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Let’s create a robust national integrity system for Botswana

AUGUSTINE N. MAKGONATSOTLHE

In the past ten years Botswana has experienced a steady decline in its governance standards.  A corruption perception report by Transparency International shows a slip from 2008 to 2017.  Botswana is now fifth in the Mo Ibrahim Index of Governance in Africa, down from second in 2014.  The country has also shown a decline in some governance indicators by other international rating agencies.  This state of affairs should neither surprise nor shock us but rather make us take stock and re-assess the governance situation in our country.

We are constantly, on a daily basis, confronted with reports in the print and social media of serious allegations of corruption, impropriety and abuse of office by individuals in positions of authority and power.  These reports are met with disbelief as nothing is seemingly done against the alleged perpetrators.  On the face of it, only a few of those alleged to have committed these misdemeanors are thoroughly investigated, prosecuted and/or convicted.  Investigations into these alleged transgressions go on forever with no prosecution and/or conviction in sight.  

Members of the public are up in arms, accusing those who are mandated by law to investigate and prosecute these individuals of ineptitude, bias, toothlessness and outright “capture” by political and business interests.  Members of the public are asking questions such as: why is it that none of the “big men” who are alleged to have been involved in corrupt practices are prosecuted and convicted? 

why is it that our leaders, at every public gathering, make solemn platitudes about their commitment to fight corruption, impropriety and abuse of office, but no serious action is taken?  Why is it that we see “petty criminals” being paraded on Btv daily, accused of petty theft, stock theft, possession of marijuana, etc and not the “big men” who are alleged to have stolen public servants pensions, looting of NPF and funds allocated to poverty alleviation? Are the institutions mandated to fight corruption and malfeasance not working against the interests of the people by protecting these alleged criminals?  

When ordinary people ask the above questions, you realize how low the level of trust and confidence they have in our institutions.  Therefore, if correct measures are not urgently put in place to address the public’s lack of trust and confidence in our institutions our democracy, governance and the rule of law are in serious danger.

In order to address the above concerns of our people it is time for us to reassess the checks and balances that we have put in place to limit situations in which corruption, impropriety, conflict of interest and abuse of office may thrive and have a negative impact on our society.  By re-assessing our institutions, systems and procedures that are meant to safeguard our society against these social ills, we endeavor to come up with better and more sophisticated institutions to fight corruption, maladministration and abuse of office.  The fight against corruption cannot be the sole preserve of anti-corruption agencies alone, but needs active collaboration between government, the private sector, civil society and all other sectors of society.  

Experience demonstrates that no single approach to curbing corruption is likely to be effective.  A range of strategies, working together in an integrated fashion, is more likely to bear success.  These strategies must include measures that reduce the opportunity for and benefit of corruption, increase the likelihood of detection and punishment of transgressors.  First, appropriate administrative, financial and economic reforms can minimize the opportunities of corruption and secondly, building capacity to strengthen the institutions, i.e the media, parliament, watchdog agencies and the judiciary, amongst others, would raise public awareness about corrupt behavior and its costs and/or investigate and punish incidences of bad behavior.

The above measures are designed as part of a national effort to reduce corruption in the public sector and they constitute what is normally referred to as national integrity system.  The national integrity system creates a system of checks and balances that limit situations in which conflicts of interest and inappropriate behaviour may arise and involves both prevention and penalty.  This integrity system is anchored on the following eight pillars: political will, administrative reforms, watchdog agencies, parliament, the judiciary, public awareness and involvement, the media and the public sector.

There has to be a political will to stamp out corruption and prevent its manifestation. Successful anti-corruption initiatives require a visionary leader, or “champion” who recognizes the high cost of corruption on the economy and the well-being of citizens.  Mere platitudes about the fight against corruption are not enough but more concrete action is absolutely necessary.  Creating popular opposition to corruption is a function of the political leadership’s willingness to make corruption an issue and ensure that incidences of corruption are fully investigated and perpetrators prosecuted irrespective of their positions in society.

Legal and administrative measures should be put in place to minimize corruption within the public service.  Good administrative practices and regulations governing conflict of interest in the public service are directed at maintaining an administrative system that protects public decision making process. Curbing corruption requires a clear ethical commitment by political leaders and senior public officials.  This is usually achieved by the establishment of a public sector code of ethics which sets out the ethics that should guide those in management and leadership positions.  The code acts as a reminder to public officials of their responsibilities to the public.

