Parly in­dis­ci­pline a blot on na­tion’s pres­tige

Lesotho Times - - Opinion & Analysis - Ut­loang Ka­jeno

THE past two weeks have seen our col­lec­tive moral fi­bre as a na­tion de­gen­er­ate at an alarm­ing rate, more par­tic­u­larly in the au­gust house, Par­lia­ment. One can only hope that this is not a pre­cur­sor to more mor­ti­fy­ing con­duct in the fu­ture of the ven­er­a­ble house.

How­ever, it would be disin­gen­u­ous of me not to make a ref­er­ence to the de­spi­ca­ble killing that oc­curred else­where around the coun­try.

The younger brother of the Prin­ci­pal Chief of Koe­neng and Mapoteng was bru­tally shot in a bar for re­port­edly try­ing to in­ter­vene in a brawl. This killing was trau­mat­i­cally com­mit­ted be­fore the eyes of his own elder brother, the Prin­ci­pal Chief.

In yet another appalling killing, a 75-years old TY, Berea, stay-alone granny was stabbed six times and had her throat slit. She was found ly­ing in a pool of blood in her own bed­room.

To say th­ese killings are bes­tial and sense­less is an un­der­state­ment. They are symp­to­matic of a so­ci­ety that has com­pletely lost its moral com­pass.

If the cul­prits are not brought be­fore the courts and ap­pro­pri­ate stiff pun­ish­ment is not meted out on them swiftly, then this will be a se­ri­ous indictment on our in­tegrity and moral worth as a na­tion. They de­serve the stiffest sen­tences in the cir­cum­stances.

On the leg­isla­tive front, where we ex­pect the high­est de­gree of deco­rum from our elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives, two in­ci­dents sadly turned the au­gust house into a cir­cus.

Th­ese events oc­curred hardly two weeks after His Majesty had de­liv­ered his Speech from the Throne in open­ing the house, as a sym­bol of our ro­bust but re­spectable democ­racy and fo­rum for op­pos­ing views.

The speech, which re­buked the hon­ourable mem­bers for putting their per­sonal in­ter­ests be­fore those of the na­tion and urg­ing self­less­ness in serv­ing the Ba­sotho, was hailed through­out Le­sotho as one of the best ever.

Last Tues­day, how­ever, the Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment (MP) for Qoal­ing, Cha­lane Phori of the rul­ing All Ba­sotho Con­ven­tion (ABC), seized the cer­e­mo­nial mace, walked-out of the house with it, thereby forc­ing the ad­journ­ment of business.

The mace is the sym­bol of the King’s pres­ence and au­thor­ity over the au­gust house. It is an es­sen­tial part of the re­galia of Par­lia­ment sym­bol­is­ing the au­thor­ity of the monarch as ex­er­cised by the elected assem­bly.

Mr Phori lost his tem­per when the Na­tional Assem­bly was de­bat­ing a mo­tion seek­ing to amend the Con­sti­tu­tion and re­move the pow­ers of the Prime min­is­ter to uni­lat­er­ally ad­vise the King to pro­rogue Par­lia­ment. The mo­tion sought to vest th­ese pow­ers on the Coun­cil of State, to ad­vise the King.

How­ever, the MP ar­gued that he would not be in­tim­i­dated, in­sist­ing he was not go­ing to al­low the King to be dis­re­spected through the vi­o­la­tion of the Maseru Fa­cil­i­ta­tion Dec­la­ra­tion (MFD), among oth­ers, which was signed by all po­lit­i­cal lead­ers on 2 Oc­to­ber, 2014, re­stricted the business of par­lia­ment to only elec­tion-re­lated mat­ters.

On this one, re­gard­ing the re­stric­tions on par­lia­men­tary business, the MP was right and spot-on. How­ever, I have to dis­agree with the way he went about reg­is­ter­ing his protest. It was de­spi­ca­ble and has to been dep­re­cated by all and sundry, ir­re­spec­tive of po­lit­i­cal af­fil­i­a­tion. It is bla­tant mis­con­duct, ev­ery day of the week.

