The Speaker of the National Assembly, Phandu Skelemani has quite plainly gone rogue.
So sad for a man with an otherwise admirable track record on matters of principle.
Of recent, he has abandoned all pretence at impartiality, which is his core mandate. First was the suspension of the Leader of Opposition (LoO) Dumelang Saleshando recently.
Later, Justice Dr Godfrey Radijeng ordered that Saleshando be granted an interim interdict pending review proceedings to be instituted against Skelemani’s decision of July 28, 2020 suspending the LoO from participating in the proceedings of the National Assembly.
Last Friday, Skelemani was at it again when LoO made utterances on the political turmoil in Zimbabwe. The Speaker insisted that they must discuss its details first because Zimbabwe is a sovereign state, which has relations with Botswana so it was better to engage the Minister of International Relations and Cooperation for possible guidance.
Skelemani’s recent actions must be assessed objectively in the backdrop of the precepts of the Constitution and Westminster parliamentary traditions, which form the foundational values of our system of governance. To this extent, it is necessary to consider the full and necessary import of the relevant provisions of the Constitution.
The Constitution, read together with the relevant literature on the role of a Speaker in a country with dominant features of Westminster parliamentary system such as ours, makes it clear that the Speaker plays a critical role in promoting the proper functioning of democracy. He cannot be partisan. If he shows partisanship he is not a
The rule of law is a central and founding value to the Constitution of Botswana. No one is above the law and everyone is subject to the Constitution and the law. The Legislative and Executive arms of government are bound by legal precepts.
As a student of constitutional law, impartiality; to preside without bias; and without being oppressive or irrational are essential constitutional imperatives. It can rightly be said that the individuals that occupy positions of power, like President, Minister, Justices and the Speaker, are transient but that constitutional mechanisms, institutions and values endure.
To ensure a functional, accountable constitutional democracy the founding fathers of our Constitution (may their souls rest in peace) placed limits on the exercise of power. Institutions and office bearers must work within the law and must be accountable. Simply put, ours is a government of laws and not of men or women.
In summation, it is in my mind conceivable that a court may dethrone a Speaker who has gone rogue and proves unfit for the role! But you need a proper court to appreciate the depth of our constitutional obligations and not an assembly of paralegals!
You do not give your ordinary General Practitioner a knife and ask him to carry out an operation of the eye!
*Mogakolodi Masosote is a pseudonym of a senior attorney in private practice and writes about law for Mmegi.