Corruption is the abuse of entrusted power for private gain (Transparency International). The health sector is predominantly predisposed to corrupt activities as it provides many opportunities for bribes, informal payments, embezzlement, nepotism and other forms of abuse of power. We must not forget this cancer called corruption during our state of emergency.
The corona virus is affecting developed and developing countries concurrently. This has led to countries responding with lockdowns and states of emergencies to help prevent, contain and confine the virus from spreading to avoid calamities of unseen magnitude. With state of emergency in place it is tempting to deprioritise the mitigation and management of corruption risks and upholding of sanctions of perpetrators of corruption. Some people love pandemics because they create panic and chaos, where there is panic, decisions are made and taken not necessarily in the best interest of the public.
There is evidence from audits of international aid expenditure during 2013-2016 West Africa Ebola outbreak indicating that procurement procedures were widely disregarded (Divjak, B. and Dupuy, K., 2015). This has impact on the quality of goods and services provided to the public. Considerable funding will be required to procure equipment, infrastructure (quarantine, isolation) and capacity needed during prevention, containment of the virus. A health workforce with the necessary expertise is the cornerstone of an effective response to pandemics.
It takes a capable leadership to recognise their role and that of others such as media and other civil society stakeholders to complement the health workforce with sharing factual information, busting myths about the virus and taking care packages to the remotest areas in the country. It takes all, and the support needed cannot be taken away by corruption.
A pandemic such as this one can be seen by some as an opportunity to take advantage of the emergency to abuse their power for private gain. It is in these exceptional circumstances that corruption must not be ignored, that integrity systems must come out to play, and that accountability and transparency must be the anchoring principles. Particularly because the government and civil society are receiving support: financial aid and in kind, from the public. Building public trust for future assistance demands that all parties involved are transparent and accountable.
It is essential that existing investment, as well as any additional funds availed to tackle the spread of the virus are deployed strategically. It takes robust anti-corruption procedures and systems of accountability to ensure that aid, relief funds and any kind of donation deployed to help fight the virus is used well and benefit those who need it the most.
This means that by now, the government should share with the public exactly what may be needed in the next 3 months, which sectors and how much is going to cost. A rapid assessment report should have an estimation of costs, to divide the relief fund accordingly. We need to do all we can to minimise the threat corruption poses to an effective response to the crisis.
We need to pay particular attention that we do not fall into the following traps: decreasing transparency and accountability, manipulative political information sharing as well as biased distribution of support. Let us not fall into the trap of giving emergency contracts to companies that do not have the capacity, the competence to deliver. Public procurement procedures must be followed even during a state of emergency.
We need to ensure that the oversight body scrutinising Covid19 Relief Fund plays its role and has proper accountability system to follow during the state of emergency. They will be held accountable after this. Our government must not fall into the trap of bending what is left of the regulatory, policy and legal institutions for the private gain of a few. Our leaders must not fall into the dark hole of influencing decisions for bailouts and stimulus packages for industries at the beckoning of special interest groups and at the expense of the public interest.
Let us not fall into the trap of being seen as having formed a network that controls the distribution and prices of items needed for the country response. Even suspicions that leaders’ associates, family and friends are given contracts must be dealt with, using a robust public procurement system that is transparent and accountable to the public.
Let us not fall into the trap of using emergency procurement to deprioritise other health operations, flexing integrity systems in the health sector leaving it open to pilfering of available supplies and price gouging. We must not, particularly close our eyes to substandard and falsified products entering the markets via close associates and network to those in power.
During the Ebola outbreak, audits show that funds for health and awareness raising efforts were fraudulently documented (Steingrüber, S. et al, 2020). Accountability systems are important to deal with fraud or at least reduce the risks of corruption. Let us not fall into the trap where we find ourselves with issues where health workers salaries, volunteers and any actors’ overtime monies are paid out to private individuals instead of the rightful owners. Accountability and integrity systems come in handy to fight this.
Anti-corruption must remain a priority in times of a crisis and in this specific case of SARS-CoV-2 outbreak, which has called for a state of emergency in Botswana. Achieving health outcomes must be the top priority and the consequent economic interventions must have anti-corruption systems built in. Anti-corruption experts should be included in the public health discussions and constructively input to curb possible corruption risks. The United Nations Development Programme and the World Health Organisation have a number of risk assessment frameworks that can be applied. With these in mind:
Let us reinforce existing systems that have robust anti-corruption procedures. Enhance transparent open procurement system for procuring medical devices and other needed supplies. Systems of accountability must be maintained during a state of emergency and the justice system must be allowed to continue to function in order to enforce sanctions and rule on cases of corruption.
The Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crimes (DCEC) and other oversight bodies should issue strong warnings against fraud and corruption in crisis response measures and prepare to launch investigations against those who are abusing their positions to profit from the crisis.
Legislation should allow for retrospective scrutiny of procurement and other official decisions made during the crisis by a specially established body staffed with competent, and impartial persons. Civil society organisations should be ‘allowed’ to play an oversight role to deter any kind of corrupt practice, particularly at service delivery level and at the monitoring of the distribution of the Relief Fund level.
In conclusion, the covid-19 demonstrates the importance of investing in accountability and integrity systems in normal times, to ensure that citizens benefit from public goods and services. It shows that every Thebe does count, that we cannot, must not allow corruption to deplete our funds, because we never know when a pandemic is going to hit. It asserts that a call to fight corruption is indeed patriotism, it is nothing personal, and it is nothing partisan.
Boris Divjak and Kendra Dupuy (2015), Ebola and Corruption: Overcoming critical governance challenges in a crisis situation, Bergen: Chr. Michelsen Institute (U4 Brief 2015:04) 4 p.
Steingrüber, S. et al, 2020, U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, Chr. Michelsen Institute (U4 Brief 2020:6) HYPERLINK “https://www.u4.no/publications/corruption-in-the-time-of-covid-19-a-double-threat-for-low-income-countries” https://www.u4.no/publications/corruption-in-the-time-of-covid-19-a-double-threat-for-low-income-countries
WHO (2018), Integrating a Focus on Anti-Corruption, Transparency and Accountability in Health Systems Assessments HYPERLINK “https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/310991/9789241515177-eng.pdf” https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/310991/9789241515177-eng.pdf
This is a question that should seriously exercise the mind of every Botswana citizen and every science researcher, every health worker and every political leader political.
The Covid-19 currently defines our lives and poses a direct threat to every aspect and every part of national safety, security and general well-being. This disease has become a normative part of human life throughout the world.
The first part of the struggle against the murderous depredation of this disease was to protect personal life through restrictive health injunctions and protocols; the worst possibly being human isolation and masks that hid our sorrows and lamentations through thin veils. We suffered that humiliation with grace and I believe as a nation we did a great job.
Now the vaccines are here, ushering us into the second phase of this war against the plague; and we are asking ourselves, is this science-driven fight against Covid-19 spell the end of pandemic anxiety? Is the health nightmare coming to an end? What happy lives lie ahead? Is this the time for celebration or caution? As the Non State Actors, we have being struggling with these questions for months.
We have published our thoughts and feelings, and our research reviews and thorough reading of both the local and international impacts of this rampaging viral invasion in local newspapers and social media platforms.
More significantly, we have successfully organised workshops about the impact of the pandemic on society and the economy and the last workshop invited a panel of health experts, professionals, and public administers to advance this social dialogue as part of our commitment to the tripartite engagement we enjoy working with Government of Botswana, Civil Society and Development partners. These workshops are virtual and open to all Batswana, foreign diplomatic missions based in Gaborone, UN agencies located in Gaborone and international academic researchers and professional health experts and specialists.
The mark of Covid-19 on our nation is a painful one, a tragedy shared by the entire human race, but still a contextually painful experience. Our response is fraught with grave difficulties; limited resources, limited time, and the urgency to not only save lives but also avert economic ruin and a bleak future for all who survive. Several vaccines are already in the market.
Parts of the world are already doing the best they can to trunk the pestilential march of this disease by rolling out mass-vaccinations campaigns that promise to evict this health menace and nightmare from their public lives. Botswana, like much of Africa, is still up in the disreputable, and, unenviable, preventative social melee of masked interactions, metered distances, contactless commerce.
We remain very much at the mercy of a marauding virus that daily runs amuck with earth shattering implications for the economy and human lives. And the battle against both infections and transmissions is proving to be difficult, in terms of finance, institutional capacities and resource mobilization. How are we prepared as government, and as citizens, to embrace the impending mass-vaccinations? What are the chances of us succeeding at this last-ditch effort to defeat the virus? What are the most pressing obstacles?
Does the work of vaccines spell an end to the pandemic anxieties?
Our panellists addressed the current state of mass-vaccination preparedness at the Botswana national level. What resources are available? What are the financial, institutional and administrative operational challenges (costs and supply chains, delivery, distribution, administering the vaccine on time, surveillance and security of vaccines?) What is being done to overcome them, or what can be done to overcome them? What do public assessments of preparedness tell us at the local community levels? How strong is the political will and direction? How long can we expect the whole exercise to last? At what point should we start seeing tangible results of the mass-vaccination campaign?
