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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

Internal party-democracy under pressure

21st June 2022

British novelist, W. Somerset Maugham once opined: “If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its freedom; and the irony of it is that if it is comfort or money that it values more, it will lose that too.”

The truism in these words cannot be underestimated, especially when contextualizing against the political developments in Botswana. We have become a nation that does not value democracy, yet nothing represent freedom more than democracy. In fact, we desire, and value winning power or clinging to power more than anything else, even if it harms the democratic credentials of our political institutions. This is happening across political parties — ruling and opposition.

As far as democracy is concerned, we are regressing. We are becoming worse-off than we were in the past. If not arrested, Botswana will lose its status as among few democratic nations in the Africa. Ironically, Botswana was the first country in Africa to embrace democracy, and has held elections every five years without fail since independence.

We were once viewed as the shining example of Africa. Those accolades are not worth it any more. Young democracies such as South Africa, with strong institutions, deserves to be exalted. Botswana has lost faith in democracy, and we will pay a price for it. It is a slippery slope to dictatorship, which will bring among other excess, assault on civil liberties and human rights violations.

Former President, Festus Mogae once stated that Botswana’s democracy will only become authentic, when a different party, other than the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) wins elections, and when the President of such party is not from Serowe.

Although many may not publicly care to admit, Mogae’s assertion is true. BDP has over the years projected itself as a dyed-in-the-wool proponent of democracy, but the moment its stay in power became threatened and uncertain, it started behaving in a manner that is at variance with democratic values.  This has been happening over the years now, and the situation is getting worse by the day.

Recently, the BDP party leadership has been preaching compromise and consensus candidates for 2024 general elections. Essentially, the leadership has lost faith in the Bulela Ditswe dispensation, which has been used to selected party candidates for council and parliament since 2003. The leadership is discouraging democracy because they believe primary elections threaten party unity. It is a strange assertion indeed.

Bulela Ditswe was an enrichment of internal party democracy in the sense that it replaced the previous method of selection of candidates known as Committee of 18, in which a branch committee made of 18 people endorsed the representatives. While it is true that political contest can divide, the ruling party should be investing in political education and strengthening in its primary elections processes. Democracy does not come cheap or easy, but it is valuable.

Any unity that we desire so much at the expense of democracy is not true unity. Like W. Somerset Maugham said, democracy would be lost in the process, and ultimately, even the unity that was desired would eventually be lost too. Any solution that sacrifice democracy would not bring any results in the long run, except misery.

We have seen that also in opposition ranks. The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) recently indicated that its incumbent Members of Parliament (MPs) should not be challenged for their seats. While BDP is sacrificing democracy to stay in power, UDC is sacrificing democracy to win power. It is a scary reality given the fact that both parties – ruling and opposition — have embraced this position and believe democracy is the hindrance to their political ambitions.

These current reality points to one thing; our political parties have lost faith in democracy. They desire power more than, the purpose of power itself. It is also a crisis of leadership across the political divide, where we have seen dissenting views being met with persecution. We have seen perverting of political process endorsed by those in echelons of power to manipulate political outcomes in their favour.

Democracy should not be optional, it should be mandatory. Any leader proposing curtailing of democracy should be viewed with suspicion, and his adventures should be rejected before it is too late. Members of political parties, as subscribers of democracy, should collectively rise to the occasion to save their democracy from self-interest that is becoming prevalent among Botswana political parties.

The so-called compromise candidates, only benefits the leadership because it creates comforts for them. But for members, and for the nation, it is causing damage by reversing the gains that have been made over the years. We should reject leaders who only preach democracy in word, but are hesitant to practice it.

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Opinions

The Big Deal About Piracy

21st June 2022
piracy

Piracy of all kinds continues to have a massive impact on the global creative industry and the economies of the countries where it thrives.

One of the biggest misconceptions around piracy is that an individual consumer’s piracy activities, especially in a market the size of Botswana’s, is only a drop in the pool of potential losses to the different sectors of the economy piracy affects.

When someone sitting in Gaborone, Botswana logs onto an illegal site to download King Richard online, they don’t imagine that their one download will do anything to the production house’s pocket or make a dent in the actors’ net worth. At best, the sensitivity towards this illegal pirating activity likely only exists when contemplating going about pirating a local musician’s music or a short film produced locally.

The ripple effects of piracy at whatever scale reach far beyond what the average consumer could ever imagine. Figures released by software security and media technology company, Irdeto, show that users in five major African territories made approximately 17,4 million total visits to the top 10 identified piracy sites on the internet.

The economic impact of this on the creative industry alone soars to between 40 and 97.1 billion dollars, according a 2022 Dataprot study. In addition, they estimate that “illegally streamed copyrighted content consumes 24% of global bandwidth”.

As Botswana’s creative industry remains relatively slight on the scale of comparison to industries such as Nollywood and Nilewood where the creative industry contributes a huge proportion to West and East Africa’s respective GDPs, that does not imply that piracy activities in Botswana do not have a similar impact on our economy and the ability of our creative industry to grow.

When individuals make decisions to illegally consume content via internet streaming sites they believe they are saving money for themselves in the name of enjoying content they desire to consume. Although this is a personal choice that remains the prerogative of the consumer, looking beyond the fact that streaming on illegal content sites is piracy, the ripple effect of this decision also has an endless trail of impact where funds which could be used to grow the local creative industry through increased consumption, and revenue which would otherwise be fed back into Botswana’s economy are being diverted.

“Why can’t our local creative industry grow?” “Why don’t we see more home-grown films and shows in Botswana?” are questions constantly posed by those who consume television content in Botswana. The answer to this lies largely in the fact that Botswana’s local content needs an audience in order for it to grow. It needs support from government and entities which are in a position to fund and help the industry scale greater heights.

Any organisational body willing to support and grow the local creative industry needs to exist and operate in an economy which can support its mandates. Content piracy is a cycle that can only be alleviated when consumers make wiser decisions around what they consume and how.

This goes beyond eradicating piracy activities in so far as television content is concerned. This extends to the importation and trade in counterfeit goods, resale of goods and services not intended for resale across the border, outside its jurisdiction, and more. All of these activities stunt the growth of an economy and make it nearly impossible for industries and sectors to propel themselves to places where they can positively impact society and reinvest into the country’s economy.

So what can be done to turn the tide here in Botswana in order to see our local production houses gain the momentum required to produce more, license more and expand their horizons? While those who enforce the law continue to work towards minimizing piracy activities, it’s imperative that as consumers we work to make their efforts easier by being mindful of how our individual actions play a role in preventing the success of our local creative networks and our economy’s growth.

Whether you are pirating a Hollywood Blockbuster, illegally streaming a popular Motswana artist’s music, or smuggling in an illegal decoder to view content restricted to South Africa only, your actions have an impact on how we as a nation will make our mark on the global landscape with local creative productions. Thembi Legwaila is Corporate Affairs Manager, MultiChoice Botswana

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Opinions

Our Strength is our Unity

18th March 2022
Craig-Cloud

Putin Chose War.  We Remain United with Ukraine.

U.S. Ambassador Craig L. Cloud

This is a dangerous moment for Europe and for freedom-loving people around the world.  By launching his brutal assault on the people of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has also committed an assault on the principles that uphold global peace and democracy.  But the people of Ukraine are resilient.

They’ve had a democracy for decades, and their bravery is inspiring the world.  The United States, together with our Allies and partners across the globe, will continue to support the Ukrainian people as they defend their country.  By choosing to pay for a war instead of investing in the needs of Russians, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine will be a strategic failure for the Kremlin and ravage the future of the Russian people.

When the history of this era is written, it will show that Putin’s choice to launch an unprovoked, unjust, and premeditated attack left the West more unified and Russia exponentially weaker.

United in Our Response

This will not end well for Vladimir Putin.  Together, the United States and our Allies and partners are taking action to hold Russia accountable.  As a result of unprecedented global sanctions coordination, the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Japan, and Canada have removed selected Russian banks from the SWIFT messaging system and imposed restrictive measures on the Russian Central Bank.

President Biden announced sweeping financial sanctions and stringent export controls that will damage Russia’s economy, financial system, and access to cutting-edge technology.  After Putin began his invasion, the ruble hit its weakest point in history, and the Russian stock market plunged.

Along with the United Kingdom and European Union, the United States imposed sanctions on the architects of this war, including Putin himself.

