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Corruption is burying this country

DR PHILIP BULAWA

There have been concerns about the growth of corruption in Botswana, its effects for development prospects and whether anti-corruption efforts that are in place are effective and succeeding. Further, while prospects for the role of media as a major player in exposing corruption has gained international support, questions are being asked about Botswana government’s recognition of the effectiveness of free and independent media at holding power to account and expose corruption.

 

There have also been apprehensions regarding enquiries and reports thereof commissions of enquiry and/or task forces which are hardly ever shared with the public or in the event that they are released for public consumption, no action seems to be taken on the findings in the interest of the public.


A glance at some cases that have been previously investigated in Botswana show clear hallmarks of corruption that seem to give credence to such growing public concerns. Although there are many previous cases of this nature, three that are discussed in this article are Botswana Meat Commission, Fengyue Glass Project, and Morupule B.

 

The common thread about these particular entities is that they show a worrying trend of scandals pertaining to corruption and maladministration in which billions of public funds were investigated and alleged to have been unaccounted for. This is a disturbing trend indeed given that in all these cases there is propensity that the tax payer’s money might have gone deep into the pockets of corrupt officials who continue to go about their business without any evidence that they would ever be prosecuted for their criminal activities.


In an attempt to refresh the public’s recollection of the nature of corruption that bedevilled these organisations, I highlight some allegations that characterised them, beginning with Botswana Meat Commission (BMC). A report by Sunday Standard (19 March, 2012) revealed that the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) had launched an investigation into the award of tenders to companies engaged in buying cattle for the BMC.

 

According to this report, this was precipitated by a motion passed by Central District Council (CDC) requesting the then Minister of Agriculture to set up such an inquiry to investigate BMC system that was alleged to be seriously flawed to deliberately favour a select few farmers. Further reported was a High Court case that alleged a great deal of corruption within this organisation.

 

Although the complainants who were farmers in this case were not successful in their bid to stop the rot in the organisation, it exposed the BMC as highly corrupt almost administered Mafia style. From media reports and subsequent investigations referred to in this article, it became evident that the BMC became free for all with some board members literally volunteering their services, which is unheard of and unethical where there is good corporate governance.

 

It was therefore not surprising that in the process some of these individual volunteers were also implicated in alleged corrupt practices. In one particular case there was also evidence of a very high post which was given to a guy whose only qualification was that of being a cattle ranger.  


There was also the Parliamentary Special Select Committee of Enquiry into the same BMC which established that some individuals and their companies had unduly benefitted financially from the Commission. Pulas in excess of P100 million were reported to have exchanged hands over a short period of time as payment for some dubious consultancies. It also appeared there was a cabal of a few feedlotters who were also exposed in these shoddy business dealings.

 

Reading through media reports one got a picture of some swindlers who used their feed lots with only one intention of looting the Commission. Further media report shows that one particular Cabinet was even accused by a witness during a Parliamentary Special Select Committee investigating the decline of the beef sector in Botswana for having gone out of his way to contravene the BMC Act not just once, but on many occasions by issuing export permits of live cattle to a company of his friends without approval of the BMC board.

 

We all know the BMC Chief Executive Officer was compelled to resign and the reasons for his mysterious resignation never came out very clearly. With all these damning accusations one would have thought that heads would surely roll, but as fate would have it, this is Africa and it’s business as usual.  


The BMC corrupt case is quite a complex one to explain, but what became crystal clear even to a lay person in corporate governance was that the rules of the game were deliberately circumvented and in the process huge amounts of public funds were swindled, including some reported unaccounted for in both South Africa and the United Kingdom. The most painful thing in this whole drama is that the BMC was de-listed from by the European Union lucrative beef market, and obviously the biggest loser was the farmer who for many years, especially under President Sir Masire’s leadership had a reliable market to sell their animals.  


The next scandalous and corruption related saga was that involving Botswana Development Corporation and Fengyue Glass Manufacturing (Botswana) based in Palapye. When the idea of this glass company was conceived the public mood went sky high because the impression given was that of a large scale factory that would create many jobs especially for the youth in Palapye and other parts of the country.

 

The job seekers hopes and dreams were soon shattered as the company collapsed and just like the BMC and others, evidence from MP Kesupile’s report reflected a great deal of impropriety due to deviation from clearly laid down international corporate governance standards and ethics. As further illuminated in the Kesupile report, a project that was initially estimated at P309 million all of a sudden ballooned to over P500 million. Abundantly clearly in the report is the extent to which conflict of interest was allowed to reign supreme in the company, and a series of reports by consulting engineers which went unheeded by the BDC management.


The moral of the story here is that, public funds in millions of Pulas were spent on a project that never even took off, and as one would expect of an African government those responsible for the rot went scot free when the youths of this country remain unemployed. What is really depressing in such cases that border on corruption is that individual officers who hold high moral ground such as whistle blowers and therefore question such malpractice sometime get punished, even to the point of being sacked for the simple reason that they exposed such corrupt and criminal deeds.

 

I recall opposition members of Parliament calling on the Minister concerned to take political responsibility and resign, which I also thought could have been the moral, compelling, and logical thing to do, but all this fell on deaf ears. I doubt if there is anybody in Botswana who doesn’t know about the notorious Morupule B. What was supposed to have come as a solution to Batswana’s desperate need for electricity became a malfunctioning monster of a plant that was just there to drain off public funds.

 

The plant experienced a range of operation and maintenance failures with so many shutdowns, and in tandem with this were conflicting stories from the ruling party politicians in particular regarding what was really going on at the most costly plant. As this comedy of errors was unfolding, media reports indicated that the Chinese contractor absolved itself from these failures, blaming the local plant operators who in their view were not familiar with the system.

 

They further blamed the operators for ignoring the manufacturer’s instructions, deciding to throw away the operating manual and opting to fly blind. Whether these reports are anything to go by or not, the fact of the matter is that whatever was going on cost this nation a fortune. Information derived from the independent and private media shows that the initial cost of the plant which was USD 905.4 million (P9.8 billion) escalated to USD1.660 million (P18 billion) in 2014. These are astronomical figures even by upper income countries standards.


The sad story about these organisations is that no corrective measures have so far been taken against perpetrators of these criminal acts that rocked this nation. In spite of so many questions that still remain unanswered, there is no pressure on government to act decisively to recover the money that rightfully belongs to the nation. All of us, the public, civil society, politicians, church and most of all, Parliament are dead quiet as if all has been rectified in these organisations, when in reality all those billions have still not been recovered.

 

Imagine what could have happened in South Africa had the public, politicians, civil society and others remained fearful and mum about the Nkandla scandal? They could have lost what legitimately belongs to them but because of their bravery, assertiveness and high level of sense of accountability, they made politicians to account and they are now getting public funds back to the treasury.


Another case in point, right in South Africa where freedom was only attained yesterday, a group of people who know their rights stood their ground to demand for delivery of text books in Limpopo and the government was by court order forced to deliver them with immediate effect. Here in our country we seem not to be conscious of our own rights to be able to demand what rightfully belong to us. As already mentioned in this article, public funds have been abused but we fail to demand that people implicated should pay back the money. Instead some of them have been rewarded with high paying jobs when they should be in prison, this is sad and absurd.

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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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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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