Tuesday, May 24, 2022

‘Mid-level managers the most corrupt in civil service’

The occasion of the debate on the budgetary allocation for the Ethics and Integrity Directorate provided MPs on opposing sides to both trash-talk each other as well as to point fingers at corruption suspects in and outside parliament.

In the latter category are mid-level managers in the civil service whom the Sebina/Gweta MP, Paulson Majaga, described as “the most corrupt in the civil service.” He said that while some of them might earn a monthly salary as low as P6000, “they are building houses that cost as much as P4.2 million in Gaborone North, houses that we as MPs can’t afford to build.” In terms of the relevant law, this group of civil servants is not required to declare assets and liabilities. Majaga proposed that they should also be legally required to do so “because we can see what is happening.”

In a more general sense, some have expressed concern that allowing civil servants to tender for government jobs has aggravated corruption in the civil service. It used to be that civil servants couldn’t do business with their employer but that rule was relaxed during the administration of President Ian Khama. What has been alleged is that some civil servants are using this dispensation to bend tendering rules for their own personal gain. This criminality takes different forms and happens across the board.

Last year, the Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Peggy Serame, essentially “annexed” the Department of Tertiary Education Funding under the Ministry of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology. Officially, this action was meant to enhance the Department’s operational efficiency but what Serame revealed in parliament when making this announcement proved that her ministry wanted to rein in the corruption that had been alleged within its functions. Serame stated that MFED “will undertake an audit on the Tertiary Education Financing activities, including in-depth examination of management of the tertiary education financing, awarding of sponsorships, reasonability of tuition fee levels charged by all tertiary institutions, allocation of students to sundry tertiary institutions, payment of tuition and allowances.”

It has been rumoured that the palms of some DTEF officers, mostly junior ones, were greased and that as a result, some owned cars that their pay grade said they couldn’t afford. At the height of this corruption, hundreds of students were diverted from better-resourced public universities to poorly-resourced private universities. Student numbers at the University of Botswana so declined that it was forced to retrench some lecturers. It has been alleged that some officers advised students (especially those who got grades high enough to get them into the more selective UB) to apply to certain private varsities, often telling them what benefits (like laptops) they would get at those universities that they wouldn’t get at UB. A source says that some would be told that their BGCSE points didn’t guarantee entry into universities that are competitive with admissions. All such universities – UB, Botswana International University of Science and Technology and the Botswana university of Agriculture and Natural Resources – are state-owned. These officers were basically marketing private universities in question to students, something which falls outside their remit.

Bobonong MP, Taolo Lucas (implicitly) went for a bigger target: President Mokgweetsi Masisi, as part of a group of his African peers. Lucas, who is the Acting Leader of the Opposition in the absence of Dumelang Saleshando, said that as a group, African presidents pose the biggest threat to the economic security of the respective nations they lead. The circumstantial evidence he provided was that while they come into office dirt poor, they mysteriously become filthy rich within a very short period of time of being in office. Additionally, they, alongside vice presidents, are routinely lavished with expensive gifts of suspect nature.

“This has happened in Botswana,” said Lucas with regard to the gift-giving, mentioning two examples.

One example is straightforward, the other is not. The former was when Bakang Seretse, an investment manager who has been accused of tricking out P250 million from the National Petroleum Fund, donated to the campaign of then Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi to become the chairperson of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party. The less straightforward one was when Choppies supermarket gave the former head of the Directorate of Intelligence Services and Security, Colonel Isaac Kgosi, four million shares. Some strongly believe that the actual beneficiary was then President Lieutenant General Ian Khama.

Outside Botswana, the examples that Lucas gave were Malawi, Zimbabwe and South Africa. He didn’t elaborate but last year, Malawi’s president, Lazarus Chakwera, couldn’t provide straightforward answers when questioned on BBC’s Hard Talk about his style of governance. A former “Fire!” church pastor who accused his predecessor of corruption, Chakwera was at pains to explain how his unqualified daughter came to be appointed a diplomatic secretary to a prestigious diplomatic mission in Western Europe. In Zimbabwe, Mugabe may have been out of power at the time that he died but the system that he put in place over 40 years ago remains intact. Across the southern border, Jacob Zuma mortgaged the presidential power to two Indian shopkeepers that he turned into multi-billionaires.

Lucas raised concern that, like other supposed oversight institutions, the head of the Ethics and Integrity Directorate, was appointed by, and resultantly, beholden to the president. He argued that this arrangement ties the DG’s hands because he “can’t bite the hand that feeds him.” He also raised concern about dispensation that allows the president and vice president to tender for government jobs. In similar context, he decried incidents where the president’s relatives are suspiciously favoured in the tendering process. The MP didn’t have to be any more precise than that because his audience knew exactly what he was talking about. In 2020, Saleshando revealed in parliament that President Masisi’s sister had been a beneficiary of a lucrative tender that was awarded under dubious circumstances.

From her seat, Kgalagadi North MP, Talita Monnakgotla weighed in on this issue in an odd way. Never once refuting what Lucas said, Monnakgotla, who was appointed Assistant Minister of Local Government and Rural Development in January this year, sought to demonstrate how members of the Umbrella for Democratic Change are as compromised. Twice she interjected to allege that UDC’s chief financier in the 2019 electoral season, Zunaid Moti, has bought the Selebi Phikwe West MP, Dithapelo Keorapetse, a Mercedes Benz. Moti is a shady South African Indian who lent the UDC president, Duma Boko, a jet and helicopter to enable ease of travel around the country. There was no pushback from Keorapetse against the Merc allegations. 

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