Leader of newly formed political party, Alliance for Progressives (AP), Ndaba Gaolathe has attributed the current corruption scandals sweeping across the country to the lack of strong institutions and poor oversight.
He said the poor foundation laid out in the country’s three arms of government which gives more powers unnecessarily to the Executive has resulted in the corruption mess as every accountability institution reports to the Executive. In terms of the 3 arms of government; Legislature, Executive and Judiciary, the soft spoken Gaolathe maintained that the Executive remains powerful as compared to others although ideally they should be on the same level.
Gaolathe said this in light of the current setting in government where most oversight and accountability bodies like the Ombudsman, Directorate on Corruption on Economic Crime (DCEC), Directorate on Intelligence and Security Services (DISS), Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and to some extent the Judiciary (Chief Justice) all report to and are financed by the Executive and therefore by extension not totally independent.
“There are no independent and trustworthy institutions that can take on the public confidence in dealing with such corruption taking place in the country. That is why we are suspicious of each other at the moment; we know longer even trust each other. Our country is now in a total mess,” Gaolathe said at a Public Lecture/Meeting on Corruption this week held in Gaborone.
The public lecture came at a time when there are strong allegations that link President Lt. Gen. Dr. Seretse Khama Ian Khama, Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi, DISS Director General Isaac Kgosi, Minister of Youth Empowerment, Sport and Culture Development Thapelo Olopeng and Minister of Mineral Resources, Green Technology and Energy Security Sadique Kebonang among other top government officials – to high magnitude corruption.
In the said biggest financial scandal in Botswana involving P250 million, an attorney representing Bakang Seretse in the case, Kgosi Ngakaagae said in court last week that the country’s top politburo may have unduly benefitted from the controversial National Petroleum Fund(NPF) – which they all denied.
In the ongoing case, Gaolathe said even if the culprits can be taken to book and the money returned to the government purse, the issues will still come back in future to haunt us (or repeat itself) owing to governance issues (still). “These issues have turned this country into a fertile ground and paradise of corruption,” he pointed out.
According to Gaolathe, in terms of the corruption at NPF, “to be honest with you, I doubt anybody really knows what happened; it’s just a tip of the iceberg. But all indications suggest that the money landed in the wrong pockets.” He continued: “we don’t even know how much money was taken from the fund, although I have seen numbers been dropped up like 250 million, 300 million etc. But that’s just a transaction that has leaked, this shows there might be other transactions which have not leaked to the public. We don’t even know when the looting started. In this circus, some have broken their constitutional vow not to steal from the public purse.”
Calls for a commission of inquiry on corruption allegations
According to Gaolathe, “when we don’t know the answers to all this for now, we must be honest, and look for answers from those with the technical expertise to assist find out with a fair and transparent exercise.” “They should be fair to everyone involved. That’s why we are saying that let there be an independent commission of inquiries to find out who stole how much and clear others who are not in any way involved. We want a motion for a commission of inquiry on the abuse of the National Petroleum Fund and general abuse of public resources,” he said.
He added: “Even I have been accused of receiving 1 million through corrupt means of the controversial NPF but the inquiry will put that to bare if correct and I will also be brought to book if found to be implicated.” Gaolathe pointed out that his motion differs from the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) one which calls for the review of the NPF.
The NPF has a fund order; he said adding that it’s basically used in case of increases in petroleum fee; some money will be used to caution motorists with such high prices of fuel. The other role, he added, is to build strategic fuel reserves for use in future in times of need. “Some countries that supply us with fuel may also get into war and this may adversely affect us, and in cases of delay of fuel.”
Parliament role in Botswana in funds like NPF is insufficient
The son of the former and late Minister of Finance and Development Planning Baledzi Gaolathe highlighted that in American parliament in terms of the NPF, it has a bigger role than Botswana. “Pity, with us we have a Committee of Supplies; the Minister presents his proposals and parliament rubber stamps and that is not a proper procedure. But parliament should have committees that oversee the use of public funds and can have a significant contribution.”
The country, he said, has many public funds and levies but there is one big fund called Consolidated Fund which takes part of the government money that it disperses to the public. Others include National Disaster Funds, Botswana Public Officers Pension fund (BPOPF), National Petroleum Fund (NPF).
“Some countries like the US have a solid foundation of a constitution, in which you cannot be corrupt in any way. But in terms of our constitution, when the President becomes implicated in corruption it becomes a total mess. The Constitution makes the president to tow the line unlike in our country.” According to Gaolathe, the arms of government of Botswana do not have a firm, strong and solid foundation.
“By not necessarily pointing fingers at anyone, we are only revealing our findings as sent by you. We found out that the executive and parliament are less resourced and very weak. In some countries of the world, some Student Representative Councils (SRC’s) are more resourced than our parliament. Those SRC’s are equipped with their in house lawyers. They also have some economists dedicated to the Councils,” he pointed out.
