Under normal circumstances, it would be in the interest of the lavishly-funded Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) to ensure that the udder of its milch cow forever hangs heavy and turgid.
Circumstances are highly abnormal and the President of the Alliance for Progressives, Ndaba Gaolathe, warns that if DIS continues operating the way it has over the past decade, it could become a bigger economic security threat than it is already.
“Through opaque practices, the DIS exercises a grip over almost every sphere of life in Botswana society,” says Gaolathe. “It exercises a disproportionate say in the allocation of permits in the immigration system, most tenders for multi-million pula projects in some sectors are awarded to companies it “vets” or those perceived not to be hostile to the ruling elite, [there are] allegations of covert operations against those seen to pose any political threat to the system persist and there are sufficient grounds to believe some public monies and resources are diverted to oil the ruling political machinery to sustain its ailing grip on power.”
For what it is worth, DIS’s institutional character is par for the course for rogue intelligence services the world over. Gaolathe says that like DIS, these other services provide a means to provide those in power with unfair access to monetary and non-monetary advantage over their political adversaries.
“This process often leads to the looting of public coffers and the compromise of the culture of excellence in the functioning of institutions that are vital to economic prosperity and effective governance,” he adds.
DIS was established around the time that the global economy was going through what is now referred to as the “Great Recession.” From Gaolathe’s description, the spy agency would be one of the few institutions in Botswana that didn’t experience this recession. DIS’ powers, he says, are “so infinite that it almost had the right, without question, to pursue covert operations, conduct intelligence collection, intelligence analysis and deploying any method of its liking without any constraints occasioned by budgets.”
His main fear is that if left unattended, reasons that make DIS a liability “could impoverish the nation and even collapse its entire governance system.” The MP has proferred a proposal that would enable the spy agency “to meaningfully and effectively pursue its mandate to secure or protect the nation’s interests against an undue economic and security onslaught.” A more effective DIS that he envisions is one that focuses on sources of power, potential sources of instability, economic opportunities and areas of national strength.
“Information secured by intelligence operatives potentially forms the basis for conducting forecasts on competitiveness, economic opportunity, security circumstances and stability,” he says. Operations of a reformed DIS would be overseen by as robust a parliamentary oversight committee that brings to light “any instances of abuse, misdirection of funds and focus, lack of professionalism, inefficiency and sheer wastefulness.”
With fuel prices going up last week, some are pointing a finger of blame at the spy agency which unlawfully siphoned P250 million from the National Petroleum Fund. The Fund, which was established under the Finance and Audit Act, has been set up to cushion the impact of volatile fuel prices. Money from the Fund is also used to buy strategic fuel reserves for the government.