Corruption derailing Botswana
Gaborone – Corruption, economic crime, mismanagement, concealment and non-accountability, and unethical practices in governance have become topical issues in Botswana.
Reports indicate that these issues dominate space in the private press, private radio airwaves and social media such as Facebook and Twitter as well public transport.
The recent arraignment of Assistant Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Vincent Seretse, before Village Chief Magistrate, Lenah Oahile-Mokibe, on charges of corruption and abuse of office could have triggered the public debate.
It is alleged that in February 2008, while employed by Botswana Telecommunications Corporation (BTC) as chief executive office, Seretse failed to disclose the nature of his interest in Serala, a company owned by one of his co-accused Paul Paledi.
Seretse allegedly participated in the proceedings of the BTC board in awarding a tender to Serala.
On the charge of abuse of office, the state alleges that in March of the same year, knowingly and without lawful authority, Seretse directed eight BTC employees to submit their curriculum vitae to Serala offering their services while they were still employed by BTC.
This, according to the charge sheet, was prejudicial to the rights and interests of the telecommunication entity.
Seretse is charged alongside businessman Paledi, his company, Serala, as well as BTC project manager, Berndt Astrom.
Paledi and his company are accused of giving false information to a person employed in the public service while the fourth accused, Astrom, is facing a single count of abuse of office.
According to the charge sheet, in February 2008, Paledi and his company, Serala, allegedly knowingly gave false information to Cecil Masiga, an evaluation team leader at the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services. This, to the effect that Serala had recruited eight BTC employees and had further entered into letters of intent for employment.
As a result of such information, the state alleges, Masiga issued a selective invitation to tender by Serala to be evaluated for provision of project management services for the implementation of Nteletsa 2 project.
It is alleged that the evaluation team would not have made the resolution had they been given the correct information.
The fourth accused, Astrom, is alleged to have abused the authority of his office by assuming, without lawful authority, the position of project co-ordinator in Serala while employed as project manager by BTC.
The act allegedly committed in March 2007 was similarly considered to have been prejudicial to the rights and interests of BTC.
In a strongly worded statement in Parliament this past week, opposition leader, Dumelang Saleshando, called for President Ian Khama to drop all Cabinet members facing criminal charges.
Saleshando said the President's failure to fire ministers in such circumstances would be a public endorsement of corruption.
“It is not acceptable to hide behind the fact that our levels of corruption remain lower than the rest of Africa,” he said.
“We do not deserve to assess our standards by contrasting with the worst possible examples. Batswana deserve better.”
Saleshando expressed disappointment with what he referred to as the emergence of a new culture in which ministers facing criminal charges or serious accusations do not resign from their positions, which is a deviation from the tradition in which ministers resigned in the face of public scandal.
Some ministers who have resigned include Michael Tshipinare, then an Assistant Minister of Local Government and Lands, who resigned in the face of impending criminal charges following revelations of alleged misconduct by the Christie Commission that probed corruption at Botswana Housing Corporation.
When he was Assistant Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Jacob Nkate resigned when he was linked to ZAC Construction, a company then implicated in a tender scandal.
Most recently, the Minister of Defence, Justice and Security Ramadeluka Seretse, resigned after he was arraigned on criminal charges.
Other ministers, among them Daniel Kwelagobe when he was Minister of Agriculture, and Peter Mmusi, when he was Minister of Local Government, resigned as a result of findings by investigative bodies.
Saleshando noted that the new culture in which ministers keep up a “business as usual” appearance in the face of public scandal was founded in insensitivity and disregard for universally accepted conduct by national leaders.
The opposition leader concluded that the country’s past “ethical and integrity antennae” has now been severely compromised.
“Not only are the affected individuals themselves failing to recognise the ethical or integrity dilemmas which compel their resignations in the public interest, but, more sadly, the bar or yardstick relative to ethical conduct or integrity issues has seemingly been lowered by their principal (State President) in whose power it lies to remove them if they cannot or will not go voluntarily,” Saleshando said.
“What does the present anomalous situation tell us about the Head of State's trust in the competencies of investigative bodies such as (the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime) and arliament?
“If the practice in the civil service is to suspend from duty all those who face criminal charges, why should we apply a different standard for cabinet ministers?”
Political analysts and Deputy Editor of Sunday Standard, Spencer Mogapi, said the President’s decision to allow cabinet members charged with corruption to continue serving could be attributed to, among others, that partly Batswana still refuse to accept corruption as a way of life.
“President Khama shows little, if any, appreciation of what is at stake when, out of clear egoism, a minister charged with corruption offences continues to serve in cabinet.
“Having sunk this deep, it may be time we all need to pause and ask ourselves if this is the Botswana we have always wanted for ourselves.
“We have become a banana republic. More importantly, we have to ask ourselves just how we arrived at a situation where, out of sheer determination for survival, we now have a leadership that has exempted itself from all moral responsibilities that go with being a leader,” said Mogapi.
Botswana has been considered Africa’s least corrupt state and held a very good position internationally, mostly in the eyes of Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index.
This result has been enabled by sound anti-corruption structures and judicial practices like the open court system.
The Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime’s prosecution rates is considered high by international standards.
The government says it is committed to “zero tolerance” of corruption based on the resolve that in Botswana corrupt practices must remain a “high-risk, low-return undertaking”, as reiterated by President Khama in his maiden State of the Nation address of in 2008.