They also addressed the challenges of the anticipated emerging Vaccinated Society. How to fight the myths of vaccines and the superstitions about histories of human immunizations? What exactly is being done to grow robust local confidence in the science of vaccinations and the vaccines themselves? More significantly, how to square these campaigns vis-vis personal rights, moral/religious obligations?
What messages are being sent out in these regards and how are Batswana responding? What about issues of justice and equality? Will we get the necessary vaccines to everyone who wants them? What is being done to ensure no deserving person is left behind?
They also addressed issues of health data. To accomplish this mass-vaccination campaign and do everything right we need accurate and complete data. Poor data already makes it very hard to just cope with the disease. What is being done to improve data for the mass-vaccination campaign? How is this data being collected, aggregated and prepared for real life situation/applications throughout Botswana in the coming campaign?
We know in America, for example, general reporting and treatment of health data at the beginning of vaccinations was so poor, so chaotic and so scattered mainstream newspapers like The Atlantic, Washington Post and the New York Times had to step in, working very closely with civil society organizations, to rescue the situation. What data-related issues are still problematic in Botswana?
To be specific, what kind of Covid-19 data is being taken now to ready the whole country for an effective and efficient mass-vaccination program?
Batswana must be made aware that the end part of vaccination will just mark the beginning of a long journey to health recovery and national redemption; that in many ways Covid-19 vaccination is just another step toward the many efforts in abeyance to fight this health pandemic, the road ahead is still long and painful.
For this purpose, and to highlight the significance of this observation we tasked our panellists with the arduous imperative of analysing the impact of mass-vaccination on society and the economy alongside the pressing issues of post-Covid-19 national health surveillance and rehabilitation programs.
Research suggests the aftermath of Covid-19 vaccination is going to be just as difficult and uncertain world as the present reality in many ways, and that caution should prevail over celebration, at least for a long time. The disease itself is projected to linger around for some time after all these mass-vaccination campaigns unless an effort is made to vaccinate everyone to the last reported case, every nation succeeds beyond herd immunity, and cure is found for Covid-19 disease. Many people are going to continue in need of medications, psychological and psychiatric services and therapy.
Is Botswana ready for this long holdout? If not, what path should we take going into the future? The Second concern is , are we going to have a single, trusted national agency charged with the mandate to set standards for our national health data system, now that we know how real bad pandemics can be, and the value of data in quickly responding to them and mitigating impact? Finally, what is being done to curate a short history of this pandemic? A national museum of health and medicine or a Public Health Institute in Botswana is overdue.
If we are to create strong sets of data policies and data quality standards for fighting future health pandemics it is critical that they find ideological and moral foundations in the artistic imagery and photography of the present human experience…context is essential to fighting such diseases, and to be prepared we must learn from every tragic health incident.
Our panellists answered most of these questions with distinguished intellectual clarity. We wish Batswana to join us in our second Mass-vaccination workshop.
Today is International Women’s Day – it’s a moment to think about how much better our news diet could be if inequities were eliminated. In 1995, when the curtains fell in one of the largest meetings that have ever brought women together to discuss women in development, it was noted that women and media remain key to development.
Twenty-six years later, the relevant “Article J” of the Beijing Platform for Action, remains unfulfilled. Its two strategic objectives with regard to Women and Media have not been met. They are Increase the participation and access of women to expression and decision-making in and through the media and new technologies of communication
Promote a balanced and non-stereotyped portrayal of women in the media.
Today, as we mark International Women’s Day, it’s an indictment on both media owners and civil society that women remain on the periphery of news-making. They cannot claim equal space in either the structures of newsrooms or in the content produced, be that as sources of news or as the subjects of reports. Indeed, the latest figures from WAN-IFRA’s Women in News Programme show just one in five voices in news belong to women*, be they as sources, as the author or as the main character of the news report.
Some progress was evident several years back, with stand-out women being named as chief executive officers, editors in chief, managing editors and executive editors. But these gains appear short lived in most media organisations. Excitement has turned to frustration as one-step forward has been replaced with three steps backwards. In Africa, the problem is acute. The decision-making tables of media organisations remain deprived of women and where there are women, they are surrounded by men.
Few women have followed in the footsteps of Esther Kamweru, the first woman managing editor in Kenya, and indeed sub-Saharan Africa. Today’s standout women editors include Pamela Makotsi-Sittoni (Nation Media Group, Kenya), Barbara Kaija (New Vision, Uganda), Mary Mbewe (Daily Nation, Zambia), Margaret Vuchiri (The Monitor, Uganda), Joyce Shebe (Clouds, Tanzania), Tryphinah Dongwana (Weekend Post, Botswana), Joyce Mhaville (Independent Television -ITV, Tanzania) and Tuma Abdallah (Standard Newspapers,Tanzania). But they remain an exception.
