Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Mission impossible – DCEC in difficult fight against land corruption

Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) revealed this week that Botswana faces a difficult task fighting land corruption because land board officials are part of the rot and poor record keeping helps them get away with it. DCEC acting Principal Anti-Corruption Officer Monthusi Ben told a conference in Maun this week that land and property related crimes have been on the rise over the past years, and have immeasurably stretched to new areas. He said the most worrying factor is that despite the escalating cases, some Land Board officers are so corrupted and inexperienced that they cannot recognize fraud. He is worried that solutions to these crimes are unlikely because of some officials at land boards countrywide who have turned themselves into prominent fraudsters, and have thereby grabbed the opportunities that exist in both public land and property management.

“Our observation at DCEC has been that some land boards have extremely poor record keeping and so these have created major gaps which subsequently result in fraud activities and corruption such as soliciting of bribes, concealing information and so forth. It is however worth noting that this is not only the case with Land Boards, as we have also come to realize that other authorities are involved as well, evidenced by their lack of consultation with land boards. This therefore calls for the orientation of staff on conflict interest issues, while at the same time striving to develop and to implement the code of conduct at the work place. I personally feel the fight against crime at land boards will never be easily dealt with, because as you may be aware, there is also a serious concern that even some retired staff have access to the system as well as confidential information.

And so up until these issues are addressed in the most suitable way, we might not be able to solve them. It is therefore my plea that now that all stakeholders are here, it will also be an opportune time to address some of the burning issues, and hopefully come up with solutions for the betterment of managing land transparently”, he said. Ben also talked at large about delays by some land boards when it comes to addressing customer grievances, saying this on its own increases corruption levels.

For unknown reasons, he said it has also been realized that there is a growing animosity between board members, technical staff and customers which is a result of segregation of duties. “You people should try everything possible to be as transparent as you can and encourage the spirit of team work amongst yourselves, and where necessary, you need to give all parties concerned the opportunity to partake in decision making. Let there be fair arbitration based on merit and fair competition because at the end of the day, only a single authority which is the Land Board, should take the task of allocating land. As DCEC, we also feel scheduled audits and intense supervision on land allocation should be conducted from time to time so as to reduce corruption opportunities”. Acting DEBSWANA Managing Director Balisi Bonyongo on the other hand urged Land Board authorities to collaborate through their association, Botswana Association of Tribal Land Authorities to influence land policy changes so as to help address the many concerns from members of the public concerning land disputes. He said the scarcity of land, has led to people resorting to fraudulent means of obtaining land. “Gone are the days when requesting land from village chiefs and automatically being granted the same land in the desired quantity”, he said. Bonyongo said there was need for those in authority to be upbeat in responding to spiraling demands for land and to ensure that such demands are handled appropriately because land is a critical component of any kind of economic activity.

“The recent economic down turn has also had a negative effect on our country, mainly through reduced government revenue, and although we remain hopeful about the recovery phase, some markets still remain fragile. A key point to note is that land tenure has also evolved from the traditional system which focused only on residential, pastoral and arable use to contemporary uses such as multi-residential developments,intergrated farming, to mention but a few. It is therefore important to create a balance between the competing land use needs for social, economic and political harmony”, he said.

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