Opposition MPs walk out in protest

Staff Writer
Opposition Members of Parliament (MPs) walked out of the House yesterday in protest against treatment they got from the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) as regards the Media Practitioners Bill.

Leader of Opposition Botswana National Front (BNF), Otsweletse Moupo, told the House that they found it unnecessary to take part in endorsing a law of which they had been sidelined.

Moupo was referring to the Wednesday incident when, with the support of BDP colleagues, Mogoditshane MP, Patrick Masimolole thwarted debate on the Bill. MP for Lobatse Nehemiah Modubule interjected, trying to call for the debate to continue.

The Speaker of the National Assembly, Patrick Balopi, did not intervene, but agreed with the BDP to discontinue the debate.According to Moupo, the debate should have started afresh because Minister of Communications, Science and Technology, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, had re-tabled the bill.

"The Speaker should have checked to ensure that the minority are listened to.  This bill is controversial and should not have been rushed upon," he said in an interview yesterday.
On Wednesday, Modubule told Mmegi that the Botswana Parliament was dead and he saw no need to hold general elections if people's representatives were not allowed to debate bills.

After the opposition MPs stormed out, BDP members, who are in the majority,  were able to form a quorum and went ahead with making amendments to the bill as proposed by Minister Venson-Moitoi.

Two other controversial bills (bold)
The Public Service Amendment Bill (bold)
MPs tried to convince government that there was nothing wrong with the participation of industrial class employees in political matters. The bill will definitely make life miserable for public servants as it gives their employer the power to dismiss them even for coming late to work.

The bill was passed yesterday with about 27 proposed amendments.
Road Traffic Amendment Bill (bold)
The bill, which seeks to impose heavy penalties on motorists who flout traffic rules, was heavily criticism by MPs with some saying it is intended to put every motorist behind bars. They said that the bill has good intentions of instilling sanity in some motorists, but the main problem is that the fines are too harsh.

MP for Kgatleng East, Isaac Mabiletsa complained that the bill was gender biased as it kept on referring to offenders as "he". He called on

the responsible minister to go and replace the "he" with "he or she" to make it gender neutral.

"This law was directly made for men and boys.  We are all going to lose our licences and to be sent to jail," he said. He called for review of minimum and maximum speed on the national roads.  Looking at the performance of modern cars, Mabiletsa called for the 120km/hr speed limit to increased to 160km/hr.

Even President Ian Khama's younger brother - Tshekedi Khama - who is normally quiet in the House,  expressed his discomfort with the proposed law.  He said the law is meant to impoverish Batswana instead of empowering them. 

He lamented the heavy penalties that have been proposed in the bill.  "We might need to apply for CEDA to pay some of these fines.  These fines are very high and it is going to be difficult for many of us to pay," he said.  He also supported the 160km/hr speed limit and further urged government to improve the roads.  He called on the police to be proactive than reactive, adding that the existing laws can help reduce road accidents if properly enforced.

Specially elected MP Botsalo Ntuane was not amused at what he called overzealous police officers who are quick to fine motorists or impound their cars at the slightest mistake. He warned that if the bill became law many police officers are going to get rich fast since bribery will be the only route for motorists.

Although he acknowledged that there is a serious problem on Botswana's roads, the penalties are too harsh.  He likened the proposed penalties to somebody who will use a hammer to kill a fly.

The majority of MPs called for a review of the 120km/hr to be upped to 160km/hr on major roads whilst also requesting that driving at low speed (e.g. 60km/hr) along such roads should be criminalised as it contributes to road accidents. Others called on government to build better roads that can contain the heavy volume of traffic currently experienced in Botswana.



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