The lack of balance between women and men at the table of decision making has a rollback effect on the content that is produced. A table dominated by men typically makes decisions that benefit men.
So today, International Women’s Day is a grim reminder that things are not rosy in the news business. Achieving gender balance in news and in the structure of media organisations remains a challenge. Unmet, it sees more than half of the population in our countries suffer the consequences of bias, discrimination and sexism.
The business of ignoring the other half of the population can no longer be treated as normal. It’s time that media leaders grasp the challenge, not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it also makes a whole lot of business sense: start covering women, give them space and a voice in news-making and propel them to all levels of decision making within your organisation.
We can no longer afford to imagine that it’s only men who make and sell the news and bring in the shillings to fund the media business. Women too are worthy newsmakers. In all of our societies, there are women holding decision making positions and who are now experts in once male-only domains such as engineers, doctors, scientists and researchers.
They can be deliberately picked out to share their perspectives and expertise and bring balance to the profile of experts quoted on our news pages. Media is the prism through which society sees itself and women are an untapped audience. So, as we celebrate International Women’s Day, let us embrace diversity, which yields better news content and business products, and in so doing eliminate sexism. We know that actions and attitudes that discriminate against people based on their gender is bad for business.
As media, the challenge is ours. We need to consciously embrace and reach the commitments made 26 years ago when the Beijing Platform for Action was signed globally. As the news consuming public, you have a role to play too. Hold your news organization to account and make sure they deliver balanced news that reflects the voices of all of society.
Jane Godia is a gender development and media expert who serves as the Africa Director of Women in News programme. WOMEN IN NEWS is WAN-IFRA’s ground-breaking programme to increase women’s leadership and voices in the news. It does so by equipping women journalists and editors with the skills, strategies, and support networks to take on greater leadership positions within their media. www.womeninnews.org
The eve of International Women’s Day presents an opportunity for us to think about gender equality and the long and often frustrating march toward societies that are truly equal.
As media, we are uniquely placed to drive forward this reflection and discussion. But while focusing on the challenges of gender in society, we owe it to our staff and the communities we serve to also take a hard look at the obstacles within our own organisations.
I’m talking specifically about the scourge of sexual harassment. It’s likely to have happened in your newsroom. It has likely happened to a member of your team. It happens to all genders but is disproportionately directed at women. It happens in every industry, regardless of country, culture or context. This is because sexual harassment is driven by power, not sex. Wherever you have imbalances in power, you have individuals who are at risk of sexual harassment, and those who abuse this power.
I’ve been sexually harassed. The many journalists and editors, friends and family members who I have spoken to over the years on this subject have also been harassed. Yet it is still hard for leaders to recognize that this could be happening within their newsrooms and boardrooms. Why does it continue to be such a taboo?
Counting the cost of sexual harassment
Sexual harassment is, simply put, bad for business. It can harm your corporate reputation. It is a drain on the productivity of staff and managers. Maintaining and building trust in your brand is an absolute imperative for media organisations globally. If and when a case gets out of control or is badly handled – this can directly impact your bottom line.
It is for this reason that WAN-IFRA Women in News has put eliminating sexual harassment as a top priority in our work around gender equality in the media sector. This might seem at odds with the current climate where social interactions are fewer and remote work scenarios are in place in many newsrooms and businesses. But one only needs to tune into the news to know that the abuse of power, manifested as verbal, physical or online harassment, is alive and well.
Preliminary results from an ongoing Women in News research study into the issue of sexual harassment polling hundreds of journalists in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia indicate that more than 1 in 3 women media professionals have been physically harassed, and just under 50% have been verbally harassed. Just over 15% of men in African newsrooms reported being physically harassed, and slightly less than 1 in 4 reports being verbally harassed. The numbers for male media professionals in Southeast Asia are slightly higher than a quarter on both forms of harassment.
The first step in confronting sexual harassment is to talk about it. We need to strip away the stigma and discomfort around having open conversations about what sexual harassment is and isn’t. Media managers, it is entirely in your power to create dynamics in your own teams that are free from sexual harassment.
Publishers and CEOs, you set the organisational culture in your media company.
By being vocal in recognising that it happens everywhere, and communicating to your employees that you will not tolerate sexual harassment of any kind, you send a powerful message to your teams, and publicly. With these actions, you will help us overcome the legacy of silence around this topic, and in doing so take an important first step to create media environments that truly embrace equality.
Melanie Walker is Executive Director of Media Development of the World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA). She is a creator of Women in News, WAN-IFRA’s ground-breaking programme to increase women’s leadership and voices in the news. It does so by equipping women journalists and editors with the skills, strategies, and support networks to take on greater leadership positions within their media. www.womeninnews.org