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‘Uncivilised’ and/or ‘Uncultured’ Democracies: Would Still Struggle with Deep-Rooted Conflicts of Interest …

In ‘civilised’ democracies, old democracies, cultured democracies, the adherence to norms, standards and shared values is a practice. That is why they come up with legal and institutional frameworks to practice this adherence.

They have rules, regulations, control mechanisms and codes of ethics and conduct for public officials. We know, human beings can be tricky people. That is why one needs rules to contain, confine (covid19 much?) and prevent behaviours that can corrupt the system. One must manage people’s behaviour to ensure that there is little to no damage that can deny ordinary citizens of development.

It is why these democracies have systems and regimes in place such as the conflicts of interest regulations/regime and Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs) regimes. To ensure that public officials entrusted with power do not abuse it. Underline trust and abuse.

United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) Article 2 states:

(a) “Public official” shall mean:

(i)   Any person holding a legislative, executive, administrative or judicial office of a State Party, whether appointed or elected, whether permanent or temporary, whether paid or unpaid, irrespective of that person’s seniority;

(ii)   any other person who performs a public function, including for a public agency or public enterprise, or provides a public service, as defined in the domestic law of the State Party and as applied in the pertinent area of law of that State Party;

(iii) Any other person defined as a “public official” in the domestic law of a State Party.

So, is the Mayor of Francistown a public official? Yes, and he is also a Politically Exposed Person (PEP). So how do we have a Mayor tendering in a ‘company’ he runs and actually get awarded a tender? Simple, maybe some of us do not care about rules, regimes and regulations and competence and competition etc.

Grey areas are loved and incompetency is the norm (probably why we cannot come up with emergency public procurement regulations that continue to ensure upholding of transparency and accountability standards). It is the norm because it benefits a few and exclude the majority, particularly the majority that would compose songs about the one who skews the scale in his favour at their expense.

If you were to ask how many people the Mayor’s company hires, how much taxes it has paid the past 5 years, we may be surprised. Hopefully it is one of the SMMEs that have been growing over the past years, creating employment for Batswana- helping the state fight unemployment, and not one of those- tse di winang a tender and then shelved waiting for another big win.

Let us try and get why a Mayor can win a tender in his City Council.  It is probably because democratic principles do not mean a thing in Francistown City Council or in Botswana for that matter. They have not been cultivated in our system, in the fibre of our administration. Why do I say this? In my view, democracy seeks to ensure some justice and fairness in how the state and citizens behave.

The proponents of democracy know that life can be unequal and that those who are privileged to be in positions of power can abuse that power by oppressing the powerless. So they came up with underlying values to undergird the system and ensure some equality, if not, definitely better, decent and dignified living for citizens of democracies.

So they came up with principles such as transparency, accountability and came up with mechanisms to ensure the integrity of the system. They call for competition in bidding, so that, ideally, the best company wins, best in terms of the quality of services and goods produced for and to citizens, best in regards to pricing, that the buyer gets the value for money for the goods and services.

Particularly important in the public sector, we do not want our government impoverished by price gouging. It would mean your taxes di dirisiwa bothatswa.

We have ‘manuals’ on how to run government in a democracy, but then we have some ‘uncivilised’ and ‘uncultured’ people contorting the system. Even when they have gone to benchmark in the ‘civilised’ and ‘cultured’ world, to learn best practices.

By the way, the delegation’ trip probably cost you and I millions. Spending millions on benchmarking trips to learn about good governance, but then come back and do the opposite? Go bidiwa eng selo se?

So the proponents of democracy –be it neo-liberals, realists, socialists- go further and say openness, transparency is good but the system can still suffer abuse, let us control matters such as conflicts of interest as a way of preventing abuse and abuse of entrusted power.

A situation will exist where an official’s family and friends bid for contracts which would give their companies undue advantage. Now in Francistown, it is actually the Mayor’s company. Oh yes, he declared the interest he says, but was his company really the best in terms pf pricing and quality, better than other contractors?

