“Operation tholwana borethe” reignites controversy in the function of dis


This week Editors from four of the country’s leading private media outlets Outsa Mokone, Tshireletso Motlogelwa, Justice Kavahematui and this publication’s Lawrence Seretse are required to attend the Botswana Police Service Headquarters to face additional questioning regarding the publication in mid to late July of articles on the alleged Directorate on Intelligence and Security Service’s (DIS) controversial “Operation Tholwana Borethe”.
The Botswana Police Service has not formally advised the four editors and their attorneys as to the nature of the charges they may face, as they stated that they are “still conducting investigations following a complaint by certain politicians into the reporting.” The Police have nevertheless implied that they are looking into allegations of an offence called “Alarming Publications”.
The police instigations into the reporting on “Operation Tholwana Borethe” come in the wake of a complaint filed by the Botswana Congress Party dated August 3, and filed with the Botswana Police Service on August 4, demanding that “the architects of the said fake report be hunted down”.  According to the complaint, which has not been made under Oath, the BCP requests that the Police prosecute the author of the “Operation Tholwana Borethe” dossier and those that published it “without just cause.” The complaint’s the central concern being that the DIS has been involved in interfering with opposition political parties with “a view to destabilizing them to the benefit of the ruling party.”
The complaint by the BCP, is framed in terms of meeting the legal requirements needed to prosecute an offence under Section 59 of the Penal Code, which seeks to punish persons that cause the publication of an article or report without first satisfying themselves, by reasonable steps that the article is reasonably true.
Dumelang Saleshando’s complaint relies on two developments subsequent to initial reporting on the alleged DIS operation, the first being its repudiation by the DIS and the second, being revelations published by INK Centre for Investigative Journalism in the Mmegi on July 28, that the report itself contained various irregularities that brought it into question. INK investigations also alleged anomalies in the metadata contained in the “pdf” of the report.
The DIS, notoriously does not answer media, let alone parliamentary questions into its operations and is, in contrast, it is quick to issue rebuttals.
Seeking clarification from Dumelang Saleshando and Duma Boko as to details contained in the said Report, INK journalists Ntibinyane Ntibinyane and Kaombona Kanani respectively contacted the opposition leaders to confirm their personal details. While confirming that the personal details in the report were not up to date, both opposition leaders and their respective organisations have publically denounced DIS involvement in Botswana’s politics as a violation of their mandate that undermined the country’s democracy.
In response to disclosures into “Operation Tholwana Borethe” the DIS, through Government and in an interview with this publication, rubbished the reports, denying the allegations as false and that their investigations had revealed the identity of the author of the report as a person known to them who claimed to be a security expert.
Questions into the authenticity of the report have subsequently arisen, though issues raised in it as to the conduct of the DIS have not.
Answering questions from the African Press Agency (APA) on July 24, in the aftermath of media revelations of DIS operations into the political arena, the leader of the UDC, Duma Boko stated that “The involvement of intelligence networks in the politics of this country is not new. We at the BNF have felt its brunt all our lives. We won’t walk into this trap or address it haphazardly. It doesn’t avail us at this point to complain.”
The current spate of reports into the DIS’s political operations first emerged a day after the disputed Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD)’s ill-fated congress in Bobonong which saw the Director General of the DIS, Isaac Kgosi’s personal lawyer Advocate Sidney Pilane, emerge as the leader of the BMD an initial partner in the formation of the coalition of opposition parties under the Umbrella for Democratic Change, the UDC.
The Director General of the DIS, Isaac Kgosi engaged Advocate Pilane to represent him amid mounting allegations of corruption after the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime’s (DCEC) Investigation Diary into his alleged corrupt practices was leaked to the media. In July 2014, acting on instructions from the DCEC, the Attorney General approached the High Court seeking to prohibit the publication of all allegations against Isaac Kgosi. The case was finally heard this year and the DIS director was indirectly granted a temporary reprieve with the Court ordering that an interdict against the publication of witnesses’ names would be granted.
The allegations of corruption against Isaac Kgosi, form the basis of the alleged “Operation Tholwana Borethe” and the DIS efforts to protect itself and its Director General. In defending Kgosi against possible charges emanating from DCEC investigations Pilane would be uniquely privy to attorney client information into all Kgosi’s dealings that may touch upon his use of questioned funds and operations, both personal and official.
Formally established by an Act of Parliament in 2008 amid controversy over the use of National Disaster Relief Fund the DIS and its Director General have remained in the media spotlight for all the wrong reasons. This week saw the destructive nature of the lack of accountability into the operations of the DIS reach a low point in the national political discourse with the filing of a criminal complaint by the BCP against the media houses and their sources, on the veracity of their reporting into allegations of DIS abuse. With the media as the sole agency holding the DIS to account, the use of criminal provisions that enable the police to demand from the media that they reveal their sources, has in a single incident sought to impugn the integrity of the media and undermine reporting past, current and future on the maladministration of the DIS, particularly so when the alleged author of the report is claimed to be known to the security and law enforcement agencies.
