Corrupt civil servants and politicians should stop stealing citizens' ideas

There seems to be a problem, generally with the way government handles information shared with it by enterprising citizen inventors and innovators.

On so many occasions, I have had people, young and old,  come to me grieving about how they sold an idea to government and how, subsequently, they learnt that the same had been embraced by government in favour of someone else. Some have even suggested that civil servants actually steal their ideas and pursue the same through proxies or for percentage cuts on the gains. This must get us all worried. Not so long ago, I consulted with one lady over a product that, according to her, they had researched and sold to government and which is now being pursued away from them.

The project, according to her, was being pursued using their intellectual and resource output and for that she did present some evidence. I spent a good hour listening to the lady and seeing her going through all the frustration of being betrayed by her own government and it was sad. Really sad, I must say. Only innovation will take us somewhere in enhancing citizen economic empowerment, creating employment and growing the economy. Nothing should be allowed to stifle it.

Just the other day, talk was rife on social media concerning a road safety project that government had embraced allegedly in favour of a foreign company. One citizen claimed that they had introduced the idea to government and had not been embraced. To be sure, I know of yet another Motswana, close to me, who had done the same thing, concerning the same project, but had been given a cold shoulder. He is distraught. I would imagine the other one too. At least two Batswana, it would appear, have sold the same project to government betrayed them.  If their stories are to be accepted, then we surely have a really big problem in our hands that should get the President concerned. We cannot have a situation where people cannot be key players in the economy because those employed to assist them prey on their efforts and ideas.

That’s not all. The other day, I quizzed a social media friend involved in vehicle tracking why he does not extend his enterprise to a market niche in the penal system. I had been in court earlier that morning, and the magistrate had asked whether technology existed to assist with enforcing bail conditions of those whose movements were judicially restricted.

His reply was that he didn’t want to make a proposal to government functionaries who would only give the information to someone else, who would in turn,  use the same information to best them. His other reason was that it takes forever for government to evaluate a proposal. I well understood the frustration. People, young and old, invest so much thought into ideas only to lose same to unscrupulous civil servants who misappropriate them. It is still unclear to me, why this kind of conduct is not criminal because it is a threat to the national economy.

I have, in a discussion with friends, asked why there is very little invention and innovation among or citizens. The resounding answer has been that invention and innovation are a capital intensive undertaking and most Batswana cannot even get their dreams off the starting blocks due to lack of funding. There is very little appetite on the part of the private sector to risk money in innovation for which there exists no ready market. Out of desperation, citizens end up taking their ideas to government with the hope that government would play both funder and primary consumer of the product of their innovation and they end up learning that government is place where dreams go to die. There has got to be a better way.

Surely there are laws to protect intellectual property but such only go so far. For example, copyright law does not protect ideas but their expression. The moment you put your idea out there in the form of a proposal, it is essentially in the public domain and sometimes that’s all you’ve got. You are giving it all to people who have a duty to assist you but no clearly enforceable obligation to keep your confidence. At the stage at which citizens engage with government there is very little legislative protective cover.

No developed economy can claim to have achieved its status without government economic participation. Bridging the import-export deficit is a key priority of government. That cannot be achieved in a climate where corrupt civil servants and politicians cannibalise citizen innovative efforts. To be sure I am working on a case where exactly that has happened and some young people have been left in the lurch.

But what are the solutions? Should we have a one stop entity that could be the custodian of innovative engagement between government and the citizenry? Can we ensure that the same is detached from government or at least semi-autonomous, such that aggrieved citizens can have recourse? Can we have a clear evaluation system that is transparent and capable of being challenged before corrupt contracts based on conduct under discussion herein are signed and sealed? Should we have a special tribunal to give the aggrieved recourse? I call upon government to look into these issue as a matter of urgency. We cannot go on like this.

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