MPs still divided over exams inquiry

Parliament remained divided on Friday over the motion calling for instituting a commission of inquiry into this year's school exams.

Francistown South MP, Wynter Mmolotsi, tabled the motion, which has been under discussion for some time.

One of the legislators who spoke in support of the motion was MP for Kanye South, Abraham Kesupile. He was dismayed by Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) MPs who accused Mmolotsi of unprofessional conduct for bringing a national issue to Parliament. He expressed concern that Mmolotsi was accused of fighting a political war disguised as a teachers' war.

Kesupile found the accusations to be 'very serious'. 

He said the issue of invigilation has been taken as a simple task that can be undertaken by anyone at anytime.

But to him, the invigilator must not only be there for the Botswana Examination Council (BEC). In his view, the invigilator represents the teachers, the schools and the consumers of the exams.

Kesupile, an educationalist himself, said the invigilator must understand the seriousness of invigilating an exam.

"It is not just a simple task that can be provided by anyone at anytime and anyhow," he said.

Teachers, he said, have been doing this exercise for a long time. "They have given it a good culture.  Even with low rates, they have given invigilation status. It must be protected," he pleaded.

Kesupile said they have been accused of supporting Mmolotsi in celebrating the conduct of the examinations.

"There is nothing to celebrate about a crisis.  This is a crisis," he said.

He noted that teachers were expressing concern in the interests of students and not their own. He said their concerns were justified. 

He added that boarding masters, IT technicians, librarians and other support staff were used to invigilate.  

He said the accusation by the minister that mistakes occurred even when teachers invigilated exams was a serious indictment on them.

"It could only be fair to allow an inquiry so that we can know what happened," he said, adding that the exams were almost marked in England.

Kesupile said there was no doubt that the ministry has capacity to conduct an internal investigation. But he said the minister had eroded their confidence in her, by aligning with her party MPs who were saying the motion was politically motivated.  "We must be serious about accountability".

He said the BEC's credibility is at stake.

"We can't be told to wait for people to die and then carry out a postmortem. We don't want corpses. We want the credibility of the examinations to be protected," he charged. 

The MP for South East South, Odirile Motlhale, said the examination crisis needs a multi faceted approach from all the stakeholders. "We should not regard invigilation lightly," he said.

Motlhale said another factor was whether the invigilators understood the job.  He was told of an Indian accountant who went to invigilate a Setswana paper.

In his book, this shows that there were crises. "There were so many irregularities," said Motlhale, a former teacher.

He said this year's examinations destroyed the future of some children.  "If this was not a crisis, then we don't know what we are talking about. We feel something should be done so that there could be no repeat".

He said the minister should not feel that a commission is meant to undermine her. 

The MP for Gaborone Central, Dumelang Saleshando, reiterated that the examination was a mess.

"If it was not a crisis, the minister could not have been to television and other media trying to explain what could have happened. We feel since the minister is also involved, we should have an independent commission body to conduct investigations.

"Her response has been consistent, to defend her corner and BEC. She has been apportioning blame on teachers for abandoning students.

"There has been accusations and counter accusations. We should have a commission to get to the bottom of the matter," he said, adding that monkeys cannot judge on matters of the forest. 

Saleshando accused the ruling party legislators of opposing the motion because the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD), which broke away from the BDP, tabled it. He accused the BDP of having a jilted lover's syndrome against BMD.

"I must spite this former lover so that other people cannot see the good in her," he said. "This was how the BDP was treating BMD".

But the MP for Gaborone South, Kagiso Molatlhegi, felt there was no need for a commission. "There is no need to waste money on a commission because we know where the problem lies," said Molatlhegi.

He said teachers boycotted invigilation as they claimed that BEC did not want to pay them.

But he said instead of pushing for negotiations, they decided to court BMD. He said BMD advised them to boycott invigilating.

Molatlhegi said during the May Day rallies, BMD had declared that teachers should boycott the exams. He said the BMD wanted to embarrass the BDP. 

Molatlhegi, a former trade unionist, had a word of caution for teachers' unions.  They must learn to negotiate with their employers without any political influence.

He said if they engage politicians, it will defeat their cause.

Another legislator who rejected the motion was the MP for Mahalapye East, Botlogile Tshireletso.
The debate on the motion will resume during the next session of Parliament early next year. The current session adjourns on Wednesday.

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