The Gaborone Bonnington South lawmaker said, in the case of Botswana even parliament lacks a department consisting of attorneys. “Where have you seen people assigned with making laws but without any lawyers to guide such process? It’s the first time to witness such in my life,” he lamented. He raised concern that there is no “economics” department at parliament that would oversee the budget of the national cake and see whether it is fair and transparent. “At the moment there is no economist even purely dedicated to assist the executive or Ministry of Finance and Development Planning to assist in country’s economic forecast and day to day business.”
Botswana should establish a Comptroller General not Auditor General
In America he said they have what is known as ‘government accountability office’ headed by a Comptroller General. “In Botswana the office is almost similar to that of the Auditor General. The difference between these offices is that in Botswana, the Executive is more powerful. That is why all ministries and even Auditor General report to the Executive.”
Gaolathe highlighted that the Comptroller General in other countries like US, unlike Botswana, does not report to the Executive but rather to parliament. Parliament, he said has legislative agencies just like there are government ministries for the Executive. “The Auditor General is therefore very independent in that way in those countries, they can’t even touch him. Even his contracts and salaries are done by parliament.”
The Comptroller, he said, has been disagreeing with the Central government in America for long, since 1996, and they have been calling for prudent spending of government funds while denouncing heavy budget on the military and others. “If we had such an independent office such as Comptroller General in Botswana, the corruption issues currently engulfing the country would be no more. In times like these, the local Comptroller General would tell us that there has been corruption where and how, and to what extent,” he said.
Here is how one Permanent Secretary encapsulates the clear tension between democracy and bureaucracy in Botswana: “President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s Government is behaving like a state surrounded with armed forces in order to capture it or force its surrender. The situation has turned so volatile, for tomorrow is not guaranteed for us top civil servants.
These are the painful results of a personalized civil service in our view as permanent secretaries”. Although his deduction of the situation may be summed as sour grapes because he is one of the ‘victims’ of the reshuffle, he is convinced this is a perfect description of the rationale behind frequent changes and transfers characterising the current civil service.
The result of it all, he said, is that “there is too much instability at managerial and strategic levels of the civil service leading to a noticeable directionless civil service.” He continued: “Changes and transfers are inevitable in the civil service, but to a permissible scale and frequency. Think of soccer team coach who changes and transfers his entire squad every month; you know the consequences?”
The Tsunami has hit hard at critical departments and Ministries leaving a strong wave of uncertainty, many demoralised and some jobless. In traditional approaches to public administration, democracy gives the goals; and bureaucracy delivers the technical efficiency required for implementation. But the recent moves in the civil service are indicative of conflicting imperatives – the notion of separation between politicians and administrators is becoming blurred by the day.
“Look at what happened to Prisons and BDF where second in command were overlooked for outsiders, and these are the people who had sacrificially served for donkey’s years hoping for a seat at the ladder’s end. The frequency of the changes, at times affecting the same Ministry or individual also demonstrates some level of ineptitude, clumsiness and lack of foresight from those in charge,” remarked the PS who added that their view is that the transfers are not related to anything but “settling scores, creating corruption opportunities and pushing out perceived dissident and former president, Ian Khama’s alleged loyalists and most of these transfers are said to be products of intelligence detection.”
Partly blaming Khama for the mess and his unwillingness to let go, the PS dismissed Masisi for falling to the trap and failing to outgrow the destructive tiff. “Khama is here to stay and the sooner Masisi comes to terms with the fact that he (Masisi) is the state President, the better. For a President to still be making these changes and transfers signals signs of a confused man who has not yet started rolling his roadmap, if at all it was ever there. I am saying this because any roadmap comes with key players and policies,” he concluded.
The Ministry of Health and Wellness seems to be the most hard-hit by the transfers, having experienced three Permanent Secretaries changes within a year and a half. Insiders say the changes have everything to do with the Ministry being the centre of COVID-19 tenders and economic opportunities. “The buck stops with the PS and no right-thinking PS can just allow glaring corruption under his watch as an accounting officer. Technocrats are generally law abiding, the pressure comes with politically appointed leaders racing against political terms to loot,” revealed a director in the Ministry preferring anonymity.
The latest transfer of Kabelo Ebineng she says was also motivated by his firm attitude against the President’s blue-eyed Task Team boys. “The Task Team wants to own the COVID-19 pandemic and government interventions and always cry foul when the Ministry reasserts itself as mandated by law,” said the director who added that Masisi who was always caught between the crossfire decided on sacrificing Ebineng to the joy of his team as they (Task Team) were in the habit of threatening to resign citing Ebineng as the problem.
Ebineng joins the Office of the President as a deputy Coordinator (government implementation and coordination office).The incoming PS is the soft-spoken Grace Muzila, known and described by her close associates as a conformist albeit knowledgeable.
One of the losers in the grand scheme is Thato Raphaka who many had seen as the next PSP because of his experience and calm demeanour following a declaration of interest in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Secretary post by the current PSP, Elias Magosi.
