No nation can progress if it squanders its resources recklessly. No nation can realise its best potential if resources disappear without account or when its best minds and hands are not put to good use. Unfortunately, corruption does exactly that.
Corruption, therefore, is a cancer, a thief that steals away our potential to build a great economy that generates high paying jobs for the majority of our people. And, more telling, corruption is a crime against the poor.
There is no substitute to a collective of men and women of integrity, who hold jealously to a value system of integrity, decency, honesty, transparency, accountability and the respect of the sanctity of human life.
Every nation deserves to be led by a calibre of such leaders, with whom it is always possible to bring the best out of a nation. We know that it is not always possible to have such leaders elected, or to have them step forward for political office, or to have such leaders sustain their integrity over long period on the field of power.
History is replete with evidence on how men and women of integrity are able to lift entire nations from a place of hopeless to great fortune. Often, some are tempted.
And this is the reason why we as a nation have the moral obligation to build strong institutions that can act as safeguards against corrupt practice, strong institutions inspired by laws and processes that promote transparency, fairness and accountability.
So, we need more than just good men and women to realise our full potential as a country, we need strong institutions, we need laws, we need processes and we need a culture to inculcate fairness, decency, honesty, transparency, accountability and the respect of the sanctity of the human life.
Why is corruption, or this Bill (Declaration of Assets and Liabilities Bill No 12 of 2019), of immense importance here and now, for this nation and in this generation? It is important because we have lost billions in recent years and I have proffered an estimation of tens of billions lost over the last 10 years due to nepotism, bad workmanship, fraud and outright theft.
This quantum of money is adequate, if deployed wisely, to transform the economy of our nation, and uplift the lives of many that currently wallow in poverty.
It’s fair to say we are almost a lost generation. A generation that has squandered the opportunity to prosper.
We have squandered the opportunity to become the paragon of prosperity and nation-building.
We have lost the opportunity to create high paying jobs for the majority, we have lost the opportunity to care more for the elderly, people living with disabilities, we have lost the opportunity to give each citizen that piece of land for at least a home, and we have almost lost the opportunity to bring the best out of our young - precisely because of unethical leadership.
And so how are we in Botswana? Do we have a leadership collective of men and women of integrity? The people in the streets say no. Do we have the framework, the laws, the processes and culture that promote fairness and integrity? Many say no, we are far from that.
What they agree on is that we do have inadequate institutions, sporadic laws, and instruments to combat corruption. We are lacking in many respects and the bill (No 12 of 2019) does not bridge this gap, it fails on many fronts, it does not go offer enough to combat corruption and thus promote clean governance.
There are many ways to build an eco-system that promotes clean governance, there is no one size fits all.
There are those who believe the focus should be on transparency and accountability, others focus on the monitoring of wealth of those in power and yet others pay close attention to inculcating a culture of positive ethics and building a culture of good conduct; some believe in the harsh punishment of those who are convicted of corruption crimes. There are those who balance all these approaches.
In a sense, the building of an eco-system that encourages and nourishes clean governance must meet all these tests (transparency/accountability, wealth monitoring, ethics/good conduct promotion, strong punishment for corruption).
We believe Botswana’s current system does not pass any of these tests even with the introduction of the assets and liabilities bill, which now Parliament is seized with.
The introduction of this bill as is will not bring any change to Botswana. It will not cause our governance system to be cleaner. It will not discourage corruption.
At best, the proposed bill is tailored to be a wealth monitoring tool, but even so the DCEC which the bill identifies as the administrator of the bill is not independent enough from the Executive to provide rigorous and unbiased assessments of potential wealth anomalies.
We do not see how the current DCEC would give a public report that is damaging to cabinet ministers. Besides the law does not provide for such reports, which is a gross omission.
Moreover, the law does not provide for the publication of declarations, in any form by the administrator, and so there are serious doubts about how much more this law makes office bearers more accountable, or the system more transparent.
The law is relatively silent or weak on sanctions. There law is silent in defining or providing content on what exactly constitutes conflicts of interest nor does it make reference to existence of related laws that deal with conflict of interest.
This means the law continues to allow the grey areas around what exactly constitutes compliance to ethics and good conduct. It is clear that this law is far from being a meaningful ingredient to building a clean Botswana.
We need a Botswana that acknowledges and asserts the principles of selflessness, integrity, objectivity, openness, accountability, and leadership as vital ingredients to the building of a Clean Government.
These are ideals we must demand, now and here. These are ideals from which we cannot afford to back down. These are ideals we must fight for, ideals that will help lift our nation and people to be that paragon of prosperity and nation-building.
Quoting the late Kofi Annan at an anti-corruption conference for the United Nations in Peru: “Corruption is a curse and an attack on the foundations of any civilised society. It undermines morality, democracy, good governance and the rule of law. It swallows resources needed for development. And it is an affront to people who bring high ethical standards to their work and dealings with their fellow human beings and who expect the same in return, in the time-honoured tradition of ‘do unto others’. Corruption is evil and insidious and must be opposed at every turn.”
Combating corruption “includes measures aimed at the disclosure by public officials of assets and liabilities; steps to introduce or strengthen independent auditing institutions; and measures to ensure free competition, including anti-trust regulations.”
