Opposition MPs walk out of parliament

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Opposition MPs brought parliamentary proceedings to a premature end on Friday after they staged a walkout.

With most cabinet ministers absent, Parliament had to adjourn after the opposition exodus because the remaining ruling party MPs could not form a quorum.

The opposition legislators trooped out in protest after the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) MPs had rejected a request that a motion calling for the reinstatement of sacked essential service workers be given priority.

The motion wants reinstatement instead of re-employment of the workers. It was tabled by the MP for Francistown South, Wynter Mmolotsi of the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD). The opposition MPs requested that due to the urgency of the matter, Mmolotsi's motion should be discussed first. But the BDP MPs rejected the plea in a vote.

This incensed the opposition MPs who walked out in protest as the House was just about to discuss the other motions. The remaining BDP MPs could not form a quorum and the proceedings had to be adjourned. Scores of essential services workers including union leaders had thronged Parliament in anticipation that the motion would be discussed. But when the opposition MPs staged a walk out, the disappointed workers and unionists vacated the public gallery.

Some of the workers were heard warning BDP MPs outside the House that they would never vote for them come 2014. They said BDP MPs are not concerned about the workers' plight. Meanwhile, the Leader of the Opposition, Botsalo Ntuane had issued a statement in Parliament on the response of the Office of the President to the annulment of Statutory Instrument No.49 of 2011. The instrument sought to make teachers and other cadre into essential service workers. It was revoked by the Minister of Labour and Home Affairs Peter Siele due to hostility by MPs. Ntuane said the opposition failed to understand why the Office of the President expressed disappointment at the decision of Parliament. He found it puzzling that the Office of the President should take issue with a process of annulment backed by a majority of MPs. He said it needs to be emphasised that there was not a single voice of dissent from both sides of the political divide in the rejection of the Statutory Instrument. "In other words, the annulment of Statutory Instrument No.49 of Essential Services, laid in accordance with Clause 9 of the Statutory Instrument Act received unanimous, non-partisan support from Parliament. Let it be stated for the record that the entire cabinet, with the exception of the President, Phandu Skelemani, Sola Molebatsi and Maxwell Motowane; was in attendance. We therefore fail to understand which government finds itself disappointed when both BDP ministers and backbenchers were unanimous and unequivocal in their support of the resolution by Parliament.

Furthermore, the leader of the House, Vice President, MS Merafhe who was in Parliament at the material time did not seek to repudiate the motion for annulment nor express any reservations about it," Ntuane said.

"Our conclusion therefore is that only the President was disappointed by the annulment because everybody else voted in the affirmative. As the Opposition Collective, we contend that the views of the President should not be conflated with government since the two are not synonymous by any measure."

Ntuane stated that the sentiments expressed in the statement betrayed the commonly held perception by the presidency that Parliament exists to rubberstamp the desires and wishes of the executive. "We believe time is overdue for legislators, irrespective of party affiliation, to disabuse the executive of this patently undemocratic attitude. Indeed as the Opposition Collective we take strong exception to the statement because it amounts to disrespect for the processes of Parliament, as well as undermining the integrity of the men and women who are currently directly mandated by the people through democratic means to represent their interests," the opposition leader said.

He said the presidency must recognise that parliament is the institution mandated by the Constitution to make laws for the good of the country. "We call upon the presidency to respect this constitutionally enshrined role of Parliament and refrain from seeking to unduly encroach on the roles of other branches of government," he appealed.

He charged that the presidency's announcement that the Statutory Instrument will be reissued, despite the fact that Section 144 of the Employment Act compels the executive to consult with the labour movement on the issue, shows a lack of commitment to the rule of law and contempt for the democratic process of consultation.

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