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Cloud calls for improved access to information

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  • Singles out financial assets disclosure legislation as a critical anti-corruption measure
  • Former ambassador slams Khama/Masisi rivalry as the stuff of soap operas

LETLHOGILE MPUANG

It is time Botswana introduced financial assets disclosure legislation in order to better combat the corruption, the Ambassador of the United States of America to Gaborone, Craig Cloud, has said.

Cloud, who replaced Earl Miller last year, was speaking at a recent engagement with the media in Gaborone about how the country could improve access to information. “I would like to thank the Government of Botswana for recognising the role of a free press in a democracy and protecting that role,” he said.

“You are free to report on issues of public and national interest. It may not always be easy to find the information you need but you are not thrown in jail for seeking it. The government can improve access to information by passing freedom of information and financial assets disclosure legislation.”

Ambassador Cloud noted that this could go a long way in helping the country fight corruption “If this information is out there, it will expose those doing corruption.”

Financial assets disclosure legislation generally requires that a specific range of public officials (such heads of state, cabinet ministers and MPs declare all their financial and business interests.)

Meanwhile, former US Ambassador to Botswana Michelle Gavin, who is now a Senior Fellow for Africa Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), says the personal rivalry between President Mokgweetsi Masisi and his predecessor Ian Khama is overshadowing the country’s long standing democracy. In recent remarks on her CFR blog, Gavin says moving real political debates out of exclusive meetings of the long ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) and into the public sphere need not be a sign of “terrible trouble” for the country.

“To-date Botswana’s opposition parties have functioned largely as divided critics of government and beneficiaries of protest votes, but very rarely as sources of viable policy alternatives,” she writes. “A change in this state of affairs would be a sign of real democratic maturity.

“Unfortunately, ‘maturity’ is not the first word that comes to mind when surveying the latest headlines from the country, where coverage of the feud between current president Mokgweetsi Masisi and his predecessor and former boss, Ian Khama, sometimes reads like highlights of an overwrought soap opera. The latest dramatic turn saw Khama renouncing his membership in the party his revered father helped found, complaining that his legacy was being dismantled, and encouraging others to throw away their BDP membership cards. The storyline threatens to consume all of the political oxygen in the country.”

She further states that Botswana’s overall health and stability turn on whether or not the Masisi/Khama rupture is understood as a purely personal, depressingly petty power struggle, or whether political competitors succeed in outlining real philosophical and political differences for citizens to engage and consider.

“The average Motswana cannot possibly be inspired to civic participation by the spectacle of elites complaining about their access to state aircraft,” says Gavin. “There are many genuine questions confronting the country – about nationalistic insularity or openness, about how to improve the education system, about the appropriate role of the intelligence service, about wildlife management, and about the choices necessary to achieve meaningful results in diversifying the economy. Far from weakening Botswana, a lively debate about those issues that engaged voters and clarified real choices would be an extraordinarily healthy thing.”

Gavin served as the US Ambassador to Gaborone from 2011 to 2014.

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