The adoption and implementation of Leadership Ethical Codes ensures that leaders account for their unethical conduct.  These leadership codes have been put to good use in a number of countries e.g Republic of South Africa and Rwanda, to enforce integrity and accountability in public administration. It is also common nowadays to require all persons in position of authority/influence to periodically declare their income, assets and liabilities to maintain integrity in the public sector.  In this respect, the long awaited law on the declaration of assets in this country is well overdue.

Watchdog agencies such as the DCEC, Ombudsman, and the Office of the Auditor General should be adequately resourced and afforded the space to execute their mandates without fear, favour or prejudice.  By exercising oversight on the executive branch, a function that they perform on behalf of the legislature, these institutions reinforce transparency, accountability and financial integrity in the public sector.  For these institutions to perform optimally, they should also enjoy some form of arms-length or independent relationship with the government and not be part of the public service.

Parliament should be afforded the necessary space to fully exercise its oversight role on the executive arm of government.  Parliament exercises an oversight role on the executive branch of government in the development and implementation of legislation, policies and programs.  Therefore, the executive arm of government should guarantee the independence of Parliament and respect the legitimate role of the opposition in Parliament.  Moreover, Parliament and its committees should be adequately resourced and supported with independent professional staff and not be made to rely on government officials.

The judiciary must insist on high ethical standards within its own ranks and jealously guard against the erosion of its independence and integrity.  The public must be confident that Judges are chosen solely on merit and for their individual ability and integrity. Allegations of impropriety, corruption or abuse of office against a sitting Judge has not only a damaging effect on the independence and integrity of the particular Judge, but also the entire judicial system. A judiciary that is not itself corrupt makes it possible to successfully prosecute corrupt officials. Therefore, it is imperative that both legal and administrative measures are put in place to speedily address issues of corruption and ethical lapses as and when they occur within the judiciary.

Public awareness and involvement of ordinary citizens is very critical in the fight against these social ills.  It is of utmost importance to enlist the support and cooperation of civil society and the general public in the fight against corruption.  They can play a useful role in developing and strengthening ethics and practice in the public sector; reducing public tolerance of corruption; making the unaccountably rich into figures of contempt rather than role models and encouraging citizens to actively report and provide evidence of corruption whenever it occurs. 

Many civil society organizations have a fundamental interest in achieving effective integrity system in our society.  There are principled individuals in business and the professions, religious leaders, the press and, most importantly, ordinary citizens who have to bear the brunt of corruption on a daily basis.

The media is a very important watchdog and a useful tool in the fight against corruption.  Through balanced and responsible reporting by journalists, a culture of freedom of the press develops, and this culture is the guarantor of the ability of the free press to be a watchdog against abuse by public officials.  

Effective freedom of information laws are required to guard against the executive branch of government concealing corruption, maladministration, incompetence and waste by doing things in secrecy. It is therefore, of utmost importance that the long awaited Freedom of Information law be passed by our Parliament as a matter of urgency.

The private sector is a critical partner in the fight against corruption.  In the private sector, professional bodies such as legal, accounting and engineering associations and organizations should insist on the observance of laid down procedures of public procurement and high standards of ethical conduct from their members. These eight pillars are interdependent and when working together in harmony create a robust national integrity system, an effective tool for curbing corruption, maladministration, and abuse of power in the public sector.  

The perception by members of the public that nothing is being done to curb corruption is a matter that should be seriously addressed as it has a serious effect of eroding the trust and confidence of the people in our institutions and government’s commitment to fight corruption.  A lack of trust and confidence by the people in our institutions and systems undermines and even destroys political stability. Therefore, we should continuously re-assess and recalibrate our system of checks and balances to enhance their efficiency and effectiveness.

In addressing this matter, our strategies should be anchored on the eight pillars which should be embedded in appropriate and sound financial and economic reforms.

Augustine N. Makgonatsotlhe is Botswana’s OMBUDSMAN

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Opinions

Can we cure ourselves from the cancer of corruption?

28th October 2020
DCEC DIRECTOR: Tymon Katholo

Bokani Lisa Motsu

“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.” Carl Sagan

Corruption is a heavy price to pay. The clean ones pay and suffer at the mercy of people who cannot have enough. They always want to eat and eat so selfishly like a bunch of ugly masked shrews. I hope God forgives me for ridiculing his creatures, but that mammal is so greedy. But corruption is not the new kid on the block, because it has always been everywhere.

This of course begs the question, why that is so? The common answer was and still is – abuse and misuse of power by those in power and weak institutions, disempowered to control the leaders. In 1996, the then President of The World Bank, James D. Wolfensohn named the ‘C-Word’ for the first time during an annual meeting of the Bretton Woods Institutions. A global fight against corruption started. Transparency International began its work. Internal and external audits mushroomed; commissions of inquiry followed and ever convoluted public tender procedures have become a bureaucratic nightmare to the private sector, trying to fight red tape.

