DCEC versus MEDIA: The Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) this week slapped News Company Botswana, publishers of The Botswana Gazette with a search warrant in a development that rocked the media industry and invited widespread criticism of the DCEC. The Publisher, Shike Olsen and his Editor and Reporter were interrogated by the DCEC offi cials while their lawyer was briefl y jailed at Mogoditshane Police Station. Read full account on Page 21 as we zoom into the DCEC Act.
The Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) had a run in with a midweek publication, The Botswana Gazette, this week following publication of a story alleging collusion and corruption. The DCEC had obtained a search warrant against the News Company Botswana premises but it encountered challenges in executing the warrant because lawyers representing the organisation raised objections bordering on the legality of the search warrant.
The DCEC has also in the recent past praised the media for its work in exposing corruption, declaring that they are friends with media. But this week the civility of the corruption busting organisation was all gone as it flexed its muscles against The Botswana Gazette, an episode that led to the temporary jailing of Gazette lawyer Joao Salbany and the arrest of the publication’s Managing Editor, Shike Olsen; Deputy Editor, Lawrence Seretse; and reporter, Innocent Selatlhwa.
Many commentators viewed the development as harassment of the media and feared for the worst in so far as Media Freedom is concerned. MISA Botswana voiced out, labelling the decision by the DCEC an assault on Media Freedom; Botswana Congress Party (BCP) publicity secretary, Taolo Lucas complained about the section 44 of the DCEC Act which he labelled as draconian and going against the spirit of the Botswana Constitution; while Dr Phenyo Butale of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) had a go at a host of legislations which he said were not friendly to the media.
He said what the DCEC was doing was harassment of the media and a calculated effort to muzzle the press. The Law Society of Botswana released a statement rebuking the arrest of one of their members, Salbany and “an apparent muzzling of the media”.
LSB wrote, “… the arrest of an attorney during the discharge of his duties is an affront to the Constitution and the very basic tenets of Democracy and the Rule of Law. The arrest runs afoul of enshrined Constitutional rights of the Gazette Newspaper and the Journalist to legal representation and to adequately prepare a defence and similarly an affront to the attorney’s Constitutional rights to protect the rights of his clients.
According to the LSB, the arrest brings once again into sharp focus the culture of impunity that the Society alluded to at the Opening of the Legal Year in 2015. It further brings into question the country’s soft-spoken credentials on the Rule of Law.
Salbany, of the Law firm Bayford and Associates was arrested and detained at Mogoditshane Police Station supposedly on a charge of obstructing the officers in their investigations. According to the DCEC Act, the offence carries a penalty of imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years, or to a fine not exceeding P10 000, or to both.
This week’s raid by the DCEC further brought into sharp focus the law that set up the organization. A closer look at the Act demonstrates that the Director General of the DCEC wields a lot of power which when unleashed could leave a lot of ash on the ground.
A reading of the Act further explains why she (Director General) searched the News Company Botswana premises. Unoda Mack, a prominent lawyer who had accompanied Duma Boko to rescue Salbany intimated that the search warrant was valid, but the DCEC officers could have avoided the drama by explaining their mission. As things stand, the newspaper has done nothing wrong, the DCEC only felt that there could be evidence of a case they are working on at the premises.
After interrogating the journalists in the presence of attorneys Kabo Motswagole, Boko and Mack, the DCEC went ahead and searched the News Company Botswana premises and confiscated a computer.
Below we reproduce some sections that give the DCEC Director General powers of search and arrest, as well as subsequent prosecute:
13. SEARCH WITH WARRANTS (1) If it appears to the Directorate that there is reasonable cause to believe that there is in any premises, place, vessel, boat, aircraft or other vehicle anything which is or contains evidence of the commission of any offence under Part IV, the Director or any officer of the Directorate may make an application on oath to a magistrate for a warrant to search such premises, place, vessel, boat, aircraft or other vehicle.
