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Wanted: Benevolent Dictator

David Magang
VIEW FROM MANA HOUSE     
  

Conventional  wisdom holds that democracy is the most palatable and efficacious form of government. I contend that that is not a matter of course: it is debatable.

Remember the dawg known as Joseph Stalin? He turned the largest empire of modern times, the Soviet Union, into a military and geopolitical power as well as an economic tour de force. As he was attaining to such insuperable feats, he was busy brutalising his own people, purging political opponents, and hounding dissidents to a frigid penal colony known as Siberia.

But dictators of the Stalinist mould do not strike much of a chord with me. It is the milder variety – benevolent dictators – who do, even more than archetypal democrats. The benevolent dictator does act aberrantly too on occasion, but not to indulge a thirst for blood or pillage the national treasury. Whatever excesses he commits are arguably in the interests of the nation as a whole as opposed to sheer megalomania Idi Amin-style. I have in mind people like China’s Deng Xiaoping, Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew, the Maktoum family of Dubai, and Rwanda’s Paul Kagame.

Lee Kuan Yew literally created a country – and a dizzyingly thriving one at that – in the manner, it is said, a certain “Anunnaki” from a far-flung planet in the cosmos called Enki fashioned mankind from Ape Man courtesy of Benson C Saili’s Earth Chronicles. Meanwhile, even as he incredulously turned a Third World country into a First World showcase, Lee made a hobby of muzzling the press, trampling on civil liberties, and allowing for only a caricature of plural politics.

Deng Xiaoping wasn’t even a savant of economics. Yet China is on course to be the world’s largest economy within a decade’s time or so thanks to a economic wizardry akin to pulling a rabbit out of the hat.  Deng, in case it has slipped your mind or you simply weren’t born at the time, is the antihero behind the infamous Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989, in which up to 1000 peaceful and hapless protestors perished in cold blood.  

Dubai once was no more than a drab and dreary creek earning its keep from pearling and fishing. Then the dynastic and despotic Maktoum family (rulers for life) waved a wand and lo and behold, Dubai sand had turned to silicon! Today, Dubai is one of the world’s most prosperous economies.

Rwanda is hailed as one of Africa’s most dynamic and efficient economies. Once upon a time, it was wracked by genocidal warfare that claimed close to a million lives. Then Paul Kagame grabbed hold of the postage-sized country by the scruff of its neck and vowed to turn it into Africa’s Singapore. Of course he’s light years from making a reality of that grandiose dream but the odds are he’s incrementally getting there. This is the same Kagame, by the way, who liberally administers corporal punishment to government technocrats without blushing and who seeks out political foes wherever they are to silence them once and for all.     

There is yet another, newly minted benevolent dictator who is making waves.

He hails from the United Republic of Tanzania.

His name is John Pombe Magufuli.

MR BULLDOZER WALKS THE TALK

After being sworn in as Tanzania’s new President on November 5 2015, John Magufuli strode into office with guns blazing, having undertaken to rein in corruption, pare down wasteful spending, and radically improve delivery in the public sector. He wasn’t bluffing: within 100 days of assuming office, evidence already abounded that he was determined to walk the talk and not simply rant vacuously demagogue-style.

One of the first cost-containing measures he took only days in his presidency was to clamp down on foreign travel, which he restricted to only he, the vice president, and the prime minister. Ministers and the typically profligate top civil servants were no longer eligible for overseas trips they were wont to undertake on a whim. All routine international invitations were to be honoured, where need arose, by the country’s envoy in the nearest mission. In stark contrast to his predecessor Jakaya Kikwete,  who was christened “Vasco da Gama” (the legendary  Portuguese explorer) owing to the  obsessional frequency with which he took to the skies,  Magufuli travels only once in a long while. When he made his first foreign visit to Rwanda, he opted for a bumpy ride on the familiar macadamised road, just as he did when he went to officially open parliament 600 km away in Dodoma.   Any official who of necessity has to travel abroad has to do so by economy class.       

Magufuli’s own inauguration ceremony, where his alter ego Paul Kagame received the loudest applause, was frugal. When he was told the tab was $100,000, he took strong exception, chopped it down to $7,000, and gave instructions that the balance be spent on revamping a hospital in disrepair.

The customary, typically lavish Independence Day celebrations slated for December 9 he ordered scrapped. The $2 million that was set aside for the festivities (we’re splashing P100 million on the Golden Jubilee celebrations ourselves my foot!) he directed that it be used to construct a 4.3 km road section in Dar es Salaam. Eight days earlier, he had his country forego the observance of World AIDS Day – an “unnecessary expenditure” he said – and the monies so saved were used to replenish hospitals with pharmaceuticals.

He did not spend Independence Day rattling forth political platitudes. Instead, he squared up to a special, ad hoc chore: he took to the streets and hunkered down to shovelling mangy litter along with dozens of volunteers from a nearby food market. Never one to revel in razzmatazz of any guise, Magufuli, nicknamed “The Bulldozer” for the steamrolling manner with which he gets things done, substantially slashed the budget for the state banquet that always accompanied the opening of parliament.  

