Given the magnitude of grand corruption in Botswana, President Dr Masisi must seek international assistance from the Stolen Asset Recovery (StAR) initiative!

20 May 2019

Over the years, Batswana have been left flustered and bewildered by the train of newspaper reports about high levels of corruption in the economy. Surprisingly, incidences of corruption run parallel to government efforts to combat the same implying that corruption threatens to destroy the Botswana economy, sooner than later.    

The change in the leadership of the country on 1st April 2018 offered a ray of hope for a meaningful approach in the fight against corruption in all its forms. Delivering his maiden State of the Nation Address on 5th November 2018, President Dr Masisi highlighted government efforts in the fight against corruption emphasizing the need for the country to meet its international obligations regarding the sharing of information between states.

In spite of these noble efforts, reports of corruption continue to dominate newspaper headlines and the volume of the money mentioned is frightening considering that the domestic economy is faced with limited revenues to finance development projects.

Perhaps this realization of the magnitude of the problem is the reason President Dr Masisi reaffirmed his commitment to the fight against corruption stating that he will go after those who abused their office to enrich themselves, their families and friends.

Upon his return from Qatar on 16th April 2019, President Dr Masisi expressed shock at allegations of corruption at the troubled Botswana Meat Commission (BMC). The President pointed out that theft of public assets lead to lack of medication in clinics, power outages and lack of sufficient stationery for students in schools, among others.

When President Dr Masisi reshuffled his Cabinet and relieved Mr Patrick Ralotsia of his ministerial responsibilities at the Ministry of Agricultural Development and Food Security, many people linked his sacking to the alleged corruption at BMC and speculated that the President was now moving from words to action.

For many years state institutions responsible for tackling corruption have and continue to investigate cases of corruption but conviction of perpetrators has yet to be realized. Many cases of corruption involving huge sums of money and prominent names have been thrown out for lack of evidence.

This has motivated some members of the public to conclude that the government is unwilling to bring the grand corrupt to justice. Whereas the government has reaffirmed its commitment to the fight against corruption, there is widespread perception that the talk of zero tolerance of corruption is just plain rhetoric or at best a lullaby that is sang to induce many adults to sleep in their jeans like human beings still under construction.

Batswana still recall reckless statements like it is our time to eat spewed out as though to boast about one’s privileged record in bleeding the economy. We still recall former ANC Chief Spokesperson Smuts Ngonyama carelessly stating he did not join the struggle to stay poor as if to justify thieving by ruling party functionaries. This was after he was questioned about his unethical business conduct. President Dr Masisi must demonstrate that he does not subscribe to these filthy behaviours by doing things differently.      

While it is true that investigating corruption is a highly complex and arduous task whose results may take time to be realized, public perception that prominent people fingered for corruption are hardly tried and convicted has the effect of eroding public confidence in our institutions and systems.

Such perceptions also have the potential to scare foreign investors out of their wits. Additionally, these perceptions could induce other members of the society to get on the gravy train and when this happens Botswana will be turned into a gangland. This is too ghastly to contemplate but signs are that we are headed in that direction unless we do something daring.

And this is what Botswana needs to do – Botswana need to appeal for international assistance to help her in the fight against grand corruption as well as in recovering stolen assets. Botswana is signatory and party to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC).

The Convention promotes international cooperation in the fight against corruption by member states. UNCAC seeks to mobilize the international community to play an important role in helping countries that, like Botswana, genuinely want to get out of the corruption trap.

UNCAC recognizes that many African countries, Botswana included, have weak public institutions and lack necessary resources and capacity to conduct investigations (especially on mafia-style business operations like we have in Botswana). UNCAC also recognizes that some other African countries, Botswana included, also lack the capacity to adjudicate cases and trace the proceeds of corruption.

UNCAC acknowledges that even where there is genuine political will to fight corruption and pursue stolen monies as presumably is the case with Botswana, limited financial resources, investigative and judicial capacity could hamper dedicated efforts.

On many occasions the Government of Botswana has acknowledged the limited capacity of domestic agencies tasked with the war against corruption), often promising to give them more powers to prosecute, especially the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC). Such efforts, while commendable, seem not enough especially in that they often ignore or downplay the need to recover stolen assets and plough them back into the economy for developmental purposes.

In the spirit of the global fight against corruption and within the auspices of the UNCAC declaration on asset recovery, the World Ban Group in partnership with the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime set up the Stolen Recovery (StAR) initiative. This program support countries to fight corruption and most importantly recover stolen assets hidden in foreign countries.   

The StAR initiative recognizes that the true costs of corruption far exceed the value of assets stolen but that recovery of just a small fraction of the loot would make a considerable difference given the economic circumstances of many African countries.

The benefits of seeking assistance from international organizations and experts, who helped countries like the Philippines to recover more than 1 billion US Dollars stolen by its former president Ferdinand Marcos, are many.

Recouping stolen money will boost public revenue and provide the much needed revenue to, among others, fund social programs, provide infrastructure, rehabilitate worn out infrastructure such as roads that have been reduced to animal tracks and of course improve workers’ salaries, leading to a higher quality of life for Batswana.

Roping in international experts will demonstrate government’s commitment to fight all forms of corruption and send a strong message to would-be thieves that they can run but cannot hide and this will act as a deterrent.

The move will also convince the international community, especially the European Union, that Botswana is not a haven for money laundering and a hot spot for financing terrorism. In the immediate term, the move would perhaps help the country get withdrawn from the list of countries that have been blacklisted by the EU for being a risk to Europe on account of their weak anti-money laundering structures.    

By virtue of being signatory to UNCAC, Botswana would immensely benefit from the StAR program by mobilizing the needed expertise and resources to fight against corruption and recover stolen assets bearing in mind that domestic institutions are still grappling with capacity constraints and therefore overwhelmed and outfoxed by these highly imaginative criminals and international crooks. Such an operation will demonstrate the much needed political will in our commitment to rooting out corruption and recovering stolen monies while at the same time ensuring that locals acquire the necessary experience and skills from international experts.

President Dr Masisi must take this route if he is to set himself apart from his predecessor who is thought to have presided over an economy that was literally turned into a cash cow for the chosen few.

Many Batswana awaited President Dr Masisi’s presidency with much anticipation trusting that he would show his mettle and boldly commit himself to providing the presidential leadership that will turn the tide against the scourge of crime in our beloved Botswana. As Martin Luther King, Jr said, ‘we must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope’. President Dr Masisi’s tough talk against corruption has given us a glimmer of hope.

We await decisive action and the Badge of Courage just a floated a proposal that one can’t refuse to engineer unless they are part of the grand corruption syndicate.