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Masisi promises a declaration of assets law to deal with ‘thieves’

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  • Says he is still assembling his new team of leaders
  • Will Khama administration ‘thieves’ feature in his roadmap?
  • Serious anti-corruption plan or political bluff?
  • DCEC’s headache

TEFO PHEAGE

Ministers, MPs as well as senior civil servants have enjoyed the comfort bred by the lack of an Assets Declaration law; this allowed them to personally benefit from the state due to their positions, political power and connections.
Established democracies are known across the world for their well-defined asset declaration system, a powerful tool in fighting public sector corruption and abuse of power. Published information on a person’s assets, Transparency International says, allows civil society to hold leaders to account; If leaders are seen to live beyond their means, an asset declaration is the starting point for investigations, it adds.
Liberated from the confines of his previous positions as minister and Vice President, Masisi went back on his original position regarding assets declaration legislation.
“My new cabinet and I, which I will soon put together, will work very hard for and with you for a better Botswana. I will do my utmost to continually grow confidence in and of governance through a combination of new legislation, ethical codes and demonstrable and efficacious behaviours. To this end, expect specific legislation on declaration of assets and liabilities soon,” he said, adding that
“We remain committed to fighting corruption, in order to safeguard the hopes and dreams of all Batswana for current and future generations. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to continue to strengthen our oversight institutions and exact the full might of the law to ensure the fight against corruption in all its forms and manifestations is won.”
Veteran politician Michael Dingake welcomed the move by Masisi but cautioned that “for the law on Declaration of Assets to thrive, it must be reinforced by independent oversight institutions: independent ombudsman (public protector), independent auditor, independent judiciary, DISS that’s accountable to the legislature”. The BCP activist emphasised that cabinet, MPs, councillors, senior public servants including top echelons of the army, police and prisons must come under its radar failure of which the law will be broken with impunity.
DCEC’s headache
Minister of Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration Eric Molale recently told parliament that 8 cabinet ministers were investigated in relation to charges of corruption, economic crime and money laundering during President Ian Khama’s tenure. These scandals are a small fraction of a series of scandals implicating senior government officials which have never been investigated, let alone prosecuted due to the lack of asset declaration legislation.
The Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) is currently investigating Permanent Secretary to the President, Carter Morupisi, calling on him to account for his multimillion-pula properties in Durban, South Africa. His wife’s double-cab land cruiser was confiscated by the corruption busting agency. Morupisi has however denied all allegations of wrongdoing.
In another investigation, spy agency chief, Isaac Kgosi acknowledged diverting money from the Petroleum Fund to purchase military grade equipment.
On 7th March 2018, the ministry overseeing the fund formally demanded that Kgosi state the timeframe within which the DIS will pay back money drawn from the National Petroleum Fund (NPF) as it wants to settle creditors.
While some prominent figures were caught in the DCEC web, many continue to run loose and loot from the state -unhindered and undisturbed.
In 1999, MP Joy Phumaphi proposed an Asset Declaration Bill, although supported by opposition parties, it was met with fierce hostility by former President Ian Khama who was vice president at the time. The bill was subsequently withdrawn by the BDP led caucus. During the 2009 -2010 sitting of parliament, Leader of the Opposition Dumelang Saleshando moved for a private members bill on Asset Declaration and Freedom of Information. Masisi, at the time Minister of Presidential Affairs opposed the bill despite widespread support, saying it was tantamount to a “witch-hunt.”
Across the world most countries demand that their leaders publish information on their assets and financial interests. The declaration of assets is considered to be as important as the disclosure of electoral funding, which allows anti-corruption agencies and electoral authorities room to probe for possible acts of corruption.
Politicians and civil servants hold substantial power over the allocation of resources in their countries and the citizens who elect them; and who in effect pay their salaries through their tax contributions, reports Transparency International. The United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC), ratified by 166 countries, requires a legal framework for assert declaration of government officials. Botswana ratified the protocol in July 2011.
Research shows that an asset declaration open to public scrutiny is a way for citizens to ensure leaders do not abuse their power for personal gain. Asset declarations are a means to anchor issue of ethics and integrity in political classes and should be part of all ethical codes of conduct, according to Transparency International.
Best Practice for Asset Declarations
While there seems to be much anticipation about an effective model to be adopted in Botswana, there are no international standards mandating how asset declarations are made and monitored. Fears as to the effectiveness of such legislation by civil society may be justified owing to the fact that experts have warned that Botswana’s implementation record is poor.
According to transparency international there are core principles that should form the foundation of any legal framework,
An asset declaration is a person’s balance sheet and should cover assets, from all homes, valuables and financial portfolios, to liabilities, such as debts and mortgages, and all sources of income from directorships and investments to consulting contracts. It should also include gifts and sponsorship deals and any potential conflicts of interest such as unpaid employment contracts and participation in non-governmental organisations.
The leadership of the three branches of government – executive, legislative and judiciary – and senior career civil servants should be required to file asset declarations before and after taking office as well as periodically (annually or every two years) during office.
Ideally, the asset declaration records exact values, but some countries opt for ranges of value.
The administration of an asset disclosure programme requires a monitoring and evaluation agency to collect and verify information and investigate, prosecute and sanction those who fail to comply.
Can Masisi do it or is it just yet another political bluff?
While experts within civil society indicate that Masisi ought to be given a chance to prove himself, they caution that he can only achieve his goals if he brings in fresh blood, energy and minds to his stir up his administration. An administration led by Molale, Kgosi and others who have been implicated in financial abuse allegations and who if entitled to remain in office would be a recipe for another D- “disaster”. Masisi, a self-confessed boot-licker they say will continue to be an extension of Khama, as he feels he was done a huge favour by Khama to ascend to the presidency.

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