If the mo­tion was o out-of-or­der or unp pro­ce­dural, to which I fully agree with Mr Phori, there are ac­cept­able and le­git­i­mate av­enues of protest­ing against what in his view was an un­ac­cept­able mo­tion. It is high time that the hon­ourable MP re­alises that legislators de­bate na­tional is­sues in a civilised and dig­ni­fied man­ner even if at times in a ro­bust man­ner.

MPS swear their al­le­giance to the King and his suc­ces­sors, the Con­sti­tu­tion and other laws of the land. We can­not con­done a sit­u­a­tion where the au­gust house is turned into a cir­cus.

Any­body, ir­re­spec­tive of his or her so­cial stand­ing, po­lit­i­cal af­fil­i­a­tion or how strongly he feels about a par­tic­u­lar is­sue, has to de­bate na­tional is­sues in a dig­ni­fied man­ner. Else he or she has to face the full might of par­lia­men­tary dis­ci­pline.

The house has its Stand­ing Or­ders, rules and pro­ce­dures that have to be brought to bear very hard on of­fend­ers. If MPS de­mean the dig­nity and re­spect of Par­lia­ment, the ap­pro­pri­ate com­mit­tee or au­thor­ity has to come down hard on them.

We elected them to that au­gust house be­cause we have con­fi­dence and ut­most re­spect for them to con­duct our na­tional business in a re­spect­ful man­ner. Else they do not de­serve to be our rep­re­sen­ta­tive in that au­gust house.

Fur­ther­more, it can­not only be par­lia­men­tary dis­ci­plinary pro­ce­dures that have to be set in mo­tion to rein-in the er­rant MPS but also in­ter­nal party dis­ci­plinary mech­a­nisms have to be in­voked rig­or­ously.

If the party struc­tures and lead­er­ship do not come down hard on the cul­prits then this will set a bad prece­dent for other MPS. This be­hav­iour needs to be nipped in the bud be­fore it spi­rals out of con­trol.

The party has to be seen to deal de­ci­sively with er­rant MP’S as legislators are not only the rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the peo­ple but are also role mod­els to our kinds.

They are the win­dows to the out­side world of how we be­have as a na­tion. They are to be held to a far higher stan­dard of be­hav­iour than or­di­nary cit­i­zens.

That is why they are called “hon­ourable”. When the cit­i­zenry it­self loses its moral com­pass, so to speak, it’s par­lia­ment that has to rein so­ci­ety in. It is a dis­grace that can­not be ar­rested by any­one if MPS them­selves lose their moral high ground.

MP’S owe their al­le­giance, like I said be­fore, to the Con­sti­tu­tion and other laws of the land and above all else and crit­i­cally to the King. They re­flect the au­thor­ity of the King over his sub­jects, the cit­i­zenry.

It is not for noth­ing that they have what is called “Par­lia­men­tary priv­iledge” which al­lows them to de­bate and dis­close is­sues of na­tional in­ter­est with­out the threat of lit­i­ga­tion or pros­e­cu­tion ex­cept in very few ex­cep­tions, where the full might of the law can be brought on them. How­ever, this does not de­note that they are above the law.

It is only that they are ac­corded cer­tain priv­iledges and dis­pen­sa­tion when on the par­lia­men­tary plat­form so that they can do jus­tice to is­sues of na­tional im­por­tance with­out much le­gal re­stric­tions and hin­drance that we or­di­nary cit­i­zens, are sub­ject to.

It is pre­cisely be­cause of this priv­iledge that we hold them to higher stan­dards of be­hav­iour and eti­quette than or­di­nary cit­i­zens. MPS who flout par­lia­men­tary proce- dures and Stand­ing Or­ders should promptly be brought to book and made aware of the dam­age they are do­ing to the in­tegrity and sanc­tity of that house.

Par­lia­ment is headed by the sov­er­eign, who is the supreme au­thor­ity in the land, hence the cer­e­mo­nial mace is car­ried only by the sergeant-at-arms to the clerk’s ta­ble to in­di­cate when the au­gust house is in ses­sion.

Much as I agree with Mr Phori’s ar­gu­ment on the in­ap­pro­pri­ate­ness of the mo­tion, his con­duct has to be dep­re­cated by all self-re­spect­ing peo­ple. It tar­nishes the good im­age of Par­lia­ment.

