Monday, October 25, 2021

What does the president know about the DISS financial scandal?

What does the president know and when did he know it? This famous question which brought down the Richard Nixon administration during the Watergate scandal may come to haunt President Khama following revelations that the country’s Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS) diverted P250 millions from the Petroleum Fund to allegedly line the pockets of some senior government officials. The transparency International Government Defence Anti-Corruption Index has revealed that President Khama and the DISS Director General Isaac Kgosi may be the only ones who are privy to the secret workings of the spy agency, its budget and expenditure. The International anti-corruption watchdog reveals in detail how President Khama and the DISS boss running the country’s security agency as a private fiefdom.

The damning transparency International report however only scratched the surface and failed to find any evidence of off-budget expenditure by the country’s security agency. Off-budget expenditures are those that are not formally authorized within a country’s official defence budget, often considered to operate through the ‘back-door’. Until revelations last week that the DISS has diverted P250 million from the petroleum fund to finance its procurement of military equipment, government had been able to conceal off budget expenditure from the public. The only recorded case of off-budget expenditure in Botswana was the occupation of office space that exceeded the allocated budget of P25 million per annum. The Ministry of Defence Justice and Security (DJS) signed a lease agreement amounting to P33.9 million without going to tender or following the rules as they are laid down by the PPADB. The ministry did not seek the authorization of the Ministerial Tender Board. The rental exceeded the allocated budget by P8.9 million. After the contract was signed and sealed, the Ministry of DJS applied for the retrospective approval of this expenditure. The PPADB heavily criticized the manner in which the Ministry of DJS had acted.

Furthermore, evidence indicates the office space remained unoccupied for the entire year resulting in wasteful expenditure.  In Botswana, off-budget expenditures, like the recent diversion of P250 million by the DISS from the Petroleum Fund to buy military equipment are supposed to be exceptional occurrences that are well-controlled The Finance and Audit Act 8 of 2006 permits off-budget expenditure but also places a limit on this kind of expenditure. Off-budget expenditure has to be approved by a public officer (section 6) or the Permanent Secretary (section 7).  Sunday Standard investigations have turned up information that the Ministry initially approved the DISS Director General’s off-budget expenditure, but later withdrew the approval. The DISS boss however went ahead with the off-budget expenditure despite the withdrawal of authorization.  Sunday Standard has not been able to establish if the DISS off budget expenditure is within the legally permitted limit. Transparency International also stated that because the actual budget is not is not publicly available in detail, obtaining and analyzing information about off-budget military expenditures is difficult. 

There is, though, no evidence of off-budget military expenditure which suggests that there either is not any, or that off-budget expenditure is concealed from the public.” Except for President Khama and the Minister of Mineral Resources, Green Technology and Energy Security Sadique Kebonang, it is unlikely that the country’s political leadership was aware of the DISS off-budget expenditure. Transparency International has observed that   “The DIS budget is not available to parliamentarians let alone to the Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence and Security PCIS because the DIS is administered from the Office of the President.” The PCIS is the legislative body that is mandated with ultimate oversight of the operations of national security agencies as well as military intelligence agencies. “However, the creation of the Directorate of Intelligence Service has resulted in the PCIS losing control of national security and military intelligence in Botswana. Effectively, this means that issues of spending or all secret items relating to national security are now being held by the DIS as well the Botswana Defence Council which is located in the Office of the President.”

The international watchdog went on to quote Rentseng saying, “what needs to be understood is the budget of intelligence, their operations, assessments are secret thus the structure of the intelligence and security architecture with the president at the apex makes it, let alone the issue of appointment, completely answerable to the president and seals the absence of political neutrality, he is virtually the head of the intelligence.” Transparency International concluded that, “this demonstrates that the DIS budget is not available to parliamentarians let alone to the PCIS because the DIS is administered from the Office of the President” Transparency International further observed that “evidence indicates that although there are bodies and institutions that are established to ensure that intelligence services are held accountable, in practice these bodies are inadequately resourced and their oversight ineffective. 

Botswana’s Intelligence Services include the DISS, the Security Intelligence Services, the BDF Military Intelligence and the Central Intelligence Committee. The manner in which these intelligence institutions operate seems to be unclear. Any written and publicly available evidence usually includes a general framework, or it is vague in other respects to an extent that it does not provide comprehensive information to the public. 

The Parliament of Botswana has set up different committees that are tasked with the oversight of the policies, administration and budgets of the intelligence services (Public Accounts Committee, Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs, Trade and Security and the Parliamentary Committee on Finance and Estimates). Legislative oversight is vested in the Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence and Security (PCIS) pursuant to sections 38-40 of the Act. The PCIS is tasked “to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the Directorate. 

A critical academic examination of the intelligence oversight systems published by a DIS director in 2014 indicates a lack of capacity in terms of human resources and expertise in order to effectively monitor the Intelligence services. It has also been reported by Kgalemang that: Concern is mounting over the lack of legislative accountability of Botswana’s powerful intelligence directorate, which answers only to the president. This is an indication of lack of independent oversight, states Transparency International. 

The international anti-corruption watchdog further concluded that the president may be sidestepping recruitment procedure to foist his sidekicks on the leadership of the intelligence agency. “The criteria for the appointments of all senior positions in the intelligence services are provided in the respective legislation. For instance, the appointment of the director, deputy director and deputy director general of DISS is regulated in part II of the Intelligence and Security Act. These senior appointments are appointed by the president in consultation with the defence council. The Intelligence Act does not place an obligation on the president to consult the defence council. (Section 6 (1) of the act states that “There shall be a Director General who shall be appointed by the President on such terms and conditions as the President may, on the recommendation of the Council, determine. This is the same approach that Botswana takes in all senior intelligence appointments”….

“Although the criteria are legally in place, the investigation of the officers’ suitability is controversial…..Although there are legal provisions for such appointments; the problem is compliance with these legal requirements by the President.” Transparency International also quotes Botswana Congress party President, Dumelang Saleshando saying, “The DIS was set in a manner that does not comply with international best practices. It is only accountable to the President. We do not get to scrutinize their expenditure. That is why there is a rumor that the DIS has purchased a jet for its operations and yet Parliament is in the dark about this. If indeed they have purchased a jet, why Parliament was not informed when the funds were allocated for the jet?’ he asks. (READ INDEPTH FOR DETAILS

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