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Ethics, whistleblowing and the fight against corruption in Botswana: A journalistĺs perspective

DCEC headquarters
Last Thursday, the University of Botswana in conjunction with the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime, held a symposium under the theme, ĹUnited against corruption, peace and securityĺ ahead of the International Anti Corruption Day, which was observed on December 9 world-wide. In this abridged version of his presentation, TITUS MBUYA*, gives his perspective on the countryĺs performance in its fight against the scourge of corruption

Needless to say, the last 10 years have been very difficult and trying for Botswana. On the economic front there was the global economic meltdown, the effects of which we are still reeling from, as it is evident from the slowed rate of economic growth. We continued to grapple with the triple challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequality. And just over 12 months ago we saw the closure of BCL Mine in Selebi-Phikwe which sent shock waves through the nation as 5,000 of our compatriots lost their jobs.

Most importantly, over the last 10 years, we saw a systematic hollowing out of state oversight institutions. Parliament became a rubber stamp of the Executive. The DCEC lost its mojo as a robust corruption busting body that it was promising to be at its inception. The office of the Ombudsman became a laughing stock as its rulings are persistently ignored. And the Directorate of Public Prosecution (DPP) was emasculated as a result of being captured by the Executive.

As for the DIS, its proclivity to be rogue is now on steroids. Perhaps, the judiciary is the only branch of the state that still inspires some confidence among our people as being independent although increasingly we are seeing signs of interference and meddling by the Executive Office.

This is the environment that as a nation we find ourselves in. It is an environment that breeds a sense of cynicism, frustration and haplessness within citizens because they can see wrongdoing being committed on a daily basis but no visible action is taken, especially when the perpetrators of such actions are politically connected or are members of the ruling elite. It is because of this culture of impunity that is now so pervasive in our society that our people are just about to give up on state institutions that have been created to enforce the law.

It makes the ordinary people even more distraught and despondent when they see the long arm of the law dealing brutally with those who commit petty crimes just because they are lesser mortals while the rich and powerful get away with murder. The impression has been created out there that there are two sets of laws that apply depending on one’s station in life. The view that is widely held by the ordinary person in the street that the ruling elite can do what they like without any consequences is the one factor that has eroded the people’s trust and confidence in oversight institutions like the DIS, DCEC, Ombudsman, etc.


Ethics Infrastructure

The organisers of the symposium asked me to speak on the co-relationship between ethics and whistle blowing. The dictionary meaning of ethics is “Moral principles that govern a person’s behaviour or the conducting of an activity. It includes values, ethos, creed, rules of conduct, standards (of behaviour), virtues, dictates of conscience.” So ethics is concerned with distinguishing between good and evil in the world, and between right and wrong in human actions.

To instill moral consciousness and awareness among employees, be it in the private sector or civil service, but also the general public, there has to be some semblance of an ethical infrastructure in place. First and foremost, there has to be guidance, provided by strong commitment from political leadership. In the absence of sustained political commitment to ethical behaviour in the administration, efforts to encourage such behaviour will be in vain.

The second element of this infrastructure is management, which can be realised through coordinated public service conditions, management policies and practices. And lastly, control, which is assured primarily through a legal framework that enables independent investigation and prosecution, effective accountability and control mechanisms, transparency, public involvement and scrutiny.


What has ethics to do with whistleblowing?

Whistle blowing and ethics are related to each other because one represents a person’s understanding, at a deep level, that an action his or her organisation is taking is harmful - or detracts from the common good. Whistleblowers are willing to stand up, sometimes at great cost to themselves, and shed the light of truth into the dark corners where governments and corporations operate in secret.


Anti-corruption legal framework in Botswana

Like many countries on the continent, Botswana has created bodies, through acts of Parliament, which are meant to assist in fighting corruption. Following a spate of scandals exposed by the press involving senior politicians and civil servants in the early 1990’s, the Corruption and Economic Crime Act was passed in 1994 (amended 2013). The Act created the DCEC, which is tasked with investigating and preventing corruption. In 2000 the Proceeds of Serious Crime Act was passed by Parliament. The Act extended DCEC mandate to include investigation of money laundering.

