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.
In a classic and shocking case of disgrace and dishonour to this country, the law enforcement agencies are currently struggling to cover up a damaging and humiliating scandal of having conspired to forge the signature of a Palapye Chief Magistrate, Rebecca Motsamai in an unlawful acquisition of the much-publicised 2019 warrant of arrest against Isaac Kgosi, the former director of the Directorate of Intelligence Services (DIS).
The cloak-and-dagger arrest was led by the DIS director, Brigadier Peter Magosi supported by the Botswana Police, Botswana Defence Force (BDF), with the Botswana Unified Revenue Services (BURS) which accused Kgosi of tax evasion, in the backseat.
Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) constituent members are struggling to reach an agreement over the allocation of wards for the imminent ward by-elections across the country.
Despite a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) and Alliance for Progressives (AP) are said to be active, but the nitty-gritties are far from being settled.
The eight bye-elections will be a precursor of a somewhat delayed finalisation of the brittle MoU. The three parties want to draw a plan on how and who will contest in each of the available wards.
This publication has gathered that the negotiations will not be a run off the mill because there is already an impasse between the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) which is a UDC constituent and AP (currently negotiating to join umbrella).
The by-elections joint committee met last week at Cresta President Hotel in a bid to finalise allocation but nothing tangible came out of the gathering, sources say.
The cause of the stalemate according to those close to events, is the Metsimotlhabe Ward which the two parties have set their eyes on.
In 2019, he ward was won by Botswana Democratic Party’s (BDP) Andrew Sebobi who unfortunately died in a tragic accident in February last year.
Sebobi had convincingly won by 1 109 votes in the last elections; and was trailed by Sephuthi Thelo of the UDC trailed him with 631 votes; while Alliance for Progressives’ Innocent Moamogwe got 371 votes.
Thelo is a BCP candidate and as per UDC norm, incumbency prevails meaning that the BCP will contest since they were runners up. On the other hand, AP has also raised its hand for the same.
“AP asked for it on the basis that they have a good candidate but BCP did not agree to that request also arguing they have a better contestant,” one UDC member confided to this publication.
Notwithstanding Metsimotlhabe Ward squabble, it is said the by-election talks are almost a done deal, with Botswana National Front (BNF) tipped to take Boseja South ward in Mochudi East constituency. Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) will be awarded Tamasane Ward in Lerala/Maunatlala constituency, sources say.
“But the agreement has to be closed by National Executive Committee (NEC),” emphasized the informant.
The NEC is said to have been cautioned not to back the wrong horse but rather rate with reason and facts.
UDC President, Duma Boko has told this publication that, “allocation is complete with two wards already awarded but with only one yet to be finalized,” he could not dwell into much details as to which party got what and the reasons for the delay in finalisation.
Chairperson of the by-elections committee, Dr. Phenyo Butale responded to this publication regarding the matter: “As AP we contested and as you may be aware we signed the MoU with UDC and BPF to collaborate on bye-elections. The opposition candidate for all bye-elections will be agreed by these parties and that process is still ongoing,” he said when asked if AP is interested on the ward and how far with the talks on bye-elections.
Butale, a former Gaborone Central Member of Parliament, who is also AP Secretary General continued to say, “As the chairperson of the bye-elections committee we are still seized with that matter. We should also do some consultations with the local structures. Once the process is complete we will issue a notice for now we cannot talk about the other two while the other is still pending the other one”.
Butale further clarified: “There is no such thing as AP and BCP not in agreement. It is an issue of signatories discussing and determining the opposition candidates across the three wards.”
Apart from the three wards, there are five more council wards that UDC is yet to allocate to cooperating partners.
FROM PALAPYE MEET: BPP CAUTION NEC MEMBERS
With the UDC cheerful from last weekend’s meeting in Palapye, the meeting however was very tense on the side of both BCP and BNF, with only BPP flexing its muscle and even lashing out.
BCP going into the meeting, had promised to ask difficult questions to the UDC NEC.
BCP VP and also acting Secretary General, Dr. Kesitegile Gobotswang, presented their qualms which were addressed by UDC Chairperson Motlatsi Molapisi, informants say.
