Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Katlholo’s reappointment raises questions about DCEC independence

The recent decision by President Mokgweetsi Masisi to “relieve” Joseph Mathambo of his position as Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) Director General has erased any doubt about who says the last word at the corruption busting agency.

In an unmistakable show of who is in charge, Mathambo was given only a few minutes to clear his desk and head back to the barracks.

The drama surrounding Mathambo’s reassignment to the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) is eclipsed only by the speed with which the DCEC door to the corner office revolves.

In what seemed like putting old wine in new bottles, Masisi gave Tymon Katlholo a second bite at the cherry as DCEC Director General.

It is Katlholo’s second stint at the anticorruption agency, having been its founding Deputy Director in 1994 before ascending to the top post in 1997.

Katlholo had previously been with the Botswana Police Service as the Head of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID). He left the DCEC in 2009 after 15 years of service, and was replaced by Rose Seretse.

Following the end of his tenure at the DCEC Katlholo served as the Managing Director of his own company Tyedo Investments, a forensic investigation and anti-corruption consultancy.

He counts among his high-profile cases that he investigated at the DCEC and handed to the DPP for prosecution as the Nchindo marathon trial involving Garvas Nchindo and Joe Matome although he failed to wrestle the controversial ‘Setlhoa Village’ plot from the Nchindos.

Now Katlholo, who has previously expressed concern over frequent change of directors at the DCEC, rejoins the agency.

Speaking at a public lecture hosted by Botswana Centre for Public Integrity (BCPI) a few years back he said he was worried about the security of tenure at the anticorruption unit. He said it was high time Botswana looked into the issue of appointments because the constant changes in DCEC leadership could destabilize the institution. 

The rate of turnover at the top post of the DCEC has again cast the ‘independence’ of the government’s anti-corruption agency under the spotlight Katlholo’s reappointment.

The new Director (Katlholo) becomes the fourth Director General in only three years. Katlholo left the anti-corruption unit in 2009 to make way for Seretse who left the position in 2017. The DCEC has now had three Directors since then including Bruno Paledi, and Joseph Mathambo.

Katlholo’s first tenure was anything but smooth. His integrity was called into question by his own employees in a court case towards the end of his initial tenure as the DCEC boss back in 2007.

The disgruntled officers painted a dark, confused and dishonest picture of a man who they said made false statements and manipulated the DCEC’s establishment register in an a bid to cover his blunders.

The court documents, which cited the Attorney General as the first respondent on behalf of the DCEC Director and the Director of Public Service Management (DPSM), portrayed Katlholo as a “confused” man who made a number of false statements to the DPSM. The affidavits detailed 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.

Katlholo was the founding Deputy Director of the DCEC which was formed in 1994 following the enactment of the Corruption and Economic Crime Act in response a spate of corruption scandals involving senior politicians and government ministers under the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP). The Directorate took over corruption cases from the Botswana Police Service.

To date the DCEC, which falls under the Office of the President, has yet to convict a notable high profile public figure or politician for corruption or related crimes.

Former government Minister David Magang cast doubts on the ability of the DCEC to combat corruption in his weekly column on The Weekend Post in 2016 following Botswana’s ranking as the least corrupt in Africa by transparency international.

“Our lofty perch in the corruption perception standings seems to be a foregone conclusion. We have practically become the sang paradigm of such a laurel, which may engender complacence and be a recipe for self-denial about the profundity of corruption in our country. Should the graft busters in the DCEC ranks clink glasses and dance a pirouette?” Magang wrote.

The appointment of the ‘new’ DCEC Director, which remains the absolute prerogative of the President, has been the subject of criticism from opposition parties and civil society for its role the institution’s failure to combat corruption at the top level.

“The President shall appoint the Director-General on such terms and conditions as the President deems fit,” the DCEC Act stipulates.

While no formal corruption allegations have been made, the appointment of Katlholo comes just a few months following media revelations about a few controversial business dealings associated with President Mokgweetsi Masisi.

Part of the controversy involved the President’s alleged business partnership with Choppies’ multimillionaire Ottapathu Ramachandran.

The news sparked fears that the president may have traded his political capital for a stake in one of Ram’s companies.

Documents gleaned from the Companies and Intellectual Property (CIPA) list Masisi as a 10% shareholder in a company in which the Choppies Supermarket majority shareholder and CEO has a 90% stake, Sunday Standard reported this year.

The supermarket tycoon Ram, is no stranger to doing business with presidents and those in the upper echelons of power.

Some of the influential figures who were Ram’s business associates include former President Festus Mogae and ex Director General of the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS) Isaac Kgosi.

President Masisi was again at the centre of controversy involving Banyana Farms with INK Centre for Investigative Journalism reporting that tender conditions were flouted by management of the state owned farmland to give the President an unfair advantage over competitors.

Still this year, Leader of Opposition Dumelang Saleshando alleged in parliament that a company owned by a relative to the President was unduly awarded a multi-million Pula tender.

While the DCEC has not been cited as doing any investigations against the President the recent change of guard at the anticorruption unit’s top office served as a reminder of the long standing calls for the institution’s independence from the executive. The new Director Katlholo, just like his appointing authority the President, also happens to be doing business with Ram’s Choppies.

The Choppies CEO confirmed to Sunday Standard following Katlholo’s appointment that indeed the new DCEC boss is employed by Choppies under his company Tyedo Investments, a forensic investigation and anti-corruption consultant.  The company has been doing business with Choppies for eight years now. “They are still contracted with Choppies as we speak,” Ram told Sunday Standard recently.

Questions about the true independence of oversight institutions like the DCEC and the Office of the Ombudsman remain.

Then Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration Nonofho Molefhi reportedly told parliament in 2019 that there is no need to move the DCEC and others from under the auspices of OP insisting that they still retain their independence.

But analysts have argued that for as long as the appointments to these institutions remain the prerogative of the president, they can never really be independent.

That even as the DCEC Act dictates that “…any decision, including investigations by the Director-General shall not be subject to the direction and control of any person or authority,” such decisions remain subject to the approval of the appointing authority since the Act itself does not provide for security of tenure.

Security of tenure is a constitutional guarantee that an office holder like that of the DCEC cannot be removed from office except in exceptional and specified circumstances. Without security of tenure, an office-holder may find their ability to carry out their mandate restricted by fear of stepping on the toes of their appointing authority and risking removal from office. Security of tenure protects the office bearer from being victimized for exercising their duties.

In other democracies, like South Africa (Chapter 9 bodies), there is legislation that prevents arbitrary removal of office-bearers in oversight institutions such as the DCEC. It is only under exceptional circumstances such as misconduct, incapacity or incompetence that a leader of such institutions may be removed, usually by parliament.

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The Telegraph September 23

Digital edition of The Telegraph, September 23, 2020.