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“Least Corrupt” Tag Is Problematic

For the umpteenth time, Botswana was ranked Africa’s least corrupt country by London-based watchdog Transparency International (TI) for the year 2015. The announcement as is the custom was made in a subsequent year, 2016.  

Our lofty perch in the corruption perception standings seems to be a foregone conclusion. We have practically become the sang paradigm of such a laurel, which may engender complacence and be a recipe for self-denial about the profundity of corruption in our country. Should the graft busters in the DCEC ranks clink glasses and dance a pirouette?

Before they do, maybe they should listen to my own beef with TI’s take. This is that our exalted position on the corruption-averse log simply do not square with the facts on the ground, or, shall I say, with what we’re given to understand in hushed-tone chatter by outraged Peeping Toms and eavesdroppers, the steady stream of exposes (or something to that effect) that have now become the staple of tabloids and broadsheets alike, and what some of us experience firsthand from time to time.

Let’s take the year 2010. Just like it did this year, TI in that year announced to the whole wide world that Botswana had outranked every other country on the continent on the Corruption Perception Index (CPI). But almost at once was a resounding rebuttal, when His Worship Lot Moroka gave a gobsmacked congregation at an anti-corruption workshop held in Gaborone to understand that Government alone was possibly losing up to a billion Pula a year in corruption and economic crime.

Justice Moroka has since been elevated to the bench, but in 2010 he was a regional magistrate. He said his court alone was handling cases of economic crime amounting to close to P500 million. Given that there are 19   magistrate courts in Botswana and assuming that each was snowed under with cases of the sort amounting to a figure of the same order, we’re talking in the region of P8 billion-plus our national coffers are haemorrhaging of year to year thanks to the artifice and deviousness of some members of our own society. Of course this is too simplistic a way of encapsulating the scale of graft in the country but it is not exactly far-fetched.   

PERCEPTIONS ARE NOT FACTS

Somebody sensibly paused this question in relation to the efficacy of measuring corruption in a country:  if the abuse of public office for private gain is typically done in secret, under the table or behind closed doors, how can you systematically – and credibly – capture its scale and depth?

Granted, corruption permeates every corner of the globe, but it comes in hues. In some countries such as Nigeria, for instance, it is said to be audacious and even blatant:  in others, it is blurry and therefore less apparent, the best example of which are the Nordic countries. As such, it is curious that such an elusive aspect of human behaviour can be pinned down and quantified on a simple scale as CPI implies.

TI’s rejoinder to such a dim view of its hobbyhorse is that it does not measure actual corruption: it highlights perceptions of the degree and prevalence of corruption. Therein lies the rub. Perceptions are not and do not translate to facts.   Suspicions – or is it intuitions? – are bandied about but with zero hard evidence to buttress those suspicions. Inevitably, there’s a danger of distorting the reflection of truth, so that a country that is perceived as Africa’s least corrupt – read my lips – may actually be one of its most putrid beneath the facade. Is there a better, more matter-of-fact way of assessing levels of corruption? Successful prosecutions immediately come to mind but TI is quick to scoff at the absurdity of such a notion.  

"Corruption generally comprises illegal activities, which are deliberately hidden and only come to light through scandals, investigations or prosecutions,” TI counters. "There is no meaningful way to assess absolute levels of corruption in countries or territories on the basis of hard empirical data. Possible attempts to do so, such as by comparing bribes reported, the number of prosecutions brought or studying court cases directly linked to corruption, cannot be taken as definitive indicators of corruption levels. Instead, they show how effective prosecutors, the courts or the media are in investigating and exposing corruption."

Because of the difficulty of measuring actual corruption and the prohibitive expense of running elaborate surveys, TI has since 1995 published a CPI that ranks countries according to how corrupt they are perceived to be by a tiny corps of individuals who do not even constitute the barest   quorum in proportion to the national population. The CPI is compiled by aggregating 13 different perception surveys. The people who inform these perceptions come from basically the same cohort. They are "a group of country economists,"; "experts based primarily in London (but also in New York, Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai) who are supported by a global network of in-country specialists,"; "100 business executives per country/territory,"; etcetera.

The opinions TI collates to feed into the CPI are garnered from an internationally focussed elite (with a commonality of innate biases), with the common man conspicuous by his absence. The essentiality of diversity of opinion, of plurality of thought, does not remotely come to bear. That’s not to say the CPI is entirely without merit and therefore an exercise in futility:  for all its shortcomings and the unrelenting barbs of cynical strictures, it has done precious much for the anti-corruption cause. But as a nation, we should be sober and rational enough not to take TI’s yearly pronouncements as unassailably factual. Since its methodology is admittedly far from scientific, we cannot discount altogether the possibility of flawed deduction.  

WE CAN BENCHMARK AGAINST HONG KONG

In the 60s and 70s, corruption in Hong Kong, a latter-day Tiger economy, was invariably a way of life.   Graftomania, if I may coin a word, was rife.   For as long as one was able to oil a palm, they could get whatever they wanted and get away with any conceivable transgression against the law.   

Ambulance crews demanded a “scratch on the back” to pick up the critically ailing. Even in the wards, the bed-ridden would not be attended to, let alone vouchsafed a glass of water, before they proffered forth a worthy inducement. Every public service – public housing, schooling, etc – was rendered subject to a kickback. All the while, law enforcement agents, themselves past masters in the art of corruption  and the most unscrupulous in its execution, typically looked the other way thanks to “hush” retainers they routinely enjoyed at the hands of gamblers,  drug pushers, and other nether elements of the Hong Kong Mafia.

Since government, itself choking with mindless aiders and abetters of graft, seemed powerless to arrest the problem, the citizenry decided to take matters into their own hands. They pressed incessantly for government to act promptly and decisively. Things came to a head when one Peter Godber, a Chief Police Superintendent who controlled assets of over HK$4.3 million, skipped the country whilst under investigation on June 8 1973. The public mounted a picket match on the government enclave and demanded that it accounts for Godber’s flight, who, it went without saying, was actually escorted out of the country on the wings of the high and mighty. That’s how the    Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) came into being, leading to the eventual extradition and incarceration of Godber.

Today, Hong Kong is one of the least corrupt countries in the world. It placed 16th on the 2015 CPI and the ICAC has been saluted by USAID as “an iconic and historic example, perhaps the most successful example of an anti-corruption agency”, a tribute our DCEC is light years from attaining to. Unlike the DCEC, which falls under the ambit of the presidency, the ICAC is entirely independent, and separated, from any department of government, including the police.  The dissimilitude between the two agencies in this regard is ironic considering that Graham Stockwell, the pioneer head of the DCEC, was recruited from ICAC and may in all likelihood have vainly pitched a similar setup.   

Hong Kong has been able to wage a most illustrious war against corruption primarily because there, the burden of proof of corruption rests on the suspect and not the policing or prosecuting authorities. If, for instance, you are living a lavish lifestyle or you own property that do not equate with what your average income would ordinarily permit, you have to produce tangible proof that you legally earned the wherewithal that made possible such a lush standard of living, failure to which you are automatically guilty of corruption and a long stint in prison beckons.   

The appropriate institutions of the Government of Botswana are enjoined to pluck a leaf or two from the graft-busting ways of the “Pearl of the Orient”.

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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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