The critical need for live broadcast of parliamentary debates was made even more pronounced early this week, thanks to the arrogance of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP)and its appointed deputy Speaker. Not only to show the world the abuse and the violence that obtains in Parliament, but to give the general public a clear picture of the goings-on in the august house. With the benefit of live broadcasts the voting public can get an opportunity to assess the quality of their representatives first hand, instead of learning about what transpired from hearsay, media reports and social media.
With the violence meted out on MP for Gaborone Central by security agents on the floor of Parliament on Monday, now the world knows for sure the fallacy that has been portrayed of a peaceful and truly democratic country that is Botswana. Like others, we are equally concerned and worried that if Parliament fails to protect freedoms enshrined in the bill of rights how does the house expect members of the public to respect the laws it makes.
Parliament is supposed to demonstrate the practicality of freedom of expression as enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of Botswana so that the whole nation can follow suit. Due to shrinking freedoms and escalating brutality, at the hands of the current administration, we cannot agree more with one observer who opines that we are like a frog in a drying pond! The state has access to the means of violence and they are quick to use it.This use of violence is creeping in, because in the past one could not even imagine this thing happening no matter who is right or wrong. The Speaker would have found a civil way to handle the matter, by alternatively adjourning Parliament temporarily and summoning senior opposition figures like leader of opposition and the whips to register his displeasure at the conduct of the member.
But why do we act surprised at the turn of events? It was just a matter of time before the drama inside Parliament exploded into the public domain. The pointers have always been there. At the last sitting of Parliament a Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) legislator, Francistown West MP Ignatius Molwane, who belongs to the same political party as the Speaker and her deputy, on numerous occasions accused the duo of stifling debates in parliament and oppression.
Do we, at the very least, have CCTV cameras in and outside our Parliament? If we had, and there being no usual censorship of it by the all-too-powerful executive arm of our government, we would know the truth, and nothing else but the truth, of what transpired in parliament on Monday. That truth is what Section 12 of our Constitution envisages. If we had a proper Freedom of Information law, society, particularly the media, would be more than entitled to request that they be furnished therewith to share with the public which has the constitutional right to know and form their opinions. We do not need just official statements, which needless to say, are crafted with a spin to the whole saga.
In fact, the media should request that they be furnished with an unedited CCTV footage if it is available. The refusal would be in contravention of Section 12 of the Constitution. The people's right to know is a human right which is also enshrined in the Constitution. We take this right for granted in Botswana. The ball is now in the media court and civil society in general to make the necessary demands and approach the courts if there is an unlawful refusal to share the CCTV footage.
It is sad that the general public is reduced to listening only to politicians on what transpired without verification from undisputed evidence. Yes, politicians are trying genuinely to share with the public but theirs cannot be enough. As always, the public would only opt to side with the version of the one they like but the CCTV evidence would be more objective. In more mature democracies the events would have been captured live anyway.
We propose that the media in Botswana should not only read and understand the provisions of Section 12 but should actively make use of it because it gives them much more rights than the executive arm of government can imagine. For instance, local television stations can use this provision to demand that it be allowed to do live coverage of parliament proceedings. If the demand is refused, they can approach the High Court for an order in those terms.
Once it approaches the High Court, the onus would then shift to the executive to show why it would not be in the public interest for the television stations to show Batswana live proceedings of their own parliament. Decisions of the courts around the world show that the executive arm of government would have a more difficult task in arguing against such a demand. The same goes for radio stations. If the media do not make use of these provisions, they would have themselves to blame and not the executive arm of government. They would have failed to inform, and incidentally entertain the public accurately, as they purport to do.