DIS face-to-face with corruption

Magosi addressing a recent press conference PIC: KARABO KGOSI
Magosi addressing a recent press conference PIC: KARABO KGOSI

Botswana might be headed for tough times as revelations show that its public sector and the parastatals are firmly embedded in acts of corruption and its related ills.  This state of affairs has since propelled the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) services into action to help in uprooting corruption. Mmegi Staff Writer RYDER GABATHUSE fears that the next time the Corruption Perception Index report is released, Botswana’s ranking might be worse

FRANCISTOWN: Revelations made by the director general of DIS, Brigadier Peter Magosi recently, when addressing a press conference, might see Botswana’s Corruption Perception Index altered for the worst. The Corruption Perception Index ranks countries and territories based on how corrupt their public sector is perceived to be.

According to the Corruption Perceptions Index, Botswana ranks 34 least corrupt nation out of about 175 countries, according to the 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index reported by Transparency International. Corruption rank in Botswana averaged 31 from 1998 until 2018, reaching an all-time high of 38 in 2007 and a record low of 23 in 1998.

For the first time, Magosi spoke with such gusto and concern as he made emphasis that, “there is no government ministry that is not involved in corruption”.   Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) director general, Brigadier Joseph Mathambo in an interview early this year was adamant that, “this country was in a situation called State capture where certain institutions were systematically weakened and squeezed to a position where they could not perform their mandate”. He insisted worriedly that unfortunately, the public was not aware of all that. Mathambo was even worried that some DCEC investigators have deliberately collapsed investigations for their benefit something that the new DCEC head was adamant they have to win back the confidence of the public they serve.

Upon his inauguration, last year, President Mokgweetsi Masisi pledged to the nation that his administration would fight corruption in its many forms and manifestations. Is the DIS move a manifestation of Masisi’s administration unleashing war on corruption in earnest?

It’s definitely early days in this fight but, when addressing a press conference at the Travel Lodge in Gaborone recently where he spoke on a number of issues bordering mainly on national security, Magosi was worried that Botswana continues to lose billions of pula to corruption.

What Magosi and his team find on the ground is that corruption is deeply rooted and, “it will take us a long time to clean it”.

Procurement is one area that seems very porous with a lot of money going into wrong pockets at the expense of intended projects.

The DIS is investigating some people within the tender committees to explain themselves as to how they arrived at the tender figures as some issued tenders have unduly been inflated to benefit individuals or groups.

 “We are auditing the lifestyles of some of these tender committee members given the nature of their duties as they attract the attention of some of these tenderpreneurs to corrupt them,” Magosi told the media emphasising that his officers were currently on the trail of P2 billion of issued tenders. In some instances, Magosi narrated that they will find out that the Minister knows this, the Permanent Secretary knows that and the procurement officers know that.

The DIS has started investigating the Ministry of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services, as this is where there is a lot of money in terms of government projects after which the next stop will be at the Ministry of Mineral Resources, Green Technology and Energy Security. Magosi explained that, sometimes they would find it worthwhile to recommend to the government the withdrawal or termination of projects so that they further their investigations and safeguard the government from losing millions of pula.

His promise was that they were not going to allow millions of state funds go down the drain.

Interestingly, before the end of this week, Magosi was adamant that there would be news from a local parastatal after his officers had raided it and exposed the rot at that unnamed paratstatal.

The DIS has noticed a pattern of how things are done to dupe the state of millions of pula.

“The worst targets are tenders, which start from a particular figure and get unnecessarily escalated to benefit certain people,” he said and revealed that it was on two occasions that the DIS had advised government to terminate tenders including that of China Jiangsu, which is currently a matter contested before court.

Worried by the heavy involvement of the DIS in a matter that is purely the mandate of the DCEC to combat corruption, Mmegi quizzed the University of Botswana (UB) senior lecturer in politics, Kebapetse Lotshwao to unpack the matter. “Indeed, it is correct that issues of corruption fall under the mandate of the DCEC, and not the DIS.  However, the DIS can also investigate corruption, especially if such corruption is very sophisticated, or if it undermines national security. The important thing, however, is for the two organisations (DIS and DCEC) to cooperate and take advantage of the strengths of each other,” analyses the UB don.