In 2009

the Financial Intelligence Act created the Financial Intelligence Agency (FIA). The Agency became operational in 2011. It was tasked with monitoring suspicious financial activity including money laundering. All banks are legally required to report suspicious and unusual financial transactions to the Agency.

There is also the Office of the Auditor General (OAG). The OAG is tasked with making sure that money is not being misappropriated and that funds given to departments are spent in an efficient and effective way. Last but not least, there is the Whistle blowing Act of 2016. The aim of the Act is to encourage people to report possible practices of corruption, and hence whistleblowers must be protected from possible victimisation.

At face value, therefore, there appears to be sufficient infrastructure in place to mitigate the scourge of corruption. However, as stated above, most of the public institutions that are there are dysfunctional mainly due to political interference. This is a common phenomenon in Africa, where such institutions are created to pacify the international community, and to project our countries as being democratic and open, when in actual fact the same officials who put these institutions in place either ignore them or skirt their decisions.

Having access to power, (a small) elite has opportunities to significantly influence the State’s decision-making processes to their own advantage. They also have the ability to stifle anyone that attempts to emulate them, by using the laws put in place to neutralise them. (Sebudubudu, 2014).


Government Enclave: a crime scene

You may wonder why throughout this paper I keep on saying there is a sense in which the common Motswana feels hapless because of the culture of impunity that pervades our society especially regarding crimes committed by members of the political class and their friends. The use of patronage in Botswana is high at central government level. (Sebudubudu, 2014). These patronage networks, according to Sebudubudu, cut across all institutions as relatives and friends of politicians, leaders of institutions such as the army, local government and key private sector businesses, have their snouts in the trough.

Week in week out we are bombarded by the press with graphic details of corruption taking place in the Government Enclave, but no visible action is taken. The Government Enclave, in my respectful opinion, is a crime scene that should be cordoned off with police yellow tape, and thorough investigations must be instituted as a matter of urgency. Culprits must be apprehended and made to rot in jail.

Millions, if not billions of pula of Batswana tax have disappeared without trace in the Government Enclave through fraudulent tender processes and sheer graft. Very senior people in the civil service and the political leadership are implicated in these scandals but no one raises a finger. We are told the DCEC has investigated some of these crimes and has since referred the dockets to the DPP. Is it not curious that the last time a prominent person prosecuted by the DPP was during the tenure of the late Leonard Sechele? The DPP is simply not there in the eyes of an ordinary Motswana as far as fighting corruption is concerned.


The effects of corruption on society are well documented. Politically, it represents an obstacle to democracy and the rule of law. Economically it depletes a country’s wealth, often directing it to corrupt officials’ pockets and, at its core, it puts an imbalance in the way that business is done, enabling those who practice corruption to win. Corruption costs people freedoms, health and human rights and, in the worst cases, their lives.

When all has been said and done, for any organisation or government to effectively deal with the problem of corruption, it is important for the leadership to set the right tone. It does that, not just by making pronouncements against corruption, but by the leadership itself being beyond reproach and being seen and perceived as such by either their employees (in the case of the private sector) or civil servants (in the case of government).

Creating a culture of integrity and openness - where ethical dilemmas arising from doing business in corruption hotspots are discussed, and employees feel supported to do the right thing - is a powerful way to help mitigate against the risk of an ethical lapse. The culture of an organisation is ultimately set by people at the top. Leaders who regularly talk about ethical issues, make an effort to support staff to uphold ethical standards and behave in an open and transparent way, send the message to all employees, and to the wider world, that the fight against corruption is taken seriously.

*Titus Mbuya is the Managing Director of Dikgang Publishing Company

Opinion & Analysis

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