Minister Mokgweetsi Masisl’s last-ditch effort to prevent Members of Parliament and the Press from interrogating the findings of a Parliamentary Special Select Committee of Inquiry on the operations of Botswana Development Corporation failed dismally on Wednesday in Parliament.
The report, already in the public domain has cast aspersions on BDC’ investment partner, Fengyue Glass Manufacturing plant; the fiduciary responsibilities of BDC executive management as well as the oversight role of the BDC Board.
In a desperate attempt to do damage control the presidential affairs and public administration minister sought to address parliament from the Speaker using the privilege accorded cabinet ministers whenever they have important issues that have to be shared with members of the house.
Masisi made a threatening statement that turned out to be nothing else, but a ploy to prepare the ground to gag the media from carrying more reports and or further debating the BDC- Fengyue issue as well as to gag MPs and prepare them to reject the report on the day it would be tabled for debate in parliament. But in his bid the minister had overlooked that he is an MP and was addressing MPs with equal powers.
Instead of pleading with them to sympathise with the government position, he opted to apply the Big Brother attitude of cautioning and threatening them. The tactic did not sit well with MPs, as some got emotional in their attempt to make him see the light. MPs boldly told him off, that he was abusing his powers and parliamentary privilege.
Masisi had warned and cautioned MPs that government has always been against parliament carrying its own investigations because such investigations were likely to jeopardise DCEC investigations. He was worried that the BDC report was now being debated in the media thereby affecting the reputation of certain people. First to draw blood was the chairman of the Select Parliamentary Committee of inquiry Abram Kesupile, who warned that the minister’s statement had the potential to impede on the freedom of speech and democracy.
On a matter of procedure Kesupile requested all members of his committee to comment on Masisi’s statement. He wondered why the minister could not make a statement to the media and leave out parliament if he is so much concerned about the reports or debate. Tonota North South MP Pono Moathodi asked Masisi if he is there to warn or caution them. “Are we students?” asked Moatlhodi rhetorically.
MP for Gaborone Central Dumelang Saleshando did not understand what compromise the minister is talking about because the report became a public document the day it was tabled in parliament. Saleshando said they are facing a serious abuse of parliament and that the minister’s words are un-parliamentary.
Turning to the Speaker he said: “I therefore request you to rule the minister out of order and ask him to withdraw the statement.” In her ruling Dr Margaret Nasha said if she had either seen the statement beforehand she would not have allowed Masisi to read it in parliament. “This statement should have not been brought here. I am extremely uncomfortable with it,” she said.
Only then did Masisi grudgingly concede defeat: “I am prepared to hold it back and bring it at a convenient time without prejudice.” But Nasha refused to take that as a withdrawal demanding to know what the minister meant.
She then ruled that the statement is withdrawn. Ironically, the development came just a day after the launch of the book, “Democratic Deficit in the Parliament of Botswana” by former Speaker and cabinet minister, Matlapeng Ray Molomo. The book laments the subordination of parliament to the other arms of government- executive and judiciary.