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Our Parliamentary Speakers are partisan!

Ndulamo Anthony Morima

Of late we have witnessed rulings and/or actions by the Speakers of the National Assembly, especially the Deputy Speaker, Honourable Kagiso Molatlhegi, which make it difficult for one to believe that they treat all the political parties represented in Parliament equally and respectfully.

Granted, both the Speaker, Honourable Gladys Kokorwe, and the Deputy Speaker, Honourable Kagiso Molatlhegi,, are known members of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), but it is an essential democratic tenet that in deference to the independence of Parliament the Speakers must treat Members of Parliament(MPs) without favour and respectfully.

By so doing, the Speakers do not only show respect towards the other MPs, but also show respect towards themselves because after all they too are MPs, albeit with an added title of Speaker or Deputy Speaker. In fact, if democracy were run the way it should be the Speaker and Deputy Speaker would be subordinate to the MPs since they are elected by MPs.

But most importantly, when Speakers show respect for fellow MPs they show respect to Parliament as an institution and by implication the State because Parliament is a cardinal institution of State.

Not only that. A Speaker who respects a fellow MP respects democracy itself for an MP is a member of one of the three tenets of democracy, the Legislature the other two being the Judiciary and the Executive. Put simply, without an MP there is no Parliament and without Parliament there is no State.

A mature Speaker or Deputy Speaker cannot protect his or her political party at the expense of such a sacrosanct value as independence of Parliament. Similarly, a mature political party cannot admonish a Speaker or Deputy Speaker for not protecting its MPs if in doing so the Speaker or Deputy Speaker promotes our democracy.   
Last year Honourable Molatlhegi ordered the forceful removal by National Assembly security guards of Gaborone Central MP, Honourable Dr. Phenyo Butale, in a manner that not only humiliated Honourable Dr. Butale, but also denigrated the sanctity of Parliament.  

The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC)’s Honourable Dr. Butale may have acted in a manner that is unparliamentarily by not acceding to Honourable Molatlhegi’s order to leave the house, but Honourable Molatlhegi’s order to call in security for the legislator’s forced removal was disproportionate and unwarranted.

Public perception at the time was that Honourable Molatlhegi acted as he did because Honourable Dr. Butale is an opposition MP and that he would not have acted in that manner if a BDP MP or cabinet Minister had committed the same or even more reprehensible wrong. Such perception may have been wrong, but in politics perception often assumes the status of fact.   

Recently, other Opposition MPs, Honourable Haskins Nkaigwa and Honourable Wynter Mmolotsi, both from the UDC, were, in my view without justifiable cause, ordered to leave Parliament by Honourable Molatlhegi for discharging their duties as MPs.

According to Honourable Molatlhegi the legislatures, who were attempting to contribute to the debate on the diplomatic stand-off between the Peoples Republic of China and Botswana following a press statement issued by Botswana accusing China of imposing its power over others to make claims because of its economy or military, were out of order.

Surprisingly, when BDP MPs, including Ministers of Justice, Defence & Security and Foreign Affairs, Honourable Shaw Kgathi and Dr. Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi respectively, commented on the very same debate they were not ruled out of order.

Rather, Honourable Molatlhegi inexplicably upheld their call to have the debate suspended until the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, Honourable Duma Boko, clarifies parts of his statement which Honourable Shaw Kgathi said was based on falsehood.

In an unprecedented ruling, in conceding to his BDP colleagues’ calls Honourable Molatlhegi ordered that the debate will only be continued once the Hansard has been prepared in the coming week.

It will be remembered that one of the reasons the former Speaker of the National Assembly, Dr Margret Nasha, lost favour with President Lieutenant General Seretse Khama Ian Khama and some in the BDP is that she fought in defence of the independence of Parliament. It would be regrettable if the reason President Khama brought Honourable Kokorwe and Honourable Molatlhegi was to subvert the independence of Parliament.

In South Africa, the ruling African National Congress (ANC) Chairperson, Baleka Mbete, and Thandi Modise, have used their positions of Speaker of the National Assembly and Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces respectively to oppress Opposition MPs, especially those from the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), Democratic Alliance (DA) and Congress of the People (COPE).

It is common cause that this has not silenced the Opposition as the ANC had thought, but has polarized the nation and made Parliament ungovernable to the detriment of democracy. Though one cannot condone the rebellious methods used by the EFF and COPE, the results of such oppression were seen when, for two successive years, the EFF disturbed President Jacob Zuma in his presentation of the State of the Nation Address (SONA).

This has, no doubt, dented South Africa’s image globally and has earned it a negative perception by foreign investors and the markets, something which can only be detrimental for the country’s economy. This is certainly one of the reasons South Africa’s economy was down-graded by many rating agencies. Botswana is not immune from this.

The Speakers of our National Assembly, especially Honourable Molatlhegi should know that they cannot suppress the people’s will through authoritarian rule. Depots like Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini failed in their quest for autocratic rule. MPs are people’s representatives and most times they represent the will of the people. Therefore, suppressing an MP or treating him or her with contempt and ridicule is equivalent to treating the voters with contempt and ridicule.

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Is COVID-19 Flogging an Already Dead Economic Horse?

9th September 2020

The Central Bank has by way of its Monetary Policy Statement informed us that the Botswana economy is likely to contract by 8.9 percent over the course of the year 2020.

