Regard being had to the history of its discussions in Parliament, and in society in general, it is not unreasonable to conclude that the BDP government’s failure to pass the Bill on Declaration of Assets and Liabilities shows it is corrupt.
When delivering his inaugural speech in April 2018, His Excellency the President, Dr. Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi, said “I will do my utmost to continually grow confidence in and of governance through a combination of new legislation, ethical codes and demonstrable and efficacious behaviours. To this end, expect specific legislation on declaration of assets and liabilities soon.”
In September 2018, at the National Business Conference (NBC) organised by Business Botswana, H.E Dr. Masisi reiterated his intentions to table the Bill before Parliament, committing that the Bill will be tabled before Parliament between November and December 2018. However, today, about six months since the self-imposed deadline passed, no legislative action has been taken to enact the Bill despite a promise by the Minister for Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration, Honourable Nonofho Molefhi, that the Bill will be tabled this year.
Considering that there are only three months before the general elections, it is very unlikely that the Bill can be tabled, discussed and passed this year. In my view, the BDP government may never table the Bill. In the unlikely event that H.E Dr. Masisi tables the Bill, it may only be a political stunt knowing full well that the Bill will not be passed by the BDP dominated Parliament.
In early 2014, during the 10th Parliament, when former Member of Parliament (MP) for Gaborone Central, Dumelang Saleshando, sought to get permission from Parliament to draft and table a private members Bill, H.E Dr. Masisi, then Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration, opposed it, claiming that Government was working on tabling the Bill.
Again, in late 2014, when the 11th Parliament commenced following the October 2014 general elections, Saleshando resuscitated the Bill, but is failed when the then Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration, Lesego Motsumi, insisted that government would itself bring table the Bill. At the time, MPs, including many from the BDP, issued an ultimatum to Motsumi to table the Bill before the end of the year, threatening to support Saleshando’s motion if she does not, but the year passed, and nothing happened.
You would recall that when Saleshando sought to bring the Bill in 2014 our country was bedevilled by a series of corruption scandals, yet the BDP-led Parliament did not see the need to pass the Bill. Similarly, when H.E Dr. Masisi assumed the presidency more than a year ago, our country was bedevilled by a series of corruption scandals, among them the National Petroleum Fund (NPF) debacle, but still the BDP-led Parliament does not see the need to pass the Bill.
This, despite H.E Dr. Masisi himself acknowledging that Botswana will not succeed in attracting the desired Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), nor will it succeed in growing the economy if corruption remains part of the country’s business culture. It is incontrovertible that the Bill will go a long way in reducing corruption. In fact, the Bill will prevent corruption. This is because it would require government officials and heads of parastatals to declare their assets and liabilities upon assuming office, something which will deter them from later amassing wealth corruptly since their asset base will be public information.
Also, those prospective officers who are highly indebted will be identified. This is critical since such people may be a risk, and would, therefore, require monitoring since they may have a propensity for corruption in an effort to clear their liabilities. Even more dangerous is the fact that such individuals may pose a risk for national security since they may be targeted by enemies of the state who may ‘assist’ them financially only to later black mail them into leaking state secrets, for instance.
Stating that declaration of assets and liabilities is taboo for the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) government is no exaggeration. A pre-2014 legislative history of the Bill will demonstrate this. Twenty years have passed, and three state Presidents have served their terms and retired since former Minister of Health, Joy Phumaphi, first tabled a proposal for the Bill on Declaration of Assets and Liabilities in 1996.
It is worth noting that Phumaphi’s motion was adopted, after which a draft bill was tabled before Parliament. However, MPs were unhappy about certain clauses, especially the clause that sought families of legislators to also register their assets. During the Bill’s second reading Parliament resolved to commit the Bill to a select committee for fine-tuning, but the select committee never completed its work because the Parliament’s term lapsed. Surprisingly, the next Parliament did not pursue the matter.
In December 2005, the then Minister for Presidential Affairs and Public Administration, Phandu Skelemani, in responding to a question by Ponatshego Kedikilwe, informed Parliament that his proposals, in the form of a memorandum, were due before cabinet. It would seem that Skelemani lived up to his word since, in response to a question in February 2007 on progress made as regards the Bill, he informed Parliament that his proposals had been discussed by cabinet, but cabinet was in favour of a Code of Conduct Bill instead of a Bill on Declaration of Assets.
So, the BDP has been dilly darling on the Bill for the past 23 years, about half the time it has been in power. Instead of focusing its attention on finalizing the Bill in 2005, cabinet diverted Parliament’s attention from the Bill to a mere Code of Conduct for MPs. Why would a political party which has committed itself to such values as good governance, transparency and accountability be against the enactment of such a benevolent Bill as the one on declaration of assets and liabilities?
For all we know, H.E Dr. Masisi may have been genuine when he, in April 2018, announced that his government will be tabling the Bill before the end of the year, but was later hampered by dark forces, both within the party and the party’s donor community or he has himself joined the dark forces. Considering the efficiency with which he delivered on several of the promises he made during his inaugural speech, there is no reason why he should not have delivered on the Declaration of Assets and Liabilities Bill.
This is especially true considering that there is already a draft which has been ready since 1996. Also, obviously a lot of work was done in 2005 in further developing the Bill. The only conclusion which can be reached about the BDP’s reticence in passing the Bill is that it wants to protect its own whom it fears will be exposed by the transparency on one’s assets and liabilities that the Bill will bring.
In June 2017, former president of the Botswana Congress Party (BCP), Michael Dingake, summed it well when he said “the motion on Declaration of Assets and Liabilities, tabled by a BDP MP, Hon Joy Phumaphi, unanimously adopted by both sides of the House, as a corruption deterrent, has been hanging fire for 20 years! Why? Because Domkrag is corrupt! Legislating to nip corruption in the bud isn’t the Domkrag way…” This much is evidenced by the BDP’s unwillingness to table another equally important Bill, the Freedom to Access of Information Bill.
Just like the Bill on Declaration of Assets and Liabilities, this Bill would allow members of the public and the media, for instance, to have access to information, including about the assets and liabilities of those in leadership such as MPs, cabinet ministers, senior public officers and heads of parastatals.
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.