A recent study by the United Nations Development Programme found that corruption can be especially brutal to the poor, since they are the weakest and the least able to pay bribes for government services and for access to market opportunities. We must eradicate this affliction, for it is that -- a disease, a symptom of something gone terribly wrong in the management of the state. No country is immune from corruption, and many are especially vulnerable because of their weak laws and institutions. We believe that what Botswana need if we are serious about a clean Government, is a complete overhaul of our government system, including aspects relating to inclusivity, and checks and balances.
In the new Botswana, we intend to overhaul our system in many ways, and some of those changes that we believe should sustain and inculcate a culture of “A clean Government” include, that we plan to make oversight institutions more independent, free from the current grip that the executive exercises over them (Auditor General, the DCEC, the Ombudsmen, Parliament); and we intend to enhance the protection of whistle-blowers.
Our approach to building a clean Government necessarily entails the establishment of an Integrity/Ethics Commission to provide oversight to play the various roles including the verification of assets declared, the monitoring of Parliamentary and institutional activities to ensure impartiality, recommendation of sanctions, advisory to office bearers -, Speaker and President on individual compliance, publication of summarised declarations and reports to Parliament on state of ethics and integrity in our Governance system.
When we do set in motion such an institution, it would be a manifestation of the enactment of basic laws that we believe we need as part of building an eco-system for a clean Government.
Such a law is much more than just an assets and liabilities law, it is a comprehensive law that, yes, includes the provisions of declarations for key office bearers in Parliament, but also a framework for ethics in our system, defining or identifying our principles, providing content around those ethics - particularly conflicts of interests, providing a regulatory framework (or regulation mechanisms) for managing and reporting on the conflicts of interests, and means to inculcate a culture of good conduct and ethics.
We know that the Canadians have demonstrated seriousness in the management of conflicts of interests. Britain depends mostly on the self-regulation of the House of Commons through their standing orders and internal committee on Ethics.
Our approach also is one that ensures that the public enjoys at least some access to the declarations, and our envisaged laws entail provisions for the Commissioner making such summarised information available. We believe the declaration of assets and liabilities should be a pre-prerequisite to serve in public office, and the laws as we envisage them should cover former office bearers who left office within in the previous two or three years. Office bearers should be at a minimum include Members of Parliament, Members of the Judiciary, councillors, CEOs and other executives of parastatals, Permanent Secretaries and key officers involved in procurement. And so, we believe our approach to building an eco-system for a clean Government passes all the tests.
There’s no telling why world-renowned poet and playwright, William Shakespeare, touted as the greatest writer in the English language, focused his talents on depicting the different kinds of corruption, in all of his work. Perhaps it was for people to see themselves. Perhaps it was to warn every one of the dangers lurking in the world; to warn them of the level of corrosion that corruption leaves in its wake. We don’t know why he chose to explore the theme of corruption and centralised it as extensively he did in his works.
What we do know is that, corruption hinders good governance and decays the fabric of society. It is an obstacle to sustainable development and leaves little room for justice to prevail. Regrettably, unlike Shakespeare, I did not produce a drama or play to rollout for you, so that the grimness of corruption might penetrate the minds more effectively.
But if anyone is not familiar with Hamlet, throughout the play, a corrupting disease plagues Denmark and the people within it. “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark,” the famous saying goes. Here, he was talking about Denmark’s relationship with Norway, but on the symbolic level he was summing up the character named Claudius’ corrupting effect on the kingdom which is intensified by his unpunished crime. Claudius’ corrupt actions carry him to the throne and pollute the people around him causing chaos, sorrow and death. The image of rotting along with its stench permeating far and wide symbolises the infectious quality of corruption, which led to the death of all three of the main characters. And Hamlet himself had to die: there was no way around it. He had drawn all the corruption on to himself and, with his death, destroyed it. Through a morally dubious situation, he was able to wrest an honourable death, and the chance of stability for the future of his country.
However, there’s a constant reminder of the pervading atmosphere of decay in the play. The rottenness in the state of Denmark was reflected everywhere in images of ill health, weeds overwhelming healthy plants, everything decaying and rotting, and poison killing wholesome things.
So, we don’t know why this endlessly talented man was incensed with this issue of corruption, but we know that his depiction of human nature revealed the corruption that infects human beings; corruption linked to power, in which Kings and other powerful figures abuse their position, as well as the ways in which ambitious men and women plot to gain power, by illegitimate means.
That might very well be all the reasons he needed to explore and expose corruption to the people of the world.
Before we even have to convict people for crimes, our focus as a society, should be on inculcating a culture of fairness, decency, transparency, accountability and honesty, before it is too late. And if you won’t take my word for it, I suggest you take Shakespeare’s.
Our best chance for a Clean Government is when we always ensure that we find men and women of integrity, men and women with a fear of God - ensure we cultivate them, send them forward as our servant leaders as a nation. Love thyself last,
cherish those hearts that hate thee; Corruption wins not more than honesty.
*A speech by Ndaba Gaolathe of the Alliance for Progressives (AP), July 11, 2019, Ave Maria Hall, Gaborone