Opposition continues to goof off
The resumption of sittings of parliament after the 2015 Christmas and new-year recess enacted another unimpressive drama which showed there had been no rehearsal for the opposition show. The 8th and 9th February incidents only added to an earlier show enacted by the majority of the opposition who had opted not to receive his Majesty for the inspection of Guard of honour for his official opening of the 9th Parliament.
To those across the political divide, the recent show revealed their levels of misunderstanding in the workings of parliaments. This, however, is unless that was just a pretence intended to just amuse the gallery. even then, there was nothing to amuse onlookers about on such a long awaited occasion relating to Judge Phumaphi`s report. The mere questioning of the “Tabling” and insistence on “publication” of the report was a little too much to be made by an MP. Only an MP who learnt parliamentary procedure and practice from a text book authored by another fresher MP whose membership ended immediately with the end of their induction as new MPS could question thus.
A more interesting scene of their drama was when a large number of them responded positively to the hon Speaker`s call for those who had not received copies to stand up. Some commentators viewed that as a ploy to establish and show, to onlookers and the world, that there were many who actually had keen interest to receive copies and partake in the publication of the document which others had thrown away.
Absence of the opposition during their stayaway may have had a negative impact on many-especially the new comers who only learn as they go. had they forgotten that the house is guided through Standing Orders? It was only when the Speaker invoked the naming sanction of the disorderly that some realised their show was not in the public interest.
how one PR member, known for his outspokenness in the english language in the house, responded to the impending action revealed that the opposition was caught unaware. That honourable member was heard from radio broadcast of proceedings, shouting a plea to the Speaker, this time in Sesotho: “hon Speaker, we know you have the power (rea tseba u na le matla). Please do not reduce our number (se ke oa re fokotsa...” That sounded more serious; but was very belated because the Chair could not pick the more serious in the midst of a chorus where everyone in the opposition had his/her microphone on and chanting anything, unrecognised.
The approach of the hon Speaker on the two occasions was another valuable lesson - for those with knowledge of what has to be expected of world-class Presiding Officers. She was very dextrous: in the right hand, she held a succulent carrot (calmness, tolerance etc), which actually sent a wrong signal to the opposition to interrupt even more, with some hope to have their way.
It was only when the Speaker`s left hand unleashed a stick that the opposition realised the possible consequences of their unrehearsed performance in a house of parliament. To confirm they were shocked, they all left the house together with their named colleagues. Could this have been a show of solidarity or just a tactical withdrawal to avoid further humiliation? The latter is a strong possibility, knowing they have considerable fear of defeat in the house, as signified by their choice to stay-away.
There was their other misunderstanding: that SADC had prescribed for the report to be published and not tabled. Such arguments only revealed the calibre of some of our MPS. SADC could not go to the extent of so prescribing. It is doubtful if it even bothers about the workings of each of its member parliaments which are very different? It is obvious there is still much to learn, and these MPS may have already lost valuable time through their stay-away.
Such sad lessons ought to also be challenges to parliament itself. By default, the opening event coincided with the State of the nation address (SONA) in South Africa. Sitting of parliament there had its unique incidents. A lot could be learnt from the South African opposition. Most of their points of order had their basis in their apparently and recently adopted Joint Standing Orders. Our opposition MPS were interested in irrelevant issues like tabling, publication of report and wish not say Brigadier but Lt.general.
Parliament of Lesotho has to introspect. It has to rethink how it initiates its MPS to be effective; particularly how to keep MPS from previous parliaments in a good shape for new comers to learn something from them. The usual orientation of MPS into a new parliament can never be adequate.
Many parliaments continuously orientate their MPS, focusing on selected subject areas like “Making Standing Orders work” etc. In some parliaments, political parties do drill their MPS on how to oppose etc. Some even give attention to their members who rarely speak in the house. Otherwise, some of our MPS will remain stuck and continue not to know what goes with “tabling” or “publication”, irrespective of the existence and clarity of Standing Order No. 22.
Another challenge is the exercise of reviewing Standing Orders. Yet other parliaments have adopted a tradition to review their SOS at the end of every term. Before then, there is provision for Sessional Orders which have to expire. This, however, is dependent on suitable departmentation, with staff who are indeed a resource to parliament.
Tendencies of the current opposition remind one about some teaching by the former Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Don Mckinnon, that the opposition has not to be “spoilers”, on addressing one CPA Assembly in Bangladesh, where local opposition parties had stayed away from the Assembly as their form of protest against their own parliament. events which follow the Lesotho opposition depict them as such spoilers. They deserve to be his Majesty`s loyal opposition and oppose constructively. l Makhabane Maluke is a Former Deputy Principal Secretary, Ministry of Law, Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs (BCP Government); former Clerk of Senate (2002-2010) and former Member of the Association of Secretary Generals of Parliaments of the Inter-parliamentary Union; former Member of the Society of Clerks-at-the-table of Commonwealth Parliaments and of the SADC Parliamentary Forum, and former MP (8th Parliament) for Bobatsi No 80 constituency (DC ticket).