The Speaker is at it again

Parliament as an institution is fast losing its integrity, thanks to the Speaker of the National Assembly and the Parliamentary Counsel.

There are many incidents in Parliament which can be cited as examples of the Speaker's outright bias, incompetence and disregard for the established traditions, rules of order and procedure of the House.

However, the by-election of Specially Elected Member of Parliament is discussed here to substantiate the aforesaid claim.

The Speaker is elected by MPs and the President who is ex officio MP. He /she chairs debates in the House and keeps order and calls MPs to speak. The Speaker has full authority in terms of the Constitution and the Standing Orders of Parliament to make sure that MPs obey the rules of the House during any deliberation, be it debates or questions or themes. The Speaker may direct an MP to withdraw remarks if, for instance, they use unacceptable language, suspend the sitting due to serious chaos or disorder in the House, suspend or throw out MPs who are violating the rules of order and procedure or ask MPs to be silent so an MP on the floor can be heard.

Therefore, the political impartiality of the Speaker is a salient feature of the office in the Westminster Parliamentary system such as that of Botswana. While we know that both the Speaker and her Deputy are the ruling party activists with the former being ex BDP MP and Minister and the latter being a sitting BDP MP, they are required by the precepts and traditions of the Westminster Parliamentary system to be politically impartial in the exercise of their Speakership duties.

However, the manner in which both the Speaker Gladys Kokorwe and her Deputy, Kagiso Molatlhegi conduct proceedings of the House leaves a lot to be desired. On the Novemebr 12, 2015 at 9am, elected MPs convened for a by-election of a Specially Elected MP. The Speaker announced that she had received two names, Eric Mothibi Molale and Shampoo Shadikong Matshediso nominated by President Ian Khama and Opposition Whip Wynter Mmolotsi respectively.  The Speaker then directed the Clerk of the National Assembly and her assistants to distribute nomination forms for MPs to nominate names if they so wish. She then announced that two more names, that of Dumelang Saleshando and Botsalo Ntuane, were further nominated. One MP rose on a point of procedure and asked the Speaker to say who nominated the other two and whether their consent was sought prior to nomination. The Speaker called the PC to clarify and advise Parliament on the issue whereupon he said the Constitution was silent on whether consent of the nominee should be sought or not.

Chaos ensued as MPs from the opposition asked the Speaker to be consistent in terms of saying who has nominated who and that the PC is misinterpreting the law. The sources of the law-regulating Parliament are the Constitution, The Standing Orders, Privileges and Powers Act and traditions or customs and where there’s no guidance or where these laws are silent, it is clear that the rules of the House of Commons shall apply. The established tradition of any election whether in Botswana or elsewhere is that always the consent of a nominee is sought prior to confirmation as nominee. One can’t be a nominee when they’ve not consented to a nomination. It hasn’t happened anywhere even at VDC, SRC or school debating club elections. How can our Parliament be different? The PC is incompetent, haphazard and negligent in the legal advice he renders to Parliament. This is because everybody including the Speaker, his Deputy, Clerk and PC and ruling party MPs live in fear of the sovereign and his number two.

They give instructions which must be obeyed at all times. Sometimes the Speakership make silly and embarrassing mistakes trying to please their masters. In the process the integrity of Parliament is jeopardised. How else can one explain an interpretation of the PC that a vote into a serious office of MP can proceed without seeking consent of the person concerned?

Botswana Parliament is degenerating; it has been reduced into a talks how, it gets instructions from the office of the President where it gets its staff and resources and has incompetent, haphazard and negligent speakership. This conduct of the Speaker and her deputy may result in further chaos which may plunge the institution into serious disorder and fist-fights. Opposition MPs have been patient with the lackadaisical attitude of the Speaker and this patience is clearly running out. Batswana are also expressing disappointment with the Speakership in private radios, newspapers and social media. There’s a need to put the issue on the agenda of the General Assembly so that the Speaker can explain herself on why she’s failing to manage the House and flouts and disregard the law, traditions and practices.

It has happened that the Speaker can make a ruling and emphasise that her ruling is final. Then , when the Leader of the House, being the

Vice President and Chairman of the ruling party, or Mother of the House, or a Minister rises and gives a different interpretation to that of the Speaker on the issue, the Speaker usually beats a u-turn and changes her earlier position. The Leader of the House has become a bully in Parliament who seeks to assume the role of the Speaker and he usually gets his way because the Speakership is weak. At the end, four names were put to a vote by the Speaker and Molale was elected back into his previous position.

Editor's Comment
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