Our Parliament Is Too Defective To Deal With COVID-19

The Botswana parliamentary system as adopted from the British is not so democratic primarily because it is not representative of the interests of Batswana. The weakness of this Parliament as a democratic institution is usually attributed to the constitution that has given cabinet extensive powers and rendered it toothless and lacking oversight with its first-past-the-post electoral system. I have made observations and now I argue that in addition to these serious constraints, there are other factors related to the structure and constitution of the Parliament, polarity along party lines, the seating arrangements and the lack of participation by other groups in governance.

The live parliamentary debates that thousands of us were glued to recently demonstrated how wanting our democracy is. The system does not encourage unity of purpose but rather encourages and maintains a division among parties: a system of them against us. I wonder when and where our interests as a country coalesce. It is always them against us that carries on even on social media through us the supporters of the different political institutions. Does the fact that we belong to different parties mean that we cannot agree on anything? How possible is that when we draw from the same well and share the same national cake? Our children go to the same schools, we go to the same church, and we intermarry and live together under generally same conditions and environment. How can a people with so many things that they share differ this greatly in Parliament? Who benefits from this disunity? The whole world is gripped by this current pandemic that will not differentiate between a ruling party member and an opposition member. The effects and consequences will spare no one. Is that not reason enough for our thoughts, ideas and purpose to coalesce?

The seating arrangements do not help at all. The ruling party MPs sit directly opposite the opposition MPs. This cannot encourage unity of purpose as the seating arrangements suggest that battle lines are drawn. Now in every battle each party wants to win by all means possible, including by trickery, deceit and lies. I ask myself when these MPs caucus is it really to find better ways to deal with the pandemic or any other issue before them or better ways to trump their opponents. It was apparent that the MPs have met along party lines and in their deliberations, they had agreed to sing the same song and had learnt the tune and the lyrics. This was indicative during the deliberations. The ruling MPs every time without fail would in their deliberations praise government efforts and then carefully point out what still needs to be done. On the other hand, the opposition would punch holes and cast doubt on whatever efforts had been taken. The citizenry watching would also listen selectively. Those who sympathise with the UDC will cheer for their MPs and so will those who support the BDP. Competition is a common feature in sports or in school, but can we compete when we are making policies to better our lives? The ideal thing should be that ideas that benefit all Batswana should win.

This model of decision making is what is referred as “group think.” But the dangers of “group think” are well documented. The loudest and most confident member will always get his way and decision making is compromised because there is no independence of thought. But great discoveries and solutions are only possible where there is independence of thought. Most importantly, independent thought is needed in crisis situations like now during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Yet the deficiencies of the Botswana’s Parliament are not unique to the country but are embedded in the liberal democracy that we adopted from our colonial masters. At best Western democracy is a limited one and is wrought with deficiencies that prevent it to reach full democracy. However, how other democracies have done to enhance their system is by having strong checks and balances, an active civil society and a vigilant and uncompromising press. It is after all, according to Abraham Lincoln, a government of the people by the people and for the people. Now it seems here in our country we have left democracy and governance as the preserve for the political parties. This is detrimental since our political parties lack internal democracy.

Galaletsang Dintsi
MA in International Relations and Politics
Author and Consultant
Email: gofitlhile@gmail.com
Facebook page: Galaletsang Dintsi. I speak, I write