One reason why many people, especially those in rural areas and the elderly, have voted for the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) since independence is that they believed it was, unlike most political parties in Africa, a proponent of good and clean governance. Of course, Batswana knew that they are some in the BDP who are corrupt, but they could not have known that such corruption could be sanctioned by the party’s National Council, let alone with the endorsement of the President and cabinet ministers.
President Lieutenant General Dr. Seretse Khama Ian Khama, especially at the beginning of his tenure, was known to abhor corruption with all his soul. Many people’s hopes were raised when he opposed Members of Parliament (MPs)’s efforts to have their salaries raised, calling them vultures.
But, if the report on Sunday Standard’s online edition of 7th May 2017 is true, there is reason to fear for if the BDP can stoop so low as to discuss organized corruption at such a leadership forum as the National Council and in the president of President Khama then Botswana is going to the dogs.
The test of a true democratic party is the extent to which it remains true to democratic ideals and principles even at the verge of losing elections. The BDP is at a critical time for it is at this time that many will seek to derail it in order to protect their own selfish interests. According to the Sunday Standard report, during a closed session of its National Council, the BDP discussed a plot to stop the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) from winning the 2019 general elections.
If this plot just entailed political strategies and tactics there would be nothing wrong with it because that is what political parties, including the UDC itself do. Any political party does claims it does not do that is, therefore, either grossly naïve or disingenuous. But, there is everything wrong with the BDP’s strategy because it entails abuse of state power and such state sponsored corruption as awarding council tenders to BDP functionaries who would later use part of the proceeds of such crime and corruption to fund the party’s election campaigns.
This is money laundering for political purposes. It is, therefore, disheartening that this clandestine plot is reported to have had the support of many who attended the closed door session of the National Council, including cabinet ministers. No wonder the BDP has always been opposed to the Opposition’s proposals to introduce political party funding. Why would it need political party funding which would equally capacitate the Opposition if it can fund its campaigns through such a money laundering activity as the one it was pondering?
Clearly, the BDP has realized that the public funds that it is currently plundering, through its tenderpreneurial functionaries, from the public coffers through such profitless projects as constituency funding and the so called Economic Stimulus Programme (ESP) will not be enough for the 2019 battle.
By proposing to have Councillors overseeing the award and administration of council tenders the BDP knows that since it has a majority of seats in most Councils its functionaries will be awarded tenders whose proceeds they would use to fund the party’s campaigns. The claim by some in the BDP that procurement is currently controlled by technical officers who are sympathetic to the Opposition and trade union members and, therefore, award tenders to Opposition and trade union functionaries is without merit.
Even if the claim had merit, the BDP, as a ruling party, cannot stoop that low. It is such state sponsored corruption and maladministration which has destroyed the economies and democracies of most countries, especially in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Surely, Batswana cannot allow the BDP, or any political party for that matter, to take them through that route. Countries like Zimbabwe, Democratic Republic of Congo and Venezuela have done that and today their economies are below junk status and there are riddled by civil strife.
How does a ruling party even ponder appointing a delimitation commission for the sole purpose of increasing the number of constituencies as a strategy of stretching the Opposition’s resources in order to enhance its chances of winning the elections? The question is: where will the BDP itself get the resources to campaign in such increased constituencies? Why would its resources not be stretched? Is it not from this diabolic ploy to steal from our people who toil so hard under difficult circumstances?
The thought of appointing a delimitation commission for the sole purpose of increasing the number of constituencies to stretch the Opposition financially, doesn’t it confirm that the BDP has done that before to undermine our democracy? A ruling party has to be so desperate to even think of compromising such an essential tenet of democracy as inner party democracy by foregoing council and parliamentary primary elections? Yet, the BDP is reportedly thinking of foregoing primary elections in constituencies under BDP control to stop the UDC from attaining state power in 2019.
How do we know that this is truly intended for the party’s benefit? Are individuals who fear losing the primary elections not masquerading under the pretext of saving the party when in fact they are protecting their own personal interests? Are supporters of His Honour the Vice President, HH Mokgweetsi Masisi, so scared of Honourable Nonofo Molefhi’s challenge for the party chairpersonship and state presidency that they can call for the cancellation of the Central Committee elections at the July 2017 Congress?
Any person who calls for the cancellation of such a democratic process as an election even at a party level is a danger to our democracy because nothing would stop them from calling for the cancellation or postponement of general elections when they fear that their party would lose the elections.
Dictatorships do not just start at a national level. They start at political party level and the more they become entrenched the more they apply their autocracy at a national level. Of course, some in BDP have done that in the past, but not, at least to our knowledge, through methods discussed at such a leadership forum as the National Council in the presence of the President.
The troubling question is: what other plots don’t we know which the BDP has hatched? If it can think of such devious strategies can’t it think of rigging elections especially that in 2019 Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), which are prone to human manipulation, will be used for the first time in our electoral history?
What would stop it, or at least some of its members who may think they are acting in the party’s best interests, from thinking about assassinating political rivals? It will be remembered that in the 2014 general elections there were mysterious attacks resulting in grievous bodily harm on some Opposition activists.
Not long ago there were reports of plots to assassinate such Opposition leaders as the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, Honourable Advocate Duma Boko, and the leader of the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD), Honourable Ndaba Gaolatlhe? We, however, get solace from the fact that reportedly some during the meeting condemned such a ploy as inimical to democracy even at the risk of being alienated by the party and president Khama and his anointed successor, HH Masisi.
These men and women, some of who are cabinet ministers who did that at the risk of being dropped from cabinet, are worthy of praise for they know that Botswana’s economic prosperity, good governance and peace and stability are more important than protecting a political party’s selfish interests.
