Thursday, October 28, 2021

‘DIS will hack an EVM-based election’ – Gaolathe

In its letter to foreign governments the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) says that the direct involvement of the Directorate of Intelligence Services (especially that of its head) necessarily means that Botswana cannot have fair elections if it uses electronic voting machines (EVMs) in the 2019 elections.

“A major consideration in the potential fairness of an EVM-based system is the behaviour of the Directorate of Intelligence Services.  Every election is a national security matter and falls in some part to the DIS to insulate Botswana’s democratic system from unwarranted foreign and internal interference.  Yet, the DIS still has a long way to go to demonstrate beyond doubt that it is a law-abiding institution within the broader context of democratic systems,” write UDC’s Secretary General, Ndaba Gaolathe, in a letter that is being routed to foreign governments through their diplomatic missions in Botswana. 

To give those governments a fuller picture about DIS, Gaolathe adds that suspicions still persist about the involvement of the organisation in extra-judicial killings and in the unconstitutional monitoring of opposition leaders and activists who are seen as critical to the government. In the not-too-distant past, there were allegations about the Botswana Movement for Democracy president and Gaborone Bonnington South MP himself coming in and out of the crosshairs of DIS hitmen.

Gaolathe laments the fact that current legislation does not provide for any meaningful oversight over the DIS but grants sweeping powers to the president in the carrying out of the mandate of the DIS. He also express grave concern about the personal behavior of the DIS head, Colonel Isaac Kgosi, for excessive abuse of power. Gaolathe’s position is that with its undemocratic posture and hostility to the idea of democratic accountability, DIS cannot realistically be expected to protect the integrity of the country’s elections. Whereas DIS is supposed to be one of the chief custodians of national security, Gaolathe puts it on a list of actors and factors that threaten such security.

“Botswana’s democracy is vulnerable from multiple fronts ÔÇô from errors in programming technology, from a rogue secret service, from mischievous adventurists and from foreign state actors,” he says in his letter to embassies.

Another government department that the letter puts under controversial focus is the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC).

“Calls for reforms were, and continue to be, inspired by several aspects that blight the Botswana system: the IEC is not entirely autonomous, and has no legal identity of its own independent of the Office of the President. The head of the Secretariat is appointed by the president; the Chairman of IEC is appointed by the president; all officers of IEC other than the Secretary are public servants and are part of the public service, the executive branch in particular. Consequently, there is a widely held view that the IEC is not autonomous or independent, whether it is on paper or in practice,” Gaolathe says. 

In contrast to what the MP says about Khama and Kgosi, at least one electoral actor comes out smelling of roses in the former’s assessment: the recently retired IEC Secretary, Gabriel Seeletso who was “widely respected across political formations.” Those who know the latter well describe him as highly assertive and one supposes there would have been instances when he used such assertiveness to resist unreasonable instructions from his principals. Seeletso notably demonstrated such assertiveness when he locked out the ruling Botswana Democratic Party from a Francistown bye-election because the party had not complied with electoral law. Sadly though, this illustrious career was blighted by the role he had to play in the controversial introduction of EVMs. As IEC head, Seeletso had to personally peddle false information about the machines being unhackable when the reality is that no computer system is 100 percent secure.

Of Seeletso’s successor, Keireng Zuze, Gaolathe says that “she is largely unknown and it is too early to tell if she will command the type of respect and faith required to oil the electoral aspect of Botswana’s democratic dispensation.” The MP notes that Zuze ascends to the helm of the IEC “at a time when circumstances are conspiring to make the role of [IEC] Secretary that of an inconsequential actor in the midst of other state, and possibly non-state actors.”

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