(2) If a magistrate to whom an application is made under subsection (1) is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that there is in the premises, place, vessel, boat, aircraft or other vehicle referred to in subsection (1) anything which is or contains evidence of the commission of any of the offences referred to in Part IV, he may by warrant direct the Director, or any officer authorised by him under section 7(1)(a), to enter and search such premises, place, vessel, boat, aircraft or other vehicle and seize and detain anything which the Director, or the officer authorised by the Director, has reason to believe to be or to contain evidence of any of the offences referred to in Part IV.
14. SEARCH WITHOUT WARRANT IN CERTAIN CASES Whenever the Director, or an officer authorised by him under section 7(1)(a), has reasonable cause to believe that there is in any premises, place, vessel, boat, aircraft or other vehicle any article or document which is evidence of the commission of an offence, or in respect of which an offence has been, is being, or about to be committed, under Part IV, is being conveyed, or is concealed or contained in any package in the premises, place, vessel, boat, aircraft or other vehicle, for the purpose of being conveyed, then and in any such case, if the Director or the officer authorised by him under section 7(1) considers that the special exigencies of the case so require, he may without a warrant enter the premises, place, vessel, boat, aircraft or other vehicle, and search, seize and detain such article, document or package.
15. EXERCISE OF POWERS OF SEARCH AND SEIZURE (1) In the exercise of the powers of search, seizure and detention under section 13(2) or 14, the Director or any other officer of the Directorate may use such reasonable force as is Exercise of powers of search and seizure
(1) In the exercise of the powers of search, seizure and detention under section 13(2) or 14, the Director or any other officer of the Directorate may use such reasonable force as is necessary in the circumstances, and may be accompanied or assisted by such other persons as he deems necessary to assist him to enter into or upon any premises, or upon any vessel, boat, aircraft or other vehicle, as the case may be.
(2) Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 7, 13 and 14, the Director, or any other officer of the Directorate shall not have access to any books, records, returns, reports or other documents, or data stored electronically, or to enter upon any premises, place, vessel, boat, aircraft or other vehicle if in the opinion of the President in writing such access or entry is likely to prejudice national security.
18. RESISTING OR OBSTRUCTING OFFICERS (1) Any person who resists or obstructs an officer in the execution of his duty shall be guilty of an offence.
(2) Any person guilty of an offence under this section or section 7(2) or 8(2) shall be liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years, or to a fine not exceeding P10 000, or to both.
44. PROHIBITION OF DISCLOSURE OF INFORMATION Any person who, without lawful authority or reasonable excuse, discloses to any person who is the subject of an investigation in respect of an offence alleged or suspected to have been committed by him under this Act the fact that he is subject to such an investigation or any details of such investigation, or publishes or discloses to any other person either the identity of any person who is the subject of such an investigation or any details of such an investigation, shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable, on conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year or to a fine not exceeding P2 000, or to both.
Government is currently sitting on 4 400 vacant posts that remain unfilled in the civil service. This is notwithstanding the high unemployment rate in Botswana which has been exacerbated by the recent outbreak of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
Just before the burst of COVID-19, official data released by Statistics Botswana in January 2020, indicate that unemployment in Botswana has increased from 17.6 percent three years ago to 20.7 percent. “Unemployment rate went up by 3.1 percentage between the two periods, from 17.6 to 20.7 percent,” statistics point out.
Leading commercial bank, First National Bank Botswana (FNBB), expects the central bank to sharpen its monetary policy knife and cut the Bank Rate twice in the last quarter of 2020.
The bank expects a 25 basis point (bps) in the beginning of the last quarter, which is next month, and another shed by the same bps in December, making a total of 50 bps cut in the last quarter. According to the bank’s researchers, the central bank is now holding on to 4.25 percent for the time being pending for more informed data on the economic climate.