The prevention of conflict of interest becomes one of the most important keys of corruption prevention (Council of Europe, Conference Octopus Interface about Corruption and Democracy, Strasbourg, 20-21 Nov.2006 2006). We do want to detect, prevent and investigate corruption right?  Even prosecute, right? Then why don’t we have integrity systems in place? Why don’t we build public trust and confidence- or maybe it does not matter? Why?

Conflicts of interest or its perception can adversely impact the reputation and integrity of an entity or an individual, it is important for you to avoid, even the appearance its appearance. This helps maintain public trust and confidence. Kana gongwe citizens no longer have trust and confidence (wondering emoji). Gatwe ko Francistown City Council a culture of public officials, particularly politicians bidding for contracts in the City Council is practically a norm (allegedly):

  • Councillors and some officials can award tenders to their companies(allegedly);
  • They award tenders to their families and friends (allegedly);
  • They are part of the tender adjudication process even though they have companies that deal with the City Council (allegedly);

Commitment to fight inequalities and corruption is in the culture you cultivate as a nation, as government: local or central. When a public servant, underline servant, is not committed to maintaining public confidence and puts his/her economic interests before citizens, what is that? Who are they serving?

The Mayor may make millions but he is costing the country by contributing to the decimation of the SMMEs. The Private Sector is important betsho, it is not just parastatals and foreign companies, it is also the small to mid-sized companies that have the potential to grow and employ citizens.

Most of the time, corruption appears where a prior private interest improperly influenced the performance of the public official. Therefore, conflict of interest prevention has to be part of a broader policy to prevent and combat corruption. The UNCAC offers a basic legal framework for countries to consider and harmonise to prevent and combat corruption.

UNCAC is a Fundamental Preventive Tool

  • Public sector (art.7, S3):

Each State Party shall endeavour to adopt, maintain and strengthen systems that promote transparency and prevent conflicts of interest

  • Codes of conduct for public officials (art. 8, S6):

Each State Party shall take note of the relevant initiatives of regional, interregional and multilateral organizations, such as the International Code of Conduct for Public Officials contained in General Assembly resolution 51/59 of 12 December 1996… and endeavour to establish measures and systems requiring public officials to make declarations to appropriate authorities regarding their outside activities, employment,  investments, assets and substantial gifts or benefits from which a conflict of interest may result with respect to their functions as public officials.

  • Public procurement and management of public finances (art. 9 S1):

Each State Party shall take necessary steps to establish appropriate systems of procurement, based on transparency, competition and objective criteria in decision -making, that are effective in preventing corruption. Such systems shall address…measures to regulate matters regarding personnel responsible for procurement, such as declaration of interest in particular public procurements, screening procedures and training requirements.

  • Private sector (art. 12 S2):

Each State Party shall take measures to prevent corruption involving the private sector. Measures to achieve these ends may include…the development of standards and procedures designed to safeguard the integrity of relevant private entities, including codes of conduct for the correct, honourable and proper performance of the activities of business and all relevant professions and the prevention of conflicts of interest, and for the promotion of the use of good commercial practices among businesses and in the contractual relations of businesses with the State.

Did they Mayor declare his company when he came into office? Is he the Director of this company? Is he a consultant? How does he work for it? When does he work for it, when he is supposedly fulltime Mayor? Doe she work at night for it and gets paid a salary, does he pay income tax for the salary from his company? Like, how does it work?

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Opinions

The Taiwan Question: China ramps up military exercises to rebuff US provocations

18th August 2022

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan has violated the One-China policy, and caused the escalation of tensions across the Taiwan Strait. Experts and political observers across the spectra agree that Pelosi’s actions and subsequent pronouncements by US President Joe Biden gave impetus to an already simmering tension in the Taiwan Strait, provoking China to strengthen its legitimate hold on the Taiwan Strait waters, which the US and Taiwan deem as ‘international waters’.