The result is sobering corruption today is worse than it was 25 years ago. There is no denying that strong institutions help, but how does it come that in the annual Transparency International Ranking the same group of countries tend to be on the top while another group of countries, many African among them, tend to be on the bottom? Before one jumps to simple and seductive conclusions let us step back a moment.

Wolfensohn called corruption a cancer that destroys economies like a cancer destroys a body. A cancer is, simplified, good cells in a body gone bad, taking control of more and more good cells until the entire body is contaminated and eventually dies. So, let us look at the good cells of society first: they are family ties, clan and tribe affiliation, group cohesion, loyalty, empathy, reciprocity.

Most ordinary people like the reader of these lines or myself would claim to share such values. Once we ordinary people must make decisions, these good cells kick in: why should I hire a Mrs. Unknown, if I can hire my niece whose strengths and weaknesses I know? If I hire the niece, she will owe me and support my objectives.

Why should I purchase office furniture from that unknown company if I know that my friend’s business has good quality stuff? If I buy from him, he will make an extra effort to deliver his best and provide quality after sales service? So, why go through a convoluted tender process with uncertain outcome? In the unlikely case my friend does not perform as expected, I have many informal means to make him deliver, rather than going through a lengthy legal proceeding?

This sounds like common sense and natural and our private lives do work mostly that way and mostly quite well.

The problem is scale. Scale of power, scale of potential gains, scale of temptations, scale of risk. And who among us could throw the first stone were we in positions of power and claim not to succumb to the temptations of scale? Like in a body, cancer cells start growing out of proportion.

So, before we call out for new leaders – experience shows they are rarely better than the old ones – we need to look at ourselves first. But how easy is that? If I were the niece who gets the job through nepotism, why should I be overly critical? If I got a big furniture contract from a friend, why should I spill the beans? What right do I have to assume that, if I were a president or a minister or a corporate chief procurement officer I would not be tempted?

This is where we need to learn. What is useful, quick, efficient, and effective within a family or within a clan or a small community can become counterproductive and costly and destructive at larger corporate or national scale. Our empathy with small scale reciprocity easily permeates into complacency and complicity with large scale corruption and into an acquiescence with weak institutions to control it.

Our institutions can only be as strong as we wish them to be.

I was probably around ten years old and have always been that keen enthusiastic child that also liked to sing the favourite line of, ‘the world will become a better place.’  I would literally stand in front of a mirror and use my mom’s torch as a mic and sing along Michael Jackson’s hit song, ‘We are the world.’

Despite my horrible voice, I still believed in the message.  Few years later, my annoyance towards the world’s corrupt system wonders whether I was just too naïve. Few years later and I am still in doubt so as to whether I should go on blabbing that same old boring line. ‘The world is going to be a better place.’ The question is, when?

The answer is – as always: now.

This is pessimistic if not fatalistic – I challenge Sagan’s outlook with a paraphrased adage of unknown origin: Some people can be bamboozled all of the time, all people can be bamboozled some of the time, but never will all people be bamboozled all of the time.

We, the people are the only ones who can heal society from the cancer of corruption. We need to understand the temptation of scale and address it. We need to stop seeing ourselves just a victim of a disease that sleeps in all of us. We need to give power to the institutions that we have put in place to control corruption: parliaments, separation of power, the press, the ballot box. And sometimes we need to say as a niece – no, I do not want that job as a favour, I want it because I have proven to be better than other contenders.

It is going to be a struggle, because it will mean sacrifices, but sacrifices that we have chosen, not those imposed on us.

Let us start today.

*Bokani Lisa Motsu is a student at University of Botswana

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Opinions

Accounting Officers are out of touch with reality

19th October 2020

Parliament, the second arm of State through its parliamentary committees are one of Botswana’s most powerful mechanisms to ensure that government is held accountable at all times. The Accounting Officers are mostly Permanent Secretaries across government Ministries and Chief Executive Officers, Director Generals, Managing Directors of parastatals, state owned enterprises and Civil Society.

So parliament plays its oversight authority via the legislators sitting on a parliamentary committee and Accounting Officers sitting in the hot chair.  When left with no proper checks and balances, the Executive is prone to abuse the arrangement and so systematic oversight of the executive is usually carried out by parliamentary committees.  They track the work of various government departments and ministries, and conduct scrutiny into important aspects of their policy, direction and administration.

