display of rogue politics and overzealous efforts to please someone up there so as to get personal rewards.
The role of parliamentarians is to debate issues, hold the Presidency accountable or even force debate on important national issues.

That is what they are elected to do.

But when an unelected gate-keeper, like Deputy Speaker Kagiso Molatlhegi,abuses the very same elected people he should be assisting to formulate national laws, then the whole process becomes child’s play.

Parliamentary protocol notwithstanding, Molatlhegi must know that MPs come to Parliament for one thing and one thing only and that is to talk.

The Parliament of Zimbabwe has long since become a shamed place of gathering because the ruling party meddled from as far back as the election of MPs. The political playfield was deliberately tilted to achieve a skewed result favourable to the ruling party.

We have seen MPs being dragged to court over statements made in parliament in violation of existing immunity laws protecting Members of Parliament while executing their duties.
Recently in South Africa, we have seen a Speaker of Parliament calling Security personnel to forcibly remove elected representatives who had a legitimate right to demand discussion of a very pertinent issue.

Not that I care for Julius Malema and his gang, but I am appalled by the behavior of the Speaker and the sight of police officers pushing, shoving and attacking elected Members of Parliament. Like in Botswana, it was not a sight the nation should see.

I was very disturbed to see photographs of MP Butale sprawled on the ground at the hands of police officers who should proffer the highest form of respect possible to the elected member.
Parliament is where Members of Parliament play mid-wife to new laws, patch up some of the existing ones while playing executioners to other laws overtaken by time before burying them in dusty archives as fodder for tomorrow’s scholars to research.

A police officer striding to manhandle an elected parliamentarian is the most contradictory sight I can imagine.

Parliament has to be respectedbecause it is the engine room from where direction, protection and welfare of the nation is cobbled up.

If Botswana wants to copy what is happening elsewhere, should they not pick those things that are of benefit to Botswana instead of following in the footsteps of failed leaders and nations, thereby setting itself backwards after having come so far?

Khama, like Mugabe and Jacob Zuma, missed an opportunity here to chide the presence of policemen in parliament.

He, as the custodian of the laws of the nation, should have separated himself from such ignorant mischief by overzealous operatives who were obviously doing it to please him.
How can Parliament get respect if it does not respect itself?How will we respect their work?

And how does the Presidency get respect when both parliament and the judiciary are under attack, like the nonsense we are witnessing in South Africa where the ruling party is attacking everything in view, including the judiciary, the media, and opposition parties while blaming everybody except itself?

If parliament is not free, can a single citizen be free, including a president?

What happened in parliament was a transgression against Botswana, against parliamentary decency and it tarnished the name of its presidency and his party.

The Judiciary, Parliament and the Presidency need each other not only to formulate and rule leadership, law and justice but to keep tabs on each other to ensure that the nation is as well-balanced as a three-legged pot.

African countries should be picking up pointers and copying the good things that Botswana has been doing well since its independence – not Botswana to copy the worst behavior of failed and failing states that got their independence just the other day.

In a democracy, the three branches of government (The Legislative branch, the Executive branch and the Judicial branch)must all be present and act together although independent of each other.

The absence of one ensures the absence of democracy and that is one thing Botswana must never copy from its neighbours.


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