Saturday, October 16, 2021

Our weak Internal Controls give room to corruption

The ongoing special session of the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has once again put on spotlight our internal controls at the government enclave.

The concept of “internal controls” is amorphous and refers to the country’s procedures and policies to ensure that transactions are carried out in compliance with management orders, transactions are accurately recorded, and access to assets is properly authorized.

If anyone has been following the PAC investigations of the National Petroleum Fund (NPF) then they would easily conclude that we have weak internal control mechanism in place at the government enclave. The disease might have not widely spread throughout the whole government enclave but surely it has found its way into the department of energy or rather ministry of Mineral Resources, Green Technology and Energy Security.

In the past few weeks, we have heard former ministers of energy, Kitso Mokaila and Sadique Kebonang appearing before the committee. The former PS, Dr Obolokile Obakeng and the director of DIS Isaac Kgosi appeared before the PAC where they were to provide insight into the transactions related to the NPF. Sadly none of them could give clear answers on what really transpired. The submission at the PAC has left both the committee and the nation even more frustrated.

Their submission did show that any country with ineffective internal controls face risks of embezzlement and self-dealing by employees. The ongoing NPF court case is a study case for any student of corporate governance. The shortage of answers at the PAC does confirm that some kind of corruption happened at energy department. We wait the court verdict on the matter.

In the meantime we need to state for a record that from where we stand, which is also an economic point of view, corruption is rooted in the existence of privileges. Of late membership to the ruling party, rather than expertise has over the years been used to be a defining pre-requisite for appointment to key positions at the government enclave. This has invariably killed all prospects of oversight and continues to undermine corporate governance in most of our publicly owned enterprises and internal controls at government departments.

Despite the favourable manner in which we have been assessed by international scholars and organizations, one can still argue that the quality of corporate governance has not been as good as we have been made to believe ÔÇô atleast in the last few years.

The blame, as shown by discussions at PAC should partly be on politicians who want to micro-manage not just public enterprises under their watch but also government departments and monies allocated to them. The end result has been nothing far from corruption.

Put it in the proper context, it becomes compelling to define corruption. A Google search for the definition of corruption points out that “if someone or something is corrupt, they are broken morally or in some other way. Corrupt people perform immoral or illegal acts for personal gain, without apology. Corrupt politicians take bribes and deny it”.

Transparency International defines corruption as the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. Corruption can be classified as grand, petty and political, depending on the amounts of money lost and the sector where it occurs. At energy department the nation fears to have lost millions of Pulas into private pockets, thanks to our weak internal controls. As indicated above, we await the verdict of the court and the ongoing DCEC investigations.

In the meantime, if asked what brought our country down on its economic knees, we should tell them that it is weak internal controls, poor governance and by extension corruption. It is a fact that in our country the benefits derived from economic resources have not been distributed equitably to all members of the society. We still have one-fifth of the population living below the poverty datum line. The gap between the rich and the poor is huge.

In a report titled “The State of Governance in Botswana 2004,” BIDPA defines good governance as “predictable, open, and enlightened policy making; a bureaucracy imbued with professional ethos; an executive arm that is accountable for its actions, and a strong civil society participating in public affairs” (2006:36). The report goes further to identify the critical ingredients of good governance as transparency, openness, accountability, fairness, equity, respect for the rule of law, consistency and coherence in policy formation, high standards of ethical behaviour, prudent management of economic resources, equitable distribution of resources etc.

These should be our guidelines going forward as we try to end poor governance and corruption at the government enclave. As said in this space before, corruption is often cited as a security risk in the same breath with such evils like poverty and inequality. We therefore call on the new government to renew its commitment to fighting corruption. Batswana should also “stand up” and say no to this evil. Surely leaving all the work to government agencies is not sufficient if our country is to nip corruption in the bud.

The #Bottomline is that we have lost touch with good governance and opened up to corruption. As such we need to revisit some of our policies that guide internal control as well as corporate governance at SOEs. 

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