Parliament adjourns sine die today Friday , December 11, 2015 following the conclusion of deliberations on the State of the Nation Address (SONA). Whilst there’s no clear date on when it will open, it is expected to open early February 2016 in what is commonly know as the Budget Session.
When parliament convened for the SONA session, it was after prorogation, that is the end of the last session. Prorogation shouldn’t be confused with dissolution or normal adjournments or recesses for holidays or breaks. It means the end of a session, which normally lasts for about a year. Prorogation therefore means that parliament is still constituted with MPs still having their seats (i.e. no elections can be held as in the case of dissolution) but it causes all orders of the Assembly such as motions, Bills, questions, themes etc to be expunged or to fall off. Under normal recesses and adjournments, Bills, motions, questions or themes can resume exactly where they left off.
When Parliament resumed, it appeared that most MPs didn’t see or hear of any prorogation notification that would have caused them to submit questions, themes, bills, motions or any business. As a result, there are about 25 motions of one Member lined up for debate in the House. Every Friday since Parliament resumed, the House was seized with his motions and if this is not rectified somehow, it is probable that the whole budget session next year will be packed with his motions only. How he came to submit so many motions and before everybody remains a mystery to many. There have been two or three General Assembly meetings to attempt to discuss and resolve the issue but these flopped because of the quorum. It may be that MPs should resolve to amend the Standing Orders to allocate a quota of motions to MPs or find a way in which there can be equitable distribution of time for MPs business. If that doesn’t happen, there’s a risk that Parliament will be seized with one MP’s business to the detriment of others. There has to also be a formal standard way, acceptable to all MPs, of how prorogation notifications or communications are done, besides the usual Government Gazette.
What are some of the highlights of the SONA session? The most notable thing about the session is obviously the SONA itself by President Ian Khama and deliberations by MPs. His speech sought to assure the nation that it is on track and that the Economic Stimulus Programmes (ESP) will solve many problems of poverty and unemployment and underemployment. Most MPs discussions of the speech centred around the ESP. The opposition dismissed the ESP as just another empty promise by the President whereas the ruling party MPs praised it as a panacea for socio-economic ills besieging the country.
Before the SONA, Kgosi Letlamoreng II of Barolong was sworn in as the new MP for Goodhope-Mabule constituency. President Khama snubbed this important ceremony, unlike in the past when he attended similar events of his party’s MPs who had won by elections. It is clear from Dr Habaudi Hobona’s swearing in and the recent one of Letlamoreng, that the President is petty, intolerant and has appetite for divisive tendencies. He has no moral authority to preach unity and tolerance.
Whilst MPs were busy with the SONA address, tragedy struck when seven students of Matsha College perished in a truck accident. Two statements were made in the House, one by the Leader of Opposition and the other by the minister of presidential affairs and public administration. The former sought to warn and caution the government about the practice of transporting students in open trucks and how the accident is a direct result of the practice whilst the latter exonerated government and praised it on how it handled the issue. The matter seriously divided the House. The ruling party also blocked a motion which sought to probe the accident and related issues before it could be debated in the House.
One MP from the ruling party, arguably the newsmaker of the year in Parliament this session, clashed with the Speaker on numerous occasions in what he perceived as sabotage on matters he intended to bring to the attention of the House. Opposition MPs also clashed with the Speaker on a number of occasions. These clashes are not simple anger or differences of opinions between the Speaker and the concerned MPs. It is a fundamental issue of the impartiality of the Speakership and the flaws of the Standing Orders. Some provisions of the Standing Orders are obsolete, irrelevant and stall progress whilst some are deficient of common sense.
As it was the case last session, Parliamentary Committees are dead. The only clear sign of life of these committees is international trips of MPs, only. There are seldom reports of these committees in Parliament because they rarely meet. The reason is simple, oversight can be effectively provided at committee levels and the ruling party doesn’t want that. Its MPs dominate these committees including chairing them. How can they be effective when a ruling party MP can chair two committees and be a Member of seven other committees? Some of these ruling party MPs have absolutely no idea of what the committees they chair or are Members of, are all about. So Committees are dead!
The SONA session has culminated with the supplementary budget request by Government through the Minister of Finance and Development Planning. It has become a norm, every six or so months there has to be supplementary estimates of hundreds of millions or even billions rushed through Parliament. It looks like this is a trend through which the failures of government to budget properly and to implement projects will be concealed. It is also a recipe for corruption. Why are there so many expensive emergencies? Are they really emergencies? Finally most MPs will visit their constituencies in the month of January after the Christmas break.