President of Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) who is also Leader of Opposition in Parliament, Duma Boko is missing in action at Parliament. Boko’s absence was glaringly conspicuous this week as Parliament debated the draft National Development Plan (NDP) 11 – by all means, an important document of national interest.
As per Parliament Standing Orders, Boko was scheduled to be the first to respond to the NDP11 draft on Tuesday this week but did not. Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly Patrick Molatlhegi told Parliament that Boko, who is also President of Botswana National Front (BNF), was not in and would not be able to respond. He however indicated that Boko has complied with Standing Order 9.5, which directs him to inform the speaker of his absence and to designate one of his members to act on his behalf.
Thus, he had picked Ndaba Gaolathe to act as Leader of Opposition. Opposition MPs have expressed concern over Boko’s continued absence in Parliament. The MPs argue that this has over time weakened them as the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) has had a field day against them in previous Parliament sittings.
An MP from Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) - a contracting member of UDC said, “There are issues that have to be led by the leader of opposition as a senior member of the opposition rank. Now you will find that the BDP, led by Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi, always takes advantage of Boko’s absence. If he is absent on official duty it is understandable and not when it is for his private business”. Another MP who also preferred anonymity said they have tried to speak to Boko on several occasions but in vain. He also alleged that at times Boko would miss an opposition Parliamentary Caucus meeting, which is a forum where the opposition prepares itself to rally as a united block against the BDP MPs, especially cabinet.
The MP revealed that this is one of the reasons why BMD’s rank and file have been querying the decision to have BNF occupy the LOO seat instead of BMD which has more MPs in Parliament. The MP also stated that even though Boko left for Mauritius the following day (Wednesday) that cannot be used as an excuse not to attend Parliament. “Traditionally the expectation is that the leaders of opposition should be impactful in Parliament business. Their contributions must be frequent. If you look at Boko, his contribution is more or less on the same level as that of Moupo. He is not so much heard even when compared to his deputy Ndaba Gaolathe. We continue to attack President Ian Khama for not attending Parliament but our own leader is doing the same which could simply mean that even when we take power we would not be different from the current regime,” said another disillusioned opposition MP.
Boko could not be reached for comment as he is out of the country on Parliament business. BNF Information and Publicity Secretary Justin Hunyepa was also not available as his mobile phone rang unanswered. Observers argue that if opposition MPs are worried this could have a negative bearing on the cooperation talks between UDC and BCP. It is argued that this could lead to other parties requesting to have their leaders take the seat so as to increase the impact of the opposition. Political Analyst Anthony Morima said this could mean there is lack of leadership direction. He however pointed out that Boko has to be applauded for timeously and adequately responding to both SONA and budget speech.
“These debates are made public to the effect that their impact is made known that the leader of opposition was in-charge. The nation has to know the impact the leader of opposition has especially when dealing with critical issues like NDP11,” he stated. From Otsweletse Moupo to former BNF Vice President Olebile Gaborone to the current leader Boko, the party has been criticised for failing the seat, which is deemed crucial in the running of Parliament especially for the opposition MPs whose performance is expected to be anchored on the leader of opposition.
The position is a title traditionally held by the leader of the largest opposition party in the house; it is usually regarded as the voice of the united opposition. According to Parliament’s Standing Orders, the Leader of Opposition’s enjoys the same status as the Leader of House in relation to the business of the house. He or she is offered the opportunity to be the first to respond to the State of the Nation Address, Budget Speech or any other major government policy statement and is allowed to read his or her speech if he or she so desires. He or she serves as the second vice president of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (Botswana Branch) and an executive member of the Southern African Development Community Parliamentary Forum - SADC(PF).