Monday, September 21, 2020

If the DIS want more power they must be prepared to give some power away

The Directorate of Intelligence Services was created to be one of the institutions defending our freedoms and our democracy ÔÇô a force for good.

Yet it ended up as unabashed threat, not just to those freedoms but to our very existence.

True to the fears of those who were violently against its creation, the DIS ended up being an immensely disruptive and divisive monster.

Many people now view the DIS as a public enemy, directly responsible for ruining our freedoms as we had used to know them.

It adopted exactly the same world view of its true custodians ÔÇô Isaac Kgosi and Ian Khama, the two people who DIS truly served.

The result was an immensely tribal organization, eschewing all the known tenets of accountability.

Batswana’s trust in their public institutions today lies in ruins, chiefly a result of DIS misbehavior.

At the last count, the institution had unfettered power.

It was neither accountable nor responsive.

This much was confirmed by Kgosi, its founding leader, about a month before he got sacked.

Never a slave to humility and good governance he told parliament’s Public Accounts Committee that he was not accountable to anyone.

His statement left all of us all in awe ÔÇô hanging our heads in both shock and shame.

But her was in a big way telling the truth ÔÇô in exactly the same way he has run the DIS since it was established.

It was at a public hearing, which alone should have made him more restrained. It did not.

Used to impunity, power had long gone to his head.

We should all be embarrassed at what consequences the DIS has been to this country.

Having begun as an attempt to detect and deter the country’s threats, the DIS ended up as a major threat itself.

To say Kgosi left the DIS in a crisis is an understatement.

To rescue itself, the DIs must give away some of the unchecked power it amassed under Khama.

First the DIS must submit itself to the oversight committees provided for under the law establishing it.

That law envisages a Tribunal that would check against the excesses at DIS.

Existing only in name, the current Tribunal is not only a fallacy, it is totally discredited.

A proper one should be set up.

The same law envisages a parliamentary committee that will effectively provide oversight to such key matters like procurement.

Under Kgosi, members of parliament declined to serve in this committee because they figured quite correctly that they would end being used as scarecrows.

The tragedy is that their refusal to serve led to abuse of power by Kgosi as when he purchased a P100 million luxury jet that the DIS did not need.

If there was a proper oversight in place the scandal at National Petroleum Fund where Kgosi diverted millions under shallow and bogus claims would not have happened.

The parliamentary committee if it was in place would have demanded to see evidence that poaching, human trafficking and drugs had become an urgent menace requiring that money be transferred from fuel facilities.

We now know that no such threats existed. And that no such formal assessment had happened inside DIS.

In short, because there were no oversight structures, Kgosi and Khama turned the DIS into their slush fund.

There is now sufficient evidence that the luxury jet was purchased deceitfully, not for the DIS but to be used by Khama upon retirement.

The DIS’ untamed impulses are largely responsible for the culture of runaway corruption that today consume this country.

Those impulses are also behind the ingrained public distrust of the DIS.

During the week Ian Khama was in Zimbabwe to lecture that country on anti-corruption.

It was a bemusing spectacle.

The choice of lecturer was correct. It was the topic that was wrong.

Khama would be an apt lecturer for corruption, not anti-corruption.

The Zimbabweans can check what shape Khama left Botswana after ten years of his presidency.

It would be so wrong as to be blasphemous to say that Kgosi is inherently corrupt. No, he was not born a corrupt man. Like all of us he took advantage of a situation. To do so is human nature.

The footloose arrangement at DIS only served to provide Kgosi with a gaudy convenience, the kind of which he exploited to the fullest.

That is what lesson the new DIS boss should accept.

If he does not move swift to put in place oversight committees, he too will leave the DIS a corruption infested organisation the same Kgosi did, possibly worse.

We cannot just take Peter Magosi at his word that he will be better than Kgosi at DIS.

A few months into his job, already the public opinion of him is that of an insider who should be kept at arms-length.

That is a true reflection of the kind of disease afflicting the DIS bloodstream.

I write not as someone who wants the DIS disbanded, but as someone wholly convinced of both its potential and indispensability.

Yet one cannot wish away the painful truth that this is an organisation that has a lot to be defensive about.

Going forward, given our sad experience it is going to be impossible for the public to trust any DIS insider even if their name is Peter Magosi.

He has to earn our trust.

And for him to earn that trust he has to show worthy of it by his deeds through putting in place oversight bodies.

Like the DIS, Magosi has a long way to travel before people can start to trust him.

As a form of self protection, the public is taking every one of the words he mutters with a grain of salt.

Admittedly, putting in place oversight bodies will take away some of the DIS power.

But then if DIS want more power they will have to be prepared to give some of that power away.

Restoring oversight on the DIS will give that much needed path back to winning public trust.

An alternative would be to watch as the DIS sink deeper and deeper into the barometer of public mistrust.

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Sunday Standard September 20 – 26

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 20 - 26, 2020.