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Let’s create a robust national integrity system for Botswana

Publishing Date : 15 January, 2019

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In the past ten years Botswana has experienced a steady decline in its governance standards.  A corruption perception report by Transparency International shows a slip from 2008 to 2017.  Botswana is now fifth in the Mo Ibrahim Index of Governance in Africa, down from second in 2014.  The country has also shown a decline in some governance indicators by other international rating agencies.  This state of affairs should neither surprise nor shock us but rather make us take stock and re-assess the governance situation in our country.

We are constantly, on a daily basis, confronted with reports in the print and social media of serious allegations of corruption, impropriety and abuse of office by individuals in positions of authority and power.  These reports are met with disbelief as nothing is seemingly done against the alleged perpetrators.  On the face of it, only a few of those alleged to have committed these misdemeanors are thoroughly investigated, prosecuted and/or convicted.  Investigations into these alleged transgressions go on forever with no prosecution and/or conviction in sight.  

Members of the public are up in arms, accusing those who are mandated by law to investigate and prosecute these individuals of ineptitude, bias, toothlessness and outright “capture” by political and business interests.  Members of the public are asking questions such as: why is it that none of the “big men” who are alleged to have been involved in corrupt practices are prosecuted and convicted? 

why is it that our leaders, at every public gathering, make solemn platitudes about their commitment to fight corruption, impropriety and abuse of office, but no serious action is taken?  Why is it that we see “petty criminals” being paraded on Btv daily, accused of petty theft, stock theft, possession of marijuana, etc and not the “big men” who are alleged to have stolen public servants pensions, looting of NPF and funds allocated to poverty alleviation? Are the institutions mandated to fight corruption and malfeasance not working against the interests of the people by protecting these alleged criminals?  

When ordinary people ask the above questions, you realize how low the level of trust and confidence they have in our institutions.  Therefore, if correct measures are not urgently put in place to address the public’s lack of trust and confidence in our institutions our democracy, governance and the rule of law are in serious danger.

In order to address the above concerns of our people it is time for us to reassess the checks and balances that we have put in place to limit situations in which corruption, impropriety, conflict of interest and abuse of office may thrive and have a negative impact on our society.  By re-assessing our institutions, systems and procedures that are meant to safeguard our society against these social ills, we endeavor to come up with better and more sophisticated institutions to fight corruption, maladministration and abuse of office.  The fight against corruption cannot be the sole preserve of anti-corruption agencies alone, but needs active collaboration between government, the private sector, civil society and all other sectors of society.  

Experience demonstrates that no single approach to curbing corruption is likely to be effective.  A range of strategies, working together in an integrated fashion, is more likely to bear success.  These strategies must include measures that reduce the opportunity for and benefit of corruption, increase the likelihood of detection and punishment of transgressors.  First, appropriate administrative, financial and economic reforms can minimize the opportunities of corruption and secondly, building capacity to strengthen the institutions, i.e the media, parliament, watchdog agencies and the judiciary, amongst others, would raise public awareness about corrupt behavior and its costs and/or investigate and punish incidences of bad behavior.

The above measures are designed as part of a national effort to reduce corruption in the public sector and they constitute what is normally referred to as national integrity system.  The national integrity system creates a system of checks and balances that limit situations in which conflicts of interest and inappropriate behaviour may arise and involves both prevention and penalty.  This integrity system is anchored on the following eight pillars: political will, administrative reforms, watchdog agencies, parliament, the judiciary, public awareness and involvement, the media and the public sector.

There has to be a political will to stamp out corruption and prevent its manifestation. Successful anti-corruption initiatives require a visionary leader, or “champion” who recognizes the high cost of corruption on the economy and the well-being of citizens.  Mere platitudes about the fight against corruption are not enough but more concrete action is absolutely necessary.  Creating popular opposition to corruption is a function of the political leadership’s willingness to make corruption an issue and ensure that incidences of corruption are fully investigated and perpetrators prosecuted irrespective of their positions in society.

