Friday, September 25, 2020

The institutionalization of corruption in Botswana

In most of the developing countries, people go into politics to make money and amass wealth in every way possible.

The line separating personal and public resources is usually blurred or non-existent. Politicians and public administrators view themselves as masters of the citizens and care less about their needs and interests.

Hence, it is not surprising that some of the countries in the developing world with vast natural resources, have very high numbers of people living in abject poverty. Ordinary citizens can simply perish while politicians and public administrators spend national monies to satisfy their insatiable appetite for lavish lifestyles.

Prudent management of revenue accrued from the sale of diamonds in Botswana coupled with political stability and the existence of a democratic set-up (with its weaknesses) earned the country accolades from the international community during the last three decades.

It was during the tenure of President Masire that we asserted ourselves in the international community as a country that was managed well in a continent characterised by high levels of underdevelopment, political instability, high rates of corruption etc.

Our economy grew at a rate similar to that of the Asian Tigers in the 1990s and prudent management of our financial resources was one of the pillars of the Masire administration. President Mogae followed in Masire’s footsteps and managed our financial resources wisely.

It is an undisputable fact that corruption, which is simply defined by Hope (2000) as “the utilization of official positions or titles for personal or private gain, either on an individual or collective basis, at the expense of the public good” existed when Masire and Mogae were presidents. However, it was kept at a low rate as compared to other African countries. Hence, we were always assessed favorably by international institutions.

When Lt. Gen. Ian Khama became the President, most people strongly believed that he will break the record set by his predecessors and take the management of our national resources to a higher level.
President Khama made it very clear from the beginning that he abhors corruption and has seized every opportunity to lecture us on prudent management of financial resources. He has told MPs, councilors and citizens at large that the government has limited financial resources at its disposal that should be used wisely.

He has implored local authorities to prioritise their projects and observe belt-tightening measures put in place by the central government especially during a recession such as the one that started about three years ago.

Surprisingly, the president is not practicing what he preaches. He does not see anything wrong with his ministers wearing two hats at the same time (i.e. being politicians and businessmen).
He does not see anything wrong with one minister using his position to assist his spouse and brother to win tenders from a government department falling under the ministry that he heads.
He does not see anything wrong with the spouse of a minister running a university which admits students sponsored by the Ministry of Education and Skills Development.

The president does not see anything wrong with one of his ministers getting a government tender to produce drivers’ licenses over and over again without other citizens being afforded an opportunity to bid for the same job. How can a minister compete for government tenders with ordinary citizens who do not have inside information about the project at hand?

The president does not see anything wrong with a minister spending P46 000 from the national coffers to buy a refrigerator even though the financial ceiling given to purchase all kitchen utensils was P20 000. He does not see anything wrong with the activities of the notorious DIS being funded from the National Disaster Relief Fund.

People simply contravene government financial regulations with impunity. In fact, lack of action on the part of the president tempts me to conclude that he is of the view that there is no conflict of interest or element of corruption in all the activities undertaken by his ministers.

He does not view their actions as flouting international best practices and sadly, corruption is becoming institutionalized in our beloved country.

This can be attributed to the fact that the people who are involved in these corrupt and dubious deals are members of his inner circle, members of the ruling A-Team faction of the BDP, the untouchables or his loyal and trusted lieutenants.

These are the president’s blue eyed boys who can never be accused of any wrong doing because they are always willing to praise and protect their political master at the slightest provocation. Instead of sacking them from cabinet, the president prefers to look for people that he can blame for the actions of his ministers.

The definition of corruption and prudent management of national resources under the Khama administration is totally different from that of his predecessors and taxpayers like me. Even though it is very clear that his ministers and friends want to loot the national coffers as it has happened in other African countries, the President seems to be undisturbed by what is happening.

It is very unfortunate that as ministers scramble for public funds to enrich themselves, some of the ordinary members of our society who have stolen less than one percent of what our honourable ministers have apportioned to themselves are languishing in jails. Some people have been convicted for failing to declare to the board their relationships with people whose tender bids were assessed whereas ministers who are directly involved in dubious business transactions remain untouched. As it is said in the novel entitled The Animal Farm all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others. History will definitely judge President Khama harshly for failing to protect our national financial resources from his greedy and self-centered ministers who are so determined to amass wealth at all costs.

*Dr Mothusi teaches political and Admin studies at the University of Botswana.

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