Pelosi’s visit to China’s Taiwan region has been heavily criticised across the globe, with China arguing that this is a serious violation of the one-China principle and the provisions of the three China-US Joint Communiqués.  In response to this reckless move which seriously undermined China’s sovereignty, and interfered in China’s internal affairs, the expectation is for China to give a firm response. Pelosi visit violated the commitments made by the U.S. side, and seriously jeopardized peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.

To give context to China’s position over Taiwan region, the history behind gives us perspective. It is also important to note that the history between China and Taiwan is well documented and the US has always recognized it.

The People’s Republic of China recognises Taiwan as its territory. It has always been  the case even before the Nationalist Republic of China government fled to the previously Japanese-ruled Island after losing the civil war on the mainland in 1949. According to literature that threat was contained for decades — first with a military alliance between the US and the ROC on Taiwan, and after Washington switched diplomatic recognition to the PRC in 1979 by the US One China policy, which acknowledges Beijing’s position that Taiwan is part of One China. Effectively, Taiwan’s administration was transferred to the Republic of China from Japan after the Second World War in 1945, along with the split between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (ROC) as a consequence of the Chinese Civil War. Disregarding this history, as the US is attempting to do, will surely initiate some defence reaction on the side of China to affirm its sovereignty.

However, this history was undermined since Taiwan claimed to democratise in the 1990s and China has grown ever more belligerent. Furthermore, it is well documented that the Biden administration, following the Trump presidency, has made subtle changes in the way it deals with Taipei, such as loosening restrictions on US officials meeting Taiwanese officials – this should make China uneasy. And while the White House continues to say it does not support Taiwanese independence, Biden’s words and actions are parallel to this pledge because he has warned China that the US would intervene militarily if China attacked Taiwan – another statement that has provoked China.

Pelosi, in her private space, would know that her actions amount to provocation of China. This act of aggression by the USA seriously undermines the virtues of sovereignty and territorial integrity which has a huge potential to destabilize not only the Taiwan Strait but the whole of the Asia- Pacific region.  The Americans know very well that their provocative behavior is deliberately invoking the spirit of separatism masqueraded as “Taiwan independence”.  The US is misled to think that by supporting separatism of Taiwan from China that would give them an edge over China in a geopolitics. This is what one Chinese diplomat said this week: “The critical point is if every country put their One-China policy into practice with sincerity, with no compromise, is going to guarantee the peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”  Therefore, it was in the wake of US House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, that China, in a natural response revealed plans for unprecedented military exercises near the island, prompting fears of a crisis in the Taiwan Strait and the entire Asia-Pacific region. The world community must promote and foster peace, this may be achieved when international laws are respected. It may also happen when nations respect the sovereignty of another. China may be in a better space because it is well capacitated to stake its territorial integrity, what about a small nation, if this happens to it?

As to why military exercises by Beijing; it is an expected response because China was provoked by the actions of Pelosi. To fortify this position, Chinese President, Xi signed a legal basis for China’s People’s Liberation Army to “safeguard China’s national sovereignty, security and development interests”. The legal basis will also allow military missions around disaster relief, humanitarian aid and peacekeeping. In addition the legal changes would allow troops to “prevent spillover effects of regional instabilities from affecting China, secure vital transport routes for strategic materials like oil, or safeguard China’s overseas investments, projects and personnel.  It then follows that President Xi’s administration cannot afford to look weak under a US provocation. President Xi must protector China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, of which Taiwan is a central part.” Beijing is very clear on One-China Policy, and expects all world players to recognize and respect it.

The People’s Liberation Army has made it clear that it has firepower that covers all of Taiwan, and it can strike wherever it wants. This sentiments have been attributed to Zhang Junshe, a researcher at the PLA Navy Research Institute. Zheng further said, “We got really close to Taiwan. We encircled Taiwan. And we demonstrated that we can effectively stop intervention by foreign forces.” This is a strong reaction from China to warn the US against provocation and violation of the One-China Policy.

