Botswana: Towards a progressive parliament

AGORA moderator's picture

Parliament recently amended the Rules of the House, or Standing Orders, to allow for use of electronic gadgets such as laptops, iPads, tablets and related IT towards reducing use of paper in the business of the people's representatives by more than 75 percent.

This move comes at a time when 100 percent of business in the House is conducted by means of the printed word, making it cumbersome for members, journalists and the public to gather important information that affects their daily lives.

The past two decades have seen the world evolve from paper to Information and Communications Technology (ICT), leaving Botswana a distant laggard fit for catching by the devil. However, accompanied by much hype, much effort was made to turn the country into a super international IT gateway and a veritable Silicon Valley of southern Africa at the turn of the century. The environment was ideal: a few years before, highly intelligent Batswana students at Massachusetts Institute of Technolody had been chosen for the select team of drivers - by remote control - of a vehicle on Mars and unlike South Africa that would have to overhaul outmoded infrastructure, Botswana had the distinct advantage of starting from the beginning with state-of-the-art technology. Yet here we are today. Laggards again. As with water and electricity, we knew what needed doing but did not do it. Even with what we have, government websites are barely updated, forcing clients to go and seek information from officers who demand written questionnaires upfront and then take until Thy-Kingdom-Come to answer them, delays which account for why we can never seem to do anything timeously or correctly. Going back to the National Assembly, we wish to take the opportunity to appeal for further and a more focused amendment of Standing Orders to allow for audio and visual recording of parliamentary proceedings. When the Dikgang tsa Palamente programme was halted on Radio Botswana more than a decade ago, government stubbornly ignored calls for its return.

Though it lacked professional presentation, the programme was the only one by which Batswana could hear their elected representatives unbridled and extempore. Since then, the country has witnessed the coming into being of three private radio stations, one private TV station and a flurry of on-line media houses. A few years ago, the then Speaker of the National Assembly, Patrick Balopi, went on a countrywide tour explaining the role of Parliament to the masses. But in a country whose leadership will hear nothing about live broadcasts of parliamentary proceedings, Batswana have yet to grasp the role of this chamber, albeit it being a much circumscribed one.

We hold that the amendments already made and the ones we propose will enhance our democracy and more truly take the Parliament to the people. At present, the people see the Parliament as an imposing - even hallowed - building from which they are to steer clear. Yet many would be delighted by a TV programme in which their representatives debate issues of national interest and concern so that they may make informed decisions regarding to whom their treasured vote should go in 2014.

SOURCE: Mmegi Online, August 17th 2013: