The article also marks December 9, the international Anti-Corruption Day designed by the General Assembly on October 31st 2003. I focus on possible solutions to the problem. The line between corruption and capitalism (especially booty capitalism) based on the unpaid workers’ surplus labour time is a very fine one. Capitalism, in many ways, is a system of legalised theft. In the under-developed world where the economy is in the hands of foreign companies crude forms of wealth accumulation are common as the petty-bourgeoisie takes advantage of its access to state power to try and build its own economic base.
Personally, I think someone is feeding Transparency International with doctored figures about the level of corruption in Botswana to create a false impression that we are the least corrupt country in Africa. Their reports contrasts sharply with what we as citizens of this country are witnessing everyday. Such tendentious and doctored reports bestow upon the culprits a false sense of innocence and may even give them a license to loot the national coffers. It does not surprise me that the government spin doctor Jeff Ramsay latches on to the latest report with a completely false title of this article; ‘fighting corruption without fear or favour’ (Weekend Post, 8 – 14 December 2012). My word! what a shame! I know Jeff personally as a decent and honest man but for the sake of his job he must do this dirty work on behalf of his bosses. He goes on to describe Botswana as ‘perennial champions’ in a vain and shambolic defense of a regime whose corruption levels are increasingly assuming kleptocratic proportions. Unless Jeff is living in another planet he must know that that very title of his story is false and completely misleading. Since the 1990s it is wrong to describe government officials as being corrupt, because more appropriately, ‘corruption is now official’. The hundreds of millions of the taxpayers’ money that are stolen (well over P1 billion pula each year) are rarely ever recovered and most of the culprits are allowed to go scot-free.
Nearly every independent newspaper you pick up, week in and week out, carries a damning story about how highly placed individuals are always caught with fingers in the till. Tragically these are public ‘servants’ or officers charged with the onerous responsibility of stewardship over our national coffers and resources! The question is how can we eradicate this cancer?
1. Make the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) truly independent
The DCEC should be put under a retired high court judge or university professor – or any official known for their independent ideas, and not a retired police officer. Protect the DCEC from undue political interference. The genuinely independent DCEC must report directly to parliament, and not to the President. The DCEC was set up following an upsurge of official corruption involving Botswana Housing Cooperation (BHC) and the National Development Bank (NDB) in the 1990s. Succumbing to pressure from the BNF and civil society institutions the BDP regime tried to benchmark against Hong Kong – one of the least corrupt countries in the world. The DCEC now falls directly under the Office of the President and that alone denies it the independence it deserves to fight corruption ‘without fear or favour’. Until recently the DCEC was a government department in the Ministry of Defense and Security and when it reportedly tried to investigate the Directorate for Intelligence and Security (DIS) boss Isaac Kgosi for alleged corruption the President brought it directly under his dictatorial ambit. At the same time the DIS was placed under the office of the President. Obviously that is where the DCEC’s investigation of Isaac Kgosi has ended.
Although the DCEC was supposed to be borrowed from the Hong Kong Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) it was deliberately crippled structurally by the government and totally incapacitated from playing its role. The Director is appointed by the President and all DCEC staff are civil servants subject to the laws and regulations governing the public service. As currently constituted the DCEC duplicates the work of the police, and for that reason, it is contributing to, rather than fighting against, white-collar corruption because its officials are paid to duplicate another department’s work. The Botswana Chapter of Transparency International observes that ‘A very high percentage of all the cases involve relatively minor offences, such as falsification of credentials or travel claims, false statements or invoices, failure to declare personal interests, false statements or false pretences or unauthorized use of government property’ – cases best dealt with by the ordinary police. Occasionally where an attempt was made to catch the ‘big fish’ the DCEC itself has complained about the leniency and inconsistency in dealing with culprits. It has been noted that ‘the most typical sentence appears to be a fine and suspended term of imprisonment. In several cases the fine was significantly less than the amount of the bribe or the value of the other benefits accruing from corrupt practices’.