Beijing’s military exercises will certainly shake Taiwan’s confidence in the sources of its economic and political survival. The potential for an effective blockade threatens the air and shipping routes that support Taiwan’s central role in global technology supply chains. Should a humanitarian situation arise in Taiwan, the blame would squarely be on the US.

As China’s military exercises along the Taiwan Strait progress and grow, it remains that the decision by Nancy Pelosi to visit China’s Taiwan region gravely undermined peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and sent a wrong signal to “Taiwan independence” separatist forces. This then speaks to international conventions, as the UN Secretary-General António Guterres explicitly stressed that the UN remains committed to the UN General Assembly Resolution 2758. The centerpiece is the one-China principle, namely, there is but one China in the world, the government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legal government representing the whole of China, and Taiwan is a part of China. It must be noted that the US and the US-led NATO countries have selectively applied international law, this has been going on unabated. There is a plethora of actions that have collapsed several states after they were attacked under the pretext of the so-called possession of weapons of mass destruction illuminating them as threats – and sometimes even without any valid reason. to blatantly launch military strikes and even unleash wars on sovereign countrie

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Opinions

Internal party-democracy under pressure

21st June 2022

British novelist, W. Somerset Maugham once opined: “If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its freedom; and the irony of it is that if it is comfort or money that it values more, it will lose that too.”

The truism in these words cannot be underestimated, especially when contextualizing against the political developments in Botswana. We have become a nation that does not value democracy, yet nothing represent freedom more than democracy. In fact, we desire, and value winning power or clinging to power more than anything else, even if it harms the democratic credentials of our political institutions. This is happening across political parties — ruling and opposition.

As far as democracy is concerned, we are regressing. We are becoming worse-off than we were in the past. If not arrested, Botswana will lose its status as among few democratic nations in the Africa. Ironically, Botswana was the first country in Africa to embrace democracy, and has held elections every five years without fail since independence.

We were once viewed as the shining example of Africa. Those accolades are not worth it any more. Young democracies such as South Africa, with strong institutions, deserves to be exalted. Botswana has lost faith in democracy, and we will pay a price for it. It is a slippery slope to dictatorship, which will bring among other excess, assault on civil liberties and human rights violations.

Former President, Festus Mogae once stated that Botswana’s democracy will only become authentic, when a different party, other than the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) wins elections, and when the President of such party is not from Serowe.

Although many may not publicly care to admit, Mogae’s assertion is true. BDP has over the years projected itself as a dyed-in-the-wool proponent of democracy, but the moment its stay in power became threatened and uncertain, it started behaving in a manner that is at variance with democratic values.  This has been happening over the years now, and the situation is getting worse by the day.

Recently, the BDP party leadership has been preaching compromise and consensus candidates for 2024 general elections. Essentially, the leadership has lost faith in the Bulela Ditswe dispensation, which has been used to selected party candidates for council and parliament since 2003. The leadership is discouraging democracy because they believe primary elections threaten party unity. It is a strange assertion indeed.

Bulela Ditswe was an enrichment of internal party democracy in the sense that it replaced the previous method of selection of candidates known as Committee of 18, in which a branch committee made of 18 people endorsed the representatives. While it is true that political contest can divide, the ruling party should be investing in political education and strengthening in its primary elections processes. Democracy does not come cheap or easy, but it is valuable.

Any unity that we desire so much at the expense of democracy is not true unity. Like W. Somerset Maugham said, democracy would be lost in the process, and ultimately, even the unity that was desired would eventually be lost too. Any solution that sacrifice democracy would not bring any results in the long run, except misery.

We have seen that also in opposition ranks. The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) recently indicated that its incumbent Members of Parliament (MPs) should not be challenged for their seats. While BDP is sacrificing democracy to stay in power, UDC is sacrificing democracy to win power. It is a scary reality given the fact that both parties – ruling and opposition — have embraced this position and believe democracy is the hindrance to their political ambitions.

These current reality points to one thing; our political parties have lost faith in democracy. They desire power more than, the purpose of power itself. It is also a crisis of leadership across the political divide, where we have seen dissenting views being met with persecution. We have seen perverting of political process endorsed by those in echelons of power to manipulate political outcomes in their favour.