It is not rocket science that effective oversight requires that committees be totally independent and able to set their own agendas and have the power to summon ministers and top civil servants to appear and answer questions. Naturally, Accounting Officers are the highest ranking officials in the government hierarchy apart from cabinet Ministers and as such wield much power and influence in the performance of government.  To illustrate further, government performance is largely owed to the strategic and policy direction of top technocrats in various Ministries.

It is disheartening to point out that the recent parliament committees — as has been the case all over the years — has laid bare the incompetency, inadequacy and ineptitude of people bestowed with great responsibilities in public offices. To say that they are ineffective and inefficient sounds as an understatement. Some appear useless and hopeless when it comes to running the government despite the huge responsibility they possess.

If we were uncertain about the degree at which the Accounting Officers are incompetent, the ongoing parliament committees provide a glaring answer.  It is not an exaggeration to say that ordinary people on the streets have been held ransom by these technocrats who enjoy their air conditioned offices and relish being chauffeured around in luxurious BX SUV’s while the rest of the citizenry continue to suffer. Because of such high life the Accounting Officers seem to have, with time, they have gotten out of touch with the people they are supposed to serve.

An example; when appearing before the recent Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Office of the President Permanent Secretary, Thuso Ramodimoosi, looked reluctant to admit misuse of public funds. Although it is clear funds were misused, he looked unbothered when committee members grilled him over the P80 million Orapa House building that has since morphed into a white elephant for close to 10 successive years. To him, it seems it did not matter much and PAC members were worried for nothing.

On a separate day, another Accounting officer, Director of Public Service Management (DPSM), Naledi Mosalakatane, was not shy to reveal to PAC upon cross-examination that there exist more than 6 000 vacancies in government. Whatever reasons she gave as an excuse, they were not convincing and the committee looked sceptical too. She was faltering and seemed not to have a sense of urgency over the matter no matter how critical it is to the populace.

Botswana’s unemployment rate hoovers around 18 percent in a country where majority of the population is the youth, and the most affected by unemployment. It is still unclear why DPSM could underplay such a critical matter that may threaten the peace and stability of the country.
Accounting Officers clearly appear out of touch with the reality out there – if the PAC examinations are anything to go by.

Ideally the DPSM Director could be dropping the vacancy post digits while sourcing funds and setting timelines for the spaces to be filled as a matter of urgency so that the citizens get employed to feed their families and get out of unemployment and poverty ravaging the country.
The country should thank parliamentary committees such as PAC to expose these abnormalities and the behaviour of our leaders when in public office. How can a full Accounting Officer downplay the magnitude of the landless problem in Botswana and fail to come with direct solutions tailor made to provide Batswana with the land they desperately need?

Land is a life and death matter for some citizens, as we would know.

When Bonolo Khumotaka, the Accounting Officer in the Ministry of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services, whom as a top official probably with a lucrative pay too appears to be lacking sense of urgency as she is failing on her key mandate of working around the clock to award the citizens with land especially those who need it most like the marginalised.  If government purports they need P94 billion to service land to address the land crisis what is plan B for government? Are we going to accept it the way it is?

Government should wake up from its slumber and intervene to avoid the 30 years unnecessary waiting period in State land and 13 years in Tribal land.  Accounting Officers are custodians of government policy, they should ensure it is effective and serve its purpose. What we have been doing over the years, has proved that it is not effective, and clearly there is a need for change of direction.

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Opinions

Is it possible to make people part of your business resilience planning after the State of Public Emergency?

12th October 2020

THABO MAJOLA

His Excellency Dr Mokgweetsi EK Masisi, the President of the Republic of Botswana found it appropriate to invoke Section 17 (1) of the Constitution of the Republic of Botswana, using the powers vested in him to declare a State of Public Emergency starting from the 2nd April 2020 at midnight.

The constitutional provision under Section 17 (2b) only provided that such a declaration could be up to a maximum of 21 days. His Excellency further invoked Section 93 (1) to convene an extra- ordinary meeting of Parliament to have the opportunity to consult members of parliament on measures that have been put in place to address the spread and transmission of the virus. At this meeting Members of Parliament passed a resolution on the legal instruments and regulations governing the period of the state of emergency, and extended its duration by six (6) months.

The passing of the State of Emergency is considered as a very crucial step in fighting the near apocalyptic potential of the Novel COVID-19 virus. One of the interesting initiatives that was developed and extended to the business community was a 3-month wage subsidy that came with a condition that no businesses would retrench for the duration of the State of Public Emergency. This has potentially saved many people’s jobs as most companies would have been extremely quick to reduce expenses by downsizing. Self-preservation as some would call it.

