Is The Botswana Government Taking The Wrong Route In Its Fight Against Corruption?

Yesterday, Botswana's permanent secretary to the president (PSP) Carter Morupisi and his wife Pinny Morupisi did a very brief stint in jail before being released on bail a few hours later. The duo is facing—collectively— numerous corruption allegations including abuse of office, acceptance of a bribe by a public officer and money laundering.

The PSP and his wife are the latest high profile individuals in the country to be indicted on corruption charges. Since assuming office from his predecessor Ian Khama in April of 2018, in a bid to keep his word to citizens about doing everything to stomp out the malignant corruption which has ravaged the country's public service resulting in billions of public funds lost, President Masisi's administration has charged numerous individuals with corruption, now including his own permanent secretary.

From the outside, this might look like the country is making strides in the fight against corruption but the situation on the ground is proving otherwise. Firstly, of all the high profile individuals who have been charged, none of them are currently serving jail time. Cases are either still dragging on with no poetic justice ending in sight or have been completely lost by the state prosecuting team. It seems like, despite all the efforts that the country is making in fighting corruption including enacting laws like the declaration of assets bill and the high profile arrests, the issue still remains a pervasive issue and looks to remain so for the foreseeable future, unless the country starts approaching the fight from a different angle and with different strategies and end goals in mind.

A few days back, I had to wake up very early in the morning to go to a local agricultural products shop to purchase day-old chicks for my poultry hatch. The process at the shop is that because the official waiting list for the chicks is insanely long, in order to acquire some chicks as soon as possible instead of waiting months to move up the list, one has to get to the shop very early in the morning at around 5am (in you want to at least be number 5 on the line) every Tuesday and Fridays morning and stand in a line waiting for the shop to open. After the shop opens at 8am, those who are ahead on the official waiting list will come to collect their chicks until 11am and once they get done and there are some chicks left which have not been collected, those who have been waiting on the line since morning are allowed to purchase the leftovers in order of the line. It is quite a strenuous process.

So the other day while we were on that 5am leftovers line, an old lady came way after us and after waiting in the line with us for a while, another older lady came to collect her own chicks. The old lady who was in the leftovers line with us followed that lady into the shop and somehow, by whichever means, managed to convince her to sell her some of her chicks. This caused quite a ruckus amongst those who were ahead of the lady on the leftovers line because they felt like the old lady was corrupt and had cheated those who were ahead of her on the leftovers line and it was their opinion that the collecting lady should have sold the chicks to the person who was first on the leftovers line and not the old lady.

Although I considered the old lady to not be a morally decayed person for finding a workable solution to the predicament of waiting in a long line for hours, my fellow leftovers line dwellers were of a very different stance. Under their teeth and away from the audible range of the old lady, they called her all sorts of names and called into question her morals as a senior citizen and to some extent, I understood their stance. It seemed unfair that someone who has been waiting for a shorter time got what they wanted before people who had been waiting longer.

But had there been enough chicks for everyone to purchase including those on the leftovers line, there would have been no need for the old lady to supposedly "bribe" the other lady—as most of my fellow leftovers line dwellers called it— and everyone would have made their purchase in the legal and acceptable way. That entire debacle had me thinking that perhaps in the fight against corruption, what if instead of asking ourselves how to devise measures to swat corruption and failing dismally as had been the case, perhaps we should instead ask ourselves why corruption is happening in the first place and then address those core causes. Subtly put, instead of trying to cure the visible symptoms of corruption, perhaps we should instead try to address the underlying causes of corrupt activities like bribery, looting, etc.

Corruption is not always a moral issue. People who engage in corrupt activities are not always greedy and selfish per se. Perhaps the old lady at the shop had pressing commitments to attend to that morning and when she saw that the status quo was going to waste much of her time, she found a loophole in the system and took advantage of it. If that was the case, should we then blame her for exploiting that loophole or blame the shop for not having enough stock to satisfy their customers' demand? The former seems like the easy way to look at it but the latter is what needs to be addressed in order to prevent the former from happening in the first place.

Just like how the shop should address its supply issues in order to not get complaints about corrupt activities from its customers, the government of Botswana, in its quest to quell corruption, should look to improve service delivery and accountability for public funds in order to prevent corruption from taking hold in the first place. Currently, calling most government departments incompetent would be a huge understatement. Long lines and "our system is down" announcements are ubiquitous across government departments. From paying utility bills to doing something that should be straightforward like renewing a driver's license, a trip to any government department is bound to take the whole day if you are lucky.

In order to escape these inconveniences, people are bound to find and exploit short cuts which most of the time include corrupt activities. It's not like those people do not understand that what they are doing is not right but when a system offers no legitimate and convenient ways of completing tasks, corruption is bound to be pervasive. No one likes inconvenience and if the current laws inconvenience people, they will always juxtapose obeying them with disobeying them. Do I need to obey this law? Can I get away with disobeying it? Which way will I be better off? These are the kind of questions that people will ask themselves when faced with the inconvenience caused by incompetent systems.

Just like how introducing new laws would not quench corruption at a low level as people will always find a way to work around laws that hinder their progress, the same principle applies when trying to address high-level corruption. New laws only solve problems when people do not know that what they are doing is wrong but the fact of the matter is that the politicians and high ranking officers who are involved in high-level corruption cases like looting and money laundering know that what they are doing is wrong and are just exploiting incompetent accountability systems which are present in the structures of government. The same way that the most "good boy" of dogs is bound to take a bite of steak if you leave it unattended in front of him, the government should understand that as long as the structures in place allow room for corruption to take place, they are bound to be exploited. Instead of relying on public servants having good morals, perhaps the government should instead address the impotence of its accountability system in order to curb the corruption cases which seem to be sprouting every other day in the country.

The problem with throwing the book at corrupt individuals and enacting more laws to curb corruption is that— from the lack of convictions— it is clear that the country does not have the capacity to either prosecute the individuals or enforce the laws that they have enacted. As aforementioned, most of the low-level corruption happens because the status quo of service delivery is inconvenient for citizens and the high-level corruption happens because there are no proper structures of accountability for public funds and there exist too many loopholes to exploit. Expecting people to shy away from corrupt activities without anything in place to replace the convenience that corruption offers or without any stringent accountability systems in place to prevent it from happening in the first place is not sensible and is bound to fail.

In its fight against corruption, the government might arrest a few high profile individuals and quell a few corrupt practices within its ranks but until it truly understands and appreciates why those people engaged in corruption in the first place, a lot of tax-payers money will continue to go down the drain trying to prosecute cases which never end anywhere.


  1. As long as the scarcity of resources and the inefficient allocation of opportunities persists, Corruption will always remain as this economically scarring thing that features as the underlying basis of societies and survival! We can't be saved.


Post a Comment