Parliament is the nerve centre from where the political and socio-economic direction of a country amongst others, are initiated. In a country like Botswana, a single political party has been in power and endowed with a healthy majority after every other general election. This healthy majority I am afraid, has not in many instances delivered political and socio-economic outcomes in the best interest of the population but in the best and narrow interest of the political party for political expediency. There are many instances where politically expedient behaviours have been preferred over and above the national interest the consequent of which has been and still is, at the detriment of the nation. Now that the healthy majority in parliament is proving to be an impediment to the political and socio-economic imperatives required from that healthy majority in parliament to serve the nation, I am arguing: is it not perhaps the right moment for this election to deliver a hung parliament for it to deliver on national interest itself enabled by serious checks and balances on decisions taken by parliament.
A hung parliament is the one where no political party after an election, commands an absolute majority as has been the case in the lifespans of past parliaments. It is fair to state that there is no perfect parliamentary system to deliver perfect political and socio-economic imperatives. But given the manner in which majority parties abuse their numerical advantage, I am arguing that a hung parliament is a better devil in the circumstances notwithstanding its own shortcomings. Numerical advantage in parliament can effectively be used but what I have seen in recent times is that its desired effectiveness has been reduced to sheer arrogance, contempt, complacency and utter disdain by the majority party because it knows fully well that it is protected by such numerical strength or advantage. A Minister whose name I cannot remember is known to have contemptuously dismissed a question from an opposition MP by arrogantly telling the said MP to look for the answer in the internet. Progressive suggestions and plans in the national interest by the minority parties and however applicable and relevant they could be, have been sadly and accompanied by traits of triumphalism, dismissed with the same contempt by the majority party. A hung parliament I have already conceded, has its own challenges and limitations like any other system. But it comes handy when it keeps a party with a slim majority on its toes in terms of accountability, transparency and the Rule of Law-imperatives that seriously lack when numerical advantage is abused.
Parliament of Botswana in the form of backbenchers has become a rubberstamp to executive decisions where such decisions are not accorded the desired scrutiny to their sustainability. By its very nature, the backbench is duty bound to seriously and meaningfully hold the executive to account for its decisions or lack thereof. Except for one or two backbenchers who have always attempted to ask the executive difficult, hard but necessary questions, the rest of them have been praise singers to most, if not all executive decisions brought to the floor of parliament. It is accepted that backbenchers belong to the majority party but the most important factor often overlooked is short-term political expediency as evidenced by the conduct and behaviour of the majority party.
Botswana is currently seized with bad decisions taken by the majority party in the 11th parliament which decisions have backfired out of numerical advantage, political expediency and nothing else. And when these decisions were taken, opposition parties with inferior numbers warned very strongly against the consequences. The infamous Economic Stimulus Programme (ESP) valued at some P 3 billion was conceived and implemented by the majority party without the endorsement of parliament as a campaign tool for the 2014 general election. Nothing worth close to the value of the programme can be talked about. The infamous Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) and the former Presidents’ retirement benefits and privileges were rushed though the dead of the night. The majority party has set in motion the process to reverse the EVM law. It (majority party) is still stuck with the amended former Presidents’ law that has badly and brutally backfired on it because the intended beneficiary is no longer with the majority party. The BCL mine was shut down under controversial circumstances in which about 5000 sustainable jobs were lost. These decisions are haunting the entire nation.
The latest decision on the passing of the Declaration of Assets and Liabilities Bill is another sore point aided and abetted by the majority advantage misuse. For starters, Batswana from all persuasions agree that this law is long overdue. I certainly concur given the deepest rough seas of corruption the country is currently swimming in. The sad thing as always is that this instrument was rushed through parliament where numerical advantage coupled with political expediency took precedence over the ultimate purpose this law is meant to serve. Opposition parties raised compelling arguments in terms of the flaws evident in the construct of the law. Issues to do with for example, declarations made to the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) while it is still under the direct control and supervision of political authority would do very little if any, to fight the scourge of corruption. The majority party has refused to address this evident, dangerous flaw which in large measure, makes this law a blatant mockery as currently laid out.
The country has reportedly lost billions if not trillions of public funds which were requested and authorised through parliament to some individuals the country is desperately trying to find. And these funds would have disappeared over a period of time right under the watch of the majority party which on the available evidence, suggests that very little courage if any was mustered to stem the tide. The tired and school-boy narrative proffered is that people or institutions were disabled to act because some feared strong man stood in the way. How pathetic! The fact of the matter is that the dispenser of public funds being parliament shamelessly failed to act because it, as suggested in some respect, was protecting their very own ‘partners in crime’ by using numerical advantage.
With the sad but palpable disservice to the national interest occasioned by the misuse of majority in parliament, the 12th Parliament will continue in this painful trajectory should any political party win with a healthy majority. Like I have alluded to above, a party with a healthy majority in parliament can properly use such majority in the best interest of the nation. But what is evident is that this has not been the case and nothing I am afraid, suggests this will change anytime soon or ever. A hung parliament and while in itself and of itself is not a perfect system, somewhat guarantees to some degree the Rule of Law, meaningful accountability and transparency amongst others. It will avoid a situation the country is sadly seized with where there is now this narrative of regret for having taken decisions clothed in political expediency than the national interest. Parliament with outright majority has certainly in large measure not served the nation as would otherwise be expected. I am prepared to be persuaded otherwise as always. Judge for Yourself!