Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Masisi anti-corruption crusade on a slippery ground

President Mokgweetsi Masisi arrived at the State House late last year beating his chest and like an undergraduate college student chanting a mantra to fight and defeat corruption and all forms of state graft.He told his ministers to get out of all forms of state tendering and procurement – no matter how good intentioned they felt.Of course it sounded all idealistic; but it was an instructive start and an endearing dream too.Too many people took his word for it and wholeheartedly bought into his vision.Over the preceding years an impression had been created that the then president, Ian Khama had a soft spot for corruption.

To make matters worse Khama was seen as annoyingly selective in his fight against corruption.As we speak today, there are too many doubts on people’s mind.Masisi’s election winning pledge to fight corruption looks like an orphan – parentless and discarded. In a little less than a week, the crusade suffered a deafening blow – a specter of a doble-whammy. A decision by a High Court judge last week to throw away the charges against Zein Kebonang and his twin brother, Sadique Kebonang has left the public confused, skeptical and also angry.

The case was from the beginning packaged as the symbol of the Masisi corruption busting crusade.That was followed by a decision ordering the state to give back close to P100 million to Bakang Seretse – the accused number one in the National Petroleum Scandal. That has left the nation even more gobsmacked. Another case to charge an intelligence officer codenamed Butterfly remains not only in balance, but looks increasingly in limbo. The nation is on tenterhooks; searching for answers that nobody is able to offer. As a nation we are on the throes of a large-scale governance crisis. The trouble is Masisi made all the promises of fighting graft but did nothing to strengthen institutions and structures that make fighting corruption possible.

Building those institutions takes a lot more than just rhetoric. They require commitment, skill and above all persistence. The Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime needs strengthening. That requires taking the directorate altogether out of the presidency and making it much more independent than is currently the case. Masisi should be comfortable with that. If he wants more power, he will need to give some away. The DCEC has become a meaningless label on a lap dog, caught up between the vanities of empty political rhetoric from the Office of the President .The president has been in power now for three years. Which means that so far he got through DCEC Directors General at the rate of one a year; Bruce Paledi, Joe Mathambo and now Tymon Katholo.

No job in government has come closer to being treated like a joke than that of DCEC director general. This has been habitual even under Ian Khama, but it is worse now under Masisi. The DCEC cries to be liberated from the thralls of officialdom, from the hierarchies of government – specifically meddling by top officials at the Office of the President. The Directorate might have to be given some prosecutorial powers. And perhaps most importantly, consideration might have to be given to setting up a special anti-corruption court. Across the board, including from those still charitable towards him Masisi stands accused of taking his eyes off the ball. He looks both detached and disinterested. The charges are justified. He has taken his eyes off the fight against corruption as he has on many other things; citizen economic empowerment, Constitutional Review, media laws and also restoring the functionality of the trade unions’ Bargaining Council.

Taking one’s eyes off the ball is the easiest way to scuttle a whole programme. Ahead of elections, the party and government had set and imposed priorities. Now all those have been abandoned. The intellectual swiftness many had imagined will characterize Masisi presidency is lacking. Masisi must now find time to answer some uncomfortable questions that barely arose at elections last year. These are questions that were tiptoed out of a burning public eagerness to keep Ian Khama at bay. Covid-19 cannot forever remain a plausible alibi. Immediately after elections last year, Masisi grappled with concerted protests that questioned his political legitimacy. The opposition, complained without much evidence that elections had been rigged.

Luckily for him, he managed to shrug it off. But the charge has festered on, mainly because his government has not been able to perform to expectations. Masisi needs to find inner strength to reboot his pledged drive to fight corruption. As it is, he is going through a pivotal moment of his presidency. People like the idea that he is giving goats to poor people. But he needs to come up with a flagship programme that he could transform into his legacy. Anti-corruption had promised to be exactly that programme. As we speak it is in tatter and might get worse, depending on what becomes of the P100 billion case.The accused are buoyant and smelling blood.

They are going for a kill. Bridget Motsepe says she wants P20 million for defamation. Khama has been telegraphing his intention to sue. Butterfly too has named her figure. As has Isaac Kgosi, a former head of intelligence services. It is an open season against Masisi. We are not witnessing a textbook case of how to fight corruption. Neither is what we are seeing the best example of the rule of law.

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