Thursday, April 9, 2020

Even Saint Katlholo has feet of clay

When the conversation turns to the fight against corruption, a subject that comes up even before enquiries about the health of children in Botswana’s business circles these days, no name comes up more often than that of Tymon Katlholo. In the country’s sincere-o-meter, the chief of Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) is up there with Bible punching church ministers and saints.

This week, however, very few Batswana would recognise Katlholo from the pile of papers at the Lobatse High Court library.

Two not very complimentary portraits of the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) boss have emerged from the court records in which 21 of his staff members queried his “unlawful “scheme of service and in the subsequent judgement handed down by the Lobatse High Court judge Lesetedi this week.

Justice Isaac Lesetedi in his judgement portrays Katlholo as a well meaning leader who just made bad decisions. “It appears to me that the Director, DCEC at all material times acted in good faith though wrongfully, but with no malicious intent” stated the Lesetedi in his judgment which upheld the complaint by the 21 disgruntled DCEC officers. The 21 DCEC officers were challenging Katlholo’s new scheme of service which re-designated them from the professional cadre to technicians and artisans, lowering their career ceilings. Officers who once harboured dreams of progressing to the post of Director suddenly found themselves trapped at the bottom rung of the DCEC ladder under the new artisan and technician model.

The disgruntled officers, however, are not as forgiving. They painted a dark picture, an even darker picture of a dishonest and confused man who made false statements and manipulated the DCEC’s establishment register in an apparent bid to cover his blunders. The court documents, which cite the Attorney General as the first respondent on behalf of the DCEC director and the Director of Public Service Management (DPSM), portray Katlholo as a “confused” man who made a number of false statements to the DPSM and tried to change the DCEC establishment register to cover up his blunders. The affidavits detail how Katlholo blundered into re-designating most of his officers to posts that did not exist in the establishment register and had not been approved by the Manpower Budgeting Board.

The then Acting DCEC Assistant Director, Gerald Kgomo, says in the founding Affidavit that he wrote a letter to Katlholo querying his designation to a non existent post. Kgomo says “on the very day” Katlholo received the query, he sent a savingram to DPSM seeking to amend the establishment register, seeking to “reflect various positions which did not appear herein, but to which he had, on the previous day, designated personnel particularly the posts on the technician and artisan models. This was effectively an admission that people had been re-designated wrongly and to non existent positions.”

Kgomo goes on to enumerate four “false statements” in Katlholo’s letter to the DPSM and suggests that there are even more “false statements” in Katlholo’s letter. He argues that “the necessity for the director to supplement his request” to the DPSM by “demonstrating untruths is highly revealing of confusion or even his own knowledge of the indefensibility of what he had actually done.”

Justice Lesetedi in his judgement, however, does not go as far as labeling Katlholo as “confused” but concurs that the re-designation of officers by the DCEC boss was wrong. Justice Dibotelo says he does not find Katlholo’s decision to “have been anything other than just being ultra vires and unlawful. It appears to me that the Director, DECE at all material times acted in good faith though wrongfully but with no malicious intent.”

So what if Katlholo blundered and lied? You may ask, after all, stuff happens all the time. With Katlholo, the High Court judgement may mean more than just loosing a court case. For a nation that has held up the DCEC director as the pin up poster saint in the fight against corruption, recent court records and judgement have the same sobering poignancy as that of a kid suddenly realizing that Father Christmas does not exist
In fact, from the court records, Katlholo comes across as a leader who has lost the plot and is presiding over an organization that malfunctioned so badly that the courts had to step in. It emerges in those affidavits officers who opposed his controversial scheme were victimised and that “there was pallor of general staff disquiet and resentment”. Kgomo states that Katlholo told a meeting of senior managers that he was disappointed because some of his managers had failed to contain the dissent among their subordinates.

“In fact the strongest dissention was from the two investigation divisions headed by Assistant Director 2(2) Reginald Barupi and myself as (acting Assistant Director 5) and the disappointments expressed were directed to us (but not by name.) As it was felt we could have done more in calming down staff.”

It is understood that Barupi was asked by the Deputy Director to write responses to his aggrieved subordinates. Barupi, however, refused because he did not want to take the responsibility for Katlholo’s mistakes “and also he was in the dark as to the principles and basis of such re-designations” states Kgomo.

A few days later, in an apparent bid to quell the dissent among staff, Katlholo allegedly wrote letters to aggrieved officers, promoting them to non existent posts again. Kgomo says Katlholo’s gesture was, however, viewed as an attempt “to correct his improper re-designations…specifically his de facto demotions of persons affected, even then he did not have the candor to correct his errors, and was doing so through a wholesale promotion exercise.”

“The officers who received the promotions (including some of the applicants) were not content because they too viewed the promotions as a belated correction of what was long overdue to them and which the director was now giving as an act of benevolence.

“In addition, the purported promotions did not take into account how far one had advanced in terms of notches within a given salary grade/band, and such promotions just lumped everyone at the bottom notch of a particular salary grade/band and thereby ignored the issue of seniority between officers of the same salary grade/band” says Kgomo.

It emerges in the affidavit that at this stage Katlholo and his aides were apparently becoming paranoid. Kgomo says he did not voice his dissent against the promotions because he knew “how sensitive Katlholo was about the issue.”

The apparent paranoia was not helped by leaked stories which started appearing in the media about the crisis at the DCEC.

Kgomo says at a subsequent meting, Katlholo would not conceal his annoyance at the leak. This resulted in a request by Katlholo’s recording secretary to “name and shame” the individuals who had leaked the information rather than make general accusations.

Kgomo says Katlholo was also annoyed at “what he perceived to be betrayal by members of management who may have been party to the evolution of the new scheme of service, but who he felt were not doing enough to assist him deal with staff queries and dissatisfaction.”