Dr. Margaret Nasha is a case apart. As Speaker of the National Assembly she has performed her duties beyond everyone’s expectations, especially for those within the opposition ranks who are used to Speakers that are hellbent in shoving cabinet agenda down the throats of Members of Parliament.
What separates Nasha from former Speakers who graced the House is her tenacity to have an independent Parliament geared away from the clutches of the Executive. And to many Members of Parliament, the 10th parliament remains the only one which cabinet failed dismally to manipulate, thus giving the hallowed House an iota of integrity. Before her appointment as Speaker, Nasha was a Member of Parliament for 15 years, and for those 15 years she was never a backbencher, and thus many doubted if she would be able to steer Parliament away from the control of the Executive.
The doubting Thomases were of the view that, owing to her many years as a cabinet member she’d be a more Executive-minded Speaker of the National Assembly. “When she came in 2009, I was not too eager to support her, but in the last five years she has proved me wrong,” remembers Dumelang Saleshando, former MP for Gaborone Central who has worked under two different Speakers during his two-term tenure as a legislator. Nasha however refused to fall in the same trap as other Speakers, rather adopting a more open-minded approach to run Parliament-the lawmaking arm of government. But through her liberal way of doing things, she became a “bad girl” in the eyes of an Executive which for many years has been arm-twisting Speakers to have Parliament rubberstamp Cabinet decisions. And it is her much celebrated style of leadership that will likely cost her, her job.
Plans to oust her were hatched as way back as 2012 by some cabinet members. Nasha is contending for a second term but faces a hurdle in Gladys Kokorwe-who is apparently a much preferred candidate by President Ian Khama. Nasha however, thinks she is the right woman to lead Parliament. She wants a completely independent Parliament. “I want a robust Parliamentary oversight committee system which can call the Executive to account,” she said this week in an interview. Her ideal Parliament is one that can compare with Parliaments of the Commonwealth in terms of “credibility.” But she knows at the back of her mind that her frail relationship with the Executive might as well contribute to her downfall. She describes her relationship with Cabinet for the past five years as an “uncomfortable one.” Nasha is a proponent of separation of powers and in 2011 organised a workshop for MPs where the issue was discussed at length. She argued at the time that the National Assembly needed to look at the constitution and decipher what exactly the separation of powers entails.
“The old fashioned and outdated expression that ‘if it ain’t broken, we should not fix it,’ does not belong here. My position is, ‘let us examine it, to see if indeed it is not broken.’ It is only after thorough examination that you can determine whether or not it needs fixing,” she said at the time. And for her efforts she gained tremendous support from both the Backbench and the Opposition ranks, save only for the Executive which by now was not finding it easy to manipulate Parliament business. This has been the practice with previous Speakers. Former Speaker Ray Molomo, observed years later in his memoirs that the expectation of the Executive seems to be that Parliament will rubberstamp what the Executive provides. But not in Nasha’s books. Isaac Mabiletsa who worked with three different Speakers once described Nasha as a new breed of a Speaker.
Mabiletsa worked under Moutlakgola Nwako, Patrick Balopi and Nasha. In an earlier interview with Botswana Guardian Mabiletsa described Ngwako as independent minded but someone who lacked the vision to reform Parliament while Balopi was a pretender to reform making. “Under Balopi the Executive always found a way of manipulating Parliament business as they wished. He was not a very respectable Speaker, not transparent with government business.” Nasha bluntly refused to allow the Executive to manipulate Parliament business. “She is always clear with her decisions. She does not balance political interest with principle,” said Saleshando. Former MPs who have served under different Speakers argue that past Speakers had trouble trying to take decisions that are not in the interest of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP).
This is what makes Nasha miles apart from some who occupied the hot seat in Parliament. Nasha who many of the MPs describe as a transformational leader, meanwhile argues that the issue of Cabinet trying to control Parliament is not isolated to Botswana only but synonymous with many other Parliaments. However, she admits that other Parliaments treat the issue professionally and with maturity. For someone who has introduced a number of reforms to the House it is difficult to deduce her weaknesses from the MPs she presided over.
They argue that by far her strengths and the gusto to transform Parliament override any weaknesses she might have. Perhaps that is why some point to her lack of control over her emotions among her weaknesses. When debates become too hot in Parliament she does not always remain calm, noted one MP. And this at times takes its toll on her blood pressure.