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Dissenting backbench could aid service delivery

Publishing Date : 18 February, 2020

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The increment of Cabinet size over the years have dealt a heavy blow to Parliament efforts to play its role of watchdog. The problems also arose from the new phenomenon where MPs are forced or expected to support party caucus decisions, even if individual MPs may strongly have reservations about the matters at hand.

Owing to those developments, especially during the 11th Parliament, opposition bench were more often than not left agitated. The ruling party would use the tyranny of majority to either pass bills, motion or to reject them. This particular behaviour would later hurt the party as some of the decision had to be reversed, among them draconian labour laws governing the relationship between the government and public servants.

It is easy for the ruling party to pass laws which are not in the interest of the nation, as we have seen before. This happens when there are not enough voices of reason to reprimand government from making such laws. The last thing we need, as a nation is creation “of bad laws” or the making of wrong decisions through perversion of a constitutional body like parliament. In fact, it is against the spirit of the national constitution to make such laws, as MPs take an oath to make “laws for good governance and for peace.”

There has been improvement from the past culture, but still there is an expectation that MPs — especially those belonging to the ruling party — should support caucus decisions. The practice naturally stifles debate and undermine the watchdog role that parliament plays, especially in a system where MPs themselves are elected on individuals basis, as it is the case with the First-Past-The- Post electoral system.

It is however worth noting that in the 12th parliament, BDP has a backbench which can still challenge the decisions of the executive. This we expect them to do without malice, but with clear objective of performing their duties. In addition to mavericks such as Ignatius Moswaane, Polson Majaga and Liakat Kably who return from the previous parliament, new additions such Thapelo Letsholo and John Thiite strengthens the voice of those who seek to keep the ruling party on its toes.

This is without forgetting that the current opposition bench is rich with capable individuals, boosted by the return of Dumelang Saleshando and a host of other accomplished individuals such Kenny Kapinga, the former Deputy Commissioner of the Police and a notable number of academics in the names of Dr Never Tshabang, Dr Gobotswang, Taolo Lucas and Dithapelo Keorapetse. As a democracy, having a strong and independent parliament is a desirable thing. Consequently, we also desire the ruling party to have a strong backbench.

Following the inaugural general elections in 1965, one of the concerns raised by the country’s founding President Sir Seretse Khama, was that the Botswana Democratic Party’s (BDP) landslide victory did not bode for democracy. In his own words, Seretse preferred a bigger opposition because it helps “to keep government on its toes”.

Masisi, as the current leader of the ruling party, should also not be incensed by a stronger backbench or opposition. Having that in place will help the government to perform better and to make all the decisions in the interest of the nation at all the times. Like Seretse noted, it will keep him “on his toes”.  Already, we have seen the necessity of having a strong parliament. On two occasions, the executive had to go back to the drawing board to rethink their decisions after being rejected by parliament.

On one occasion, the executive wanted parliament to authorise what looked like day light robbery when Minister of Land, Water and Sanitation Kefentse Mzwinila approached parliament seeking approval of P900 million for a poorly planned project with hallmarks of corruption. Recently, Minister of Finance also was sent packing when he made a bizarre request, seeking authorisation to divert monies from Development Fund to augment for shortages in the recurrent budget owing to the unplanned increment of public servant salaries.

Had it not been the authority and wisdom of some of MPs in parliament, executive would have abused its power, and also abused national resources. The doctrine of checks and balances, works best when each arm of state enjoys independence and makes decisions in the best interest of the nation. We need an independent and strong parliament; an independent and strong judiciary as well as an effective and efficient executive which respect the rule of law and knows its limit.