Legal and administrative measures should be put in place to minimize corruption within the public service.  Good administrative practices and regulations governing conflict of interest in the public service are directed at maintaining an administrative system that protects public decision making process. Curbing corruption requires a clear ethical commitment by political leaders and senior public officials.  This is usually achieved by the establishment of a public sector code of ethics which sets out the ethics that should guide those in management and leadership positions.  The code acts as a reminder to public officials of their responsibilities to the public.

The adoption and implementation of Leadership Ethical Codes ensures that leaders account for their unethical conduct.  These leadership codes have been put to good use in a number of countries e.g Republic of South Africa and Rwanda, to enforce integrity and accountability in public administration. It is also common nowadays to require all persons in position of authority/influence to periodically declare their income, assets and liabilities to maintain integrity in the public sector.  In this respect, the long awaited law on the declaration of assets in this country is well overdue.

Watchdog agencies such as the DCEC, Ombudsman, and the Office of the Auditor General should be adequately resourced and afforded the space to execute their mandates without fear, favour or prejudice.  By exercising oversight on the executive branch, a function that they perform on behalf of the legislature, these institutions reinforce transparency, accountability and financial integrity in the public sector.  For these institutions to perform optimally, they should also enjoy some form of arms-length or independent relationship with the government and not be part of the public service.

Parliament should be afforded the necessary space to fully exercise its oversight role on the executive arm of government.  Parliament exercises an oversight role on the executive branch of government in the development and implementation of legislation, policies and programs.  Therefore, the executive arm of government should guarantee the independence of Parliament and respect the legitimate role of the opposition in Parliament.  Moreover, Parliament and its committees should be adequately resourced and supported with independent professional staff and not be made to rely on government officials.

The judiciary must insist on high ethical standards within its own ranks and jealously guard against the erosion of its independence and integrity.  The public must be confident that Judges are chosen solely on merit and for their individual ability and integrity. Allegations of impropriety, corruption or abuse of office against a sitting Judge has not only a damaging effect on the independence and integrity of the particular Judge, but also the entire judicial system. A judiciary that is not itself corrupt makes it possible to successfully prosecute corrupt officials. Therefore, it is imperative that both legal and administrative measures are put in place to speedily address issues of corruption and ethical lapses as and when they occur within the judiciary.

Public awareness and involvement of ordinary citizens is very critical in the fight against these social ills.  It is of utmost importance to enlist the support and cooperation of civil society and the general public in the fight against corruption.  They can play a useful role in developing and strengthening ethics and practice in the public sector; reducing public tolerance of corruption; making the unaccountably rich into figures of contempt rather than role models and encouraging citizens to actively report and provide evidence of corruption whenever it occurs. 

Many civil society organizations have a fundamental interest in achieving effective integrity system in our society.  There are principled individuals in business and the professions, religious leaders, the press and, most importantly, ordinary citizens who have to bear the brunt of corruption on a daily basis.

The media is a very important watchdog and a useful tool in the fight against corruption.  Through balanced and responsible reporting by journalists, a culture of freedom of the press develops, and this culture is the guarantor of the ability of the free press to be a watchdog against abuse by public officials.  

Effective freedom of information laws are required to guard against the executive branch of government concealing corruption, maladministration, incompetence and waste by doing things in secrecy. It is therefore, of utmost importance that the long awaited Freedom of Information law be passed by our Parliament as a matter of urgency.

The private sector is a critical partner in the fight against corruption.  In the private sector, professional bodies such as legal, accounting and engineering associations and organizations should insist on the observance of laid down procedures of public procurement and high standards of ethical conduct from their members. These eight pillars are interdependent and when working together in harmony create a robust national integrity system, an effective tool for curbing corruption, maladministration, and abuse of power in the public sector.  

The perception by members of the public that nothing is being done to curb corruption is a matter that should be seriously addressed as it has a serious effect of eroding the trust and confidence of the people in our institutions and government’s commitment to fight corruption.  A lack of trust and confidence by the people in our institutions and systems undermines and even destroys political stability. Therefore, we should continuously re-assess and recalibrate our system of checks and balances to enhance their efficiency and effectiveness.

In addressing this matter, our strategies should be anchored on the eight pillars which should be embedded in appropriate and sound financial and economic reforms.

Augustine N. Makgonatsotlhe is Botswana’s OMBUDSMAN



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