Democracy should not be optional, it should be mandatory. Any leader proposing curtailing of democracy should be viewed with suspicion, and his adventures should be rejected before it is too late. Members of political parties, as subscribers of democracy, should collectively rise to the occasion to save their democracy from self-interest that is becoming prevalent among Botswana political parties.

The so-called compromise candidates, only benefits the leadership because it creates comforts for them. But for members, and for the nation, it is causing damage by reversing the gains that have been made over the years. We should reject leaders who only preach democracy in word, but are hesitant to practice it.

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Opinions

The Big Deal About Piracy

21st June 2022
piracy

Piracy of all kinds continues to have a massive impact on the global creative industry and the economies of the countries where it thrives.

One of the biggest misconceptions around piracy is that an individual consumer’s piracy activities, especially in a market the size of Botswana’s, is only a drop in the pool of potential losses to the different sectors of the economy piracy affects.

When someone sitting in Gaborone, Botswana logs onto an illegal site to download King Richard online, they don’t imagine that their one download will do anything to the production house’s pocket or make a dent in the actors’ net worth. At best, the sensitivity towards this illegal pirating activity likely only exists when contemplating going about pirating a local musician’s music or a short film produced locally.

The ripple effects of piracy at whatever scale reach far beyond what the average consumer could ever imagine. Figures released by software security and media technology company, Irdeto, show that users in five major African territories made approximately 17,4 million total visits to the top 10 identified piracy sites on the internet.

The economic impact of this on the creative industry alone soars to between 40 and 97.1 billion dollars, according a 2022 Dataprot study. In addition, they estimate that “illegally streamed copyrighted content consumes 24% of global bandwidth”.

As Botswana’s creative industry remains relatively slight on the scale of comparison to industries such as Nollywood and Nilewood where the creative industry contributes a huge proportion to West and East Africa’s respective GDPs, that does not imply that piracy activities in Botswana do not have a similar impact on our economy and the ability of our creative industry to grow.

When individuals make decisions to illegally consume content via internet streaming sites they believe they are saving money for themselves in the name of enjoying content they desire to consume. Although this is a personal choice that remains the prerogative of the consumer, looking beyond the fact that streaming on illegal content sites is piracy, the ripple effect of this decision also has an endless trail of impact where funds which could be used to grow the local creative industry through increased consumption, and revenue which would otherwise be fed back into Botswana’s economy are being diverted.

“Why can’t our local creative industry grow?” “Why don’t we see more home-grown films and shows in Botswana?” are questions constantly posed by those who consume television content in Botswana. The answer to this lies largely in the fact that Botswana’s local content needs an audience in order for it to grow. It needs support from government and entities which are in a position to fund and help the industry scale greater heights.

Any organisational body willing to support and grow the local creative industry needs to exist and operate in an economy which can support its mandates. Content piracy is a cycle that can only be alleviated when consumers make wiser decisions around what they consume and how.

This goes beyond eradicating piracy activities in so far as television content is concerned. This extends to the importation and trade in counterfeit goods, resale of goods and services not intended for resale across the border, outside its jurisdiction, and more. All of these activities stunt the growth of an economy and make it nearly impossible for industries and sectors to propel themselves to places where they can positively impact society and reinvest into the country’s economy.

So what can be done to turn the tide here in Botswana in order to see our local production houses gain the momentum required to produce more, license more and expand their horizons? While those who enforce the law continue to work towards minimizing piracy activities, it’s imperative that as consumers we work to make their efforts easier by being mindful of how our individual actions play a role in preventing the success of our local creative networks and our economy’s growth.

Whether you are pirating a Hollywood Blockbuster, illegally streaming a popular Motswana artist’s music, or smuggling in an illegal decoder to view content restricted to South Africa only, your actions have an impact on how we as a nation will make our mark on the global landscape with local creative productions. Thembi Legwaila is Corporate Affairs Manager, MultiChoice Botswana

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