Botswana Is As Corrupt As The Next African State

Corruption is a cancer, which even amputation cannot kill. It is a cancer that eats the country from within and only shows its ugly nature when the system is on its knees. It has eaten through many systems, especially in the mineral rich yet extremely poor African countries.

We are living that cancer; recent revelations show that Botswana, which for decades hid under the cover of the Western praise, is after all an African country.

The arrests last year, and prosecution, as well as on-going investigations against one of the richest youths, Bakang Seretse and co-conspirators in the National Petroleum Fund looting, as well as that of the former spy boss, Isaac Kgosi, is just a crack in the massive iceberg the ship is about to collide with. The big whale, not the fish is still swimming underneath.

For far too long the world, Western governments and their institutions, preferred to see no evil and hear no evil against Botswana. Botswana for many decades of self-rule was hailed the shining example of democracy, and organisations such Transparency International, states funded institutions as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, seemed to look the other way when corruption was taking root and eating our national institutions from inside. Even when ordinary Batswana were raising concerns about growing corrupt activities within state departments and parastatals, the world stayed mute.

It will be recalled that it was in the 1990s, when the then President Sir Ketumile Masire instituted a commission of enquiry into Botswana Housing Corporation (BHC), whose report is still to be made officially public. The BHC scandal led to most intriguing developments; the million pula worth of ‘BHC hole’, the mysterious accident that claimed the life of the BHC chief, Joseph Letsholo, and caught in the web was Botswana Democratic Party presidential hopeful, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, the then permanent secretary in the housing ministry.  At the conclusion of the inquiry, with talk of suing the government, Venson-Moitoi took off to the new South Africa, and landed a job in the Cape Peninsula. She returned to politics years later.

The release of this enquiry among the many others, which the government has sat on, could help us understand just how deep we are in the rot. While the 10 years of Ian Khama regime, could be said to have been the worst in the looting of the country’s resources, Botswana has long been deep in the dirt. Corruption in our system, as is always the case, runs at every level – from procurement officers in the tender committees, to the boards up to the top. When Khama’s administration allowed civil servants to run businesses, the sad reality is that corruption took root in most government departments.

In the transport department there have been reports of permit applications of deserving public transport operators being declined and instead officers granting them to their bogus companies, and in turn renting the permits out. A senior government employee once said to me that “trouble with you journalists is that you believe it is only politicians who are corrupt, but it is down there in our offices…” He explained that the former Attorney General, Dr Athalia Molokomme once got her officers to investigate the level of looting and corrupt activities in government departments, and what was uncovered left them perplexed. The report, which will be helpful if it were to come out, revealed that in instances where tenders do not go before the tender boards, some of the officers sitting in these lower tender committees, would circulate the tenders within their own companies, or those belonging to friends and family members. They will also inflate the prices; for instance a small box of milk, which goes for P10 at a semausu, will be cost at P100 to the government department.

We have always heard whispers of land boards employees and members allocating themselves many plots and then selling them off to desperate land seekers who had been on waiting lists for decades.

But then those lower end corrupt officers are nothing compared to highly placed politicians and filthy rich business people. The recent high profile investigations, which have uncovered looting running into millions if not billions of pula, shows just how Botswana is no different from Nigeria, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Kenya or any other African country whose leaders have stolen and stashed state resources in their personal accounts in the financial havens of Switzerland and the Canaan Islands.

We should recall a report a few years back implicating one of our celebrated Judges, to be among those with stashed loot in the tax haven Caribbean islands.  And as I have already alluded, looting is not new on street Botswana.

Back in the 1990s, we will recall the Kgabo land commission on Mogoditshane land grab, forcing the then Vice President, the late Peter Mmusi, and then Minister Daniel Kwelagobe to step down so that the late Englishman Kgabo could do his work. It was also during the Masire administration that big cats dipped into the National Development Bank, to finance their failing and failed, farms.

Cattle barons nearly brought down our bank.  If public acts and pronunciations to uproot corruption by President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s administration, are not electioneering gimmicks, then we are still going to live in a perpetual state of amazement as the Khama era, I suspect really left us dry and out.

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