BY THOBO MOTLHOKA
Botswana Defense Force (BDF)’s purchase of military equipment should be made public if the country is to ensure transparency and prevent room for resource mismanagement and corruption, a Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) Report on Military Expenditure Transparency in Sub-Saharan Africa recommends.
The most striking aspect of the lack of access to information in Botswana, the report says, is the absence of information about its arms procurement programme.
According to SIPRI, because Botswana does not have a published national defense policy, it is hard to assess whether defense purchases reflect objective security needs especially given the peace and stability that has always prevailed in the country with no immediate threats from neighbors.
Public procurement plans should go through a tendering process and actual defense purchases should be publicly declared, SIPRI recommends.
“Based on Botswana’s recent arms purchases, however, it seems that none of the agreed, forthcoming or completed deals were publicly declared. The lack of transparency in such procurement decisions raises the risks of resource mismanagement and corruption.”
While expenditure documents are from official sources, SIPRI says, there is a lack of information linking military spending to procurement policies.
“In 2017 the $232 million (P2.4 billion) allocated to ‘development’ of the Botswana Defense Force seems questionably low given its recent procurement of expensive weapon systems such as the MICA air defense system, which is reported to have cost over $340 million (3.6 billion pula).”
According to the report, a pressing concern about Botswana’s military expenditure is the inconsistent manner in which information is reported. In the 2016 budget, SIPRI says, the defense, security and justice sectors were allocated around $780 million (8.54 billion pula) while the budget tables totaled $895 million (9.76 billion pula). This
$115 million (1.22 billion pula) discrepancy, the report says, raises questions about the accuracy of the official documents, which reduces Botswana’s levels of information and process transparency.
The report says Botswana, which has historically performed well in terms of transparency and accountability, has begun to show worrying signs of poor information disclosure.
“Of major concern in the deterioration in Botswana’s transparency is the current lack of access to budgetary documents. At the time of writing, all the recent military expenditure transparency in sub-Saharan Africa budget documents that were previously available on government websites and used by SIPRI to compile the Military Expenditure Database were inaccessible.”
In recent years there has been a severe deterioration of Botswana’s official budgetary transparency in the military sector, SIPRI says, adding that the lack of information results in an inability to hold the government accountable for the financial management of the military sector. “Questions about the mismanagement of resources, corruption and the link between procurement decisions and the sector’s strategic plan are already being raised by civil society including researchers, the media and international institutions.”
Botswana is one of the very few states in Sub-Saharan Africa to decrease its transparency in the military sector, says the report, attributing the decrease to lack of public engagement and reporting in Botswana’s arms procurement decisions and the decrease in transparency in budgetary matters. “In addition, the information provided by Botswana on its military expenditure lacks accuracy, with only limited disaggregation of the total. The absence of information on ‘developmental’ spending is particularly worrying given the state’s recent arms procurement decisions.” This, SIPRI observes, is especially the case when a lack of defense policy results in an inability of civil society to assess whether current or planned arms purchases reflect objective security needs. “Whereas many other countries in SSA have been acting to improve oversight, accountability and transparency in budget reporting over the past few years, Botswana has been moving in the opposite direction.” The SIPRI policy paper, released this month (November 2018) was compiled by Nan Tian, Pieter Wezeman and Youngju Yun.