Thursday, July 16, 2020

“Minister Tibone out of order, Motsumi a disgrace”

After the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime cleared the former Minister of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources, Charles Tibone, and others from allegations of corruption emanating from the Rural Electrification Project to be implemented by ELTEL Networks, Mr. Tibone issued a press release calling on MP Sebetela and the Editors of The Sunday Standard to be honourable and give the nation evidence which prompted them to make ‘wild and outrageous’ allegations on him and his former Ministry.

Mr. Tibone should be told point blank that the nation does not need any evidence from both Mr. Sebetela and The Sunday Standard. To the contrary, the nation is savoring with considerable relish what Mr. Sebetela and The Sunday Standard did in relation to the ELTEL saga. The Minister should not use the nation in his dishonourable attempt to extract an apology from Mr. Sebetela and The Sunday Standard. Admittedly, there are many Batswana who have been inconvenienced by the delay in implementing the project occasioned by its temporary halt pending appropriate investigations.

Nonetheless, Batswana understand and appreciate the cause of the delay and are not angry with Mr. Sebetela and The Sunday Standard. They understand and appreciate that if we are indeed to be a corrupt-free society as espoused by Vision 2016, we must of necessity be extra vigilant and resist any deals that are punctuated with a series of irregularities and profanity, even if it means causing intense pain and suffering to some political elites.

The DCEC has, on numerous occasions, appealed to Batswana to report suspicious transactions that may constitute corruption so that such practices could be investigated to ultimately prosecute wrongdoers or clear the names of the suspects. An effective anti-corrupt strategy should build on political accountability and a strong civil society. Political accountability requires political officers to be placed on a tight leash and strict scrutiny at all times. It is, therefore, sickening and irresponsible for political accounting officers to get annoyed when asked to account for their actions or inactions. As a sector in governance structures, the civil society particularly the media, has a pivotal role to play in limiting corruption and it is only proper for Minister Tibone to work toward enhancing the operational capacity of the media unless of course if he has thieving fingers.

Instead of savoring the outcome of the DCEC investigations that cleared his name and restored his integrity, Minister Tibone childishly went ballistic and elected to use some very strong words intended to harm the integrity of Mr. Sebetela and The Sunday Standard by presenting them as irresponsible and fanatics of political witch-hunting. Despite making claims that he has never engaged in corrupt practices in his life, his misdirected outburst presents him as a man doubtful about his claim on cleanliness. His public display of anger is a clear sign that he suspects himself and is thus consumed by feelings of guilt.

The DCEC has unequivocally concurred with Mr. Sebetela and The Sunday Standard that events leading to the award of the project to ELTEL had all the hallmarks of corrupt practice. In other words, some other persons other than Mr. Sebetela and the editors of The Sunday Standard could have arrived at a similar conclusion and raised a similar query taking cognizant of existing circumstantial evidence, particularly the lack of transparency in the execution of the award for this work. ELTEL had its preferred financiers; and the financiers, notably the NORDIA and NORDIC banks set out unambiguous conditions that they could only finance the project provided ELTEL was the main contractor. The preferential clauses made things look increasingly irregular and unusual. Mr. Sebetela and The Sunday Standard queried this unusual arrangement and did not wish to be seen to be conniving at the destruction of laid down procedures for competitive bidding. In other words, they acted to protect the integrity of Parliament, government and, by extension, the interests of the general citizenry.

It is also utterly wrong and irresponsible for Minister Tibone to personalize the ELTEL incident. It is evident that a sense of self-importance clouded his judgment and caused a severe crisis of identity. Although Minister Tibone was the main target as the accounting officer ÔÇô the former political head at the Ministry of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources (not just an ordinary Tibone, the villager from Zwenshambe) – the investigation also focused on officials at his former Ministry and the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning. By singling himself as having suffered intense pain as a result of the allegations, Minister Tibone confirms his lack of tact and a personal fear to accept responsibility. This may not be the last time the Minister is grilled for suspected corrupt practices or such other issues that may justify assault on his person and if he cannot withstand public criticism and is unable to absorb legitimate punches, he better resign as a Cabinet Minister and live a subdued life.

A Cabinet Ministerial position carries with it huge responsibilities and challenges including unfair criticism or what the Minister classifies as ‘extravagant and outrageous’ allegations. Suffice to remind the Minister that his decent pay and a caboodle of over-generous fringe benefits are not limited to rewarding him for office (paper) work but are also meant to compensate for possible verbal persecution that is an integral part of the job.

Accordingly, Sebetela cannot be held to have abused Parliamentary freedom. As a Member of Parliament, he is tasked with safeguarding the interests of Botswana and by querying the Rural Electrification Project award to ELTEL, Mr. Sebetela had the interests of the nation at heart. The same applies to The Sunday Standard as the Fourth Estate. On the contrary, it can be said that by attempting to extract an undue apology from Mr. Sebetela and the Editors of The Sunday Standard, as a member of the Executive, Tibone was abusing Cabinet authority. He could be held responsible for shaming the Executive by behaving like an absolute moron and flawless political creature.
It is, nonetheless, clear that Minister Tibone deliberately sought to panic MPs, the media and members of the public into silence regarding similar instances should they arise in future.