An audit of the accounts and records for the supply of food rations to the institutions in the Northern Region for the financial year-ended 31 March 2019 was carried out. According to Auditor General’s report and observations, there are weaknesses and shortcomings that were somehow addressed to the Accounting Officer for comments.
Auditor General, Pulane Letebele indicated on the report that, across all depots in the region that there had been instances where food items were short for periods ranging from 1 to 7 months in the institutions for a variety of reasons, including absence of regular contracts and supplier failures. The success of this programme is dependent on regular and reliable availability of the supplies to achieve its objective, the report said.
There would be instances where food items were returned from the feeding centers to the depots for reasons of spoilage or any other cause. In these cases, instances had been noted where these returns were not supported by any documentation, which could lead to these items being lost without trace.
The report further stressed that large quantities of various food items valued at over P772 thousand from different depots were damaged by rodents, and written off.Included in the write off were 13 538 (340ml) cartons of milk valued at P75 745. In this connection, the Auditor General says it is important that the warehouses be maintained to a standard where they would not be infested by rodents and other pests.
Still in the Northern region, the report noted that there is an outstanding matter relating to the supply of stewed steak (283×3.1kg cans) to the Maun depot which was allegedly defective. The steak had been supplied by Botswana Meat Commission to the depot in November 2016.
In March 2017 part of the consignment was reported to the supplier as defective, and was to be replaced. Even as there was no agreement reached between the parties regarding replacement, in 51 October 2018 the items in question were disposed of by destruction. This disposal represented a loss as the whole consignment had been paid for, according to the report.
“In my view, the loss resulted directly from failure by the depot managers to deal with the matter immediately upon receipt of the consignment and detection of the defects. Audit inspections during visits to Selibe Phikwe, Maun, Shakawe, Ghanzi and Francistown depots had raised a number of observations on points of detail related to the maintenance of records, reconciliations of stocks and related matters, which I drew to the attention of the Accounting Officer for comments,” Letebele said in her report.
In the Southern region, a scrutiny of the records for the control of stocks of food items in the Southern Region had indicated intermittent shortages of the various items, principally Tsabana, Malutu, Sunflower Oil and Milk which was mainly due to absence of subsisting contracts for the supply of these items.
“The contract for the supply of Tsabana to all depots expired in September 2018 and was not replaced by a substantive contract. The supplier contracts for these stocks should be so managed that the expiry of one contract is immediately followed by the commencement of the next.”
Suppliers who had been contracted to supply foodstuffs had failed to do so and no timely action had been taken to redress the situation to ensure continuity of supply of the food items, the report noted.
In one case, the report highlighted that the supplier was to manufacture and supply 1 136 metric tonnes of Malutu for a 4-months period from March 2019 to June 2019, but had been unable to honour the obligation. The situation was relieved by inter-depot transfers, at additional cost in transportation and subsistence expenses.
In another case, the contract was for the supply of Sunflower Oil to Mabutsane, where the supplier had also failed to deliver. Examination of the Molepolole depot Food Issues Register had indicated a number of instances where food items consigned to the various feeding centres had been returned for a variety of reasons, including food item available; no storage space; and in other cases the whole consignments were returned, and reasons not stated.
This is an indication of lack of proper management and monitoring of the affairs of the depot, which could result in losses from frequent movements of the food items concerned.The maintenance of accounting records in the region, typically in Letlhakeng, Tsabong, and Mabutsane was less than satisfactory, according to Auditor General’s report.
In these depots a number of instances had been noted where receipts and issues had not been recorded over long periods, resulting in incorrect balances reflected in the accounting records. This is a serious weakness which could lead to or result in losses without trace or detection, and is a contravention of Supplies Regulations and Procedures, Letebele said.
Similarly, consignments of a total of 892 bags of Malutu and 3 bags of beans from Tsabong depot to different feeding centres had not been received in those centres, and are considered lost. These are also not reflected in the Statement of Losses in the Annual Statements of Accounts for the same periods.