The Minister of Defence, Justice and Security Shaw Kgathi came under attack from opposition MPs after he made a statement that rubbed them the wrong way.
Reading from a prepared statement in Parliament, the minister earned the wrath of the opposition when he asserted that soldiers were agitated by remarks uttered by Leader of Opposition, Duma Boko that some of them were pledging their support to Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC).
Kgathi quoted different newspapers, which captured Boko’s words while addressing a political rally during the recent council by-elections. This however invited attacks from opposition MPs who felt that Parliament was out of order by allowing Kgathi to bring issues of rallies into the chambers.
To express their discontent, the opposition MPs heckled and interrupted Kgathi as he tried to read the statement. The MP for Francistown South, Wynter Mmolotsi told the deputy Speaker Kagiso Molatlhegi that he did not understand why he (Molatlhegi) just let Kgathi read “such kind of statement. Mr Speaker, I think we are setting a wrong precedence if we tolerate Kgathi to bring rally issues here. Are we going to challenge anything that the newspapers have written? I hope the Leader of the Opposition will be allowed next time to make statements similar to Kgathi’s.
I have a problem that every time Kgathi is entertained to come late and make statements that are irrelevant to this house,” Mmolotsi said.
Another UDC MP, Haskins Nkaigwa of Gaborone North, said Parliament had several times warned members that they should not refer to newspapers. He demanded to know why Molatlhegi was allowing Kgathi to do so.
Molatlhegi tried his best to explain that parliamentary procedures allowed Kgathi to do what he was doing but this was rejected by the opposition. The dispute forced a 10-minute adjournment so that Molatlhegi could confer in camera with MPs across the political divide.
When proceedings resumed, Molatlhegi told MPs that he was not impressed that only 11 of them turned up at the general assembly when he wanted to explain certain standing orders to them.
“It is important that we follow Parliament rules and procedures. Again, I am urging you to stop taking certain issues personal. Let’s respect each other when we talk or differ,” Molatlhegi said.
Kgathi stuck to his statement that certain words uttered by political leaders have the potential to permanently damage the reputation and professionalism of the BDF.
“Furthermore, comments of this nature when uttered by public figures such as legislators, particularly implicating service members on infringement of laws and regulations governing their employment and conduct, have the potential to cause anxiety among the BDF members and mislead the public,” Kgathi said.
When it was time for questions from opposition members, Pius Mokgware of Gabane/Mmangodi said Kgathi should bring evidence that indeed soldiers were agitated by Boko’s words. “We want minutes for such meeting, with dates and names of soldiers who said so. How can we trust you when you once misinformed this house and apologised afterwards,” said Mokgware, a former soldier.
Maun West legislator, Moremi Tawana said he wanted to know whether Parliament would always condone allegations.
“For example, if a newspapers tomorrow may write allegations that you have raped, should we come and ask that in Parliament?” Tawana said.
Gilbert Mangole of Kgatleng West told Kgathi to refrain from using Parliament to express his concerns and instead utilise Btv, Radio Botswana and Daily News to do so.
But Kgathi was adamant, saying it was his ministerial responsibility to respond to certain utterances made by politicians. Kgathi said there was a tendency by some opposition MPs to abuse BDP MPs by calling them ‘mediocre’.