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BDP MPs save Khama from Parly scrutiny

Publishing Date : 06 September, 2017


As the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) and the African National Congress (ANC) of South Africa jointly celebrate the former 55 years of existence next weekend, opposition tempers are flaring in Parliament as result of the “continued shunning” of Parliament by President Lt Gen Ian Khama.

This week there was an attempt to amend the Standing Orders to compel the President to field questions from the Members of Parliament. But the BDP Members of Parliament jumped in quickly to stop the move amid fears that the opposition was plotting to embarrass and disrespect the President. But for the BDP Members of Parliament it was about saving President Lt Gen Ian Khama when they blocked provisions of Standing Orders which would have compelled him to appear before parliament to field questions whenever the need arises. They are of the view that the opposition is to no good with this proposal.

Sensing the need to protect their leader from the inquisitive Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) bloc, the conservative BDP MPs used their numerical advantage to shoot down the proposed amendments to the Standing Orders. Standing Orders are a set of rules that govern and regulate parliament business. Opposition MPs are concerned that the BDP’s romance with the ANC has led to them adopting a number of the latter’s antics of protecting President Jacob Zuma even where common sense dictates otherwise. Zuma recently survived an eighth motion of no confidence after the ANC MPs voted against “an opposition sponsored agenda to remove Zuma”.

Legislators, mostly in opposition benches and lately the BDP backbencher, Ignatius Moswaane, have for a long time called on the President to attend Parliament and respond to queries from legislators. Opposition legislators are of the view that it is necessary for a sitting president to be compelled by law to appear in parliament to account for his government’s actions. This week session was seen as a perfect platform after Chairperson of Standing Orders committee, Samson Guma summoned MPs for a two-day workshop for the purpose of amending the existing Standing Orders.

Opposition MPs opine that Botswana, like in other democracies such as the Westminster in England, the head of government has to appear before the legislature to account to MPs who are representatives of citizens in various constituencies. In the context of Botswana, the president is not elected directly but enjoys his status by virtue of being a leader of a party that has a majority in parliament. Some MPs pointed out that it is important for the President to appear before Parliament to take questions because ministers tasked with fielding questions are normally accused of inefficiency in their responses or sheer failure and disinterest.

“The Standing Orders effectively say Ministers are not under any pressure to answer questions from us the backbenchers because they can tell half-truths, distort information, refuse to answer, waste time with unnecessary information and even totally refuse to answer questions hence we wanted the real man to talk to our concerns,” a ruling party MP told this publication.

However, the dream to see the first citizen participate regularly in Parliament could not come true following a spirited fight from the ruling party Members of Parliament to defend their leader against the normally agile and resilient opposition legislators.
 “There has been a lot of indiscipline within the house mostly from the opposition members, throwing each other with bottles, spitting vulgar language and stubbornness and we unanimously agreed to protect the president from this dishonorable attitude in the house,” said a BDP MP.

BDP Chief Whip Liakat Kablay said, “This was going to taint the image of our country and that of the president out there which we don’t want to see happening hence we voted against this idea.” Instead the BDP nominated Vice President and Leader of the House Mokgweetsi Masisi to field the questions from legislators every Thursday. What legislators unanimously agreed on, according to this publication’s informants was for President to be in the house when various MP’s deliberate on the State of Nation Address (SONA).

“This is so because the President is the one giving the state of the nation address and it is not appropriate for any of the Ministers to try answer or clarify anything on his behalf. We want him in person to clear the air about anything that may arise after SONA,” the source revealed. With the legislators pushing for the availability of Presidency after SONA, a definite decision could not be reached this week but rather it was pushed to the standing orders committee to evaluate the pros and cons. It is expected that it will resurface at the next General Assembly.

“Unlike the 60.4 clause which deals with matters affecting the Chief Whip and the Speaker’s powers whose discussion is slated for November, this one on the President will be addressed next year around July.” By then President Khama would have retired from state house and Vice President Masisi would have taken over as President. A number of clauses in the Standing Orders were amended this week while others were postponed to later this year.    



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