Wednesday, February 19, 2020

TI warns about the corrupting influence of ‘big money’ in politics

Transparency International (TI) has echoed a warning that was sounded three months ago by a SADC electoral observation mission to Botswana’s 2019 general election.

“Money is used to win elections, consolidate power and further personal interests,” says TI in its 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index report which was released on Thursday. “Although the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combatting Corruption has provisions to prevent corruption and encourage transparency in campaign financing, implementation is weak.”

For 2019, TI’s research highlights the relationship between politics, money and corruption and it came to the conclusion that unregulated flows of big money in politics also make public policy vulnerable to undue influence.

“Countries with stronger enforcement of campaign finance regulations have lower levels of corruption, as measured by the CPI,” the TI report says.

Botswana is an aberration in that regard because while the country has, until 2018, been adjudged the least corrupt African country, its campaign finance regulations are among the most lax. There is neither state financing of political parties nor any law regulating political party funding or expenditure. Political parties are not required to disclose their fund sources and the Electoral Act contains provisions regulating the expenses of candidates. However, as a report by SADC election observers argues, “the law and the limits imposed therein are not reflective of the existing dynamics observed in the current financing of political party campaign activities.”

The report, which was put together by a team led by Lieutenant General, Sibusiso Moyo, Zimbabwe’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, says with regard to this legal gap: “The injection of foreign money has the potential to cause undue influence and external interference in domestic politics thereby compromising the sovereignty of the country.”

Foreign money has always been a huge factor in Botswana’s politics and while there used to be only one dominant player, the field is getting crowded. For decades, the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) was bankrolled by De Beers and there was never any confusion as to what this generosity was about. The diamond mining giant wanted to preserve a still highly confidential mining deal that is alleged to be equally generous to it. A decade ago, a Sunday Standard expose showed that beyond financing the party, De Beers also financed President Sir Ketumile Masire personally. In his book, “Magic of Perseverance”, former cabinet minister David Magang writes about how much power De Beers wielded over Masire. He gives an example of the company influencing cabinet appointments.

Another example that one can give outside of what the book says is the manner in which Bushmen communities were forcibly removed from the Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve (CKGR) to make way for a diamond mine. The story is that De Beers prospectors found alluvial diamonds in one part of the game reserve and in line with its policy, the company wanted all of it to be declared a no-go (red) zone. The official reason, which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stridently retailed to the world, was that the Bushmen had to live at a place where it would be cheaper for the government to provide them with services. Fortunately for the Bushmen, a London pressure group called Survival International knew the truth and waged an international campaign to have them returned to the CKGR.

Beginning with the 2014 general election, more players began to appear on the scene and this time, on the side of the opposition. An opposition which decades ago couldn’t field candidates in remote areas was now so awash with cash that its leader, Duma Boko, was flying around in a helicopter. In 2019, Boko, who is the president of the Umbrella for Democratic Change, was loaned both a helicopter and private jet by a South African businessman called Zunaid Moti. Not given to modesty, Boko did at one point indicate that another jet (to be used by UDC Vice President, Dumelang Saleshando) was on the way. It never did but given the level of interest that international financiers now take in Botswana politics, the UDC would not have a problem procuring a fleet of 747 jets if it wanted.

This is why this is happening. After 55 years in power, the BDP is a spent force and its hold on power is weakening by the day. Those who finance the UDC want to replace De Beers and be the ones telling the government what to do. Top of that list is Moti and ahead of the election, someone who wanted the BDP to win, leaked an audio tape in which Moti can be heard issuing instructions to Boko. While the UDC denied the authenticity of the tape, there is ample evidence of the instructions he issued being carried out to the letter. However, as has been observed by some, while no audiotape of De Beers issuing instructions to BDP leaders has been leaked, the same thing would be happening.

Botswana is an aberration in two other respects. TI found that “greater transparency of campaign donations is associated with lower levels of corruption.” While the country has no such transparency, it has always had lower levels of corruption, enjoying a long run as Africa’s least corrupt country since TI started tracking corruption until 2018 when it was dethroned by Seychelles. TI also points out that “countries with lower CPI scores also have a higher concentration of political power among wealthy citizens. Across the board, there is a concerning popular perception that rich people buy elections, both among some of the lowest-scoring countries on the CPI, as well as among certain higher-scoring countries, such as the United States.” In its nature, democracy works for the wealthy and there is absolutely no doubt that Botswana has a higher concentration of political power among wealthy citizens. That notwithstanding, the country is one of TI’s top performers internationally.

What Angola has been able to do shows that Botswana can also improve its own score.

“Following four decades of authoritarian rule, Angola jumped seven points in this year’s CPI, making it a significant improver,” TI says.

The international corruption watchdog also adds that “Broad consultation in political decision-making is associated with lower levels of corruption.” Despite what naysayers say, President Mokgweetsi Masisi has embarked on a historic anti-corruption crusade and after a decade of one-man rule by his predecessor, has demonstrated appetite for consultation in his political decision-making.

The corruption that TI and SADC election observers complain about is of a peculiar kind. While the Directorate of Corruption and Economic Crime can investigate corruption that happens with all other public resources, it can’t do the same with corruption that happens with the most important public resource (state power) via political parties.

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