By moving in close coordination with a powerful coalition of Allies and partners representing more than half of the global economy, we have magnified the impact of our actions to impose maximum costs on Putin and his regime.  In response to Putin’s war of choice, we will limit Russia’s ability to do business in U.S. dollars.

We will stunt Russia’s ability to finance and grow its military.  We will impair Russia’s ability to compete in the global economy.  And we are prepared to do more.

In addition to economic penalties, this week President Biden authorized an additional $1 billion over the $350 million of security assistance he recently approved, and a $650 million in 2021, to immediately help Ukraine defend itself, bringing America’s total security assistance to Ukraine over the past year to $2 billion.

We also stand ready to defend our NATO Allies.  President Biden has coordinated with Allied governments to position thousands of additional forces in Germany and Poland as part of our commitment to NATO’s collective defense.

He authorized the deployment of ground and air forces already stationed in Europe to NATO’s eastern and southeastern flanks:  Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania.  Our Allies have also added their own forces and capabilities to ensure our collective defense.  There should be no doubt about the readiness of the greatest military Alliance in the history of the world:  NATO is more united than ever.

The United States has also coordinated with major oil-producing and consuming countries to underscore our common interest in securing global energy supplies.  We are working with energy companies to surge their capacity to supply energy to the market, particularly as prices increase.

Putin’s Unprovoked and Premeditated War

This was an attack that Vladimir Putin has planned for a long time.  He methodically moved more than 150,000 troops and military equipment to Ukraine’s border.  He moved blood supplies into position and built field hospitals, demonstrating his intentions all along.

He rejected every good-faith effort by the United States and our Allies and partners to address his fabricated security concerns and to avoid needless conflict and human suffering by engaging in diplomacy and dialogue.

Putin executed his playbook exactly as we had warned he would do.  We saw Russia’s proxies increase their shelling in the Donbas.  We saw the Russian government launch cyber-operations against Ukraine.  We saw staged political theater in Moscow and heard outlandish and baseless claims made about Ukraine in an attempt to justify Russia’s aggression.

Russia continues to justify its military aggression by falsely claiming the need to stop “genocide” in Ukraine – despite there being no evidence that genocide was occurring there.  We saw Russia use these tactics before when they invaded Ukraine in 2014 and Georgia in 2008.

And then, at almost the very same moment the United Nations Security Council was meeting to stand up for Ukraine’s sovereignty and forestall disaster, Putin launched his invasion in violation of international law.  Missiles began to rain down, striking historic cities across Ukraine.  Then came air raids, columns of tanks, and battalions of troops, all riding a renewed wave of disinformation and outright lies.

We have been transparent with the world.  We declassified our intelligence about Russia’s plans so there could be no confusion and no cover up.  Putin is the aggressor.  Putin chose this war.  And now his people will bear the consequences of his decision to invest in war rather than in them.

Transatlantic Unity and Resolve Stronger Than Ever

Putin’s goal of dividing the West has failed.  In the face of one of the most significant challenges to European security and democratic ideals since World War II, the United States and our Allies and partners have joined together in solidarity.  We have united, coordinating intensively to engage as one with Russia and Ukraine, provided assistance to Ukraine, developed a broad response, and reaffirmed our commitment to NATO.

Putin has failed to divide us.  Putin has failed to undermine our shared belief in the fundamental right of sovereign nations to choose their destiny and their allies.  And Putin will fail to erase the proud nation of Ukraine.

The next few days, weeks, and months will be incredibly difficult for the people of Ukraine.  Putin has unleashed great suffering on them.  But the Ukrainian people have known 30 years of independence, and they have repeatedly shown they will not tolerate anyone who tries to take their country backwards.

The world is watching this conflict closely, and if Russian forces commit atrocities, we will explore all international mechanisms that could be used to bring those responsible – whether members of the military or their civilian leadership – to account.

Putin’s aggression against Ukraine will cost Russia profoundly, both economically and strategically.  The Russian people deserve better from their government than the immense cost to their future that this invasion has precipitated.

Liberty, democracy, and human dignity are forces far more powerful than fear and oppression.  In the contest between democracy and autocracy, between sovereignty and subjugation, make no mistake:  Freedom will prevail.

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