For a relatively small country in terms of population, we certainly make our mark on the world stage every so often and this past couple of days is a prime example. Turn on any major global news channel or online newspaper, listen to the sports reportage and the name of Botswana, alongside one of its première athletes, Isaac Makwala, is sure to feature.
Makwala, you see, was in London to compete in the World Athletics Chamionships but was denied the opportunity to compete in the qualifying time trials earlier this week, owing to his being suspected of suffering from a case of nurovirus, a gastro-intestinal bug which had already affected another 30 athletes and officials from several competing nations. The sports’ governing body, the IAAF, ordered him to go into quarantine for 48 hours, a move which meant he was unable to enter the stadium and take part in the trials.
Turned away from the track, Makwala professed himself t be ‘heartbroken’ and accused the British and/or the IAAF of ‘sabotage’ in order to prevent him running against, and possibly beating South African rival Wayde van Niekerk and thus deny him the 200m and 400m double victory which would be a world athletics record which had stood since Michael Johnson achieved it back in 1995.
That might have been the end to it; a disappointed Tswana athlete and his chance at a medal denied but by now the furore over his ban was building, with the venerable British Broadcasting Corporation seemingly entering into the fray. In an unprecedented move, the most extraordinary 48 hours in Isaac Makwala’s career continued on Wednesday with the Motswana being dramatically reinstated into the 200m at the world championships – before running a solo time trial in 20.20sec to make the semi-finals, and then, only two hours later, qualifying for Thursday’s final after going 0.06 sec quicker. Makwala crossed the line after his first race to enormous cheers and then started doing press-ups. The implication was clear: he is as fit as a fiddle and the athletics’ governing body, the IAAF, had been wrong to bar him.
According to the UK Guardian newspaper “That decision led to extraordinary criticism of the stance of the IAAF and Public Health England by the BBC on Tuesday night, with the former 400m world record holder Johnson hinting at an IAAF conspiracy to keep Makwala from beating Van Niekerk, and Paula Radcliffe and Denise Lewis appearing to question the competency of the head of medical services at London 2017, Pamela Venning.
The IAAF is furious at the BBC’s behaviour and has not only let the broadcaster know in the strongest possible terms but is considering whether to take the matter further. The IAAF is particularly incensed that the BBC’s coverage was heavily tilted towards Makwala’s viewpoint while the integrity of their processes – designed to ensure the norovirus, which has rapidly spread since the weekend, was contained – was repeatedly questioned.
When speaking to the BBC after Van Niekerk’s 400m victory, Venning insisted that letting Makwala race would “risk many, many, many more athletes not competing” because of the “very infectious and very virulent” nature of the virus. As she told the BBC’s panel: “The history from this gentleman is very clear he had symptoms similar to all the other athletes classified as having this gastrointestinal disease. In the wake of public criticism of the pundits’ questioning, which some likened to bullying, the BBC released a statement saying: “We understand some viewers were unhappy about the way in which Dr Pam Venning was questioned by our presentation team but the tone of the questioning was respectful with Dr Venning able to present the IAAF’s position clearly and effectively.”
Even IAAF President Lord Coe felt obliged to put his six pann’orth in, going on record as saying his organisation had to follow its strict medical rules in barring Makwala. “No one from the IAAF is showing a lack of empathy with Isaac, far from it in fact.” Wow! Former runners wading into the row, accusations of media bias an auspicious sports body, the International Association of Athletic Federations, openly accused of trying to ‘match fix’ , or in this case ‘ race fix’ and its President having to publicly deny any wrongdoing. The accusations have so far stopped short of implying that it , or possibly Makwala’s rival camp, might have nobbled him by deliberately exposing him to the virus, but give it time – the race is yet to run and the row looks like it still has legs too.
Makwala had admitted to a bout of vomiting, after leaving the athletes’ bus but claimed that was scarcely proof that he was indeed infected with the nurovirus. His support team agreed and so at 12.30pm on Wednesday the Botswana Athletics Association president wrote a letter to the IAAF asking for Makwala to be allowed to compete because his quarantine period would be over at 2pm. He was then cleared by a medical and a special time trial was set up. Even so, Makwala had to run 20.53sec or quicker to qualify for the semi-finals in the freezing cold and driving rain – something he did with aplomb, not only qualifying but finishing with his aforementioned press-ups to more than prove a point. Moreover, he did so to the utter delight of the watching spectators, something he acknowledged by saying ‘the crowd was amazing, they helped me to believe’
He’s probably right. The British have one unerring national characteristic which is their unshakeable support for anyone or anything they perceive to be an underdog and the further under the ‘dog’ falls, the more they will cheer him on. For whilst Makwala is clearly a serious contender for the gold medal and first place, in British eyes he has been wronged by unfair powers-that-be in what they see as a blatant attempt not to let the best man win. It’s just not cricket, or in this case, athletics and up with that they will not put. In their eyes he is already a winner so come race day and they will be on the sidelines and in the bleachers cheering on their much-maligned Motswana mascot; and if he does indeed quite literally pip his rival to the post, I wouldn’t be at all surprise if he is given a victory lap on the shoulders of a crowd whose sense of fair play has been attacked – win or lose, he’s already a hero!
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.