Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Watchdog wags warning finger at Khama

A third international watchdog organisation has warned that President Ian Khama against eroding Botswana’s strong democratic traditions and protecting corrupt allies from prosecution.

Freedom House, an independent watchdog organisation dedicated to the expansion of freedom and democracy around the world, published last week their 2016 Freedom World Report, adding to the growing body of evidence that Khama has weakened Botswana’s democratic institutions and shielded a number of high-profile allies from indictment and prosecution for corruption.

The report states that: “Botswana’s anti-corruption body has special powers of investigation, arrest, and search and seizure, and the body has a high conviction rate. Despite this, President Khama has shielded a number of high-profile allies from indictment and prosecution.

“There are almost no restrictions on the private business activities of public servants (including the president, who is a large stakeholder in the tourism sector), and political ties often play a role in awarding government jobs and tenders.”

This comes after Transparency International censored Khama for running a kin-based cronyism and patronage network in which family members and friends are “unaffected by anti-corruption measures”.

In its 2016 Government Defence Anti-Corruption Index, the anti-corruption watchdog scored Botswana way below the 50 percent pass mark on defence and security corruption. With a score of between 16.7 percent and 33.2 percent Botswana was accorded an “E” grade which places the country’s defence and security outfits in the banding bracket of “very high corruption risk”.

The Transparency International report states that “in Botswana, there is evidence that officials with close ties to the President, his family or allies remain largely unaffected by anti-corruption measures. Meanwhile, the President’s brothers have a track record of winning major defence tenders.”

The Transparency International and Freedom House reports validate an earlier report published last December by The World Justice Project indicating how under Khama’s administration, Botswana has suffered a gradual regression in the rule of law; government was becoming more dictatorial and less accountable, respect for fundamental human rights was being eroded while corruption has gone up and the justice system is becoming less effective.

The research by World Justice Project revealed that Botswana was the only country in the region which showed a downward trend on “constraints on government powers,” during the 2016 review period. In the 2015 review, Botswana was also the only country in the region that showed a downward trend on the index.

The index shows government’s accountability and the extent to which there are adequate checks on executive authority. It measures the extent to which those who govern are bound by law. It comprises the means, both constitutional and institutional, by which the powers of the government and its officials and agents are limited and held accountable under law. It also includes non-governmental checks on the government’s power, such as a free and independent press.

Records show that between 2012 and 2016 Botswana has dropped from position one to position five in Africa  and from position 20 to position 60 in the world on the index of accountability and constrains on government powers.

Last week’s Freedom House report states that, “during Khama’s office, several government bodies, including the Directorate on Intelligence and Security Services (DISS), the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC), and the state media, have been reorganised under the Office of the President, raising concerns about the consolidation of power in the executive branch”.

The report states that Botswana is a free country and “while democratic traditions are strong, critics of President Seretse Khama Ian Khama have expressed concerns about creeping authoritarianism, particularly in light of crackdowns on the media and questionable actions by Khama regarding the judiciary”.

“In one of the most publicised cases of 2015, President Khama suspended four High Court judges in August for bringing the judiciary into disrepute and undermining Chief Justice Maruping Dibotelo. The four were part of a group of 12 judges that signed a petition calling for Dibotelo’s impeachment, after Dibotelo had accused them of improperly collecting housing allowances.

“Three of the judges later withdrew their signatures from the petition, and all four were challenging the suspensions at the year’s end. The incident prompted rights group Amnesty International and other observers to express concern about judicial independence in Botswana. Separately, in December, Khama faced criticism for appointing two high court judges who apparently had little legal experience”.

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