Corruption on the rampage: who are the beneficiaries?

22 Mar 2018

For a country ranked Africa’s least corrupt country by Transparency International (TI), it was unfathomable that Batswana would one day unwittingly find themselves grappling with these difficult questions, with no convincing answer in sight. It never dawned that Botswana, just like the rest of other African countries, was quickly sliding to the abyss in terms of rampaging corruption.

Put it in the proper context, it becomes compelling to define corruption. A google search for the definition of corruption points out that “if someone or something is corrupt, they are broken morally or in some other way. Corrupt people perform immoral or illegal acts for personal gain, without apology. Corrupt politicians take bribes and deny it”.

Transparency International defines corruption as the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. Corruption can be classified as grand, petty and political, depending on the amounts of money lost and the sector where it occurs.

Grand corruption consists of acts committed at a high level of government that distort policies or the central functioning of the state, enabling leaders to benefit at the expense of the general public while petty corruption refers to everyday abuse of entrusted power by low and mid level public officials in their interactions with ordinary citizens, who often are trying to access basic goods or services in places like hospitals, schools, police departments and other agencies.

Political corruption is a manipulation of policies, institutions and rules of procedure in the allocation of resources and financing by political decision makers, who abuse their positions to sustain their power, status and wealth.

According to Transparency International, corruption impacts societies in a multitude of ways. In the worst cases, it costs lives. Short of this, it costs people their freedom, health or money. The cost of corruption can be divided into four main categories: political, economic, social and environmental.

On the political front, corruption is a major obstacle to democracy and the rule of law. In a democratic system, offices and institutions lose their legitimacy when they are misused for private advantage. This is harmful in established democracies, but even more so in newly emerging ones. It is extremely challenging to develop accountable political leadership in a corrupt climate.

Economically, corruption depletes national wealth. Corrupt politicians invest scarce resources in projects that will line their pockets rather than benefit communities, and prioritize high-profile projects such as dams, pipelines and refineries over less spectacular more urgent infrastructure projects such as schools, hospitals and roads. Corruption also hinders the development of fair market structures and distorts competition, which in turn deters investment.

Corruption corrodes the social fabric of society. It undermines people’s trust in the political system, in its institutions and its leadership. A distrustful or apathetic public can then become yet another hurdle to challenging corruption.

Environmental degradation is another consequence of corrupt systems. The lack of, or non enforcement of environmental regulations and legislation and regulations means that precious natural resources are carelessly exploited, and entire ecological systems are ravaged. From mining, to logging, to carbon offsets, companies across the globe continue to pay bribes in return for unrestricted destruction.

The ongoing case regarding theft of at least P250 million from the National Petroleum Fund highlights the extent of corruption in Botswana and its peddlers. Reports coming from the courts linking the political leadership as beneficiaries of the loot, although yet to be proved in courts of law should be serious issues of concern to all Batswana.

More disturbing is the lackadaisical approach of parliament to get to the bottom of the issue by rejecting a noble motion by Alliance for Progressives leader Ndaba Gaolathe calling on President Ian Khama to appoint a judicial commission of inquiry to probe the alleged abuse of funds at the National Petroleum Fund.

The rejection of the proposed judicial commission of inquiry is a serious blight on the oversight role of parliament on issues of national interest. P250 million is by no means a small amount in a country that is still struggling to come out of the economic recession. The matter is compounded by reports that the fund is almost insolvent and on the verge of failing to meet its onerous obligations for which it was created.

The argument of the president being conflicted in the appointment of the judicial commission of inquiry should not be used as enough justification to override national interest in such a matter of this magnitude.

Very soon the fund is bound to fail to cushion motorists against increasing petroleum product prices. The fund was established for a specific purpose and the money held in trust should only have been disbursed for intended purposes other than some obscure motives for the benefit of a privileged few.

Despite the existence of other agencies seized with the matter and the duplicity that could be occasioned by the appointment of a judicial commission of inquiry, the inquiry could add impetus and broaden the investigation of the loot to enable the agencies to formulate appropriate measures to curb the rampaging corruption.

In the court of public opinion, there is no smoke without fire and it behoves all the implicated persons irrespective of the offices they hold to appear before a public inquiry in the form of a judicial commission of inquiry to clear their names if at all they have not benefitted in contrast to allegations already made before the presiding court.

Whether the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament is already seized with the matter should not distract the institution of a judicial commission of inquiry. The duty of the judicial commission of inquiry will be complimentary to the work that the PAC envisages to undertake regarding the alleged abuse of funds at the National Petroleum Fund.

Information coming out from the judicial commission of inquiry will also help the prosecutors to press criminal charges against the alleged perpetrators of crime.

Transparency International advises that corruption can only be kept in check if representatives from government, business and civil society work together to develop standards and procedures they all support.

It is further acknowledged that corruption cannot be rooted out in one sweep. Rather, fighting it (corruption) should be a step-by-step, project-by-project process. Non-confrontational approach is necessary to get all relevant parties around the negotiating table.

Leaving all the work to the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime with the assistance the Directorate of Public Prosecutions is not enough if the country seriously wants to nip corruption in the bud.

Other agencies including the Public Accounts Committee as well as a judicial commission of inquiry will assist to establish the wrongs including manifest corruption at the National Petroleum Fund where millions of Pula are alleged to have been embezzled one way or the other and bring those accountable to book and answer for any transgressions if any exist.

Transparency is the surest way of guarding against corruption, and helps increase trust in the people and institutions on which the futures of citizens depend.

Batswana should all stand up and demand answers to what happened to the P250 million allegedly stolen from the National Petroleum Fund. It is their money which should never benefit a select few. The onus rests on all to rise to the occasion and demand accountability.