As the clock ticks to elections, investigations are exposing unlikely spooks in far away Switzerland where they were caught trying to buy an expensive contraption that could be used to alter the true outcome of the poll, writes LETLHOGILE MPUANG

Had the leader of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), Duma Boko, not moved swiftly to obtain a court interdict, certain “intelligence surveillance equipment” was going to be used in the general elections, The Botswana Gazette can reveal.

Procurement of the Swiss contraption was the work of the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Servicves (DISS) without knowledge of the Independent Electoral Commision.

While the Director General of DISS, Peter Magosi, is ostensibly concerned that there is a high possibility that the elections will be rigged, the IEC says there is nothing of that sort. The sole facilitator and custodian of elections in Botswana says the manual system it uses is so foolproof that chances of rigging are nil.

Investigations by The Botswana Gazette have established that DISS was in the process of purchasing a “communications and intelligence surveillance machine” from a company in Switzerland named Plath AG Group. The company describes itself in its website as a leading Europe-based solutions provider for communications, intelligence and electronic warfare.

“With over 500 employees, we focus on providing solutions for the interception, processing, evaluation and sharing of mass data,” the company says about itself. “By combining sensitive data from various sources, our industry-leading technology generates knowledge, which is indispensable to protect security. It also helps to detect threats before they become imminent.”

This suggests that the machine could intercept elections data, process it and use it to advance the interests of a given client. However, the purchase of this equipment has been halted after Boko intercepted and disrupted the process through Geneva-based attorney, Dragan Zeljic, who wrote a letter to the Swiss firm on 3 September 2019.

“Mr Boko and UDC are concerned that this equipment might in fact be used for the current ruling party, BDP, for electoral purposes in order to exercise undue and illegal surveillance of the opposition parties, first and foremost of the UDC as the main opposition force in Botswana, and even to organise a potential electoral fraud by misusing the ID cards-related equipment whether to refuse potential opposition voters or to include inexistent voters in the electoral process,” Boko and the Swiss lawyer wrote in the letter.

“You should be aware that such acts may potentially amount to a criminal offence in Switzerland and constitute a breach of foreign territorial sovereignty (Art. 299 Swiss Criminal Code) and participation to electoral fraud (Art. 282 Swiss Criminal Code).”

According to Magosi, failure to secure the intelligence equipment could lead to unfair general elections which, if it happened, should be blamed on Boko and the UDC. “Due to the poor security we have as Botswana, even when something is done for the good of the nation, we mess it up because of our attitudes,” he said. “This thing (procurement) went through the PPADB. We fund it because we are the custodians of national security.

“The Ministry of Communications did not have the money to buy this system before elections. I called for a meeting long back which was attended by all chiefs and myself – the Commissioner of Police, the BDF, the IEC and DIT (Department of Information Technology). We looked at the previous work they had done. We told them that the whole system is so porous and I said we cannot go to the elections in this state, especially when there was a concern in the last election.”

Magosi emphasised that it is his duty to make sure that Botswana improve its systems, hence the meeting agreed to send DIT and DISS officials to meet with Plath Group officials. “At this stage, we are likely to go to elections without this system, but tomorrow don’t blame me if elections are rigged,” he said. “Yes, our system is so porous that our elections could be rigged.”

He was asked whether political parties were engaged on this matter. “We cannot be seen to be meddling in political issues,” came his response. “So we would rather pass our recommendations to the IEC. From there it is their responsibility to engage political parties. For the longest time, the DIS has been accused of working with the ruling party. That is why I have decided to do these things in the open.”

At the IEC, the Public Relations Officer (PRO), Otsile Maroba, said there is no need for such equipment because there is no concern that the elections could be rigged. “Our system is so manual that it cannot be rigged,” Maroba said. “I have no idea of the system or equipment that you are talking about. We don’t have any fears or concerns of the elections being rigged. We have never engaged with the DIS at any level to discuss such equipment. We are going to be using the same elections management system that we have been using all these years. There is absolutely nothing to worry about.”

Contacted for comment, political analyst at the University of Botswana (UB), Leonard Sesa, agreed. “You do not want to be seen to introduce any new systems to the electoral process, especially in an election year,” Sesa said. “It always raises suspicions. Obviously the big question is why now? Was this recommended by the 2014 election observers?”