Over the years, the DCEC was not very effective because of lack of independence from the Office of the President.

Lotshwao concurs that there was interference whenever the institution attempted to investigate politically connected people. For instance, he recalls a case in 2012, when the DCEC was investigating past immediate DIS DG, Isaac Kgosi, former president Ian Khama, who was then the helmsman, transferred the DCEC from the Ministry of Defence, Justice and Security to Office of the President.

“After that, nothing was heard of about the Kgosi corruption investigations.”

He added: “Corruption became entrenched under Khama because of a number of reasons. Firstly, the state was captured, and served first and foremost the interests of Khama and his associates in the business and tourist sectors. Secondly, all the core state institutions that could fight corruption off were weakened by political interference and the appointment of people on the basis of loyalty and not merit”.

Lotshwao insists that in general terms, corruption in Botswana, as in other countries, has benefited the elites and the well-connected individuals and their families.

“The main loser,” Lotshwao points out, “has been the ordinary people as corruption not only led to loss of public funds but also poor service delivery and infrastructure that is below standard, for instance, Morupule B and Shakawe Senior Secondary school”.

Another UB academic and lecturer in politics and administrative studies, Adam Mfundidi said corruption in Botswana is not a new phenomenon. He, however, notes that grand corruption is new.  To him, the DIS, which is at the helm of the fight against organised crime and corruption in this country, has also been an epitome of corruption as evidenced by amassing of wealth by its former DG Kgosi and his associates.

“There is an avalanche of evidence on the scale of corruption in Botswana. 

There is no new information on corruption in Botswana.  Over the years corruption has been institutionalised in Botswana to an extent that those supposed to fight have been compromised,” Mfundisi posits.

He dismisses the school of thought that during Khama’s administration corruption was not detected. “The truth is that state institutions responsible for the anti-corruption crusade lacked institutional and decisional authority to fight corruption.  All were housed in the Office of the President, which became the hub of corruption,” Mfundisi analysed.

 The appointments of heads of these institutions were suspect thereby not rendering effective detection; investigations and prosecutions were a nullity.

Anti corruption laws are also not helping in fighting the scourge of corruption. Some are ambiguous therefore attracts multi interpretations. Conflict of interest laws are dysfunctional allowing corruption at the highest level of government.” Political corruption, bureaucratic and economic corruption, Mfundisi acknowledges, have a culture in Botswana.

“You must recall that even the DCEC is not immune from allegations of unethical behaviour bordering on corruptive practices. Parastatals are a haven for grand corruption by the political and economic elite.” He particularly pointed out at the awarding of tenders and procurement services as manipulated to favour certain individuals and companies associated with the governing elite.

“This corrupt cabal has law unto themseves. These elites have arrogated themselves to be above the law contrary to our constitutional democracy in Botswana. The appointments of CEOs in Botswana are in pursuance of corruption. Meritocracy has been abandoned in favour of political patronage.

Board of Directors have become avenues for political deployment to protect corrupt public officials,” thundered the UB don.

Differing with Botswana’s Corruption Perceptions Index, the political analyst holds a strong view that Botswana has never been the least corrupt country, reiterating that, “only grand corruption is new and the country is unable to attract FDIs partially because of corruption”.

What can be done to effectively fight corruption is the million pula question to Mfunfisi who however, has suggested a number of reforms to be undertaken.

● Political culture in which public goods are distributed through clientele list basis.

● Increasing transparency and openness to deal with conflict of interest, which is a major source of corruption.

● The rule of law must be maintained. From the President to the lowest member of society should be subjected to the law of the land.

● Strong and independent judiciary and law enforcement agencies.

● Stiffer penalties for corruption offences particularly jail sentences applied equitably.

●  Robust civil society organisations.

The ultimate beneficiaries of corruption are a small coterie of the political and economic elite linked to the BDP and their Asian and white business associates.

Editor's Comment
What about employees in private sector?

How can this be achieved when there already is little care about the working conditions of those within the private sector employ?For a long time, private sector employees have been neglected by their employers, not because they cannot do better to care for them, but because they take advantage of government's laxity when it comes to protecting and advocating for public sector employees, giving the cue to employers within the private sector...

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