Lawyers representing Leader of Opposition (LOO), Dumelang Saleshando say the politician’s suspension from the National Assembly by Speaker Phandu Skelemani last year was unwarranted and infringed on his constitutional rights.
Attorney Martin Dingake, who is representing Saleshando in the case in which he is suing Skelemani over a decision last year to suspend him from Parliament, told the High Court on Wednesday that the decision was irrational, unprocedural and unconstitutional.
Saleshando was suspended from participating in the National Assembly for a week during the August sitting, following a vote by Members of Parliament after a ruling by Skelemani.
Skelemani had told the House that he was not satisfied with the evidence the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) vice president had presented before him to substantiate allegations of corrupt practice in the process of the awarding of government tenders and urged the LOO to withdraw the claims.
The issue started during the emergency meeting of Parliament in April 2020, when Saleshando alleged that there had been a direct awarding of a government tender to the value of P13.7 million to the company of President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s sister, Monteco Solutions (Pty) Ltd for provision of Anti-Retroviral drugs, without a competitive bid.
Saleshando refused to withdraw the corruption claims, and his attempts to provide more evidence were quashed by Skelemani who then invoked Section 60 of the Standing Orders of Parliament. The orders empower the Speaker to name a member who has committed the offence of disregarding the Speaker’s authority, then call upon the chief whip to move for the suspension of the offending Member from the National Assembly.
Dingake also argued that the Speaker had no right to dismiss Saleshando’s evidence as unsatisfactory because he does not perform the duties of a judge in a court of law to which allegations raised ought to be proven beyond reasonable doubt or on a balance of probabilities as is required in criminal and civil suits respectively.
“Furthermore, the respondent failed to provide the applicant with specific direction as to what exactly he requested be withdrawn. It is for this reason that the reliance on Standing Order 60.3, in so far as the applicant being alleged to have disregarded the authority of the chair, cannot be
Dingake also argued that the Standing Orders that the Speaker relied on upon his decision to suspend Saleshando, were not reasonably justifiable in a democratic society like Botswana in that the applicant was neither unruly, disruptive in the exercise of his freedom of speech nor were his claims unfounded or malicious.
“A Member of Parliament who has been duly elected by his constituents has the right and responsibility to represent the interests of his constituents in the National Assembly.
This cannot be arbitrarily taken away by the Speaker on the grounds that are not reasonably justifiable.
“Moreover, to the extent that the Constitution empowers the National Assembly to regulate its own procedures, this freedom is subject to the provisions of the Constitution,” he added.
However, attorney Oteng Thamuku of the Attorney General’s Chambers, argued that Saleshando’s behaviour warranted suspension as he was imputing improper motives on another Member of Parliament.
Thamuku said Saleshando was obstructive and disruptive in the way in which he communicated the allegations he made on the floor of Parliament.
“Standing Order 57.5 provides that a Member shall not impute improper motives on another Member. It was proper for the Speaker to invoke the Standing Order 60 although the offence committed related to order 57,” argued Thamuku.
She argued that the court has no business setting standards for how the Speaker should conduct the order of the business of the Assembly.
She said the House was guided by Standing Orders meant to maintain order.
“It is important for public order that there should be internal mechanisms to maintain order in the House. Standing Order 60 is invoked where there is abuse, use of offensive language and violence,” she added.
She argued that Standing Orders have a legislative effect as they are made under Section 76 of the Constitution.
Justice Gabriel Komboni will deliver judgement in the matter on August 4, 2021. The State has been given up to June 25, 2021, to file a translated English record of the Parliament’s record proceedings relating to this matter.