Parliament: The joke is on us

The recent session of Parliament will go down in history as the greatest betrayal of citizens’ mandates ever committed on this soil.

Members of Parliament, from cabinet ministers, to the opposition to the officials of the august House, appeared to have conspired to weaken the integrity of the constitutionally critical institution. Bearing in mind that traditionally, Parliament’s November session is shorter and dominated by the State of the Nation Address (SONA) and the associated debates, legislators appeared hellbent on using the little time they had to befouling an institution that represents ordinary citizens’ only access to national decisionmaking.

In just eight weeks, Batswana sat gobsmacked, as legislators insulted each other, levelled unfounded allegations, cried, screamed, threatened and virtually did everything except represent the national good. Cabinet ministers continued their apathy towards Parliament, absconding from debates and thus delaying progress on critical themes.

When they were present in the House, many ministers demonstrated intolerance for scrutiny by MPs, often flippantly rebuffing follow up questions when asked for answers.

Largely as a result of this, of the 24 questions during Ministers’ Question time, just four were answered, while only 177 of the 372 parliamentary questions were answered. These questions that ministers apparently take for granted, are the heartbeat of Parliament. They represent burning issues that citizens in the constituencies want their representatives to ask on their behalf in the National Assembly (NA).

Instead of being indifferent or even hostile to MPs’ questions, ministers should welcome them as a way of directly addressing the grievances and concerns of citizens over and above their seasonal Kgotla tours. Officials of Parliament, including the Speaker and her deputy, were uncharacteristically within the reach of reproach, as indicated by the criticism levelled at them from both sides of the divide. Whether the reproach is justified or not, it is clear that officials were largely unable to maintain high quality debate within the House, with legislators focusing on bitter, personal attacks as opposed to nation-building discourse.  It would appear that hardly a year after taking oath as parliamentarians after the 2014 general elections, members of the NA have merrily forgotten their obligation to the people who voted for them.

The promises of health, education, employment and social upliftment via aggressive interrogation in Parliament, have given way - for some MPs – to personal attacks, endless bickering on trivialities and for others, apathy. The session was a perfect argument for the televisation of Parliamentary debates, to allow citizens to see their representatives in action or inaction. Surely, Batswana deserve better

Today’s thought

“Politicians and diapers should be changed frequently and all for the same reason.”

 - Jose Maria de Eca de Queiroz

Editor's Comment
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