Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Minister denies the undeniable about Botswana’s corruption rankings

The Assistant Minister of State President, Meshack Mthimkhulu, took shelter behind logical fallacies when the Serowe South MP, Leepetswe Lesedi, unleashed a volley of questions about Botswana’s corruption and operations of the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime. One part of the multi-pronged question that the MP asked sought information on “what accounts for the decline in Botswana’s standing in the Transparency Corruption index.” “Botswana has not declined in Transparency International Corruption Perception Index (CPI),” the Assistant Minister responded.

“In fact, according to the 2022 Corruption Perception Index published in January 2023, Botswana has gone up by five (5) points with a score of 60 compared to the year 2021 when she fared badly and scored 55.” In Logic, this would qualify as a species of fallacy called the hasty generalisation theory. In terms of the latter, one picks and chooses a few key details that happen to fit their position, ignoring all the other details that would invalidate their claim. Without specifying any time frame, Lesedi had asked a general question about the decline of Botswana’s ranking in the CPI.

An honest answer would have acknowledged that once considered the least corrupt African country in the CPI, Botswana has been knocked off its pedestal by Seychelles and Cape Verde. Obviously considering that detail inconvenient, Mthimkhulu chose to focus on a favourable period of time and provide detail that Lesedi’s question hadn’t sought. In fairness to the minister, he did acknowledge a decline in Botswana’s performance, tactfully pairing it with a two-wrongs-make-a-right excuse – more formally a fallacy of relevance.  “According to the Transparency International website, the decline we had in 2021 was attributed to the Covid-19 pandemic which tested transparency levels in Western Europe and the European Union countries, usually viewed as clean when it comes to corruption.

The website reported that as a result of the pandemic “even historically high-performing countries showed signs of decline”. Botswana was not spared the negative effects of this pandemic which is why our rankings declined for the year 2021. It is worth mentioning that the trends of corruption get complex every now and then and the perpetrators are always ahead of us, but our efforts have significantly improved as shown by the upward score of 60,” Mthimkhulu said. It is understandable why the minister (or the civil servants who wrote the answer to Lesedi’s question) would be uncomfortable discussing Botswana’s performance in TI’s CPI. For both political leaders and senior officials at the Government Enclave, Botswana’s sterling performance has always been a point of pride and selling point.

For as long as it has existed, the Botswana Government Communication and Information Systems (BGCIS) has always released a celebratory press statement each time Botswana has beaten the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa. Information about Botswana’s performance in the CPI is no longer disseminated on Radio Botswana and Btv. The result is that people who got their information from these news channels still think that Botswana is still the least corrupt country in Africa and actually say so. Ironically, Mthimkhulu could have given a more comprehensive answer that Lesedi would not have liked: that the decline started happening during the administration of former President Ian Khama.

After falling out with President Mokgweetsi Masisi, Khama, who is also Bangwato supreme traditional leader, formed the Botswana Patriotic Party, a provincial party whose super concentration is in Serowe, the Bangwato capital city. In 2012, Botswana’s CPI score was 65 and the following year it had declined to 64. It declined further to 63 for 2014 and 2013 and in 2016 was 60. A one-point uptick held steady for the next three years: 2017, 2018 and 2019. The analysis of Fraser Institute, a Canadian think tank, shows that Botswana’s corruption soared to a historic high during the period of Khama’s presidency – 2008 to 2018. The bulk of Lesedi’s question related to the fate of the Director General (DG) of the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime, Tymon Katholo, whom President Masisi suspended last year. Through this question, Mthimkhulu revealed that Katholo has been on suspension for eight months now; that disciplinary proceedings have not been commenced “as yet as we await investigations on the matter”; and that Katholo still gets his full pay.

Around the time that he was suspended, Katholo appeared before the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee and testified more substantively about the trends of corruption that Mthimkhulu said are getting more complex. He told the Committee while the number of cases is decreasing, Botswana’s corruption is actually becoming more sophisticated. “Our corruption is graduating from petty corruption to grand corruption,” said the now suspended DCEC boss, adding much later that the Ministries of Local Government and Rural Development as well Transport and Public Works are the most corrupt.

While Katholo used “grand corruption” in throwaway fashion, the term actually has precise technical meaning that has been developed by TI. The latter defines “grand corruption” as the abuse of high-level power that benefits the few at the expense of the many. “Through grand corruption, vast amounts of public money are systematically siphoned off to the accounts of a few powerful individuals, at the expense of citizens who should actually benefit. Financial institutions and other enablers assist those involved in laundering the proceeds. When grand corruption and state capture happen, high-level officials may also use control over legislative and regulatory powers to legalise their activities and to weaken oversight and enforcement functions. Typically, those involved in grand corruption benefit from impunity by interfering directly with the justice system and stymieing enforcement in order to thwart being held to account. Using the levers of state control, they may also suppress independent efforts by civil society and the media to investigate and expose corruption.”

Ultimately, there is the question though of whether TI’s rankings matter at all and whether the annual rankings have any real value. On one level, the CPI is clearly shot through with fraud because astronomical sums of public money that is stolen by Third World leaders is mostly stashed away in banks at one of the best-performing countries on it – Switzerland. On another level, while less corruption is supposed to attract FDI, highly corrupt countries like Nigeria and Mozambique continue to attract more FDI than least corrupt countries like Botswana.

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