MPs should boycott useless Parliamentary Committees

Other than normal sessions of the National Assembly and the General Assembly, Parliament functions through Committees which are classified into four categories namely;

Standing Committees which are created for the life of a Parliament, Sessional Select Committees which stand dissolved at the end of each and every Parliamentary  session, Special Select Committees which are constituted when the need arises to deal with a matter deemed to be requiring special  attention by the National Assembly and Portfolio Committees which are created for the life of a Parliament with a special sectoral mandate.

There are currently eleven Standing  Committees; Committee of Selection,  Business Advisory Committee, Committee of the National Assembly Staff, Committee on Members' Rights, Interest and Privileges, Standing Orders and Reforms Committee,  Parliamentary Caucus on Women,  Public Accounts Committee, Finance and Estimates Committee,  Committee of Chairpersons of Parliamentary Committees, Committee on Statutory Bodies and State Enterprises and Committee on Subsidiary Legislation.

There are some disheartening facts to note about Committees of the 11th Parliament. Most  parliamentary committees are still chaired by the ruling party MPs with only four chaired by the opposition. Committee chaired by the opposition are the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) which according to the law and Westminster parliamentary systems traditions and practices in chaired by an opposition MP, Health and HIV/AIDS, Members’ Rights, Interests and Privileges and Subsidiary Legislation. In thirteen parliamentary committees opposition MPs are three out of eight MPs, while in three they constitute half of committee representation and are in the majority in only one. In others they are all in the minority to the extent that they can hardly form a quorum. It is also important to note that opposition MPs are in the majority in terms of all MPs eligible for appointment to committees and it beats logic that they are seriously underrepresented in Committees.  The reasons advanced by the ruling party that they are the majority party in Parliament and should dominate committees are unreasonable and unacceptable. Some ruling party MPs sit in more than six Committees whilst many opposition MPs are members of two Committees.

Given the organisation of parliamentary committees whereby the opposition is still seriously outnumbered in almost all committees except in about two, this detracts from the effectiveness of these committees.  Many committees can't convene because the ruling party members sit in many committees and are overstretched. Some committees haven't convened since they were constituted. Some MPs from the ruling party chair more than one and sit in more than six committees. Other ruling party members are unfortunately clueless with no relevant skills, experience or exposure on committees that they supposedly chair or are members of. They have been appointed simply because they are members of the ruling party. Batswana should also know that whilst some Committees are not meeting, there are some activities of these committees like international trips which are ongoing and not many know who discuss and sanction these travels.

It is very difficult for opposition MPs to influence matters at committees without the consent of the ruling party. Anything that is perceived to embarrass the government or ministers is thwarted and excluded from committees reports in some committees.

Committees are extensions of Parliament; they address specific issues which can better be addressed by smaller groups of MPs. They are important in providing Parliamentary Oversight of the executive arm of government. It was deliberate from the beginning to render these committees useless because we are dealing with a paranoid authoritarian regime which detest the independence and power of Parliament. The executive wants to be accountable to itself and not to anybody. It doesn't really matter that on paper, in terms of the laws and regulations, Committees  can subpoena and cross examine witnesses, consider legislation in details, budget estimates and other technical matters, the fact is they, are most of them, currently useless.

The only thing that could enhance oversight of parliamentary committees on the executive is to hold their sittings in public and publishing their reports. However, many Committees meetings are held in camera away from the media and public glare. 

There are no opportunities for MPs to innovate new ways of doing things in committees and learn from both successes and failures of the previous Parliament committees. The opposition should boycott these committees again because they are dysfunctional and useless. The opposition should make it clear that committees are important tools of oversight and that they cannot participate in dysfunctional committees and become complicit in the crime of killing Parliament.

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