Members of Parliament (MPs) have called on government to enact the Freedom of Information (FoI) law to complement the newly proposed Trust Property Control Bill of 2018, brought on urgency this week.
The Minister of Defence, Justice and Security, Shaw Kgathi brought the bill on urgency on Tuesday, stating that the bill seeks to address the current lack of transparency and accountability in the legal arrangements of trusts to control the administration of trust property, which if not addressed will render the legal entity of trusts open to be used for money laundering and other illicit purposes.
Although many legislators appreciated the proposed law, they expressed reservation that the lack of FoI law would render it ineffective. Gaborone Central MP, Phenyo Butale said while the law is a welcome move, there is need to tighten other laws to enable the effectiveness of this law.
“I also think that we need to think broadly about these laws. We also need to look at other pieces of legislation that I think are enablers. I believe that we need such laws as the Access to Information coming to Parliament quickly because if you have access to information, then we would able to ask legally for information and show the irregularities in whatever dealings that are happening in a legal instrument or bodies such as a trust,” Butale said.
He said that in the absence of the FoI law, trustees would continue to abuse the trusts property through illicit dealings.
Gaborone North legislator, Haskins Nkaigwa also shared Butale’s sentiments, saying the FoI Act would make things easier when people are being investigated for suspicious abuse of trust property.
“If we are still given answers like this is classified information then we are not doing anything.
“We can’t even ask for directors of certain companies at the Registrar of Companies because we are told that it would take months to find that information.
Nkaigwa said that people who are rich have for a long time exploited the lack of legislation on trust property control by using State money for personal gain.
He said that others are using students to create trusts under their names to ‘clean’ the money gained through corrupt means.
Selebi Phikwe West MP Dithapelo Keorapetse also shared the sentiments of his fellow MPs, calling for the enactment of FoI law. He said that this would also bolster the nation’s efforts to combat corruption and economic crime.
“It is also important to have a law on targeted lifestyle audits. I know at Botswana Unified Revenue Service (BURS) they somewhat practise this targeted lifestyle audits, even though sometimes they go on a serious witch-hunt, which we know it is normally politically motivated.
“I know a member in the ruling party who was persecuted by BURS. Targeted lifestyle audit is important if it is used properly,” Keorapetse said without elaborating.
Meanwhile, Kgathi said that amongst others, the bill is aligned to the Financial Intelligence (Amendment) Bill (No. 15 of 2018), which seeks to establish and verify the identity of the customer, beneficial owner or beneficiary of life insurance and other related investment services.
Amongst other things, the bill seeks to define what is a beneficial owner. The Trust Property Control Bill will under Clause 7 require all trustees to be registered with the Master of the High Court, and for trust instruments and details of beneficial owners to be filed with the Master.
It also empowers the Master of the High Court to cause an investigation to be conducted into the trustee’s administration and disposal of trust property.