Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Going ahead without privatization law facilitates corruption

It is not entirely surprising that Botswana’s privatization exercise seems to be wimping out at the very first hurdle.

That was always inevitable.
It is a result of an absence of an overarching law that would regulate the process.

Why the government is so plainly against coming up with privatisation laws still boggles my mind.
The absence of such laws has not only tarnished credibility of the whole process, it has also invited vultures to fly low for easy pickings.

Under the present rules, there is serious potential for conflict of interest.

The absence of a law has made the flouting of well-known business principles and etiquette easy and seemingly acceptable.

The current free for all arrangement does not augur well for anyone, least of all the larger public who are by any measure bewildered but envious bystanders in the sleaze pot cooking up.
The absence of a law does not only breed disillusionment and disgruntlement, it also engenders a culture of anarchy and corruption.

Not only will privatization law induce some form of certainty, it will also clearly spell out the rules of engagement while also bringing about fairness and the much needed respectability to the process.
It’s a real lapse of judgment on the part of government not to appreciate the pitfalls that mine the privatization route that is not shepherded by a clearly enforceable statutory code by way of a law passed by parliament.

Without a law, there is a zero statistical probability that public confidence on privatization will ever be restored.

Instead, the frequency of cases of insider trading and possible conflict of interest is going to be the order of the day.

That only invites scorn and ridicule against a process that was otherwise well intended
The situation becomes even more acute when looked at from the public’s low regard of those in authority.

Currently public confidence in those in authority is terribly poisoned.

On the other hand, it would seem like there is much to hide by those in authority, in turn only serving to fuel contempt and suspicions against themselves.
Their actions do little to inspire public confidence.
Hence it would be crazy for the nation to extend them a blind leap of faith that they will do what is in the public interest.

Recent history teaches us that the privatisation process is too important to be left to the whims and trust of a band of self seeking insiders.
Russia is a case in point.

At the moment, there is enough circumstantial evidence that people with inside information are doing everything possible to position themselves with prospects of lining their pockets.
The good thing about coming up with a law is in everyone’s interest.

It serves the interests of the investors while protecting those extending some reassurance to the bystanders that the game they are watching is fair.

It is also comparatively harder and riskier to attempt to circumvent a law.

Privatisation law, while regulating as the current feeble policy is doing, would also spell out what amounts to criminal activity, especially on the front of the use and abuse of inside information is concerned.

The law must state clearly the risks and penalties of using such privileged information for personal gain.
Privatisation should, in the true essence, be a reform policy, not an underhand ploy to line the pockets of those who find themselves strategically placed by way of access to inside information.
It is now clear that the whole of privatization drive is more tainted than we could ever have imagined.
Nothing is a better illustration of our country’s clearly depleted morality and sense of what is right.
Recent reports of conflict of interest surrounding the privatization of Air Botswana and BTC are not encouraging.

They do nothing to inspire or rally public support for privatization. Yet privatization, without public approval however half hearted, could become counterproductive.

It is pathetic, possibly criminal, to begin privatization by allowing people with such plainly vested interests to choose and erect barriers around those interests before anyone else knows what is really going on.

The idea that politicians and PEEPA directors will always have the public’s best interest at heart has never been true.

There is no doubt that privatization is going to contribute immensely to the enrichment of the few.
May be there is nothing wrong with that.
But even then, there is need for an erection of a semblance of fair ethics in how that small band finally lays their hands on state assets.
Only privatization legislation would halt what now seems to be a wanton rush by insiders to abuse privileged information.

It should not just be a case of parliament calling for the suspension of Air Botswana privatization; members should go further and warn cabinet that unless the process has a clear set of ethical parameters then the whole privatization would have to be suspended indefinitely or, God forbid, entirely dismantled.


Read this week's paper

The Telegraph September 23

Digital edition of The Telegraph, September 23, 2020.