A genuinely independent Hong Kong ICAC, where there is political will and some section of the institution are allowed to carry arms, was able to reduce corruption from a high level of 88% in 1974 to 34% in 2004. The DCEC must produce statistics of its success in fighting official corruption. Hong Kong has even earned the reputation of being ‘the anti-corruption capital of the world’. In 2004 Hong Kong city was rated the second most competitive city in the world by the World Economic Forum, thanks to its clean and efficient civil service. The ICAC has the power to seize passports of suspects and freeze their bank accounts while investigations are underway and enjoys not only political support at the highest level but also the support of the general public. Everybody in Hong Kong understands that its investigations may bring the government to its knees.
2. Make the office of the Auditor General genuinely independent
The Auditor General would have to be independent from political interference with its powers entrenched in the constitution, and the officer reporting directly to parliament. This is the very opposite of what President Khama is doing by reducing the powers of the Auditor General. The President is tempering with an arrangement that all previous heads of state have maintained. The Auditor General’s security of tenure in office is being taken away as he or she is now going to serve at the pleasure of the President and work on a contract basis under the direct control and supervision of the President. The Auditor General is also being muzzled because he or she may not release some information to the public without the approval of the DCEC. This is tragic and it is the latest demonstration the lack of political will to root out corruption.
3. Pass the long overdue Freedom of Information Bill
Corruption thrives where officials work behind a cloak of secrecy. In response to the corruption scandals over land allocation in Mogoditshane and in BHC and the NDB in the 1990s the Masire regime tightened official secrecy.’Punitive confidence laws were introduced in a number of parastals to restrict availability of information to the public. The then Minister for Presidential Affairs Kedikilwe told parliament in 1995 that the ‘erring’ official who gave information to an opposition MP about corruption in the Central Transport Organization would be traced and charged under the National Security and Public Service Acts’ , Good, observes. The Botswana Chapter of Transparency International observes that ‘government has no public policy on the release or availability of information to the public. The principle of transparency is far from being observed by the Botswana government…the situation appears to have deteriorated progressively over the 36 years since independence…There is a growing insularity and defensiveness of public officers’. The formal outlets of public information are grossly inadequate. There is a shortage of information ‘on the current status of the implementation of national development plans, annual budgets and generally Government policies which makes it very difficult for contractors, suppliers and consultants to plan and organize their annual work programmes. There are no announcements made on the allocation or zoning of public land, the outcome of public tenders or the award of government contracts. Annul budgets and plans still lack discrete, time-bound or qualitative implementation targets, civil society has no means of making objective judgments about the substantive performance of the public bodies and their leadership. There is very little public debate about public policy issues.
It is rare that a politician briefs representatives of the media on the performance of his or her Ministry, or issues press releases which are more than a synopsis of recent speeches. The situation is even worse at the local level where virtually no information is publicly available on the policies or performance of District Councils, municipalities and land boards’. Last year following a strike by public sector workers public servants were forced to sign secrecy forms – yet another testament to the lack of political will to fight corruption. Corruption can only be checked if members of the public, the independent press, political parties and other institutions of civil society have access to public information to be able to hold public officers accountable for their actions. ‘Politicians implicated in dubious practices or accused of abuse of public office have experienced little difficulty in being endorsed by their parties as candidates for subsequent elections’. Several BDP ministers for example Kwelagobe, Mmusi, Nkate, Tshipinare and so on previously implicated in corruption have been easily brought back in government. At the moment a President, who during his official swearing in ceremony pledged to apply three Ds, including ‘delivery’ and ‘discipline’, allows ministers implicated in scandals to remain in office. Even the minister who publicly expressed his outrageous sadistic desire to sleep with two women at the same time is still in office! This government is very secretive and insensitive to public opinion. Does ‘discipline’ mean carrying out extra-judicial killings of people like John Kalafatis? The National Archives Act provides for the destruction of certain records or allows the public access but only after ‘at least 20 years’. I thought by ‘delivery’ the President meant getting rid of bureaucracy and red tape which also contributes to corruption. Some people are forced to bribe officials because of the long queues (which run into several years in the case of those seeking residential plots) they must join to get service. The President was only bluffing with those so-called three Ds.
