I was something of a supporter of Graham Stockwell when he arrived here from Hong Kong in 1997 to set up the new Directorate of Corruption and Economic Crime.
There clearly was a problem. With greater wealth, there had come greater corruption and something had to be done to curb it.
During the ensuing eighteen years the general perception has been that the achievements of Stockwell’s DCEC have been modest in the extreme. Now has come the totally unnecessary two day stand off at the offices of the Gazette newspaper offices with the DCEC trying to
serve search warrants and the Gazette’s lawyer resisting.
Barely believable has been the eventual outcome of this contretemps with the editor and two members of his staff arrested together with the Gazette’s lawyer - and another lawyer being call in to help his arrested colleague. For
most commentators this has been another chilling example of the State’s determination to bludgeon the commercial press.
My own perspective is a little different because I believe that of the two protagonists it is the DCEC not the Gazette which has suffered the greatest set back. The
Gazette has been bruised but it has emerged with its reputation intact. The DCEC on the other hand, may not have been bruised but its reputation, in so many ways, has been very seriously dented. The irony, of course, as been well explained by others, is that the whole affair was
totally unnecessary and could so easily have ben avoided.
The Gazette had information about the corruption involved in a multi million pula oil deal which it wished to publish. It checked repeatedly with the DCEC to discover if the same issue was something which it was investigating
and therefore would not wish to be published. Reports have stated that on each occasion the DCEC unhelpfully, even arrogantly, said that it had no need to say anything. And in the end, still saying nothing, it obtained search and seize warrants and arrived at the Gazette’s offices. The
unavoidable conclusion is that the DCEC had no wish to reach an understanding with the Gazette.
It wanted to bully it and humiliate it - something that was possible only because it had completely lost any sense of its mission and how best this could be carried out. It may be one of the
DCEC’s bedrock mantras that it will never confirm or deny that it is carrying out an investigation.
Yet, it should have been obvious, in this instance and possibly others, that adherence to this working principle was likely to result in the very situation it may have supposed that it was
deterring. How can any newspaper editor know – if the DCEC refuses to communicate – that its publication of a story might, be impacting on the work of the DCEC in carrying out investigations – thus the Gazette today and any of the other newspapers tomorrow, with more lawyers being
dumped in a cell because they had done no more than seeking to safeguard their clients legal rights! This scenario, for the DCEC is a shocker, a truly major disaster.
It really has no option now but to carefully consider how and why it got itself into this mess and what, in fact, it was
seeking to achieve. It has also, I believe, to go back to basics and to re-examine every single part of its working gospel, its established ways of working, its goals and the best ways of meeting them.
An absolutely essential part of that exercise needs to be a long, hard re-think about its
working relationship with its obvious partners, namely the general public and the commercial press. It may have to recognise that the mess it made with Gazette could have seriously eroded the public’s trust.
If that is the case, it could take years for that trust to be recovered and re-
earned. Its need in respect of the commercial press is of a different kind. It seems to have become a part of the DCEC’s current mind set that the press regularly seeks to obstruct it, and that, deliberately or otherwise, it seeks to undermine its mandate. It really should be obvious to the
DCEC, however, that the press may be the one and only public entity that shares the DCEC’s concerns about corruption.
Incredibly, the DCEC seems to believe otherwise but of even more concern must be the recent cartoons which show how the DCEC’s role as having been reversed –
that it now shields and protects the corrupt who the press is seeking to expose. There couldn’t have been a worse outcome of the absurd, clumsy scene at the Gazette. But what happened there was the result of deliberately taken decisions and the DCEC has, therefore, only itself to
blame. If it proves incapable of a massive re-think, its role, and value, may have been significantly compromised.