Monday, October 26, 2020

DIS fails international best practice test, study says

A study conducted by Botswana scholar at Brunel University, Lesego Tsholofelo, has found that the Act that establishes the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) falls short on numerous key aspects consistent with best practice.

According to the study, these among others include political neutrality in intelligence matters, independence of oversight structures, inadequate access to the Intelligence Community (IC) and lack of resources to undertake the oversight role.

The study titled “A Critical Evaluation of the Intelligence Oversight Regime in Botswana” found that despite Botswana being a late entrant into legislating for intelligence services it is apparent that the country did not exploit the widely available lessons from those that had walked the ground before them.

“This was undoubtedly demonstrated by the tabling of the initial Bill with neither the legislative oversight nor the judicial review structures when this was already a norm in Security Sector Reform (SSR) globally. When the government ultimately bowed to pressure and had these oversight structures included, they fell short on numerous key aspects consistent with best practice,” says the study.

The study states that in collecting and analyzing information into an intelligence product, the Intelligence Community (IC) relies on secrecy to deliver on their mandates. Yet the need for this secrecy can also be abused by both the services and those who have authority over the Intelligence Community.

“In addressing these conflicting needs, a strong but balanced oversight regime is crucial. In its current form, the Botswana intelligence oversight regime falls short,” says the study.

The study says the President’s control role in the Intelligence Community as the head of the executive branch also extends to the other oversight structures with his appointment of the Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence and Security (PCIS) and the Tribunal, both of which should ideally be independent.

“This is in addition to his appointment of the DIS Director General. A more transparent approach for the appointment of these structures would go a long way in bringing about some public trust in them,” says the study. The study also found that the failure of the Tribunal in delivering a single report since it was appointed has added credence to skeptical perceptions about its relevance in its current form.

“Given the importance of independence and impartiality in any judicial structure, this situation therefore, does not augur well for a desirable oversight mechanism. A politically neutral Chairman would therefore be more ideal if the Tribunal is to command some credibility,” says the study.

Similarly, the study says, the PCIS also suffers from credibility doubts since the resignation en masse of the opposition representation, save for one member, from the committee.

The study further notes that the extent of the proximity of the Botswana executive and the DIS is not easily discernible due to the absence of publicly available information regarding the two entities’ interactions with each other regarding intelligence matters.

“However, what emerges as a matter of concern is the unilateral appointment of the Director General by the President. In most liberal democracies such an appointment, including those of other security chiefs, requires confirmation by Parliament or consultation with the opposition representation,” says the study.

For instance, a president who may habour ill intentions on the use of the Directorate may appoint someone who, once in office, would be at both his own personal and political bidding instead of national interest, says the study. 

“In the Botswana context, this deficiency is further compounded by the fact that the President also appoints members of the parliamentary committee tasked with overseeing the intelligence,” the study found.

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