At independence, the founding fathers of our republic opted for a multi party democracy at a time when the majority of African countries embraced one party system. One party system in most countries usually led to the emergence of dictators who used national resources to enrich themselves when multitudes were denied access to basic social amenities. Corruption was endemic and in some parts of the world, people starved to death while their political masters lived opulent lifestyles. Innocent citizens were killed by security agents willy-nilly. Human life was very cheap.
Patronage was an inherent feature of the system as loyal members of the ruling party were rewarded with appointments to senior positions in the public sector. People were appointed high court judges so that they can protect the short and long term interests of the political leaders. Their dubious appointment to the bench contaminated the judicial system. There were no mechanisms in place to hold politicians, judicial officers and public administrators accountable. They were accountable to themselves.
It is against this background that I strongly believe that by opting for a multi party democracy, our founding fathers laid down a solid foundation for the development of our country. Even though our democracy has some shortcomings, deficits or pimples as some political commentators have put it, we have always been admired by our neighbours and people from other continents. We used to be a few steps ahead of other developing countries, economically, politically and otherwise. The rate of corruption used to be very low. Hence, it never came as a surprise to us when we received accolades from different international organizations and scholars for being one of the least corrupt countries in the world.
Unfortunately, all the good things referred to in the preceding paragraph are slowly disappearing. Instead of moving forward as a democratic nation, we have regressed during the past few years. Hence, I would like to briefly discuss some of the issues that I believe should be bothering all sober, level-headed and open-minded citizens of our beloved republic.
We currently have a president who does not care about the quality of our democracy. Consultation and constructive dialogue, which are the pillars of our democratic society, are of little value to him. He places his interests above those of the nation. He is refusing to meet his predecessors, trade unions representatives and political leaders to discuss the on-going industrial action by public servants which has paralyzed all sectors of the economy.
Students around the country are up in arms, a development that could have been avoided four weeks ago. All public schools have been closed indefinitely. Hospitals and clinics are teetering on the brink of collapse. The majority of citizens are denied medical assistance. Workers providing essential services are defying a court order to go back to work.
All these developments do not bother our president. He does not care. He steadfastly remains aloof. He has, as the CEO of the country, allowed his pride and ego to cloud his judgement on an issue that has set the entire nation on fire. He seems to believe that meeting leaders of trade unions and those of opposition parties is a sign of weakness. Little does he realize that the clock is ticking.
The decision by the Commissioner of Police to deny members of the opposition parties permission to march to different government offices to deliver their petitions on the strike does not help the situation. The explanation given by the Commissioner is that they do not have the capacity to control and protect the multitudes that were expected to participate in the march.
Interestingly, we have been told that no police officer is currently on leave. Those who are not on duty are on standby twenty-four hours a day. The same applies to army officers. Hence, I find the Commissioner’s explanation to be very flimsy and devoid of the truth. It amounts to an insult to the intelligence of the applicants.
Corruption is becoming rampant within our borders. Senior government officials, politicians, businessmen and women are involved. It is even more disheartening to learn that some of the people responsible for preventing and investigating cases of corruption are directly involved in corrupt practices.
Almost all major government projects are experiencing huge cost overruns even though there are project management teams on site. Some contractors are awarded big money tenders even if it is well known that they have failed to deliver projects on time and within budget. This is not surprising as some of these contractors have pledged to build houses for the poor people under the housing project that has been personalized by President Khama.
We read in the private newspapers that Board of Directors at the Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Board (PPADB) are allowed by the Act establishing the institution to bid for tenders as long as they do not participate in the decision-making process. This, in my view, is a very serious anomaly. It is a very good ingredient of corruption. How do we expect board members to rule against their colleague or reject his/her tender bid when they know very well that they will need his/her support to win tenders in the future? How do we expect the playing ground to be level when ordinary citizens compete with people who have inside information?
We also read in the newspapers that a law firm that represents President Khama and the BDP was engaged by the office of the Attorney General to represent the government in its legal wrangle with public sector trade unions. The question that immediately came to my mind was: where is the Attorney General? Is she not employed to advise leaders of this country on legal matters as well as defend the government in a court of law?
It was further reported in the newspapers that one of the lawyers who was representing the government has been appointed a judge of the industrial court. Even though some people who have read and practiced law for many years contend that there is nothing wrong with the arrangement, it is of paramount importance that we should not ignore the golden rule of fair play which says that “justice must not only be done, but must also be seen to be done.”
We should also bear in mind that sometimes perceptions matter more than facts. Currently members of the trade unions believe that they were denied justice because they had misgivings about the presiding judge and the involvement of a man who has been appointed a judge to argue a case on behalf of the government.
Let me conclude by stating that the behaviour of our security agents is shocking and regrettable to say the least. More than fifteen security agents are currently standing trial for having tortured suspects to death. Some of them have shot and killed unarmed suspects in cold blood. These are the people who are supposed to protect citizens but are now killing them.
And the question that we need to ask ourselves is: what is happening to our beloved republic? My simple answer is that it is going to the dogs and the onus is on all citizens to stem the tide in 2014.