Thursday, May 23, 2024

Credit to the BTC Board of Directors

As we report elsewhere in this edition of the Sunday Standard, the Board of Directors at the state-owned Botswana Telecommunications Corporation has approached the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime to help investigate allegations of widespread corruption and irregularities.

This, of course, was after the corporation was plagued with numerous complaints of collusion between management and some of the suppliers with many allegations of sidestepping fairness and predictability of the procurement systems.

With the procurement system literally contaminated, the Board had little option but to kick-start the process of cleaning up.

We hope in that endeavour they will succeed.

It is high time BTC reclaimed its position as a leading telephone company not just in Botswana but across the region.

A lot depends on BTC being run efficiently.

We do not see how efforts by government to establish Botswana as an international financial hub through IFSC (International Financial Services Centre) could bear fruits without the direct input of BTC as a world class telco.

As DCEC has said so many times in its campaigns, corruption can never be a business of just two parties; it, in the end, pervades the whole system of economy, undermining every institution even those that are not directly involved in exchanges of bribes.
That is exactly what has happened with BTC.

Not only has the public lost trust at BTC, other institutions, which by their character rely on BTC carrying out its function, are now failing because of the evils that started at this once premier public institution.

The entire nation, we dare say, is now forced to pay a very heavy price as a result of greed by just a few officials who chose to line up their pockets when they were entrusted with the heavy responsibility of making the company deliver for all of us.
It is regrettable.

That said, we draw solace from the forthrightness of the current BTC Board.
Their proactive disposition is a source of inspiration for others to follow.
We hope they succeed in restoring the BTC’s integrity.

More often Boards of parastatals are criticised for ineptitude.
This is not least the result of a culture in which incompetent people were always appointed as a way of rewarding them for loyal service to the ruling party or, in some cases, because they could not do anything productive with their lives.

In particular, we want to give credit to the Chairman of BTC, Len Makwinja.
We can only hope he will remain steadfast and resist pressure.

Our only advice to him is that if political pressure becomes too much and unbearable he should get out and tell the nation how his good intentions to resuscitate the structures of BTC were frustrated by his political masters who were supposed to give him support.
We cannot overemphasise the importance of BTC procurement systems once again becoming predictable.

Ultimately, the clean-up by the BTC Board should, of course, include instituting criminal proceedings against those who these allegations are leveled at.

In that regard, we are pleased to learn that DCEC is prepared to go all the way.
On this front, we want to once again advice that in these undertakings, the DCEC has to be properly equipped.

Difficult white collar crimes such as these where culprits are so good at covering their tracks can only be exposed by well trained people.
There is a limit to which a regular police officer can go.

Which is why DCEC has to beef up its investigation capacity by employing a good number of senior lawyers, forensic investigators, auditors and accountants.
Only then will DCEC find itself to be enjoying the public trust which we want to observe is fast ebbing away.

In concluding, we want to draw the attention of other Boards of Directors to the conduct of the BTC Board.
The proactive conduct as shown by the BTC Board should be emulated.
There is no reason why the Board of directors should be subjects of the executive management.

We regret to say though that is what is happening on the ground with regard to many state owned companies.
That has to change.

Botswana Government has, over the years, trained very capable people who can effectively run the country’s parastatals as non-executive directors.
The biggest weakness, of course, is that as we say many people who are appointed into Boards of Directors would themselves have little training with regard to their responsibilities.

And aware of these weaknesses, executive management, especially those with ill intentions always invariably take advantage of the weaknesses of the Board and end up not only calling the shots with regard to the strategic direction of the company but also dominating the board and, in some worst cases, just being insubordinate and openly flouting instructions.
The end result is that almost always the Board ends up being the shadow of executive management; figure heads if you may.

And when that happens, it is the public, who happen to be shareholders and customers of such institutions such as BTC, that suffer.

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