The IMF paints an even gloomier picture – a shrinkage of the order of 9.6 percent.  That translates to just under $2 billion hived off from the overall economic yield given our average GDP of roughly $18 billion a year. In Pula terms, this is about P23 billion less goods and services produced in the country and you and I have a good guess as to what such a sum can do in terms of job creation and sustainability, boosting tax revenue, succouring both recurrent and development expenditure, and on the whole keeping our teeny-weeny economy in relatively good nick.

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Union of Blue Bloods

9th September 2020

Joseph’s and Judah’s family lines conjoin to produce lineal seed

Just to recap, General Atiku, the Israelites were not headed for uncharted territory. The Promised Land teemed with Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. These nations were not simply going to cut and run when they saw columns of battle-ready Israelites approach: they were going to fight to the death.

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Security Sector Private Bills: What are they about?

9th September 2020

Parliament has begun debates on three related Private Members Bills on the conditions of service of members of the Security Sector.

The Bills are Prisons (Amendment) Bill, 2019, Police (Amendment) Bill, 2019 and Botswana Defence Force (Amendment) Bill, 2019. The Bills seek to amend the three statutes so that officers are placed on full salaries when on interdictions or suspensions whilst facing disciplinary boards or courts of law.

In terms of the Public Service Act, 2008 which took effect in 2010, civil servants who are indicted are paid full salary and not a portion of their emolument. Section 35(3) of the Act specifically provides that “An employee’s salary shall not be withheld during the period of his or her suspension”.

However, when parliament reformed the public service law to allow civil servants to unionize, among other things, and extended the said protection of their salaries, the process was not completed. When the House conferred the benefit on civil servants, members of the disciplined forces were left out by not accordingly amending the laws regulating their employment.

The Bills stated above seeks to ask Parliament to also include members of the forces on the said benefit. It is unfair not to include soldiers or military officers, police officers and prison waders in the benefit. Paying an officer who is facing either external or internal charges full pay is in line with the notion of ei incumbit probation qui dicit, non qui negat or the presumption of innocence; that the burden of proof is on the one who declares, not on one who denies.

The officers facing charges, either internal disciplinary or criminal charges before the courts, must be presumed innocent until proven otherwise. Paying them a portion of their salary is penalty and therefore arbitrary. Punishment by way of loss of income or anything should come as a result of a finding on the guilt by a competent court of law, tribunal or disciplinary board.

What was the rationale behind this reform in 2008 when the Public Service Act was adopted? First it was the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise.

The presumption of innocence is the legal principle that one is considered “innocent until proven guilty”. In terms of the constitution and other laws of Botswana, the presumption of innocence is a legal right of the accused in a criminal trial, and it is an international human right under the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 11.

Withholding a civil servant’s salary because they are accused of an internal disciplinary offense or a criminal offense in the courts of law, was seen as punishment before a decision by a tribunal, disciplinary board or a court of law actually finds someone culpable. Parliament in its wisdom decided that no one deserves this premature punishment.

Secondly, it was considered that people’s lives got destroyed by withholding of financial benefits during internal or judicial trials. Protection of wages is very important for any worker. Workers commit their salaries, they pay mortgages, car loans, insurances, schools fees for children and other things. When public servants were experiencing salary cuts because of interdictions, they lost their homes, cars and their children’s future.

They plummeted into instant destitution. People lost their livelihoods. Families crumbled. What was disheartening was that in many cases, these workers are ultimately exonerated by the courts or disciplinary tribunals. When they are cleared, the harm suffered is usually irreparable. Even if one is reimbursed all their dues, it is difficult to almost impossible to get one’s life back to normal.

There is a reasoning that members of the security sector should be held to very high standards of discipline and moral compass. This is true. However, other more senior public servants such as judges, permanent secretary to the President and ministers have faced suspensions, interdictions and or criminal charges in the courts but were placed on full salaries.

The yardstick against which security sector officers are held cannot be higher than the aforementioned public officials. It just wouldn’t make sense. They are in charge of the security and operate in a very sensitive area, but cannot in anyway be held to higher standards that prosecutors, magistrates, judges, ministers and even senior officials such as permanent secretaries.

Moreover, jail guards, police officers and soldiers, have unique harsh punishments which deter many of them from committing misdemeanors and serious crimes. So, the argument that if the suspension or interdiction with full pay is introduced it would open floodgates of lawlessness is illogical.

Security Sector members work in very difficult conditions. Sometimes this drives them into depression and other emotional conditions. The truth is that many seldom receive proper and adequate counseling or such related therapies. They see horrifying scenes whilst on duty. Jail guards double as hangmen/women.

Detectives attend to autopsies on cases they are dealing with. Traffic police officers are usually the first at accident scenes. Soldiers fight and kill poachers. In all these cases, their minds are troubled. They are human. These conditions also play a part in their behaviors. They are actually more deserving to be paid full salaries when they’re facing allegations of misconduct.

To withhold up to 50 percent of the police, prison workers and the military officers’ salaries during their interdiction or suspensions from work is punitive, insensitive and prejudicial as we do not do the same for other employees employed by the government.

The rest enjoy their full salaries when they are at home and it is for a good reason as no one should be made to suffer before being found blameworthy. The ruling party seems to have taken a position to negate the Bills and the collective opposition argue in the affirmative. The debate have just began and will continue next week Thursday, a day designated for Private Bills.

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