Are there dogs in parliament? Well, it depends on whom you ask and if it is Mahalapye East MP, Yandani Boko, the answer will certainly be yes.
Called upon by the Deputy Speaker, Pono Moatlhodi, to make a contribution to a debate, Boko prefaced his comments by calling out the “dogs” who had earlier “barked” at him. It was the sort of comment that the Deputy Speaker couldn’t let slide and he instructed the MP to withdraw it. However, Boko withdrew only half of it – “barked” and not “dogs.” A few short seconds later, he tangled with Moatlhodi again over a ruling that the latter had made. Boko complained that the Deputy Speaker has been unfair on him “ever since I attacked you.” Many more voices joined the exchange between the two and amid the chaos, a female voice of an off-camera MP was heard to remark: “Golo mo ke circus.” [This house is a circus.]
Truer words were never said. Indeed, the Botswana parliament has become a circus, one with handsomely-paid performers who come to town thrice a year. On the BWParliament Facebook page, which livestreams the house’s proceedings, someone cracked wise about the quality of the comedy having reached a stage where there is now a business case to charge viewers. A few minutes earlier, the Mahalapye West MP, David Tshere had held court by spinning a quite elaborate yarn about the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) having essentially stolen P2.4 billion from state coffers to pay off its debt to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). That sum, he told parliament, was provided by former finance minister, Dr. Thapelo Matsheka, when talking about a yet undelivered medical-equipment order that had been made to China.
Tshere said that having failed to get a satisfactory explanation about the delivery of such equipment, his “imagination” told him that the money had instead been used to pay off a loan that the cash-strapped BDP had taken out from the CCP. When the BDP didn’t return the money, the Chinese government (which has lured one too many Third World countries into a debt trap then attached some high-value state property) threatened to attach the Morupule B Power Station in Palapye. It was then that the BDP government tricked the P2.4 billion out of state coffers and repaid the loan. He cited as evidence, a trip that the BDP’s Secretary General, Mpho Balopi, made to Beijing around the time that this intrigue is supposed to have taken place.
Vice President Slumber Tsogwane, the ex-officio Leader of the House and the longest-serving MP, described the allegations as “reckless” as they could alarm members of the public. He asked Tshere to produce evidence. In response, the MP said that having failed to get an explanation from the government about where the money went, he was entitled to “imagine” what had happened to it. However, this account was undermined by none other than Matsheka himself who said the sum had been inflated and denied the BDP-CCP deal. MPs have immunity against prosecution for the period that the house sits and the Minster of Local Government and Rural Development, Eric Molale, cautioned Tshere that if he repeated his allegation outside parliament, he would be exposing himself to libel.
After this back-and-forth and when plentiful valuable time had been lost, Tshere withdrew his allegation. The brief respite that followed ended when Boko called BDP MPs “dogs.” Thereafter, the house descended into chaos. Maun East MP, Goretetse Kekgonegile said President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s government was “harbouring criminals” – which he would revise to “criminal” and name Minister of Nationality, Immigration and Gender Affairs, Annah Mokgethi, as one. Soon thereafter Jwaneng-Mabutsane MP, Mephato Reatile, and Boko charged that Moatlhodi was himself a criminal.
“O criminal le wena Mr. Speaker; you are also a criminal,” Reatile said.
When Moatlhodi called for order, a male voice shot back with “Ga go na order ya sepe!” [Forget about maintaining order.]
Under normal circumstances, this sort of chaos could go on until an MP is thrown out of the house. However, the virtual parliament means that MPs contribute digitally from their respective offices at the adjacent Parliament Annexe. The Speaker still retains some power though because he can still instruct his clerks to switch off the microphones of offending MPs. He exercised such option with MPs whom he felt were not obeying his instructions, prompting an unprecedented action. When it appeared that Moatlhodi had been able to contain Reatile and Kekgonegile and the Gaborone Central MP, Tumisang Mangwegape-Healy was on the digital floor, his voice would anxiously cut in a few minutes later.
“Police!” Moatlhodi shouted. “Police! Call the police!”
The camera cut away from Mangwegape to the Speaker’s chamber (the old House of Chiefs) where Reatile and Kekgonegile, who had left their offices, stood off to one side of a desk haranguing Moatlhodi.
“You are a criminal,” Kekgonegile said. “You have a court case.”
For his part, Reatile said that Moatlhodi was nothing but a mere “paro” (boisterous person) who just lucked upon the quite prestigious position of Deputy Speaker.
“Clerk!” Moatlhodi commanded. “Call the police! Call Makgope!”
Then the screen blacked out and parliamentary session ended in an unorthodox manner. The Makgope in question is Keabetswe Makgope, the Commissioner of the Botswana Police Service. Parliament has its own chief law enforcement officer, called the Sergeant-at-arms, who maintains security on the floor pf the chamber. Moatlhodi also called upon him.
When the last session ended, Sunday Standard raised the issue of MPs conduct with both the Government Whip, Liakat Kablay and the Opposition Whip, Motsamai Motsamai. This was prompted by the circus-like antics that seem to dominate proceedings and are getting worse by the day. Interestingly, both men said that members of the public had privately complained to them about these antics. Kablay said that the issue had also been discussed at ruling party’s caucus – which convenes weekly when parliament is sitting.
On the other hand, Motsamai said that the opposition caucus hadn’t discussed the issue but planned to. Whatever happened or didn’t, nothing seems to have changed and we are certainly looking at a future where what happened last Friday will look like child’s play.