Friday, September 25, 2020

As presently composed the Intelligence Tribunal is indefensible

Nothing depresses like a sudden realisation that the biggest threat to our democracy comes from the people who are, at least by law, supposed to be its staunchest defenders.

Arguably, the untidiest decision to come out of the present government has been the appointment of the tribunal that is supposed to oversee the Directorate of Intelligence Services.
Not only is the composition of the Tribunal a betrayal of public trust, it also is a merciless mockery to the notion of independent mindedness.
The trio making up the Tribunal are Isaac Seloko, the Chair, and two other members – Tsetsele Fantan and Adolf Hirschfield.
By all intents and purposes, I am willing to tolerate the two ordinary members.

It is the Chair, who, as was to be genuinely expected, has since become the lightning rod of controversy.
While Parliament had intended the tribunal to be a semi-judicial instrument, wholly independent of political influences, we, instead find ourselves helplessly saddled with a subservient and unquestioning sub-committee of the ruling party. This is probably illegal.

It’s irrefutable that Isaac Seloko is a lawyer of good standing, senior enough to be a High Court Judge.
The trouble though is his politics which contaminate and taint everything else.

Seloko is not some obscure member of the BDP residing in a small peripheral village; he is an eminent Central Committee member who, until not so long ago, was involved knee-deep in the party’s multi-headed factional insurgency.

Thus even at the best of times for the party ÔÇô and these are not ÔÇô Seloko would not be acceptable even to a huge body mass of the BDP, a party that we all know is at war with itself.
We may whinge and whine for all we can, but then what does it matter?
The only thing that matters is that Seloko enjoys the intimate trust and confidence of the President.

Anything else is incidental.
His appointment, notwithstanding all its apparent dangers is the finest example of the lengths the current President is prepared to go if only to get things done his way.

Rather than help cultivate the tribunal’s much needed credibility and integrity, the President has allowed himself to wander astray, misled by a misplaced belief in what is so clearly a vague sense of political solidarity.

While our democratic setup calls for a faith in the system, the President, in choosing the Tribunal, has opted to place all his faith on individuals.
This will eventually erode and corrode the credibility not just of the Tribunal itself, but also the Directorate of Intelligence Services.
By choosing his political right hand man for a position that is supposed to be totally detached from politics, the President has invited scorn that he is up to a cover up of some sort.

The tribunal was created as one way of allaying genuine fears expressed by members of parliament that, as has happened elsewhere across the world, left unchecked, intelligence operatives tend to abuse people’s freedoms.
As the name implies, a tribunal is a quasi-judicial instrument that should be detached from politicians and their not so clean motives.

And as everybody knows, the biggest asset at the disposal of any judicial system is credibility. Such credibility can only be induced by public trust.
Like a High Court Judge, Seloko’s position as Chairman of the Intelligence Tribunal requires him to dispense his duties unhindered by political considerations let alone political affiliations.

But how could that be? The man has BDP blood flowing in his veins!
Seloko’s appointment, so clearly partisan, is probably a reward for the sterling job he has been doing at the BDP Central Committee.

The other day, the ruling party Secretary General Jacob Nkate was on one of the local radios trying vainly to defend Seloko’s appointment.
I could not help but sympathise with Nkate as he mumbled aimlessly along. It is an indefensible appointment.

Lest we forget, the tribunal was inserted as an afterthought; a last ditch compromise between a Parliament that wanted oversight and an executive that favoured no control whatsoever.
Not only has the composition of the tribunal unravelled the compromise that was reached, it has also laid bare the reality that Khama grudgingly caved in only as a tactical move to outmanoeuvre his assailants in the legislature.
We can go ahead and pretend everything is fine, but that will take us nowhere.
As a country, we cannot afford to play politics with an instrument as important such as a tribunal.

As the name implies, this instrument was supposed to attract the same level of prestige as does the judiciary. And now this!

Does His Excellency expect the nation to take him seriously when he insinuates that, at least to him, there is nothing wrong with appointing a well known BDP activist and Central Committee member to become a High Court Judge?

Does President Khama not realise the danger that by appointing a well known BDP activist to a position equivalent to a judge he [Khama] is effectively trashing the time tested tradition of treating an independent judiciary as the pillar of our democratic system?
My advice to Seloko is that to safeguard his integrity, which he has worked so hard to earn, he should reconsider his position as Chairman of the Intelligence Tribunal.

Dabbling in politics and in matters of the judiciary at the same time is not only ill advised but also untenable.
As a well known politician, he should leave judicial functions to others. And there are retired judges who can capably chair the Intelligence Tribunal without attracting all the unwanted controversy to the State President.

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