5. Develop a Declaration of Assets by ministers and top civil servants.
One way of combating corruption is to have clear rules and standards that deal with conflict of interest. National leaders must lead by example by declaring their interests and gifts likely to compromise their roles. Because ours is booty capitalism this government has been pussyfooting on this law for over 30 years! They have a lot to hide about their ill-acquired wealth and therefore they will not pass this law.
6. Draw up a Ministerial and Civil Service Code of Conduct
A Ministerial and Civil Service Code of Conduct which is in the public domain for members of the public to be able to hold them to account is an important aspect to any genuine anti-corruption strategy. Leaders must lead by example through observance of clear rules of conduct. Yet up to now according to The Botswana Chapter of Transparency International there are ‘no Parliamentary regulations of any sort that deal with conflict of interest.
Neither the Standing Orders of the National Assembly nor any other set of regulations forbid an Honourable member from promoting or pursuing a matter in the National Assembly in return for payment or other consideration’. This code must deal with the issues of conflict of interest and misuse of government property for party political purposes. How can we entrust our leaders with the onerous stewardship of our moneys and taxes when their behaviour is not governed by any publicly known code of conduct for purposes of transparency and accountability? Both the minister of finance and his assistant are facing corruption charges yet they defiantly remain in office – a clear indication of the extent of the rot.
7. Ensure that there is genuine separation of powers, a bill or rights and a commitment to the rule of law where nobody, not even the President is above the law.
The rule of law means that the law is enforced equally, fairly and consistently and that the government or the President does not make arbitrary decisions. It is absurd in the extremes that the President signs all bills before they become law but has placed himself above the law. The President cannot be impeached while in office. Where powers are concentrated in any one of the three arms of government there is bound to be abuse of power.
Separation of powers enables the three branches of government to exercise checks and balances over each others’ powers. A bill of rights contains a list of freedoms and rights that are protected and limits and checks the powers of government relative to the individual.
8. Botswana must join the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM)
By early 2012 a total of 33 African countries including South Africa, Malawi, Angola, Mozambique, Lesotho, Tanzania, the DRC, Mauritius, and Zambia had signed the Memorandum of Agreement of the APRM. This is a voluntary assessment of mutually agreed codes and standards of good governance, respect for human rights and transparency. The BDP’s regime’s refusal to have its democracy scrutinized by its peers can only mean that it has a lot to hide or knows that its policies and practices do not conform to the APRM codes and standards of good governance, protection of human rights, substantive democracy and corporate governance. In an article titled ‘Botswana should join the APRM’ Ditshwanelo observes that in the Daily News of Nov. 5 2002 the government gives flimsy reasons that it has not joined the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) of the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) because ‘the country feels that it has already opened its economy to enough international scrutiny, while the political review process will be too difficult to implement because the issues are not quantitative’. Ditshwanelo disagrees and charges that ‘a government committed to democratic process would not be seen to be unwilling to open itself to scrutiny’. Botswana’s position disappointed many African countries which were laboring under the illusion that this country is a model of democracy from which they were going to learn something.
9. Botswana must enforce the standards set out by the United Nations Convention Against Corruption
This convention covers a broad range of issues, such as prevention of corruption, criminalization of corruption, international cooperation and recovery of assets as well as principles governing bodies charged with fighting corruption.
10. Bourgeois ‘politicians are like diapers, they must be frequently changed, and for the same reasons’.
This BDP government has been elected into power continuously for 46 years. They are now thoroughly drunk with power, because as the saying goes, ‘power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely’. Imagine the stink and vermin of 46 years of not changing the BDP diapers! What condition are they in? The ultimate solution to the festering cancer of graft and white-collar corruption is to vote out the BDP government which takes Batswana votes for granted and behaves as though they literally own this country. Botswana is a de-facto one party state and this has contributed in no small measure to the escalating cancer of corruption. With the exception to the time when the BNF had won 13 seats in parliament and appeared poised to seize the reigns of power in 1999, the ruling party has never been really kept on its toes by the opposition to the extent that it feels threatened by them. The BCP came to its rescue in 1998 by breaking away from the BNF and weakened the opposition. With the same party having walked away from the Umbrella united front come 2014 they may once again let this regime off the hook.
This article originally appeared on mmegi