Thursday, June 4, 2020

It’s idle to expect Khama to clean corruption without him disowning lifelong allies

When he became President in April 2008, Ian Khama spoke endlessly of how the days of business as usual had come to an end.

Top among his priorities was to get the civil service in order.

As Vice President for the preceding ten years, he had watched in despair and helpless anger as the all too powerful public service frustrated efforts by politicians to deliver on their campaign promises.

We imagined he had also realized how institutionalized corruption had become.

When he said the days of business as usual were over, we reckoned he also meant the end of corruption.

How wrong we all were!

In office, President Khama has allowed not just the wholesale politicization of the top civil service, but has in many ways allowed further entrenchment of corrupt practices in the public service.

The more uncharitable critics are now saying it has become practically impossible to differentiate the President from the lot.

They say not only are the country’s top civil servants aware of the president’s myriad and not so tidy commercial interests they also have watched at close range as he flouted all the known rules in the book if only to put his friends and relatives through the paces so that they could continue amassing ill-gotten wealth, often against the interests of the very same state that Khama leads.
Gone are the days when the civil service in Botswana was renowned for its impartiality.

Also gone are the days when promotion and progression was purely on merit and experience.

These days what matters most is cronyism and of course the length at which an official is prepared to bend the rules if only to accommodate the commercial interests of those with links to the president.

President Khama has dismally failed to keep a distance between himself and the suspects so much so that ordinary people, including those who were all along too willing to give him a benefit of doubt have now reached a painful conclusion that he too is a possible beneficiary of ongoing looting; otherwise why does he not crack the whip?

Under Khama, just on account of their well known proximity to the President, people who hold no official positions in both government and the civil service wield so much power that career civil servants do not even know how to deal with such individuals. This has never been the case before, not even Festus Mogae’s darkest days.

When such people talk it is not clear whether they are doing so in their private capacities or, as is so often suspected, as kite fliers for the President.

Tragically, the upshot of this unaccountable power has been to undermine the operational functionality of the entire civil service. Recovery will not be easy to restore.

Because many of these underlings know the president’s psyche including weaknesses, what they often are able to do better than anyone else is to manipulate and sway the President to their side.
They are using a constitutional office as a bulwark to bolster their excesses.

We gather from Khama’s closest advisors that the man detests corruption in whatever form or shape, that he will disown a friend who has been found to have transgressed. The same advisors like to say Khama is wholly in charge of all that is happening within his government.

These are the people who cannot see that evidence on the ground speaks to the contrary; that their man is the same person who has fought might and main to ensure that there is no law obliging him and other Members of Parliament to declare their commercial interests.

President Khama has had many opportunities to provide political leadership that is in so much short supply in the fight against corruption. Whenever he has been called on to show the way in the fight against corruption, President Khama has more often than not balked.

He has on many occasions shown how little faith he has in transparency. If he is such an angel, then what is Khama hiding?

In the meantime all evidence on the ground points to the fact that the President is willing to bend all the way if only to blithely accommodate the many transgressions of his inner circle.
On Monday morning I listened on radio the crescendo of a suspended BDP young man, one McDonald Rakgare. He said the President has a soft spot for corruption and corrupt people. Clearly that is not a discovery, but it’s a caricature that is fast gaining momentum.

Unless it is tackled really fast corruption will with time prove not just the President’s soft underbelly, but his undoing too.

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