Botswana panics over Bhamjee

However, the nation is already in panic mode after his “small matter” in Germany that saw him shipped out within a short amount of time, where he was match commissioner by virtue of his membership in the Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA) executive committee.

Certainly for a country ranked the least corrupt on the African continent for consecutive years until now, there is cause for panic, when a high-profile official like the Honorary President of the Botswana Football Association gets caught in a scandalous trade in the black market of Frankfurt.

Already the criticism levelled against him is that he should save the remnants of his integrity as a once celebrated football manager by resigning his post as FIFA executive committee member before his term expires next year.

For most Batswana, his utterances about being spared so that he can complete the remaining part of his contract and get pension entitlements point in one direction: that he is eccentric and self-centred and does not appreciate the trust and faith that the whole nation placed in him and which he recklessly disregarded.

“I am not an educated man, having only gone as far as Standard Seven, but if I were to find myself in that situation, the last thing to say would be to ask everyone to continue to treat me kindly so I can enjoy entitlements that I have already deprived myself of by committing such a grave offence.

“He should have thought about this first if money is all that matters to him,” said Mongwato Kgole, a devout supporter of the Zebras team.

Bhamjee’s plea for mercy seems to underplay the crime that could see Botswana’s reputation being tarnished among international rankings regarding levels of corruption, according to some Batswana.

The Directorate of Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) did not issue a statement about the recent events at the 2006 World Cup where Botswana’s football administrator was busted by “The Mail on Sunday” and exposed to the rest of t he world.

The nation’s corruption watchdog however, maintains the position that Bhamjee’s actions would have spilling effects on Botswana and that they would be felt in the next Transparency International Corruption Perception Index Report to be released in October this year.

“Certainly his actions will have an important part to play in how we come out in the report, but we should not necessarily be judged harshly on one isolated incident. However, such a high-profile personality like Bhamjee, when he gets involved in a high-profile deal like this one, probably you can expect the scale to tilt in a negative direction,” surmised director Tymon Katlholo.

Botswana though, has had its own levels of corruption rising steadily over the years, and is gradually plunging into the mess of graft, making it hard to actually stamp out that the next report, if it comes out badly for the country, could be directly or indirectly attributed to Bhamjee’s deal.

For example, out of 144 countries in the 2003 Transparency International Corruption Perception Index, Botswana was at position 30 among the least corrupt nations, a noticeable fall from position 26 the previous year. The 2004 DCEC report conspicuously omitted an overview on the rankings of countries in the levels of corruption, but the 2005 report reveals that Transparency International placed Botswana at position 32, a worse scenario that highlights stark realities as the country marches toward the attainment of her dreams by 2016 to have a nation free of corruption. Katholo offers an explanation to the growing numbers of corruption cases and, interestingly, the Office of the President (OP) under which the directorate falls, is the worst hit among Government ministries, followed by Local Government and Lands. In 2003 the OP registered 10 percent, improved in the next year by dropping to 7 percent, but then rose to 8.8 percent in 2005.

‘It is simple to explain this situation. We have a problem that has to be arrested soon enough from the traffic police (officers) department with regard to corruption,” he stated. Corruption that is linked to the local government ministry mainly deals with the tender procedures and award systems, more often than not done under dubious circumstances with money exchanging hands under the table. Lands is also one area that attracts corruption as more citizens continue to sell property to foreigners without following due process, while local estate agents thrive in the booming industry by swindling potential buyers.

GTZ engineer consultant and former Water Utilities Corporation chief executive Boikanyo Mpho agrees with Katlholo that a man of Bhamjee’s stature attracts publicity either bad or good for the country. Mpho says given Bhamjee’s prominence as an executive member of FIFA, the nation must brace itself for the worst when the corruption perception index report comes out. “In any report, whether it is the prevalence of HIV, there is a sample of the population that is involved in the survey, so Bhamjee is a statistic in determining the level of corruption in Botswana. “Corruption is not embodied in the country but in individuals and his case is a done deal, since it was proved beyond doubt ‘ hence they immediately sent him home. From his action, no matter how isolated he or others would like to look at the whole thing, Transparency International will be able to extrapolate and come up with a report on whether corruption levels in Botswana have increased or decreased,” reasoned Mpho.

However, the Botswana chapter of Transparency International holds a different view from the one espoused by the DCEC. A member of TI Botswana chapter, Lebang Mpotokwane, argues that for corruption ranking, there are other methods used to make the conclusion on whether a nation is least or worst corrupt. “No, I don’t think his actions can affect our rankings negatively. This is not how corruption rankings are determined. They look at various services by different independent organisations; from there they survey people, usually businesspeople on how they see corruption trends in a given country. Basing on the perceptions of the surveyed people, they arrive at the rankings,” argued Mpotokwane.

In agreement with Mpotokwane is Botsalo Ntuane, who says that Bhamjee’s folly is not enough to taint the image of the country because it is an isolated incident of misbehaviour by one individual. He thinks if Transparency International were to use the recent incident to worsen Botswana’s position, it would be tantamount to painting the whole nation with the same brush.

“Definitely this is a serious breach of ethics. But we also have to give Bhamjee credit for having been man enough to admit his wrongdoing and unreservedly offering an apology to FIFA, citizens of the world and, indeed, his own nation. I realise that his actions have a bearing on how the rest of the world perceives Botswana, known to be a corruption-free country, but such perceptions that use Bhamjee’s incident to judge us are misguided, therefore, regretted,” stressed Ntuane. ‘ Mmegi-The Reporter.

July 2006
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