The third meeting of the second session of the 11th Parliament made history by going on until the following day, adjourning only at 0440 hours after passing five bills. When Parliament business began on Thursday afternoon, the Speaker Gladys Kokorwe informed MPs that they must pass all the bills and it was moved that Parliament be adjourned at 12 midnight. The quorum collapsed when opposition MPs and some from the ruling party stayed out but were later called back.
Increase of ministers
One of the bills that were fast tracked was an amendment the Ministerial Act (maximum number) by increasing the number of ministries from 16 to 18. The bill was opposed by opposition MPs who felt that it was totally unnecessary to increase the number of ministries when government has said there was no money. However, it was passed paving the way for President Ian Khama to appoint two more cabinet ministers and increase the number of assistant ministers from eight to ten.
Electronic Voting Bill
Another controversial bill which has tongues wagging especially among the opposition is the electronic bill which was brought to parliament through certificate of urgency. The passing of the bill has paved way for the introduction of the electronic voting system which is expected to be tested during by-elections before the 2019 General Elections. In their opposition to the bill, opposition MPs felt that consultation with the public was done thoroughly. They also feared that the ruling party might use it to rig elections. In his reasoning Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration Eric Molale said the reason they have to put the bill on certificate of urgency was because Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has to procure the electronic voting machines and this takes time.
Reduction in debating time
With the time was ticking away and midnight approaching, the Minister of Lands and Housing Prince Maele moved that the debate for the bill be cut from 20 minutes allocated to 5 minutes and it was approved. The bill seeking the salary increment of salaries of MPs, judiciary officers and the president was also passed amid opposition from opposition MPs who requested that parliament wait until the Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC) sits and discuss salary increment for public service employees.
The MP for Selibe West Dithapelo Keorapetse, who is also Botswana Congress Party (BCP) Publicity Secretary, condemned the move by Parliament to extend its sitting hours until the wee hours of Friday noting that it was bad for democracy. “BCP is perturbed by the manner in which the ruling party uses Parliament to rush through bills. The practice is fraudulent, undemocratic and should be condemned in the strongest possible terms,” said Keorapetse. It is clear that Botswana Parliament is a rubber stamp legislative body which endorses all the decisions of the executive and the ruling party caucus, said Keorapetse, adding that Bills pass through Parliament rather than being passed by it.
He said the tactic by the BDP was to fatigue the opposition MPs into relenting on the five bills it sought to fast track but they managed to hold them accountable by staying all night. “It shouldn’t be acceptable that Parliament can pass five bills in a single seating including a Bill to change the Constitution (Increase ministerial offices Bill). The precedent set is dangerous in a democracy,” said the worried Keorapetse. On what action they will take, Keorapetse said that BCP is advising itself on the constitutionality of the bill to replace a ballot paper and box with electronic voting machines. “The amendment of the Electoral Act may be ultra vires the constitution,” he said.