Speaking to the South African publication The Mail and Guardian in 2014, Boko emphasised the DIS involvement in national politics and the country’s democratic institutions, “With the judiciary it’s even worse. They [the DIS] are snooping on everyone, even government ministers. I’ve received death threats before from this government. We have received very credible reports from within the intelligence community from those who do not agree with the status quo.” Reported the M&G, quoting Boko further as stating that “He (Khama) established something that was not there before — the directorate of intelligence and security. This directorate is accountable only to him. It is not subject to oversight by any parliamentary commission or any other institution. Its mandate is unclear.”
The Deputy Leader of the BCP Kesitegile Gobotswang (Phd), in response to the revelations of “Operation Tholwana Borethe” wrote in the Weekend Post (August 1) that “We can state for a fact that DIS under Isaac Kgosi who is its Director General is a menace to our political order. In the current scenario the ultimate target is clearly the destruction of Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) and BCP in particular.”
“Operation Tholwana Borethe” alleges that the DIS has sought to use Botswana Telecommunications infrastructure to further its operations.  In 2015 controversial computer malware FinSpy developer representatives came to Botswana. FinSpy, is only sold to government counter intelligence agencies. In classified documentation seen by this publication, FinSpy asserts that when installed it can infiltrate “computer systems inside Internet Cafes in critical areas in order to monitor them for suspicious activity, especially Skype communication to foreign individuals. Using the Webcam, pictures of the targets were taken while they were using the system.” Kgosi refused to comment on allegations that his organisation was engaged in purchasing that or similar software. FinSpy can also emulate social media accounts with the use of “update” notifications, which once accepted will pass on the user’s entire content to a government server.
In March this year, then Deputy Minister in the Ministry of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration Philip Makgalemele confirmed to Parliament that media reports into the diversion of funds from the Disaster Relief Fund in the sum of approximately P12.5 million had been used to establish the spy agency, due to a lack of an accounting code for the controversial organisation. Reporting directly to the Office of the President, with little or no oversight mechanisms the DIS has been mired over the years in controversial practices with an ever increasing budget.
At the commencement of 2017, Senior Minister at the Office of the President, Eric Molale advised the Parliamentary Committee of Supply that the majority of its Developmental and Recurrent Budget be allocated to the DIS. According to Molale, this year’s budget represented an increase of 8.7 percent over last year’s budget. The State President Office’s Recurrent Budget for the 2017/18 financial year amounted to over P1.2 billion while its Developmental Budget needs were expected to exceed P670 million.
Official figures supporting Molale’s request reveal that DISS will be allocated the bulk share of both recurrent and development budget. Figures reveal that from the proposed recurrent budget, the DISS received P337 million or 28 percent of the total budget. Simultaneously the DIS was allocated the largest share of the Developmental Budget at P261 million (38.9 percent) and by comparison the Poverty Eradication Programme was at P188 million.
In addition to the annual allocation, under the National Development Plan 11, from 2017 to 2023, security and defence related expenditure is set to increase to P22.4 billion of which P14.8 billion is to be allocated to the Botswana Defence Force (BDF), the largest single allocation. The residual balance will cover the DIS, the Botswana Police Service (BPS) and the Botswana Prison Service (BPS). According to Molale, the allocation of funds to the DIS will enable it to implement various projects to improve its “communication network and acquisition of mobile platforms.” The DIS does not operate a communication network nor is it mandated to acquire mobile platforms.
The manner in which the DIS itself allocates its funds remains a matter of conjecture.  Appearing before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in May 2016, Kgosi refused to answer questions which he claimed “infringed” on security concerns. Declining to answer questions from Member of Parliament for Tati East Guma Moyo, Kgosi stated that he could not respond to questions on the DIS use of funds due to ‘security reasons’, adding that the nature of, and the success or failure of DIS operations were beyond the mandate of the PAC due to “security reasons.” Kgosi walked out of the PAC hearing in less than 30 minutes leaving the parliamentary committee none the wiser on DIS expenditure and its use of public funds.
Kgosi advised the PAC that only the Intelligence and Security Parliamentary Committee had the mandate to question him on the operations of the DIS but he added, that the oversight body had for years failed to convene a meeting.
However in 2014, Bagalatia Arone, and former MP for Mmopane-Lentsweletau Major General Moeng Pheto resigned from Intelligence and Security Parliamentary Committee, in protest after the committee’s chairperson Kagiso Molatlhegi refused to convene a sitting amid corruption allegations made against the DIS Director General.
In July this year, revelations contained in the alleged DIS “Operation Tholwana Borethe” dossier, leaked to the media claimed that some of the DIS funds were being allocated; to infiltrate and undermine opposition politics in order to prevent the materialisation of their threats to restructure or dissolve the spy agency. The reporting on the  said “Operation” carried in 5 media houses, The Sunday Standard, The Mmegi, The Botswana Gazette and the Business Weekly and Review revealed how the DIS had infiltrated media houses, the telecommunications networks and targeted elements of the opposition with the purpose of undermining their integrity. The revelations were not new and had been in the public domain.
Inspite of the long established revelations by the media into the questionable conduct of the DIS, no political party has yet called for a public commission of inquiry. In addition despite the presence of the Press Council, no complaints have been made into the media allegations. Concerned with the impact of the revelations the UDC opted to complain to the police.  The use of criminal legislation to sanction media houses is viewed internationally as an infringement of the public’s right to information as guaranteed by the national constitutions and international covenants such as the African Union and United Nations protocols on Civil and Political Rights.