That a Citizen Economic Empowerment (CEE) law is required like yesterday is not in question. What is perhaps questionable though, is whether CEE can be achievable let alone effective to achieve the intended outcomes, in the midst of institutionalised and runaway corruption. It is therefore fair to argue with all the courage and conviction I can muster as I hereby attempt to so do, that the overall economic development trajectory of Botswana has in large measure, been seriously and severely hampered by institutionalised and runaway corruption. This is borne out of the fact that for economic development to take place and grow at every level, corruption has to the extent possible, be minimised. I am saying to the extent possible in recognition of the fact that corruption, just like poverty and unemployment, cannot be completely eradicated. For CEE law to reasonably deliver therefore, dealing with corruption should be the first point of call. It is the biggest elephant in the room often talked about, but not demonstrably and decisively acted upon. The current economic disparities in all forms and shapes is the evidence.
When Covid-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation, three critical preventative protocols were pronounced to keep the spread of the virus as lowly as possible. These are social distancing, sanitising or a thorough washing of hands and the wearing of masks. These measures were overall and generally speaking effectively enforced in Botswana. Countries which took these preventative measures seriously like Botswana, managed to keep Covid-19 numbers low while those who did not like in Europe and America bore a devastating impact. Otherwise, we may have moved from a pandemic to an apocalypse. Equally so, the CEE law should move us from the corruption pandemic lest we fall into the corruption apocalypse if we are not already there. We have been told about the ‘why’ part of dealing with corruption. What is required now is the definitive ‘how part’ which sadly, is lacking and has done so for as long as one can remember.
For purposes of this conversation, let us agree on the definition of corruption as ‘a system of abuse of entrusted power for private, collective, or political gain-often involving a complex, intertwined set of relationships, some obvious, others hidden with established vested interests, that can operate vertically within an institution or horizontally cut across political, economic and social spheres in a society or transnationally.’ Because we are agreed that corruption is deeply entrenched in this country, any other definition including the aforementioned perfectly fits our situation. For corruption to have reached runaway levels as it has done, it should reason that either preventative measures are poor and ineffective, or that institutions meant to implement and enforce them are also poor and ineffective or that, there is no political will to seriously and effectively deal with corruption like we currently see with dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. I will say it is all of the foregoing particularly the political will because without it as it has been demonstrated thus far, very little to nothing has been achieved to decisively deal with corruption. Consequently, the foregoing have led to Botswana fitting perfectly well in the definition of corruption as abovementioned. Let me briefly discuss why runaway corruption has been enabled to flourish to frightening levels and why this is a serious threat to the success of CEE.
Politics and Money
Political will in fighting and dealing with corruption decisively has over the years since it reared its ugly head in the present Botswana, dismally failed to this day primarily because of the corrupt relationship between politics and money. This money I must state without flinching, emanates from the business moguls whose wings in some respect, the CEE law intends to clip. These business moguls have for the longest time, had politicians-current and past-firmly in their back pockets. They have come handy in financing the emerging politicians as a kick start while maintaining a firm grip on the established. Particularly during elections periods, the business moguls finance obscenely so, incumbent politicians. In return, they are rewarded with mega government projects worth not just millions of Pula, but billions and other juicy business opportunities. In the process, insider trading, awarding of tenders to the preferred but may be otherwise underserving businesses amongst others, is influenced by the politician at every level. This breeds a corrupt relationship between the politician and the business moguls which corruption the politicians fail to deal with because of the financial rewards they receive. It has become an endless game of scratch my back and I scratch yours. When the bad game of politics and money is not addressed forthwith, CEE will run parallel with corruption thereby defeating the very purpose of citizen empowerment. For CEE to take place, money is required. The law will have to address how best money can be attracted to the economy while at the same time finding some ways of breaking the unholy alliance between the politicians and money. The tricky part is that politicians who are supposed to break this unholy alliance are the very ones handsomely benefitting therefrom. In the interim, citizen participation in the economy is largely frustrated by these two players who pull the strings of who benefits or not.
Corruption fighting institution
It has become extremely difficult to point at an institution primarily charged with fighting and dealing with corruption between the DIIS and the DCEC. Both of these are tripping over each other in fighting corruption. In the process, administrative and legal gaps are created which result in corruption cases faltering. No big corruption fish has been caught in the recent past yet corruption figures keep growing. However hard the narrative that the DCEC is independent, the mere fact that it is located in the Office of the President and its head personally appointed by the President of Botswana highly compromises its independence. Dictionary defines the word ‘independent’ as ‘free from outside control, not subject to another’s authority.’ While the President appoints judges for example, his authority ends with such appointments. In the case of institutions like the DCEC, his authority it has been feared and suggested, goes beyond the appointment. It looms large at every turn. Given the DCEC as currently structured and compounded by its location under the highest office in the land, corruption that has taken place with previous interventions meant to address citizen empowerment stands to continue thereby rendering the contemplated law substantially ineffective.
Public Servants doing business with government
Despite all the widest criticism of government allowing public servants to form companies such that they do business with her, government does not appear to be ready to rescind this decision. This despite the obvious deleterious consequences of public servants doing business with government. Government has to this day ‘arrogantly’ ignored expert warnings from organisations like Business Botswana to the devastating dangers of civil servants/government doing business together. A motion seeking government to ban public servants from doing business with government was brought by Hon Polson Majaga late last year. It has been deferred. It was revealed during Covid-19 television presentation by the Ministry of Finance that some 300 or so public servants had applied for wage subsidy yet they are gainfully employed. This may have obtained from their companies doing business with government. Needless to say, public servants should immediately be constrained by the serious issues of conflict of interest for their active participation in tender processes. One wonders how many of similar cases have not been reported. I must state as I hereby do, that the decision by government to allow public servants to do business with her was mainly and purely political than anything else. It was, and still is the decision that sought to entice and in the process sway public servants’ vote to the ruling party. The dangers of the business relationship between government and public servants if left as it is, will still be a fertile ground for corruption and will consequently, be a serious impediment to citizen empowerment. The same public servants will be frustrating business opportunities by some while promoting their very own.
While the above are not exhaustive, and that the dear reader will have her/his own corruption issues which will hamper citizen empowerment as has occurred in the past and with current interventions meant to cushion citizens from the socio-economic hardships, I remain convinced that if the above, amongst others, are not addressed as a matter of urgency, the contemplated CEE by and large, will not achieve the intended outcomes. I strongly argue and believe that such law will just be scratching the surface more as a populist initiative than actually as an honest way of empowering citizens. Past and current political leadership have consistently told us the why part of dealing with institutionalised and runaway corruption yet, the how part remains pitifully and conveniently elusive.
Citizen Economic Empowerment is long overdue as I concurred on this platform a fortnight ago. But with corruption firmly entrenched at every corner of society, citizen empowerment will all be an exercise in futility when there is no demonstrable, honest and committed political will accompanied by requisite transformational regimes to deal with it. If we agree that the socio-economic circumstances of citizens have been brought about largely by corruption, we must equally then agree that corruption will largely hamper citizens from being empowered. The result will be the astronomical and ticking bomb number of the unemployment particularly among the youth, increasing levels of poverty, an unhappy nation amongst others-the very issues CEE law is intending to address. Citizen Economic Empowerment cannot therefore run parallel with Corruption. I am prepared to be persuaded otherwise as always. Judge for Yourself!