Monday, July 15, 2024

Silent and lethal: Bureaucratic corruption Botswana

Botswana’s government has earned a reputation for “clean” governance of public resources. Good governance is seen as the fundamental reason for Botswana’s positive political and economic record. The country is seen as a heaven of prosperity and stability in a region full of economic and political misery. The NGO Transparency International has consistently rated Botswana the least corrupt of all African countries included in its Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI). The Country has also been awarded favorable ratings with respect to control of corruption by the World Bank Governance Index.

One of the leading (African) scholars of African political economy, Abdi Samatar sets out to show Botswana as “a socially responsible and more effective activist African state” in a generally pessimistic continent. Samatar contrasts the comparatively “awesome economic and social performance” of Botswana with that of many other African and Asian countries.

However, while Abdi Samatar’s analysis is highly scholarly, informative and analytical it has a number of flaws. Samatar is almost totally uncritical of the glaring negative features of Botswana’s corruption scandals especially those that beset the country in the 1990s. He presented Botswana as a country that has eluded the rampant corruption and mismanagement that bedevil most Third World countries. He has also failed to discuss extensive economic injustices and accumulation by the dominant class that prevails in the country.

It would be very surprising indeed if Samatar was not aware of the many incidences of corruption and embezzlement of huge sums of money by the top echelons of the Botswana government, political vampires and their close family members and friends. Samatar’s analysis regularly contrasts the many comparatively impressive successes of Botswana with the economic failures of most other African countries and not necessarily looking into the political lootings of state resources at the hands of few uncompromising ‘mafias’.

Whilst studies have showed explosive and pervasive grand corruption in Botswana, one area of corruption that has been neglected or has not drawn wider attention is ‘Bureaucratic Corruption’. Bureaucratic corruption does not make the headlines the way other big time corruption scandals do. It does not make headlines like the often so deliberate and arrogant day light political looting by some perverted leaders. This corruption although may often times be detected with a few reported cases may however, be silent and lethal. The rate of its pervasiveness is yet to be picked up by Transparency International and other global indices on corruption.

Jacob van Klaveren believes that a corrupt bureaucrat regards his office as a business from which he is able to extract extra-legal income. As a result, the civil servant’s total compensation “does not depend on an ethical evaluation of his usefulness for the common good but precisely upon the market situation and his talents for finding the point of maximal gain on the public’s demand curve” (Klaveren 1990: 26). Bureaucratic corruption provides civil servants with the opportunity to raise their compensation above what the law prescribes.

The biggest loser from corruption is society as a whole. Corruption allows inefficient producers to remain in business, encourages governments to pursue perverse economic policies, and provides opportunities to bureaucrats and politicians to enrich themselves through extorting bribes from those seeking government favors. Thus, corruption distorts economic incentives, discourages entrepreneurship, and slows economic growth. It has bee n reported by Mmegi 17th November 2010, that currently there are 24 Chinese construction companies involved in major government projects at an estimated total cost of P20 billion. As to how many locals or Batswana are involved in this 20 Billion stake I do not know, but as to whether it distorts economic incentives is another thing.
Although certain types of corruption may have beneficial economic and political effects, corruption can permit inefficient companies to remain in business indefinitely. It has also been argued elsewhere that companies offering the highest bribes are not necessarily the most economically efficient ones but the ones that are efficient at rent seeking. Corruption also does not benefit efficient producers, but instead protect incompetent entrepreneurs. For example, those supplying cheap quality materials, uniforms, services etc.

Companies that survive under institutionalized corruption are those that have become efficient at rent seeking, not at properly offering effective services. The expertise that improves their ability to survive is based on their knowledge of the political process, who to bribe, and how to effectively manipulate the political system to their advantage and which membership card to carry. The new entrants for example, ‘Mafikozolos’, the ‘Tenderpreneurs’ if you like out of excitement always know the best time to flash their membership card.

They know when to brag and how to brag and they can even tell you boldly ‘o tla bua o tla ja eng Mchana? ‘Fa go jewa ditendara bror’ Ga re bue ka di lecture theatres fa ntate. it is not bread crumbs, re bua ka taba tse serious Rangwane’. Whilst on the other hand the old established groups ‘The big shots’ are the ones totally dominating and monopolizing big businesses. They are involved is serious business deals and undertakings and in most cases their close family members are not left behind and they too have a share of the cake. However, there is also the ‘Wanna Bee’s’ (Bo mponeng), the unfortunate ones whose allegiance and loyalty is not paying dividends at all. They are just the noise makers and always chanting party slogans in high pitched voices with the hope that they too will one day have their share. (Ba tla loma something).

Bureaucratic corruption can be silent and lethal and yet very organized. It may involve the purchase of state favors from bureaucrats who have been charged with the job of formulating and implementing public policies, developing national development plans and budgets. It may include those that are also charged with enforcing state regulations and protecting private property rights. The notion that nobody is above the law does not apply. The reality of the matter is that ‘we are not all equals’. This is an ‘Animal Farm’. No matter how many legal eagles may justify and differ with me. It is a fact.

The Tswana culture and custom of extended family places significant pressure on Bureaucrats, forcing some of them to engage in corrupt and nepotic practices. Bureaucrats are believed to exploit their public positions to generate benefits for themselves, their families, and their ethnic or social cleavage. There has been much debate going on in the country regarding developmental issues and how resources are distributed country wide.

Political influence, patronage and tribal connections have taken the centre stage in how resources are distributed in the country. This cancerous mentality has found its way into the recruitment and promotions within the Civil Service, where meritocracy has just become a buzz word (a mere human resources term) with no meaning at all. Tribal connections, party colours and sycophancy have become the new order. Under the new order, ethical principles are just an illusion. Men of high morale standing have been turned into hopeless parrots. They have been ridiculed and called and addressed by pet names and in most extreme cases referred to as ‘Vultures and stupid Monkeys’. Ironically these parasites and stupid monkeys have not raised a single voice of objection and the least that they can do is to cry out publicly and in some cases emulate monkeys with their acrobatic dives and jives.

However, if the new order is left unchecked where patronage, favoritism and in some extreme cases witch-hunt of deserving candidates is left to continue and remain unchecked, this will mark the beginning of open and arrogant corrupt practices. Some people will even think they are above systems and processes in their work places. Their judgments will be clouded by their political affiliation, family and tribal connections. In other cases, some bureaucrats will view public service as an opportunity for self enrichment through service provision and in the awarding of tenders. On the other hand some political elites those with the entitlement mentality will use the apparatus of state in order to use the state’s redistributive powers to amass wealth for themselves. This they may do legitimately by the erection of significant barriers to entry and monopolizes the supply of legislation, thus making certain that other groups do not participate in the allocation of resources. For locked-out groups, participation in the economic systems must be obtained through payment of bribes to bureaucrats. This may be in the health services, telecommunications, roads, manufacturing, and agriculture or even in acquiring some empowerment scheme loan amongst other things.

Although Botswana has placed much emphasis on effective clean up programs, such must be extended to all and Botswana must jealously guard against apparatus of government being made to become an instrument for the enrichment of members of the politically dominant group. It must not allow the few elites to use the redistributive powers of the state to enrich themselves while sentencing the majority to perpetual poverty and deprivation. The bureaucrats and politicians should not promote perverse economic policies, which while impoverishing most of society, provide concentrated and significant benefits to the national elites and interest groups especially through the award of tenders and procurement of services.

*Thabo Lucas Seleke is a Lecturer of Public Policy in the Department of Political and Administrative Studies (University of Botswana)

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