Ear­lier in the pre­vi­ous week again in the par­lia­men­tary cham­bers, two fe­male MPS en­gaged in a fist-fight in full view of mem­bers of the au­gust house, the Deputy Speaker and par­lia­men­tary staff.

In­stead of de­bat­ing na­tional is­sues in a ro­bust but dig­ni­fied man­ner as is the tra­di­tion and pur­pose of the au­gust house, the two MPS turned-pugilists made the hal­lowed cham­ber into a box­ing ring.

If they want to en­ter­tain the crowds by en­gag­ing in a box­ing match, there are quite a few clubs that ac­cept fe­male box­ers. Hope­fully, they will make it to the Olympics and the next Com­mon­wealth Games.

The duo should never be al­lowed to turn the hal­lowed par­lia­men­tary cham­ber into a cir­cus for pre-school kids. Mere apolo­gies are not enough.

The par­lia­men­tary au­thor­ity as well the re­spec­tive party ma­chiner­ies should come down hard on them, through stiff dis­ci­plinary mea­sures.

One of the hall­marks of any demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tion is to meet the ex­pec­ta­tions of the elec­torate. We de­mand, as the elec­torate, stiff dis­ci­plinary mea­sures on the MPS.

Prior to and dur­ing the pro­ro­ga­tion of Par­lia­ment, the bona fides, in­tegrity and con­duct of some of our politi­cians in the pub­lic do­main have suf­fered im­mea­sur­able harm and scorn.

We can­not af­ford it when few hot­heads, mas­querad­ing as gen­uine politi­cians, be­smirch the in­tegrity and dig­nity of our lead­ers. If they con­tinue in that ba­haviour, they do not be­long there in the first place.

They bet­ter de­part the par­lia­men­tary scene grace­fully and promptly, to make way for politi­cians who can bet­ter be en­trusted with de­bat­ing na­tional is­sues in a dig­ni­fied man­ner and make laws for this na­tion.

Par­lia­ment is the heart­beat of our young democ­racy and the em­bod­i­ment of our vi­sion and as­pi­ra­tions as a na­tion, un­der the stew­ard­ship of His Majesty.

It is a revered na­tional plat­form where re­spectable MP’S de­bate na­tional is­sues for the ben­e­fit of this na­tion.

Di­ver­gent views, or even con­tra­dic­tory ones, bor­der­ing on the ridicu­lous, some­times, are de­bated in Par­lia­ment so that ul­ti­mately, what our elected legislators deem ap­pro­pri­ate for this na­tion, fi­nalise the is­sues.

To use the eu­phemism if some peo­ple feel they can­not stand the heat in Par­lia­ment, the kitchen, they bet­ter quit the kitchen. Par­lia­ment is nei­ther for the faint-hearted, short tem­pered or big­oted.

It is for sea­soned politi­cians who can stand the test of time. Nei­ther is it for the child­ish who bring kinder­garten an­tics to that au­gust house.

I there­fore strongly urge, both the par­lia­men­tary au­thor­i­ties and re­spec­tive po­lit­i­cal party ma­chin­ery, in or­der to avoid a re­peat of th­ese shenani­gans and as de­ter­rence, to come down hard on the er­rant MPS.

Our fledg­ling democ­racy, let alone its sym­bol of high­est au­thor­ity, Par­lia­ment, can­not af­ford the mis­con­duct of th­ese MP’S which bor­der on con­tempt. They are slowly erod­ing he dig­nity and in­tegrity of Par­lia­ment in the eyes of the pub­lic.

This has got to be nipped in the bud be­fore it, like I ob­served, per­vades, the en­tire na­tional moral conscience. We bet­ter start now and lead by ex­am­ple as MPS en­trusted with such a huge re­spon­si­bil­ity.

MPS should know bet­ter than their con­duct or be­hav­iour have a sem­i­nal in­flu­ence on the rest of so­ci­ety be­cause of the unique role they play. They are a yard­stick through which our so­ci­ety is judged.

MP for Qoal­ing con­stituency Cha­lane Phori

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