When he was shown a list of people who were preparing to attend the last Commonwealth Head of Government Meeting, he bristled at the unwieldy delegation of 55 and pruned it to a lean and mean four, saving the country millions in needless expenditure.

Cabinet positions were reduced from 30 to 19, with some ministries merged and others dispensed with altogether.  In March this year, he announced that he  was going to right-size the avaricious salaries of the civil service bigwigs. “It is shameful that some top officials are  getting  $18,000 a month while others are paid as little as $140 a month,” he raged. He served notice that he would cap public service salaries at $7000.

NEW SHERIFF IN TOWN

Magufuli’s no-nonsense approach at taming corruption, sloth, and the business-as-usual syndrome among public servants has fanatically endeared him to most Tanzanians and engrossed the continent.  Eager to upend this ignoble image of his beloved country (which is ranked among the top 20 countries in Africa hardest hit by  corruption), the Bulldozer is kicking butt  hard and good, beginning with the top dogs in due heed of the Swahili aphorism that, “If you want to sweep the stairs, you have to start from the top”.

The President has axed and/or prosecuted at least seven government agency heads since he took office on allegations of corruption. They include the head of the country’s anti-corruption body (for the apathetic pace at which graft was being combated), the chief of  Tanzania Railways, the director-general of the Tanzania Ports Authority, the head of  Tanzania Revenue Authority, and a top immigration official. At the last count, a total of 150 big fishes, not small fry as is typically the case in our country, had been removed from office on suspected  corruption and about 600 cases relating to corruption are presently before the courts.

A favourite modus operandi of the President is to waltz into government offices or institutions unannounced and crack the whip on the spot.  On one such visit to the country’s largest public hospital, he found scores of patients curled up on the floor due to a shortage of beds. Snorting with fury, he terminated the services of the hospital chief forthwith, dissolved its governing board, and had new beds delivered there and then. He is even rumoured, like a Chinese emperor, to travel in disguise in order to sniff out malfeasance.  In May this year, a minister was given the marching orders for showing up in parliament in a drunken state and answering questions with a slurred speech. “There was impunity at all levels. Now it’s different,” observed a well-known social commentator delightedly.

Too often in Africa, exciting new leaders with a radical agenda and supposedly impeccable moral credentials have started off promisingly, only to ossify into ineffective autocrats. One hopes that won’t be the fate of the dogged and resolute John Magufuli.  

IF ONLY OURS WAS ONE TOO    

My autobiography, The Magic of Perseverance, came off the presses only months after President Ian Khama had ascended to the highest office in the land in April 2008. In Chapter 39 of the 700-page tome, I provided a prognostic perspective on the Khama presidency. The kernel of my argument was that despite fears to the contrary, the charismatic and likeable Kgosi, soldier, and politician rolled into one was going to rule democratically.

My prognosis has borne out. He has governed within broadly democratic parameters, but the 5thD hasn’t exactly nailed it. That is because he’s fettered by the constraints democratic governance automatically impose. He did start very promisingly though, with constructive government directives that had every hand on deck and the dismissal of five ministers by the stroke of a pen. Not very long after, however, the bureaucratic inertia and general languor in the ranks of Government we had been accustomed to once again became the norm.

Like the countries I have cited above, what Botswana needs in order to tick and prosper is a benevolent dictator. Certainly, if we had a benevolent dictator bearing down upon us Magufuli-style, the Fengyue scandal wouldn’t have reared its ugly head; the Morupule power plant blues would have seen a number of heads roll; the resident and work permit pace and processes wouldn’t be such a shambles;   much of the deadwood in the civil service and parastatals would have been weeded out; most private institutions of higher learning would have been shut down for churning out barely baked graduates; totally ineffectual and costly white elephants such as BNPC and to some extent BDC  would have long closed shop and  millions of  Pula saved; ministers who so  brazenly use their next of kin to enter into eye brow-raising contracts with institutions they oversee would have long been given the boot; and multi-million Pula  infrastructural projects would be getting complete timeously and without deliberately  inflated cost overruns.


President Khama is tender-hearted, but that virtue has turned out to be counter-productive. He has ample time remaining in his tenure still  to take off the gloves, roll up his sleeves, and begin to wield the cudgel. That is a benevolent dictator I’m talking about.

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Is COVID-19 Flogging an Already Dead Economic Horse?

9th September 2020

The Central Bank has by way of its Monetary Policy Statement informed us that the Botswana economy is likely to contract by 8.9 percent over the course of the year 2020.

The IMF paints an even gloomier picture – a shrinkage of the order of 9.6 percent.  That translates to just under $2 billion hived off from the overall economic yield given our average GDP of roughly $18 billion a year. In Pula terms, this is about P23 billion less goods and services produced in the country and you and I have a good guess as to what such a sum can do in terms of job creation and sustainability, boosting tax revenue, succouring both recurrent and development expenditure, and on the whole keeping our teeny-weeny economy in relatively good nick.

