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Home » News » General » Augustine rips into toothless Ombudsman

Augustine rips into toothless Ombudsman

Publishing Date : 02 October, 2017

Author : UTLWANANG GASENNELWE

With just a year into the office, Ombudsman Augustine Makgonatsotlhe is already firing shots at his office and calling for rigorous transformation.


In an exclusive interview with WeekendPost this week the Ombudsman fired from the hip, saying that the office was in dire need of transformation; has to be given more powers; more resources and most importantly it should be given space to be totally independent.

 

“In an ideal situation, an institution of this nature (Ombudsman) should be completely independent; and that means legally independent, operationally independent, and even in terms of budgets, it should be divorced from the executive; so that at the end of the day they get the budget from parliament and also report directly to parliament with no connections to the executive,” Makgonatsotlhe pointed out.


He continued: “you know at the moment we are not completely independent. We are only independent in as far as operations or investigations of cases are concerned. Otherwise we rely on public service for everything including personnel, resources so to the extent that in other peoples’ eyes we are completely not independent,” the Ombudsman told WeekendPost. He also pointed out that the country is still confined to the “classical ombudsman” model which only makes recommendations which are not binding.


“I make recommendations in terms of our Ombudsman Act and that is not binding unlike in other countries like South Africa where it is very clear in their constitution that the decisions of the Public Protector are binding.” He added that in that case you cannot ignore them; it is either you comply or when you are dissatisfied with the decision you have to go to court and ask for judicial review.  “That’s why in Botswana people say the ombudsman is a toothless bulldog,” he lashed out.


The distinguished qualified legal practitioner also highlighted that the office of the Ombudsman being directly linked with the executive takes away its credibility. He said the office can therefore not be accredited to other international respected bodies like the United Nations body for human rights. A number of countries he said have adopted the modern model of the office of Ombudsman being South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Kenya, Tanzania, and Ghana.

 

The modern model gives the ombudsman more powers and multiple mandates that are not only confined to maladministration like it is in Botswana. “Personally, my belief is that we should go that route. But I am not the one to change the law. It is parliament with its wisdom to decide to change the law. They can move to that.”

Makgonatsotlhe met Thuli Madonsela to benchmark

Makgonatsotlhe is left with only three years of the four year contract awarded him by President Lt. Gen. Seretse Khama Ian Khama. He says he is still settling in the office and part of that being him visiting South Africa’s ex Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela.
“I had the opportunity to go to her office and see how they do their investigations. They are not terribly different from the way we are doing our investigations because the Ombudsman and the Public Protector are similar in a way, even though in South Africa they have a bigger mandate than we have in Botswana.”


He said he also managed to see how they interact with other governance institutions like human rights commission as all these institutions are established under chapter 9 of South African constitution. The institutions, he said, are specifically mandated to strengthen the constitutional democracy of South Africa. Makgonatsotlhe said that in South Africa, the Public Protector just investigate maladministration but also investigates corruption and issues of unethical conduct of leadership under the Executive Members Ethics Act which empowers him/her to investigate any unethical conduct done by any member of the executive.


“The thing with them is that they don’t have a Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) like we have in Botswana; they only deal with a Public Protector.” While he said Botswana has a human rights commission housed under the office of the ombudsman, Makgonatsotlhe cautioned that in an ideal situation a human rights commission has to be a standalone, like in South Africa. “This has created problems in many countries because if you have many mandates its highly likely that one will suffer.”

The issue of his recommendation of Btv biasness


In relation to the report he recently released after carrying out investigations on behalf of Botswana National Front Vice President Prince Dibeela, he says he believes he carried the matter fairly and professionally in terms of the law. He justified his recommendation which stated that Btv was biased against opposition parties in favour of ruling Botswana Democratic Party saying his office investigates all complaints as long as the ombudsman has a jurisdiction on them.  “And we do that with no fear or favour. That is the job. I mean it must be done appropriately as we have been assigned to do.”


When asked if it is not likely that the political leadership may feel hard done by his recommendations, and maybe have a problem with it he said “then it is not our problem. It doesn’t bother me at all. For as long as my conscience is clear on the matter. I would have done what I was supposed to do.” The long serving Public Servants also emphasized that it gives logic that decisions or recommendations of the ombudsman should be binding so that the body is taken seriously.

 

“We should ensure that when it has taken the decision, those decisions are complied with; if it doesn’t it will be as if those decisions were never made. The office should be strengthened to have more meaning to Batswana and make an impact in the governance and administration of the country.”


He added: “The authorities can decide to comply or not as it stands. Like what I said before that’s where really the problem is, they are not forced to comply by the law.”


However he still believes that the ombudsman has moral authority. So for the fact that they have created the office, it is logical also that whatever the decision it comes with should be complied with or else that will have a negative effect on the governance of the country. He continued: “Notwithstanding, if there is no compliance, what should happen is that, the ombudsman should do a special report on that same matter which he has to submit to parliament to tell them I have done this, I came to this conclusion and I made this recommendations but there has been no compliance. Then it will be up to parliament to see what to do.”  


Makgonatsotlhe on DCEC, IEC, Auditor General, Parliament


Makgonatsotlhe also says he wants to see the strengthening of all governance institutions particularly Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC), Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), the Auditor General and Parliament.
He said these are institutions that to him are very critical to strengthening democracy and governance. “When we have those institutions in a way that spill off when things are not running properly the economy will grow because investors will come and they will be sure of their investments. The rule of law will flourish when proper governance is there. The investors want to go to a place which is very safe and properly run and they are sure that they are protected and their investments are also protected that is my parting shot,” he said.


Meanwhile Leader of opposition and Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) President Duma Boko has repeatedly criticized the Ombudsman together with DCEC, IEC, Directorate on Intelligence and Security Services (DISS) saying in their current form they are useless and therefore call for totally disbanding and overhauling that may be effected when his party takes office.

 

The office of the Ombudsman came into existence around December 1997 after the law establishing the office was promulgated in 1995 and later assented by the then President Sir Ketumile Masire who is now late. The late Lethebe Amos Maine was the country’s first ombudsman and the second was Ofentse Lepodise (also late) while the third was Festinah Bakwena, being the incumbent, Makgonatsotlhe is the fourth.

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