The world in which we live is a criminally unequal one. In his iconic 1945 allegorical novella, Animal Farm, a satire on the facetiousness of the then Soviet Empire’s crackbrained experiment with a command economy, the legendary George Orwell in my view hit the nail squarely on the head when he said all animals were equal but some animals were more equal than others.
That’s the never-ending dichotomy of the so-called First World and its polar opposite, the so-called Third World as Orwell’s cleverly-couched diatribe applies as much to the tread-of-the-mill laissez faire economics of our day as it did to Marxist-Leninist Russia a generation back.
Even as the Nation of Israeli braced to militarily take possession of the Promised Land, General, its top three senior citizens, namely Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, were not destined to share in this god-conferred bequest. All three died before the lottery was won.
Financial Reporting (Amendment) Bill, 2020 and Accountants (Amendment) Bill, 2020 were expeditiously passed by parliament on Thursday.
What are these two Bills really about? The Bills are essentially about professional values that are applicable to auditors and accountants in their practice. The Bills seeks to basically enhance existing laws to ensure more uprightness, fairness, professional proficiency, due care, expertise and or professional technical standards.
The Financial Reporting Act, 2010 (FRA) establishes the Botswana Accountancy Oversight Authority (BAOA), as the country’s independent regulator of the accounting and auditing profession. BAOA is responsible for the oversight and registration of audit firms and certified auditors of public interest entities.
In the same vein, there is the Accountants Act, 2010 establishing the Botswana Institute of Chartered Accountants (BICA) which is responsible for the registration and regulation of the accounting and auditing profession. This consequently infers that some auditors have to register first with BICA as certified auditors, and also with BAOA as certified auditors of public bodies. So, the Bills sought to avert the duplication.
According to Minister Matsheka, the duplication of efforts in the regulation of auditors, which is done by both BICA and BAOA, creates a substantial gap on oversight of certified auditors in Botswana, as the two entities have different review procedures. He contends that the enforcement of sanctions becomes problematic and, thus, leads to offenders going Scot-Free, and audit quality standards also continue to plunge.
The Financial Reporting (Amendment) Bill, 2020, in the view of the Minister, brings the oversight and regulation of all auditors in Botswana under the jurisdiction of the Accountancy Oversight Authority and that Bringing all auditors within one roof, under the supervision of BAOA would therefore reinforce their oversight and significantly enhance accountability.
He also pointed that the Bill broadens the current mandate of the Authority by redefining public interest entities to include public bodies, defined as boards, tribunals, commissions, councils, committees, other body corporate or unincorporated established under any enactment.
This covers any company in which government has an equity shareholding. In order to enable the process of instituting fitting sanctions against violation of its provisions, the Bill clearly lays down acts and lapses that constitute professional misconduct.
This Bill further strengthens the sanctions for breach of the Act by public interest entities, officers, firms, and certified auditors. Reinforcing the law with respect to such sanctions will act as an effective deterrent for breach of the Act.
The Accountants Bill also strengthens the current mandate of the Institute by making it obligatory for those who provide accountancy services in Botswana to register with the Institute, and for all employers to hire accountants who are registered with the Institute.
The Minister reasons that in line with the spirit of citizen empowerment, this Bill proposes reservation of at least 50% of the Council membership for citizens. This, he says, is to empower citizens and ensure that citizenries play an active role in the affairs of the Institute, and ultimately in the development of the accounting profession in Botswana.
The Bills come at a point when Botswana’s financial sector is in a quagmire. The country has been blacklisted by the European Union. Its international rankings on Corruption Perception Index have slightly reduced. According to recent reports by Afro Barometer survey, perceptions of corruption in the public service have soured and so is mistrust in public institutions.
Rating agencies, Standard Poor’s and Moody’s have downgraded Botswana, albeit slightly. The reasons are that there continues to be corruption, fiscal and revenue crimes such as money laundering and general unethical governance in the country. There are still loopholes in many laws despite the enactments and amendments of more than thirty laws in the last two years.
One of the most critical aspect of enhancing transparency and accountability and general good governance, is to have a strong auditing and accounting systems. Therefore, such professions must be properly regulated to ensure that public monies are protected against white color crime. It is well known that some audit firms are highly unprincipled.
They are responsible for tax avoidance and tax evasions of some major companies. Some are responsible for fraud that has been committed. They are more loyal to money paid by clients than to ethical professional standards. They shield clients against accountability. Some companies and parastatals have collapsed or have been ruined financially despite complementary reports by auditors.
In some cases, we have seen audit firms auditing parastatals several times to almost becoming resident auditors. This is bad practice which is undesirable. Some auditors who were appointed liquidators of big companies have committee heinous crimes of corruption, imprudent management, fraud and outright recklessness without serious consequences.
There is also a need to protect whistleblowers as they have been victimized for blowing the whistle on impropriety. In fact, in some cases, audit firms have exonerated culprits who are usually corrupt corporate executives.
The accounting and auditing professions have been dominated by foreigners for a very long time. Most major auditing firms used by state entities and big private sector companies are owned by foreigners. There has to be a deliberate plan to have Batswana in this profession.
While there are many Batswana who are accountants, less are chartered accountants. There must be deliberate steps to wrestle the profession from foreigners by making citizens to be chartered. It is also important to strengthen the Auditor General. The office is created by the constitution.
The security of tenure is clearly secured in the constitution. However, this security of tenure was undermined by the appointing authority in many instances whereby the Auditor General was appointed on a short-term contract. The office is part of the civil service and is not independent at all.
The Auditor General is placed, in terms of scale, at Permanent Secretary level and is looked at as a peer by others who think they can’t be instructed by their equivalent to comply. Some have failed to submit books of accounts for audits, e.g. for special funds without fear or respect of the office. There is need to relook this office by making it more independent and place it higher than Permanent Secretaries.