It is said Molapisi is fed up and concerned by some UDC members especially those in the NEC who ‘wash party’s dirty linen in public’.
Insiders say the veteran politician cautioned the NEC members that they “will not expel any party but individuals who tarnish the image of the UDC.”
It is not the first time BPP play a paternalistic role as it once expressed its discontent with BCP in 2020, saying it should never wash UDC linen in public.
At first it is said, BPP, the oldest political formation in Botswana, claims disappointment on BCP stance that UDC should be democratised especially by sharing their stand with the media. Again, BPP was not happy with BCP leader Dumelang Saleshando’s decision to air his personal views on social media regarding the merger of UDC party.
Botswana Police Service (BPS) Commissioner, Keabetswe Makgophe, has of late been dousing raging fires from various quarters of society following the infiltration of the police fingerprint system by the Directorate on Intelligence and Security (DIS), WeekendPost has learnt.
Fresh information gleaned from a number of impeccable sources, points to a pitiable working relationship between the two state organs. Cause of concern is the DIS continuous big brother role to an extent that it is now interfering with other institutions’ established mandates.
BPS which works closely with the DIS has been left exasperated by the works of the institution formed in 2008. It is said, the DIS through its Information Technology (IT) experts in collusion with some at BPS forensics department managed to infiltrate the Fingerprint system.
The infiltration, according to those in the know, was for the DIS to “teach a lesson” to some who are on their radar. It is said the DIS is playing and fighting dirty to win the fights they have lost before.
By managing to hack the police finger print system, a number of renowned businessmen and other politically exposed persons found their fingers in the system. What surprised the victims is the fact that they have never been charged of any wrongdoing by the police and they were left reeling in shock to learn that their fingers are on the data-base of criminals.
In fact, some of those who their fingerprints were falsely included in the records of those on the wrong side of law learnt later when other errands demanded their fingerprints.
“We learnt later when we had to submit and buy some documents and we were very shocked,” one politician who is also a businessman confided to this publication this week.
“We then learn that there are some fabricated criminality recorded for us, as to when did we commit those remained secret to the police, but then we had to engage our lawyers on the matter and that is when we were cleared,” said the politician-cum- tenderpreneur.
The lawyers have confirmed engaging the police and that the matters were settled in a gentlemen’s agreement and concluded.
All these happened behind the scenes with the police top brass oblivious only to be confronted by the irked lot, police sources also add. The victimized group who most of them have been fighting lengthy battles with the DIS read malice and did not blink when it was revealed that these were done by the DIS.
“And it was clear that they (DIS) are the ones in this dirty war which we don’t understand. Remember when we sue, it will be the Police at the courts not the DIS and that is why we agreed to a ceasefire more so they also requested that be kept under carpet,” said the victim.
Nonetheless, the Police through its spokesperson Assistant Commissioner, Dipheko Motube, briefly said: “we do not have any system that has been hacked.” On the other hand DIS mouthpiece Edward Robert was not in office this week to comment on the matter.
Reports however say DIS boss, Peter Magosi, who most of the victims accuse of the job, is said to have met his police counterpart Makgophe to put the matter to bed.
COVID-19 RAVAGES POLICE
As frontline workers, Police have not escaped the wrath of Covid-19. Already the numbers of those infected has reached the highest of high and they suggest that they be priorities on vaccine rollout.
“Our job is complicated, firstly we arrest including those who are non-compliant to Covid protocols and we go to accidents and many more. These put us at risk and it seems our superiors are not bothered,” said one police officer this week.
The cops further complain about that working spaces are small, as such expose them to contact the virus.
“Some tests positive and go for quarantine while the rest of the unit will be left without even test carried out. If at all the bosses are serious all the police officers should every now and then be subjected to testing or else we will be no more because of the virus,” added another officer based in Gaborone.
The government has since placed teachers on the priority list for the vaccines, it remains to be seen whether the police, who also man road blocks, will be considered.
“But our bosses should convince the country leadership about this, if not then we are doomed,” concluded a more senior officer.