Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Now we need to talk more about MPs declaring their assets

There is a near universal consensus among Botswana’s voting public that Members of Parliament, right from the President down, have to publicly declare their interests.

These would include stating almost to a stick what other sources of income they have.

The thinking is that a failure to declare such interests is almost like signing themselves bank cheques.
In Botswana, Members of Parliament, especially those who are lucky as to find themselves in cabinet, are very powerful and influential people.
Not only do they control huge budgets under their ministries, they also have a string of other indirect forms of influence and largesse at their disposal.
People are, by their very nature, fallible.

And like everyone else, left on their own, politicians can very easily become greedy as to be venal and open to bribery.

There is always a real life danger that Members of Parliament, especially those who sit in cabinet, could be tempted as to start shuffling some of the public assets into their personal use. Declaration of assets is a stop cock that we need to reduce such risks.

A cogent case, therefore, exists for MPs to publicly declare their interests.
It’s absolute madness that we like to brag that we have one of the best systems in the region yet continue to fail to fulfill what is, in other jurisdictions, looked at as an elementary requirement ÔÇô accountability.
It is a disgrace, in fact, an enduring blight that has to be corrected on an otherwise impressive, enviable and working democratic set up.

Left on its own, democracy is a hollow, even deceptive concept.

It works best when it is supported by little levers of checks and balances, oversight, controls and restraints. Left on its own, it can easily be a tool of deceit, employed even by dictators to help them achieve their ends.

Publicly declaring their private interests would naturally curb the politicians’ inner drive for greed.
The winner will, of course, be politics, which is looked down upon as a vile profession, but also the voter.

Some officials very close to the presidency have insisted to me that at one time for Minister of Presidential Affairs was about to table the document before parliament.
Cabinet decided to withdraw the document as Skelemani was attending a regional security meeting in Zimbabwe.

It is not clear why after creating such a legitimate public expectation, government decided to shelf a law that would have easily become one of the most selfless pieces for them to have designed.

Upon arrival and true to his character of absolute faith in the sanctity of law, Skelemani was embarrassed as to be horrified to learn that cabinet had yanked the carpet from under his feet, and taken a U-turn on its earlier decision.

Musings from the government enclave now indicate a preference for a more flexible and prone to abuse code of conduct.
There is nothing particularly wrong with a code of conduct, especially for ministers.

But on its own, a code of conduct can never be a substitute for declaration of assets.

In fact, the two are not mutually exclusive.

The Government’s decision to drop the declaration of assets has left us with a profound sense of suspicion.
There are now more questions than answers.

What is it that they are really hiding?
It is surprising that even the opposition benches are silent on this issue.

In fact, apart from a burning desire to increase their salaries and perks, rejection of a law calling on them to declare their interests is one thing that best unites MPs from across the political divide.

Given the unanimity of thought over this issue, it’s a disgrace that, it seems, we should prepare ourselves to live with for generations to come.

What our MPs should understand is that their intransigence against declaring their assets annoys the public. It is more like a scam.
It smacks of a harrowing disrespect for honesty and integrity.

It’s a failure by them to cover themselves with glory which would rob them of a leg to stand on when issues of professional and ethical propriety are discussed.

This is one area where opposition MPs should take the lead and claim a higher moral ground.
Opposition MPs should seriously consider declaring their interests even without a statutory instrument requiring them to do so.

Who knows, such an act of magnanimity could be the beginning of them regaining back their lost relevance!


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