Taking Parliament to the people initiative good but...

The Speaker of the National Assembly has recently held Kgotla meetings in few constituencies as an initiative to take Parliament to the people.

It is at these Kgotla meetings that the Speaker, representing the National Assembly, gets to interact with ordinary Batswana and sensitise them on what is Parliament and its role.These meetings are attended by the Speaker and her staff, notably the office of the Clerk of the National Assembly, Parliamentary Counsel, Sergeant at Arms and area Members of Parliament (MP) from host constituency. The public gets to ask questions or comment on issues relating to Parliament. This is a welcome development by the speaker. It is important that people know what is Parliament and what its role is, especially from the office of the Speaker. The Speaker has to be commended for her efforts. Many Batswana do not know much about Parliament including its composition or structures and function. However, more can be done to take the institution to the people.

The traditional assembly has evolved to be an important platform for consultations. It is where the President, Ministers, MPs, and other government officials meet and interact with members of the public. However, there have been concerns about the shortcomings of the Kgotla system. In the past, especially pre-independence and just after independence, there were concerns about its tendency to discriminate against women, that whilst it is an embodiment of participatory democracy, its system was skewed in favour of men. The contemporary Kgotla sessions are mostly held during hours of work when many people especially workers, professionals, intelligentsia and young are away at work and schools. The system is intimidating to the youth and preference tends to be given to male adults especially the elderly in most cases. Therefore, by and large, the Kgotla system excludes many stakeholders. This hasn’t been helped by the tendency of the state to consult more at the Kgotla and less and less at other fora such as the halls of academia, trade unions, youth groups etcetera. Did you ever hear of President Ian Khama talking to UB students at their hall or student center? How many times does he meet unions? Every time you see the President on TV he’s addressing a Kgotla meeting at a rural area, if not attending an official event like groundbreaking ceremonies or international events. He seldom meets people outside the Kgotla. This is true to many government officials including his ministers.

There’s an unwritten rule that the Kgotla is the only platform where the masses of the people can be consulted. It is nice for these officials to go to the Kgotla, they are seldom asked third degree questions or held to account in a manner that they would be held at other platforms.  They are used to praise words like “monngame”, “mogolo”,  and “rraetsho” or “mmaetsho” among many others commonly used at the Kgotla. Our leaders avoid tough questions and fear debate and the Kgotla is a good hiding place.

There are however other ways through which Parliament can be taken to the people in a manner that can greatly assist the Speaker’s office. One such way is live and or  recorded radio and TV broadcast of Parliament proceedings.

Furthermore, Parliament related TV and radio programmes should be promoted through funding and other ways. The need to televise Parliament proceedings including its committees has been emphasised by the Southern African Development Community Organisation of Public Accounts Committee with its various resolutions at its meetings. This is for the simple reason that Parliament is a barometer of public opinion and should always be close to the people.

Democracy presupposes that rulers are chosen and removed by the ruled and that rulers are accountable to the ruled most of the time through their representatives. It is therefore important that Parliament is taken to the people through a live or recorded broadcast.

Botswana Television’s airtime is littered with  unnecessary programmes some of which are not in any instantaneous language. Airtime is wasted with almost all ministers appearing on TV weekly. Btv is very boring and is not serving the nation well. It is deliberate to leave Btv with its substandard and irrelevant programmes because it is politically expedient. Btv should be fully utilised for taking Parliament to the people. There’s an excuse that it may be expensive to televise or radio broadcast Parliament, that is ridiculous. Those who reason in this manner seldom give figures for proper assessment of the veracity of their claims. How much is democracy anyway? Why can’t our leaders come out in the open and say they fear that people would see their weaknesses on TV if they televise Parliament?

Leaners of civics, social studies, development studies and history and others can watch live or recorded broadcast of Parliament and learn more about Parliament.

 The public can also learn more about Parliament. This can also build better citizens who take part in the affairs of their polity including participating in elections and holding their leaders accountable. Batswana can be better judges of their leaders, they would see and hear who is performing, who is fond of trivia and who sleeps during Parliament sessions as well as those who use profane language.

All these would be almost directly experienced by Batswana. It would also stop politicians who lie about what they do in Parliament, and those who lie about other MPs. Broadcast of Parliament would also reduce the frequency of complaints that “we don’t see our MP often”. Constituents would see their MPs in action during sessions including committee sessions. Most importantly Batswana would know of many brilliant ideas refused by the powers that be, not on the basis of their weakness but for petty political expediency.

The 10th Parliament has adopted a motion by Gilson Saleshando on broadcasting of Parliament.  Answering a question in the 11th Parliament, the minister in the Presidency reiterated his government’s commitment to coverage of Parliament by the state media. However, he was noncommittal on when this noble idea would be implemented. Televising or radio broadcast of Parliament may be one of those things which will come with a new national order post 2019.

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