Council chambers of dishonour

Councilor Mooketsi Selala of UDC bleeding after an assault by BDP councilor Botokonyana Motoroko.PIC: KAGISO ONKATSWITSE
Councilor Mooketsi Selala of UDC bleeding after an assault by BDP councilor Botokonyana Motoroko.PIC: KAGISO ONKATSWITSE

Council chambers ought to be respected, as these places host the governors of a city, town, or district. Councillors themselves who meet regularly to deliberate on how their wards or areas are governed, are expected to exhibit good behaviour and exemplary leadership.

But the behaviour that has often been exhibited by councillors around the country in recent times shows little regard to the integrity of both the councillors and their chambers.

Tales of councillors hurling obscene language and engaging in fistfights at each other inside the council chambers have now become common.

At one point the Botswana Local Authorities Association (BALA) expressed worry about the misbehaviour of councillors.

Just last week, a Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) councillor at Kweneng District attacked a colleague from the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), Tona Selala leaving him bleeding profusely from the eye area.

Days later in another incident that highlighted that the behaviour of the civic leaders has reached an all-time low, Naledi councillor Oarabile Motlaleng pulled down a tray full of bread during a tea break after his fellow councillors at the Gaborone City Council adjourned while he was briefing the House.

Nearly two years ago the Francistown City mayor James Kgalajwe threatened to call the police after the council chambers erupted into chaos. At the time councillors had spent days hurling unpalatable words at each other.

In fact, in recent years, Francistown councillors, whenever there is a difference of opinion, have resorted to obscene words and threatening to beat each other up.  Public officers in various city councils have also not escaped the wrath of the councillors during official interactions inside the chamber.

The behaviour of the councillors has not only been exhibited through insults and physical confrontations. Councillors have also often sponsored un-researched motions of no confidence against each other in various chambers around the country. One councillor at one point even made a rare admission that the motions of no confidence are based on political gameship.

Former long-serving Central District Council (CDC) chairman Lesego Raditanka is also deeply worried about the recent behaviour exhibited by councillors inside the council chambers.

“Councillors today are no longer honourable. They should work hard to restore their dignity,” Raditanka said.

He also believes that councillors have now lost respect from members of the public.

When asked why the behaviour of the councillors seems to be deteriorating, he said: “ Councillors no longer judge each other based on leadership credentials and what they can offer to electorates. Focus has now shifted to defending each other’s party. It is wrong. This whole thing has rendered the council ungovernable. When councillors differ they should do so in a civil manner and avoid defending their parties.”

If there is a councillor who feels that he or she is mistreated inside the chambers Raditanka notes that the said councillor should follow laid down procedures to air his or her complaints.

Raditanka, who is still a serving councillor in the CDC, said that the public should constantly question councillors who display any ill-fated behaviour.

“Councillors should be made to account for their behaviour,” emphasised the veteran councillor.

One of the former longest serving Francistown mayors Motlatsi Molapise, is equally concerned about the shoddy behaviour of some civic leaders in the country. “Councils used to be highly respected... The problem lies with the calibre of councillors elected into office. They lack political maturity to some extent,” said Molapise, who is the UDC chairman and the president of the Botswana Peoples’ Party. “In the past we were considered role models because of the way we behaved. This is not the case with councillors of today. Even when we differed we did not insult each other. We followed council standing orders to resolve our differences which in my observation is not the case today,” he said.

Molapise recommended that voters should make sure that they seriously screen those they vote into the council to avoid bringing into office leaders who will embarrass them by misbehaving.

UDC councillor Selala believes the mess in the council chambers is a creation of the ruling party.

“The ruling party has now become amenable to advise. Its councillors are not receptive to criticism. Most of the time they are at the centre of controversies taking place in councils because they do not take criticism,” he said.  In the opinion of the Thamaga West councillor, the dignity of councils in the country can only be resolved if the BDP change tact and become receptive to criticism. BDP nominated councillor in Francistown, Andy Boatile believes that political education can improve the behaviour of councillors.

“Both the voters and councillors lack thorough political education. Stakeholders, notably political parties and government should invest a lot in political education of the public and leaders such as councillors,” said Boatile.

According to Boatile political education will help both the councillors as well as members of the public to know their roles and how they should conduct themselves.

“An informed public will be able to hold councillors to account when they misbehave while councillors will know what kind of behaviour they should display inside the chambers,” he said.

Boatile also believes that the councillors are not given enough induction before they start their terms. He says the induction is usually for a few weeks and has to be extended.

BALA president Mpho Moruakgomo refused to be drawn into discussing the behaviour of councillors inside the council chambers.

“I am one of the people who sits in the appellant body that presides over issues pertaining to the conduct of councillors, so I feel it will not be appropriate for me to extensively discuss anything with regards to the behaviour of councillors in the media,” Moruakgomo said. However, Moruakgomo emphasised that there is a code of conduct, which compels councillors to behave well and needs to be followed.

Editor's Comment
What about employees in private sector?

How can this be achieved when there already is little care about the working conditions of those within the private sector employ?For a long time, private sector employees have been neglected by their employers, not because they cannot do better to care for them, but because they take advantage of government's laxity when it comes to protecting and advocating for public sector employees, giving the cue to employers within the private sector...

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