His press release is a thinly veiled threat that in future whistle blowers would be taken to task for raising reasonable queries. For this, Minister Tibone must publicly apologize for his indiscretion. In any case, Tibone’s actions are a mirror image of the Executive’s attitude towards Honourable MPs, the media and the general public and it is very unlikely that his superiors would give him a rap on his knuckles for his wayward behavior.

The DCEC must also come out and assure the general public that the law will always protect them against harassment by the elites for expressing displeasure on certain public deals, otherwise Tibone’s action could likely make their work more cumbersome.

Minister Tibone decries that Botswana’s image before the NORDIA Bank and the NORDIC Investment bank has been compromised. If indeed these two financial institutions were internationally reputable and uncontaminated, they would appreciate the circumstances surrounding the queries and subsequent investigations.

Investigating suspected corrupt practices is an international norm that could not be compromised for accelerated implementation of a questionable project. To the contrary, the action taken by the Government of Botswana to investigate the allegations should enhance our image before the international community, specifically that we take allegations of corruption very seriously.

It is sad to state that if the two financiers believe that the ELTEL incident has unfairly implicated them, they are at liberty to do what is good for them, including withdrawal of the promised funds.
Botswana should unequivocally make it clear that we shall never be bullied into accepting dubious loans no matter the darkness enveloping our rural villages. Our people will be better off crawling in dark alleys than having their villages provided with bloodstained power.

It must be noted that the very banks that clamour to provide development assistance will be first to rush to the international media to talk ill of us especially the so-called culture of corruption in Africa. President Mogae is reported to have told the 2007 World Bank Forum in Germany recently that ‘we Africans have been corrupt in collaboration with Western partners, whose role tends to be down played when our corruption is highlighted’. This means that we must be cautious when dealing with our moneyed partners lest we are corrupted and then admonished by the very same Samaritans. The Bible warns that ‘for the love of money is the root of all kind of evil.’ And some people, craving money [perhaps to electrify some rural villages] have wandered from the true faith [normal processes], and pierced themselves with many sorrows’ (1 Timothy 6:9-10). Beware of the corrupting influence of money, Mr. Tibone.

On a different but related issue, it has come to my notice that the Minister of Works and Transport, Lesego Motsumi, has of late become synonymous with controversy.

It all started with the Minister boasting that it was her right to be chauffeured to evening classes across the border in her official car.
This was to be followed by yet another equally damaging and embarrassing incident in which the Minister was alleged to have received a bribe in the form of computers, donated by a certain company that eventually got some work from Botswana Railways.

Before the dust could settle, Motsumi caused a stir when she undiplomatically and arrogantly announced that negotiations to sell Air Botswana to a South African kiosk airliner would go ahead despite a motion adopted in Parliament to the contrary. A little while ago, it was reported that after Minister Motsumi’s response that government efforts should be to contribute to promoting the well being of citizens rather than taking decisions detrimental to their welfare, the Gaborone Taxis and Local Bus Service Association suspended their services, presumably irked by the Minister’s comment.

It is my sincere opinion that the above-cited incidents metamorphosed into crises not because the issues under discussion were/or are inherently controversial but significantly because they were not handled soberly, sensitively and diplomatically with due respect to maintaining a proper sense of decorum.

It is my fervent contention that Minister Motsumi has lost public trust as a result of her over indulgence in arrogance, deceit, and complete disrespect for ordinary citizens and some ballooned celebrity status of a political form.

This being the case, continued retention of Minister Motsumi at Works and Transport will definitely harm the operations of the Ministry and further tarnish its already battered image.

Whereas the challenges facing her Ministry are potentially explosive, they are not entirely insurmountable but the Minister’s lack of tact, her crave for politics of confrontation and a generally discredited persona blew the disputes out of proportions.

I want to believe that a more credible, trustworthy and levelheaded candidate would have done better to handle the issues.

This is the stark reality of the politics of personality in which official pronouncements are not interpreted on merit but are analyzed on the basis of the character of the originator. For instance, Minister Motsumi’s response to the Taxi operators’ demands is intelligent and acceptable but because the response came out through her somewhat discredited mouth, it simply became an irritant and an excellent pretext for a thoughtless strike. It is, therefore, advisable and prudent for President Mogae to relieve Minister Motsumi of her duties as a Cabinet Minister before she inflicts more damage on the credibility of her Ministry, the Executive and the Botswana Government at large. Her trademark infantile blunders are an exact reflection of a series of poor performances and a dire lack of requisite qualities for a ministerial portfolio.

The Minister may not be transferred to another Ministry for that will be tantamount to merely relocating trouble and shame. Her removal will be good for her and her family, the Ministry of Works and Transport, the Cabinet and the nation in entirety. The way the Minister has been conducting herself and handling her official duties has been particularly dishonourable, undignified and an absolute disgrace.

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