Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Stakeholders take stock of oversight institutions

Stakeholders recently took stock of the effectiveness of oversight institutions in promoting good governance, calling for their independence from government.

In the same breath, there were calls for the institutions to be strengthened and, more importantly, redefined.

This emerged from a panel discussion, the first of its kind, under the heading “The Effectiveness of Oversight Institutions in Promoting Good Governance in Botswana” held at the University of Botswana (UB), organised by the Department of Political and Administrative Studies in conjunction with the Sir Ketumile Masire Foundation.

It was noted that the oversight institutions that do not have an enforcement component are perceived to be toothless – one such being the Office of the Ombudsman.

One panelist, Chief Legal Investigator in the Office of the Ombudsman, Edwin Batsalelwang, observed that it was difficult to measure the effectiveness of the oversight institutions in the absence of empirical evidence.

“There are lots of perceptions about different institutions. We [Ombudsman] are being labeled as a toothless bull dog. Yes, but it is by design not coincidence. The Ombudsman has no enforcement powers. We are told it was not meant to be. The Office of the Ombudsman was not meant to play a dual role with the courts of law but to complement the role played by the courts,” offered Batsalelwang.

He regretted that the Public Service does not see the Ombudsman as a partner but enemy.
“We must operate in a conducive and an enabling environment. We need partnership with the media, civil service and civil society. If government departments are responsive to our enquiries, this would invariably improve our service for the better. We also rely on the powers of persuasion,” Batsalelwang said.

The Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) Assistant Director, Poppy Monyatsi, disclosed that corruption is rife in the country at procurement despite the fact that there are procurement committees. “Corruption is clandestine; are we going to go back to the 1990s of the P27 million corruption tender and the P500 million building foundation that never took off? There are weaknesses in procurement. We need people of integrity to procure. They must go out there and find out the costs of goods. You may find that we end up paying P1500 for an item that costs P2 with such a project having been evaluated at ministerial level,” Monyatsi disclosed.

An economist, Emang Maphanyane, said it was imperative to have clearly defined roles and mandates of the oversight institutions.

“Do they confine to the public sector or other sectors? Are they adequately equipped to discharge their mandate? Do Batswana view them as effective? Is parliament making appointments of senior positions in government and the disciplined forces?” Maphanyane posed the questions before offering that Botswana needs a national value systems as they relate to the oversight institutions, effective and efficient public institutions and an integrated national system.

“Why are our oversight institutions not linked to parliament as the supreme body? We are chasing after the symptoms since parliament,” said Dr. Patrick Molutsi, the executive secretary of the Tertiary Education Council but speaking in his personal capacity.

A participant, Mothusi Maliehe, regretted that the DCEC is silent on whistleblowers and the declaration of assets. He took a swipe at academics for being silent on national development issues and said that the Botswana parliament was gagging itself through the system of party caucus which often results in otherwise good motions being killed.

In response, Monyatsi said the DCEC was in the process of coming up with a draft bill on whistleblowers.

Professor Keshav Sharma, of the Department of Political and Administrative Studies, admitted that the university has a role to play in developmental issues.

Some participants said on the sidelines of the discussion that the UB has to come up with some sort of an institutionalized system that would see academics meaningfully contributing in issues of national development.

“At the moment academics are doing so in their private capacities through the media,” said one participant.

Sharma said good governance dictates that the government needs to listen to opposition to see what worthwhile role it can play and spelt out to participants the characteristics of good governance, which include freedom of expression, criticism, opposition, choice, representation, free and fair elections, accountability, equity, sound management of the economy, fair distribution of resources, zero tolerance corruption, responsive humane and productive among others.

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