Most organisations would have tried to reduce costs by letting go of people, retreated and tried their best to live long enough to fight another day. In my view there is silver lining that we need to look at and consider. The fact that organisations are not allowed to retrench has forced certain companies to look at the people with a long-term view.

Most leaders have probably had to wonder how they are going to ensure that their people are resilient. Do they have team members who innovate and add value to the organisation during these testing times? Do they even have resilient people or are they just waiting for the inevitable end? Can they really train people and make them resilient? How can your team members be part of your recovery plan? What can they do to avoid losing the capabilities they need to operate meaningfully for the duration of the State of Public Emergency and beyond?

The above questions have forced companies to reimagine the future of work. The truth is that no organisation can operate to its full potential without resilient people. In the normal business cycle, new teams come on board; new business streams open, operations or production sites launch or close; new markets develop, and technology is introduced. All of this provides fresh opportunities – and risks.

The best analogy I have seen of people-focused resilience planning reframes employees as your organisation’s immune system, ready and prepared to anticipate risks and ensure they can tackle challenges, fend off illness and bounce back more quickly.  So, how do you supercharge your organizational immune system to become resilient?

COVID-19 has helped many organisations realize they were not as prepared as they believed themselves to be. Now is the time to take stock and reset for the future. All the strategies and plans prior to COVID-19 arriving in Botswana need to be thrown out of the window and you need to develop a new plan today. There is no room for tweaking or reframing. Botswana has been disrupted and we need to accept and embrace the change. What we initially anticipated as a disease that would take a short term is turning out to be something we are going to have to live with for a much longer time. It is going to be a marathon and therefore businesses need to have a plan to complete this marathon.

Start planning. Planning for change can help reduce employee stress, anxiety, and overall fear, boosting the confidence of staff and stakeholders. Think about conducting and then regularly refreshing a strategic business impact analysis, look at your employee engagement scores, dig into your customer metrics and explore the way people work alongside your behaviours and culture. This research will help to identify what you really want to protect, the risks that you need to plan for and what you need to survive during disruption. Don’t forget to ask your team members for their input. In many cases they are closest to critical business areas and already have ideas to make processes and systems more robust.

Revisit your organisational purpose. Purpose, values and principles are powerful tools. By putting your organisation’s purpose and values front and center, you provide clear decision-making guidelines for yourself and your organisation. There are very tough and interesting decisions to make which have to be made fast; so having guiding principles on which the business believes in will help and assist all decision makers with sanity checking the choices that are in front of them. One noticeable characteristic of companies that adapt well during change is that they have a strong sense of identity. Leaders and employees have a shared sense of purpose and a common performance culture; they know what the company stands for beyond shareholder value and how to get things done right.

Revisit your purpose and values. Understand if they have been internalised and are proving useful. If so, find ways to increase their use. If not, adapt them as necessities, to help inspire and guide people while immunizing yourself against future disruption. Design your employee experience. The most resilient, adaptive and high performing companies are made up of people who know each other, like each other, and support each other.

Adaptability requires us to teach other, speak up and discuss problems, and have a collective sense of belonging. Listening to your team members is a powerful and disruptive thing to do. It has the potential to transform the way you manage your organisation. Enlisting employees to help shape employee experience, motivates better performance, increases employee retention and helps you spot issues and risks sooner. More importantly, it gives employees a voice so you can get active and constructive suggestions to make your business more robust by adopting an inclusive approach.

Leaders need to show they care. If you want to build resilience, you must build on a basis of trust. And this means leaders should listen, care, and respond. It’s time to build the entire business model around trust and empathy. Many of the employees will be working under extreme pressure due to the looming question around what will happen when companies have to retrench. As a leader of a company transparency and open communication are the most critical aspects that need to be illustrated.

Take your team member into confidence because if you do have to go through the dreaded excise of retrenchment you have to remember that those people the company retains will judge you based on the process you follow. If you illustrate that the business or organization has no regard for loyalty and commitment, they will never commit to the long-term plans of the organisation which will leave you worse off in the end. Its an absolutely delicate balance but it must all be done in good faith. Hopefully, your organization will avoid this!

This is the best time to revisit your identify and train your people to encourage qualities that build strong, empathetic leadership; self-awareness and control, communication, kindness and psychological safety.  Resilience is the glue that binds functional silos and integrates partners, improves communications, helps you prepare, listen and understand. Most importantly, people-focused resilience helps individuals and teams to think collectively and with empathy – helping you respond and recover faster.

Article written by Thabo Majola, a brand communications expert with a wealth of experience in the field and is Managing Director of Incepta Communications.

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