But hardly ten months into his post, Raphaka has been transferred out to the National Strategy Office in what many see as a demotion of some sort. Other notable changes coming into OP are Pearl Ramokoka formerly with the Employment, Labour and Productivity Ministry coming in as a Permanent Secretary and Kgomotso Abi as director of Public Service Reforms.
One of the ousted senior officers in the Office of the President warned that there are no signs that the changes and transfers will stop anytime soon: “If you are observant you would have long noticed that the changes don’t only affect senior officers but government decisions as well. A decision is made today and the government backtracks on it within a week. Not only that, the President says this today, and his deputy denies it the following day in Parliament,” he warned.
Some observers have blamed the turmoil in the civil service partly to lack of accountable presidential advisers or kitchen cabinet properly schooled on matters of statecraft. They point out that politicians or those peripheral to them should refrain from hampering the technical and organizational activities of public managers – or else the party (reshuffling) won’t stop.
In the view expressed by some Permanent Secretaries, Elias Magosi, has not really been himself since joining the civil service; and has cut a picture of indifference in most critical engagements; the most notable been a permanent secretaries platform which he chairs. As things stand there is need to reconcile the imperatives of democracy and democracy in Botswana. Peace will rein only when public value should stand astride the fault that runs between politicians and public managers.
Former Permanent Secretary to the President, Carter Morupisi, is fighting for survival in a matter in which the State has charged him and his wife, Pinnie Morupisi, with corruption and money laundering.
Morupisi has joined a list of prominent figures that served in the previous administration and who have been accused of corruption during their tenure in office. While others have been emerging victorious, Morupisi is yet to find that luck. The High Court recently dismissed his no case to answer application.
United States President, Joe Biden, is faced with a decision to make relating to the Covid-19 vaccine intellectual property after 175 former world leaders and Nobel laurates joined the campaign urging the US to take “urgent action” to suspend intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines to help boost global inoculation rates.
According to the world leaders, doing so would allow developing countries to make their own copies of the vaccines that have been developed by pharmaceutical companies without fear of being sued for intellectual property infringements.
“A WTO waiver is a vital and necessary step to bringing an end to this pandemic. It must be combined with ensuring vaccine know-how and technology is shared openly,” the signatories, comprising more than 100 Nobel prize-winners and over 70 former world leaders, wrote in a letter to US President Joe Biden, according to Financial Times.
A measure to allow countries to temporarily override patent rights for Covid related medical products was proposed at the World Trade Organization by India and South Africa in October, and has since been backed by nearly 60 countries.
Former leaders who signed the letter included Gordon Brown, former UK Prime Minister; François Hollande, former French President; Mikhail Gorbachev, former President of the USSR; and Yves Leterme, former Belgian Prime Minister.
In their official communication, South Africa and India said: “As new diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines for Covid-19 are developed, there are significant concerns [about] how these will be made available promptly, in sufficient quantities and at affordable prices to meet global demand.”
While developed countries have been able to secure enough vaccine to inoculate their citizens, developing countries such as Botswana are struggling to source enough to swiftly vaccine their citizens, something which world leaders believe it would work against global recovery therefore proving counter-productive.
Since the availability of vaccines, Botswana has been able to secure only 60 000 doses of vaccines, 30 000 as donation as from the Indian government, while the other 30 000 was sourced through COVAX facility. Canada, has pre-ordered vaccines in surplus and it will be able to vaccinate each of its citizens six times over. In the UK and US, it is four vaccines per person; and two each in the EU and Australia.
For vaccines produced in Europe, developing countries are forced to pay double what European countries are paying, making it more expensive for already financially struggling economies. European countries however justify the price of vaccines and that they deserve to buy them cheap since they contributed in their development.
It is evident that vaccines cannot be made available immediately to all countries worldwide with wealthy economies being the only success story in that regard, something that has been referred to as a “catastrophic moral failure”, head of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
The challenge facing developing countries is not only the price, but also the capacity of vaccine manufactures to be able to do so to meet global demand within a short time. The proposal for a patent waiver by India and South Africa has been rejected by developed countries, known for hosting the world leading pharmaceutical companies such US, European Union, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland.
According to the Financial Times, US business groups including pharmaceutical industry representatives, have urged Biden to resist supporting a waiver to IP rules at the WTO, arguing that the proposal led by India and South Africa was too “vague” and “broad”.
The individuals who signed the letter, including Nobel laureates in economics as well as from across the arts and sciences, warned that inequitable vaccine access would impact the global economy and prevent it from recovering.
“The world saw unprecedented development of safe and effective vaccines, in major part thanks to US public investment,” the group wrote. “We all welcome that vaccination rollout in the US and many wealthier countries is bringing hope to their citizens.”
“Yet for the majority of the world that same hope is yet to be seen. New waves of suffering are now rising across the globe. Our global economy cannot rebuild if it remains vulnerable to this virus.” The group warned that fully enforcing IP was “self-defeating for the US” as it hindered global vaccination efforts. “Given artificial global supply shortages, the US economy already risks losing $1.3tn in gross domestic product this year.”