Earlier this week the Leader of Opposition, Dumelang Saleshando was suspended from Parliament after a vote won by ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) members.
Prior to his suspension, Saleshando had alleged that President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s relatives were involved in irregular procurement associated with the COVID-19 response.
National Assembly Speaker, Phandu Skelemani challenged Saleshando to provide evidence and subsequently rejected what was produced to support the assertions. But Saleshando refused to withdraw his allegations, leading to vote on suspension that was carried through. In our view, it is clear that Skelemani took the decision to please his master. In accordance with the rules of the house, Saleshando has parliamentary privilege and should therefore not have been suspended unless he was disrupting the business of Parliament. The suspension is also meaningless as the only thing Saleshando is losing is sitting allowances only for the suspension week. One may ask: What is the symbolism of this suspension? All it does is to help create a dictatorship by muzzling accountability voices and Botswana does not need any traits of Mugaberisation of her democracy.
We have noted that the Speaker is not impartial in guiding MPs as to parliamentary processes. Sometimes, he behaves either like a school headmaster or boarding master where he is law onto himself. Coupled with that, his thinking prism based on saying lawyers reason better that other professionals is condescending and impolite. Henc,e we hold the view that the decision he took against Saleshando is unconstitutional, biased and based on emotions geared at pleasing the Big Man. As the former Attorney General Skelemani knows the law
In Attorney General of Botswana versus Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), Botswana Congress Party and Botswana Democratic party judgement, Judge Leburu said although Parliament enjoys exclusive right to determine its internal process, as a general proposition, such privilege is not absolute.
“Such parliamentary privilege is subject to the supreme law of the land and should therefore comply with the Constitution,” said Leburu who is one of the sharpest jurists in Botswana. We do hope the learned Speaker will appreciate Leburu’s wisdom not simply because he falls in the category of his much celebrated profession, (law)!!! but for the sheer wisdom he (Leburu) is dispensing.To paraphrase Leburu, we remind Skelemani that, “constitutional supremacy, within the realm of the doctrine of separation of powers, shall be the springboard from which this decision will be anchored and shaped”, whenever he is faced with a difficult situation in Parliament.
We implore Skelemani to heed Leburu's wisdom and ensure that his decisions are informed, anchored and shaped by the Constitution and not lobbied positions at the party caucus of which he is a member.
“Parliament, the creation of the Constitution, ought to be subject to no authority other than the Constitution, itself. Parliamentarians are oath-bound to respect the Constitution, not just in words but in deeds.”
– Justice Professor Key Dingake