Saturday, March 6, 2021

Khama’s absolute control of DIS opens door to abuse – report

President Lt Gen Khama has absolute control over the Directorate of Intelligence Services, and there is nothing to stop him from using it to serve his personal and political interests ÔÇô an academic research paper has revealed. The paper, “A Critical Evaluation of the Intelligence Oversight Regime in Botswana” by Lesego Tsholofelo also raised fears that the DIS which has not been presenting reports to parliament as required by law may be concealing some wrong doings. Questioning the unilateral appointment of the Director General by the President, the paper states that, “in most liberal democracies such an appointment, including those of other security chiefs, requires confirmation by Parliament or consultation with the opposition representation.”

The research paper warns that, “for instance, a president who may habour ill intentions on the use of the Directorate may appoint someone who, once in office, would be at both his own personal and political bidding instead of national interest.” The current Director General of the DIS, Isaac Kgosi was once President Khama’s batman while the president was still a Botswana Defence Force general. When President Khama became Vice President he brought Kgosi with him from the army and made him his private secretary in a move that touched off national controversy.

The paper observes that this situation is further aggravated “by the fact that the President also appoints members of the parliamentary committee (PCIS) tasked with overseeing the intelligence. The Botswana Parliamentary oversight however is not allowed anywhere near operations of DIS, “therefore an opportunity exists for possible manipulation by the executive on DIS’s tasking and direction.” The report further states: “secondly, the independence of the PCIS also calls for close observation. Notwithstanding that the committee is referred to as parliamentary and endowed with the same powers and privileges as other parliamentary committees as per the National Assembly (Powers and Privileges) Act, it fundamentally differs with them.

The President appoints members of the committee after consulting the Speaker of the National Assembly and the Leader of the Opposition. This is in contrast with the appointment of other parliamentary committees where it is the Parliamentary Selection Committee (PSC) that is seized with such a task. Critics have cast aspersions over this arrangement with former Speaker of the Botswana National Assembly, Matlapeng Ray Molomo branding it a “special presidential committee.” At the core of Molomo’s and other skeptics’ concern is the committee’s lack of independence from the executive.

The report states: “Botswana seems to have transplanted the bulk of the ISS Act from the UK. However, in their newly enacted Justice and Security Act 2013, the UK has done away with a provision where the Prime Minister (PM) appoints the committee.] In the new Act, the UK PM instead nominates members, with endorsement left to parliament. In Botswana’s case, the PCIS is not only appointed by the President, but also reports its findings to him/her, and only then can they proceed to parliament after the report has been redacted by a minister responsible for intelligence.

Botswana’s parliamentary oversight therefore fails on the key elements of access and independence in that the PCIS is clueless on what the DISS operations entail, over and above the fact that it is in effect accountable to the executive through its appointment and reporting processes.” OIppossition members of parliament have resigned from the parliament oversight committee protesting that it is not independent Currently there is only one Opposition MP (MP Bagalatia Arone) of the Botswana Congress Party (BCP), and independent Member of Parliament Moeng Pheto remaining in the committee. “With its current composition the committee has lost its effectiveness as premised on credibility emanating from its inter-party posture.”, states the report. The human rights group Ditshwanelo observed prior to the MPs resignation that it “would render it an empty shell, accountable only to the ruling party. Such a situation would make a mockery of Botswana being a multi-party democracy.” The report states that, “the MPs have not been replaced and as such the effectiveness and efficiency of this committee as an oversight mechanism has been greatly compromised. The non-replacement of the members further renders the committee non-compliant with section 39 (1) which stipulates membership of nine MPs.

With the “shall” wording, it is peremptory in its requirement of nine members. The ineffectiveness of the PCIS is further demonstrated by their failure to deliver on their obligations as spelt out in ISS Act. “Pursuant to section 40 of the ISS Act, the Minister responsible for intelligence has to ultimately table the committee’s report before parliament after satisfying himself that nothing in it is prejudicial to the discharge of the DISS mandate. Since its inception soon after the DISS came into being in 2008, there has never been a PCIS report laid before Botswana’s National Assembly.

This is despite the peremptory nature of the wording of section 40 (2) which suggest that the legislature intended that the report must be tabled before the National Assembly without fail. Notwithstanding the good work the committee may be doing behind the scenes, the fact that such work has not been witnessed and interrogated by parliament compromises its effectiveness. As a result, speculation is rife that either the committee is failing on its mandate or they are concealing wrongdoing.”

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