Until quite recently, it has been a consistent tradition and time-honoured practice in the Republic of Botswana for Cabinet Ministers, in the face of an actual or perceived public scandal deriving from personal misconduct or official malfeasance, to resign and relinquish their respective ministerial offices. Historically, the actual and/or perceived public scandals, which have compelled the resignations of previous holders of ministerial offices, have derived from, inter alia:
a) the preferment of criminal charges, and impending criminal prosecution against a Cabinet Minister;
b) an adverse finding (or one of some impropriety) against a Cabinet Minister by some adjudicative or investigatory body;
1. Thus, in keeping with this time-honoured tradition which until recently has been honoured in its observance rather than the breach, it has happened or it came to pass that:
1.1 impending criminal prosecution
a) Honourable M R Tshipinare, MP then an Assistant Minister of Local Government and Lands, resigned his ministerial office after it was made known to him that criminal charges were to be preferred against him, following certain alleged conduct on his part as revealed by what became known as the “Christie Commission”.
b) a few years ago, Honourable J D Nkate, MP, then an Assistant Minister of Finance and Development Planning, resigned his ministerial office after it emerged in the course of a criminal trial (against someone else, and not even himself) that he had been receiving additional/extra remuneration from a company, which remuneration he had not declared to his principal;
c) not so long ago, one Honourable S M Guma, MP, then an Assistant Minister of Finance and Development Planning was dropped from cabinet to face threatened criminal charges, which were never in fact brought;
d) more recently, Honourable D R Seretse, MP, then (and presently) Minister of Defence, Justice and Security had the grace to resign his ministerial office in order to face criminal charges instituted against him, and he ceased to hold ministerial office for the length of time there was a case against him;
1.2 adverse findings
In addition to threatened or actual criminal proceedings, it has also happened that Cabinet Ministers have also resigned their ministerial offices as a result of adverse findings by investigative bodies, such as Commissions of Enquiry. We all recall the resignations of:
a) Honourable P S Mmusi, MP, as Vice President of Botswana and also as Minister of Local Government;
b) Honourable D K Kwelagobe, MP, as Minister of Agriculture in the aftermath of the Report of the Kgabo Commission, and which they did out of the recognition of the simple fact that their continuance in Ministerial office was inconsistent with the accusations and/or findings against them.
Madam Speaker, we are in recent times observing or witnessing a clearly recognizable pattern of aberration of departure from this time-honoured practice. Increasingly, we are seeing the unfolding of a situation whereby the holders of ministerial offices are no longer resigning in the face of serious accusations or findings which call into question their fitness or suitability to continue in their public offices.
Madam Speaker, not only are the affected individuals themselves failing to recognize the ethical/integrity dilemmas which compel their resignations in the public interest; but, more sadly, the bar or yardstick relative to ethical conduct or integrity issues has seemingly been lowered by their principal (State President), in whose power it lies to remove them if they cannot or will not go voluntarily. It is not being stated here that their guilt has been established, or that they have forfeited legal presumptions of innocence. All that is being said is that our past ethical and integrity antennae, which previously did not permit continuance in public office while such accusations had not been discredited ÔÇô now stand severely compromised.
The current situation also has the potential to undermine public confidence in public institutions. What does it tell this nation of the Head of State’s confidence, faith and respect for a finding by the Directorate of Public Prosecutions that there is a prima facie case for charging a Minister?
What does the present anomalous situation tell us about the Head of State’s trust in the competencies of investigative bodies, such as DCEC and Parliament? If the practice in the civil service is to suspend from duty all those who face criminal charges, why should we apply a different standard for Cabinet Ministers?
Madam Speaker, we have evidently arrived at a fork in the road which compels us as people’s representatives, and as a nation, to make a serious choice: a choice between abetment and collusion relative to alleged corruption and improper conduct on the one hand or its utter and complete repudiation in whatever shape, size or form. Failing action by the appointing authority over such persons, it may well fall on us in this House to seize the initiative and prevent a total corrosion of our national fabric and public value system.
What we are seeing in Botswana today is an emergence of a new culture premised on insensitivity and disregard for universally accepted conduct by national leaders. The Vision 2016 document at page 11 states that “A morally and ethically upright, educated society will be matched by a leadership of the same qualities, which will provide role models for its younger generation and an instrument to implement democracy.” The Khama administration has no regard for the values that Vision 2016 sought to promote. It must be noted for posterity that at a time when corruption was tacitly endorsed by the national leadership, not all remained mum!
I wish to conclude by calling of the President of the Republic, Lt. General Seretse Khama Ian Khama, to provide leadership in preserving the dignity and sanctity of high public office. If we are to build an ethically upright society, there is need for those who hold high office to take the lead. The President must drop cabinet members who are facing criminal charges or whose integrity is suspect, owing to findings by investigatory bodies forthwith. Failure to do so will be a public endorsement of corruption. It is not acceptable to hide behind the fact that our levels of corruption remain lower than the rest of Africa. We do not deserve to assess our standards by contrasting with the worst possible examples. Batswana deserve better.
I thank you Madam Speaker
*Saleshando is the Leader of opposition; he was speaking in Parliament