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Union of Blue Bloods

9th September 2020

Joseph’s and Judah’s family lines conjoin to produce lineal seed

Just to recap, General Atiku, the Israelites were not headed for uncharted territory. The Promised Land teemed with Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. These nations were not simply going to cut and run when they saw columns of battle-ready Israelites approach: they were going to fight to the death.

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Security Sector Private Bills: What are they about?

9th September 2020

Parliament has begun debates on three related Private Members Bills on the conditions of service of members of the Security Sector.

The Bills are Prisons (Amendment) Bill, 2019, Police (Amendment) Bill, 2019 and Botswana Defence Force (Amendment) Bill, 2019. The Bills seek to amend the three statutes so that officers are placed on full salaries when on interdictions or suspensions whilst facing disciplinary boards or courts of law.

In terms of the Public Service Act, 2008 which took effect in 2010, civil servants who are indicted are paid full salary and not a portion of their emolument. Section 35(3) of the Act specifically provides that “An employee’s salary shall not be withheld during the period of his or her suspension”.

However, when parliament reformed the public service law to allow civil servants to unionize, among other things, and extended the said protection of their salaries, the process was not completed. When the House conferred the benefit on civil servants, members of the disciplined forces were left out by not accordingly amending the laws regulating their employment.

The Bills stated above seeks to ask Parliament to also include members of the forces on the said benefit. It is unfair not to include soldiers or military officers, police officers and prison waders in the benefit. Paying an officer who is facing either external or internal charges full pay is in line with the notion of ei incumbit probation qui dicit, non qui negat or the presumption of innocence; that the burden of proof is on the one who declares, not on one who denies.

The officers facing charges, either internal disciplinary or criminal charges before the courts, must be presumed innocent until proven otherwise. Paying them a portion of their salary is penalty and therefore arbitrary. Punishment by way of loss of income or anything should come as a result of a finding on the guilt by a competent court of law, tribunal or disciplinary board.

What was the rationale behind this reform in 2008 when the Public Service Act was adopted? First it was the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise.

The presumption of innocence is the legal principle that one is considered “innocent until proven guilty”. In terms of the constitution and other laws of Botswana, the presumption of innocence is a legal right of the accused in a criminal trial, and it is an international human right under the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 11.

Withholding a civil servant’s salary because they are accused of an internal disciplinary offense or a criminal offense in the courts of law, was seen as punishment before a decision by a tribunal, disciplinary board or a court of law actually finds someone culpable. Parliament in its wisdom decided that no one deserves this premature punishment.

Secondly, it was considered that people’s lives got destroyed by withholding of financial benefits during internal or judicial trials. Protection of wages is very important for any worker. Workers commit their salaries, they pay mortgages, car loans, insurances, schools fees for children and other things. When public servants were experiencing salary cuts because of interdictions, they lost their homes, cars and their children’s future.

They plummeted into instant destitution. People lost their livelihoods. Families crumbled. What was disheartening was that in many cases, these workers are ultimately exonerated by the courts or disciplinary tribunals. When they are cleared, the harm suffered is usually irreparable. Even if one is reimbursed all their dues, it is difficult to almost impossible to get one’s life back to normal.

There is a reasoning that members of the security sector should be held to very high standards of discipline and moral compass. This is true. However, other more senior public servants such as judges, permanent secretary to the President and ministers have faced suspensions, interdictions and or criminal charges in the courts but were placed on full salaries.

The yardstick against which security sector officers are held cannot be higher than the aforementioned public officials. It just wouldn’t make sense. They are in charge of the security and operate in a very sensitive area, but cannot in anyway be held to higher standards that prosecutors, magistrates, judges, ministers and even senior officials such as permanent secretaries.

Moreover, jail guards, police officers and soldiers, have unique harsh punishments which deter many of them from committing misdemeanors and serious crimes. So, the argument that if the suspension or interdiction with full pay is introduced it would open floodgates of lawlessness is illogical.

Security Sector members work in very difficult conditions. Sometimes this drives them into depression and other emotional conditions. The truth is that many seldom receive proper and adequate counseling or such related therapies. They see horrifying scenes whilst on duty. Jail guards double as hangmen/women.

Detectives attend to autopsies on cases they are dealing with. Traffic police officers are usually the first at accident scenes. Soldiers fight and kill poachers. In all these cases, their minds are troubled. They are human. These conditions also play a part in their behaviors. They are actually more deserving to be paid full salaries when they’re facing allegations of misconduct.

To withhold up to 50 percent of the police, prison workers and the military officers’ salaries during their interdiction or suspensions from work is punitive, insensitive and prejudicial as we do not do the same for other employees employed by the government.

The rest enjoy their full salaries when they are at home and it is for a good reason as no one should be made to suffer before being found blameworthy. The ruling party seems to have taken a position to negate the Bills and the collective opposition argue in the affirmative. The debate have just began and will continue next week Thursday, a day designated for Private Bills.

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