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Should politicians steer clear of government tenders?

LEBOGANG MOSIKARE
Radisigo PIC: KEOAGILE BONANG
The Mayor of Francistown Godisang Radisigo recently won a tender to supply COVID-19 relief food from the Francistown City Council (FCC).   The move set off a political firestorm with accusations that he may have used his position at the municipality to win the tender. Mmegi Staffer LEBOGANG MOSIKARE reports  

FRANCISTOWN: After Radisigo won the tender; his story became an instant sensation in the public, especially on social media because of his high profile public position.  

A million pula question is whether it is not high time that Members of Parliament (MPs) and Councillors across the political party divide recuse themselves from participating in government tenders in order to curtail possible cases of corruption. 

However, Radisigo ended up recusing himself from carrying out the tender because of what he called “negative reports in print and social media insinuating that he may have used his position to win the tender”. 

The plight of Radisigo even reached the hallowed halls of Parliament recently during its second sitting to debate the gradual lifting of the State of Emergency. 

During that sitting, the Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Eric Molale, categorically stated that Francistown’s number one citizen did not flout any laws to win the tender. 

Molale even went further than that. He stated that even some opposition councillors, activists and a former MP in Francistown that he did not name have also won tenders to supply food and other necessities in Francistown during the lockdown. 

Molale’s pronouncement did not please the opposition, leaving them with only one option to ventilate their concerns, which they regard as serious and urgent; tabling a motion in the July sitting of Parliament barring MPs and councillors from winning tenders from the State and its parastatals.  The position that Radisigo found himself in is not new in Botswana. To the uninitiated, since the advent of democracy in Botswana, politicians, especially those from the ruling BDP, have been accused of using their positions to amass wealth through winning tenders from government entities and parastatal organisations.  The BDP detractors are of the opinion that its activists who win tenders donate part of the money to the party.  They believe that the money would be used to sponsor the BDP during future electoral activities like campaigns on the eve of elections much to the detriment of opposition parties, which don’t have thick financial muscles to match it.  The rumour mill has in the past, and is even now going into overdrive with some suggesting that some current

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and former BDP MPs and councillors are rich because they have won multiple lucrative tenders from the government over a long period of time.  Be that as it may, pending the tabling and success of a motion barring politicians from winning government tenders because they are in some instances believed to have inside information about the tenders, the matter is for now cut and dry.  This has brought into sharp focus the debate whether sitting politicians from across the political divide (MPs and councillors) should participate in the public tendering processes or not anew.  The Leader of Opposition (LoO) in Parliament, Dumelang Saleshando, said that the move to table a motion in Parliament barring sitting MPs and councillors from across the political divide from participating in public tenders in order to reduce cases of corruption in procurement in future is “certainly worth looking into”.  A lecturer from the University of Botswana UB, Dr Kebapetse Lotshwao canvassed by this publication to understand this political kerfuffle said: “Since there is currently no law barring the participation of MPs and councillors in the tendering process, we can’t say that what they are doing is illegal”.  He however, indicated that it’s unethical particularly where they have authority or influence over those distributing tenders. Adding that this can breed corruption.   “A solution to the problem would be to have strong accountability mechanisms that would detect, expose and punish those who behave in an unethical manner, for example, inside trading,” he noted. 

A recent survey by Afrobarometer concerning the issue in question say that Batswana overwhelmingly say that politicians and senior civil servants should be barred from participating in public tenders. 

“An overwhelming majority (80%) of Batswana say that politicians and senior public servants should be barred from participating in public tenders in order to reduce corruption in government procurement. Half (50%) of Batswana think that the level of corruption in the country has increased over the past 12 months. Seven in 10 citizens (70%) say that people risk retaliation or other negative consequences if they report corruption to the authorities. Fewer than three in 10 (27%) say they can report corruption without fear,” said the survey.



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