Tuesday, July 16, 2024

The Ombudsman has become a lame duck: Festus Mogae should take all the blame

Very few Batswana know what the job of the Ombudsman is. Officially, the Ombudsman’s job, put broadly, is to protect the public against abuse of office by public officers. That sounds well and good, but just how practical is this undertaking. The fate of the Ombudsman was sealed a few years ago when after the then holder of the office, Lethebe Maine, found that the continued piloting of the army aircraft was unlawful. The then Commander in Chief, President Festus Mogae, effectively slapped the ombudsman on the face.

Mogae said he had given Khama permission to fly the aircraft.

If only the Ombudsman had asked the president!

From then on the Ombudsman was rendered impotent.

Not many people take the office seriously.

To many, this otherwise important office is as good as it had never existed.

We understand former President Mogae will be writing his memoirs. It is our hope that his book will shed some light on just what it was that Khama owed him as to allow a politician to pilot army aircraft; a revelation that we also hope will put into context the political madness that this country had to endure when the then Vice President effectively dragooned his former boss into giving what is now popularly known as sabbatical leave. It is one of the characteristics of our Government, to create institutions often as a public relations gimmick if not to relieve themselves pressure or enhance their international credibility only to dupe the public into believing that they believe in the sanctity of good governance.

A way has to be found to resuscitate the oversight institutions.

They have to report directly to parliament or to a parliamentary special committee.
Only when they are accountable to parliament will the ever present spectre of interference by the executive be exorcised.

We know very well that the Ombudsman produces a report for tabling in parliament every year. In fact, we have religiously read such reports for the last five years and have come to one conclusion; other than that the reports are meant to fulfill what is clearly a mandatory and statutory requirement, the careful and often rambling language (to put it no stronger) that is found in each of those reports is a poor way to hide what have become the psychological and frail insecurities of the Ombudsman. Once beaten twice shy.

Since the BDF aircraft saga, the Ombudsman’s impotence is there for all to see.
The office is forever careful not to annoy the executive, who, by the way, is not only the appointing authority but also paymaster.

From reading the annual report, it is abundantly apparent that the Ombudsman is always treading very carefully abnormally conscious of the excessively retributive and aggressive government that they are dealing with.

The tragedy of the whole thing is that having read between the lines the public have now decided to withdraw their confidence.

While there are people still going approaching the Ombudsman to report, fewer numbers take the office seriously to expect any meaningful outcomes.
That is reprehensible.

The office is clearly appeasing and placating the executive. In the last two years there have been allegations of interference and meddling by security agencies into the investigations of some officers of the Ombudsman.

In fact, one senior officer was mysteriously sacked.
That is a terrible drawback.

It only plays into the hands of those people who question the independence of the office.
The more cynical have already reached a conclusion that many of these oversight offices are a sham ÔÇô just as we had been forewarned when many of them were established.

Our suggestion is that parliament should be the appointing authority.

It would help a lot if people appointed to head such offices like the Ombudsman, Attorney General and DCEC, in fact all of the Chapter 7 institutions were tough people not those of a kind who are looking over their shoulders or driving through a rear mirror to see if their contracts will be renewed. However one looks at it, the autonomy thing that the executive is always bragging about when referring to DCEC, Ombudsman etc isn’t playing brilliantly. It is a farce that threatens to catch up even with the judiciary ÔÇô that one time bulwark of all decency. That helicopter thing is a ghostly spectre that will haunt the Ombudsman until the end of time.


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