The debate on the national budget for the year 2020/21 as presented by finance minister – Thapelo Matsheka a few weeks ago continues at Parliament.
As expected, the leader of opposition – Dumelang Saleshando and leaders of minority parties – Wynter Mmolotsi and Tshekedi Khama respectively had their turn to critique and make submission on the Matsheka’s budget proposal this past two weeks. It is now the turn for ordinary Members of Parliament from both sides of aisle to also air their views on the budget proposals. In terms of performance we have so far witnessed what one could describe as fair debate from both sides of the aisle except a few episodes which motivated this commentary. The commentary is also motivated by the behavior portrayed by the executive or cabinet members during the 11th parliament. During the 11th Parliament we have had to watch some cabinet ministers victimising and going as far as bullying their colleagues – ordinary MPs who tried to meaningful contributions in parliament.
Those members of cabinet, some of which, by luck are back in Parliament behaved and continue to behave like old “school prefects”. We all know how in secondary school some of the students who were selected as “school prefects” (mis)treated fellow students. “Prefects” enjoyed some sort of authority over other students both in and outside classrooms. They literally monitored who said what, when and how then quickly report such to the teachers or in some extreme cases school head. Like any other system, the basic education prefect system has its own defect and was on many occasions abused by the so called “prefects”. These same defects seem to have found their way into our legislation room – Parliament. The “bully, intimidate and victimize them” attitude seems to be amongst key discussions at cabinet meetings. Otherwise we would not see this trend growing even in the current administration which – at its inauguration made the nation believe that it is different from the previous regime. Therisanyo – which forms part of the core pillars of democracy was re-introduced as one of the key distinctive character of the current administration from the previous regime. But now just a few months into power we already see some sort of intimidation and bullying from the executive towards parliament. Ever since the beginning of the 11th Parliament senior politicians (Executive) constantly continue to intimidate their junior counterparts (Backbench and opposition legislatures). This should not be taken lightly. While we carry on with the mission to build an inclusive society, we also need to root out bullying and intimidation particularly in Parliament which has easily found its way to social media and other public spaces. If bullying and intimidation are allowed at what should be the lead by example house in the land – Parliament, the two will mature and become institutionalised. Once institutionalised it will be impossible for our law makers particularly those of opposition and ruling party backbench to discuss any other issues freely.
We do not want to reach a point where cabinet members, instead of taking responsibility for some of their decisions resort to bully tactics to intimidate and humiliate ordinary MPs with the aim of silencing them. This phenomenon has been part of our politics for a long time now and seems to be here to stay. For a country such as ours which is struggling to address income inequality and poverty, we cannot afford to have this phenomenon to become a permanent part of our politics. We should have not had it in the first place.
Relative to other middle-income countries, Botswana’s economy is extraordinarily dualistic – its citizens are either affluent (a handful number) or poor (most citizens), with little in between. This calls for fair and frank debate on possible solution to the threesome trouble that we face now – joblessness, landlessness and lack of funds to start businesses.
Unless the citizens of this country become more convinced that the core challenge of constructing a more inclusive economy is being addressed effectively, the temporary gains made by the current administration will prove ephemeral. To keep the hope-fire burning amongst citizens we need to have parliament that is independent to challenge some of the decisions made by executive. We need to have MPs – both of opposition and ruling party who are free to air their views and those of the people they represent without fear of being victimized one way or another. The 12th Parliament is blessed with progressive backbenchers such as Kanye North’s Thapelo Letsholo, Nata/Gweta’s Paulsen Majaga, Reggie Reatile of Jwaneng/Mabutsane, Liat Kablay as well as Francistown West’s Ignatius Moswaane. This crop of BDP backbench has been vocal enough during the budget proposal debate. One can only hope that when it comes to vote they do not chicken out. For instance, the notorious 2020/21 Defence ministry development budget, otherwise known as “air assets,” is set to be brought to parliament floor during the committee of supply stage for MPs to debate and ultimately pass or reject it. This is an opportunity for BDP backbenchers who debated against the air assets budget to team up with opposition and throw the budget out of the parliament. Like Thapelo Letsholo – MP for Kanye North said on Wednesday when he was debating, there is no reason deny people in Kanye North a public hospital, schools for the people of Ngami and tarred roads and electricity for farmers in Tuli Block and instead buy military equipment. Letsholo is right to remind the ruling BDP – his own party that their elections manifesto said very little (if any) about air assets and promised more and more jobs from sectors such as creatives. It is within Letsholo’s right as an MP and several of his colleagues to air their views on this bread and butter issues. To let the nation, for instance know why they would settle for an extra classroom instead of an extra gun. It is not in Eric Molale’s place, for instance to then use his allocated time for debate to ride roughshod over Liat Kablay for merely representing Letlhakeng natives. Molale should instead justify why he and his colleagues in cabinet think buying “air assets” is a better option than for instance allocating budget to land authorities to service land and ultimately speed up land allocation to land seekers or building two or three factories that could readily employ job seekers.
During the Ian Khama era it was fashionable for most cabinet ministers to label their parliament colleagues, more especially those of opposition as “Khama haters” merely for differing with their opinion. The Khama era cabinet had become power-mad that they had made the whole government enclave and to some extent some section of our society to believe that it is treason to question authority. Given the much work that is needed to be done to turn around the fortunes of this country we cannot afford to have another cabinet that is sadistic. We want and demand cabinet that will allow the other two arms of government – judiciary and parliament to freely carry their respective roles. We cannot afford to have MPs who are bullied and intimidated by executives who later play the victim card. As we make another attempt to build an inclusive economy and society, we expect our MPs to freely raise their voters concerns without fear that the “senior prefect” is watching them. The #Bottomline is that an inclusive society and economy is only possible if we allow reasoning from all angles before settling for what could work for the collective.