- Balopi says BDP is investigating allegations stemming from a letter of demand issued to the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS) by World of Oath, demanding 15 million Pula payment for allegedly providing a potentially subversive social media campaign during last year’s general elections.
- IEC distances itself from the issue
- Former and current PSPs wash their hands of the matter
- DISS insists it did nothing illegal
The Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS) is at the heart of allegations of a potential elections scandal from which the Independent Electoral Commission has distanced itself while the ruling Botswana Democratic Party says the allegations are too serious to be ignored.
The allegations, which have all the makings of a finger-pointing affair, came to light recently when an obscure entity calling itself World of Oath demanded payment for questionable services that the company provided, allegedly at the behest of Botswana’s top secret service, DISS during the country’s last general elections in 2019.
In a development that could cast the most serious doubt on the integrity of the elections yet, World of Oath has slapped DISS with a P15 million bill allegedly for services rendered in the 2019 general elections while the BDP says it is investigating the allegations. “Every serious party should be concerned when such huge amounts of money are mentioned or used for a (purpose) that they are not supposed to be funding,” the Secretary General of the BDP, Mpho Balopi, has told The Botswana Gazette.
According to Balopi, DISS is a part of the government and therefore it warrants an investigation when it is mentioned in such serious allegations so that the truth may be ascertained. “We will share the results with the nation once our investigations are done,” he said. “The BDP and its central committee have never at any point instigated or assigned anybody or any institution to do what DISS is accused of.”
At these early stages of what looks like will be an acrimonious affair, DISS has confirmed receiving a statutory notice from World of Oath but did not respond to The Gazette’s questions about the allegations, except to say everything was done according to the law. “We do confirm receipt of a statutory notice related to questions you have raised,” the communications officer of the secret service, Edward Robert, told The Gazette yesterday. “We are unable to address the questions for obvious legal reasons. However, the Directorate wishes to assure the public that it has and will always conduct itself within the dictates of the Intelligence and Security Service Act.”
At the IEC, spokesman Osupile Maroba says they are aware of the allegations of DISS owing World of Oath P15 million for work involving elections but added that the IEC had always distanced itself from operations of DISS. “You are aware that a lot was said about the DISS in the past elections and we have always stated our position that we know nothing about what they were saying or doing,” Maroba said. “We know nothing about the current P15 million issue which we understand is also before lawyers.”
Asked if the IEC did not deem it fit to conduct its own investigation as custodians of elections, Maroba said they would keep their ears open.
The IEC has a statutory duty to ensure that elections are conducted efficiently, properly, freely and fairly. Even so, the organisation found itself battling for its soul when the head of DISS, Peter Magosi, described its systems as porous and allegedly wanted to have a hand in its work. “The IEC has always maintained that the production and management of the voters roll is a mandatory sole responsibility of the Commission. Any allegation or assumption on the involvement of other parties or institutions in the process is maliciously damaging to the credibility of the IEC and cannot be allowed to pass unchallenged,” the IEC said at the time.
Magosi insisted that he was concerned that the elections would be rigged and asked to purchase and help with 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,” says the company 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 prompted the leader of the opposition Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), Duma Boko, to instruct Geneva-based attorney, Dragan Zeljic, to intervene. Whereupon Zeljic wrote to Plath AG on 3 September 2019 and obtained a court interdict preventing delivery to Botswana of certain “intelligence surveillance equipment” for use in the general elections.
“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 potential electoral fraud by misusing the ID cards-related equipment whether to refuse potential opposition voters or to include non-existent 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 offense 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).”
Nevertheless, Magosi insisted that it was his duty to make sure that Botswana improved its systems, hence a need to send DIT and DISS officials to meet with officials of Plath AG. According to a source, it was after failing to secure the machinery from Switzerland that World of Oath must have been considered and probably approached. According to the new player, Word of Oath provided media intelligence gathering services, social media influencer tracking and gathering, reverse engineering media influence, influencer-blasting services and media account duplex tracking for DISS.
When The Botswana Gazette approached the former Permanent Secretary to the President, Carter Morupisi, who was in office at the time of the elections about these allegations, the publication was referred to his successor, Elias Magosi. “I know nothing about that issue,” Magosi returned. Both the IEC and DISS are under the ambit of the Office of the President.
Meanwhile, the firm of lawyers acting for World of Oath would not comment on the matter. The senior partner at the firm, Lerumo Mogobe, said the matter was being handled by another attorney, Tsholofelo Mvungama, whose phone was off at the time of going for press.