A Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the National Petroleum Fund is a must

SHARE   |   Monday, 22 January 2018   |   By Ndaba Gaolathe
A Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the National Petroleum Fund is a must

There has been in recent weeks a brewing storm of allegations on possible fraud at the National Petroleum Fund (NPF). The actual facts or where the truth lies is something that cannot be determined purely by a public opinion or discourse. One of the sweeteners that make the idea of a modern democracy appealing is exactly that no one should be presumed guilty unless and until there has been thorough, fair, and fact-finding judicial process. To date, despite the looming prosecution of two business associates and a public servant, none such process has fully unfolded in a manner that could be deemed thorough, fair, satisfactory or adequate for the public interest. There are hundreds of millions of Pula at stake; there is a generation’s worth of development potential at stake, and there is a question of whether our institutions, the Executive arm of Government in particular, its leaders and other senior political leaders, including myself, deserve the trust of the people. These questions cannot be settled by the deliberations of a parliamentary committee. We are aware that Parliament has already passed a motion that seeks to examine the National Petroleum Fund. This has been assigned to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), a Parliamentary committee whose mandate is to examine the financials of Government departments and associated bodies. This route is far from constituting the pill required to medicate the possible fraud or abuse of public monies at the NPF. As a matter of fact, the Public Accounts Committee depends mainly, by law, on the report of the Auditor General (and other specialised reports by the Auditor General), and the existing reports would not ordinarily have, to date, looked into the type of fine forensics required in this matter. Yes, a fresh specialised report could be commissioned by the PAC (as part of expert input), but there are already several reports from the past, which the Auditor General is not able to prepare for the PAC, not for reasons of incompetence, but on account of Government’s failure to make funds available. These outstanding reports relate to performance audits and value for money audits, critical reports which are supposed to give insights into whether public funds are being spent effectively, efficiently or based on principles of value. The truth of the matter is that our system is losing hundreds of millions if not billions on inefficiencies and poor value occasioned by possible, in some cases, incompetence and corruption. These reports would easily demonstrate these circumstances but of course, the official line from the Executive is that there are no resources. It is not far-fetched that whatever comes to the PAC (in this case the NPF examination) that requires the same level of specialised AG input, will suffer the same fate as the current attempts to unearth inefficiencies and poor- value-for money in our public procurement system.

Worse still, is the history of the Executive’s seeming disregard for Parliamentary Committees, and the evidence is replete with examples of findings that are ignored or allowed to gather dust in the Parliamentary library. To date, we are not aware of any serious probe by the PAC, that led to the prosecution or arrest of suspected fraud. In any case the type of focus that the PAC can ordinarily take is that of a general nature, one that looks broadly at governance frameworks and on whether such frameworks are sufficient to safeguard the integrity of the Government’s public fund management ecosystem. Should the PAC find any loopholes, irregularities or specific cases of wrong doing, then these would be compiled as part of a report to Parliament, for adoption by Parliament, the implementation of which is rarely fulfilled by the Executive (the supposed implementation wing of our democratic system). This means, the case and issues at the NBF are not best suited to the PAC if the objectives are to unearth possible abuse of funds, or fraud, in the past and currently, and the extent of involvement by various actors in our system. We need to be honest with ourselves as a nation. If indeed we are desirous of a democratic Governance system from which we as a people can derive trust and confidence, we must ensure - whenever there are serious allegations and suspicions of major fraud, or abuse of funds, by those to whom the public has accorded both trust and stewardship over public monies - that we set in motion the full processes and instruments available to our system to unearth where the truth lies. We should not only be keen to unearth the truth, but also it is important to allow justice to take its course, as part of building a Botswana that is free of corruption, a Botswana that masters the deployment of resources towards priorities that can and will unleash our full economic potential. This is a Botswana where every citizen will have fair access to opportunity – opportunity for each citizen to empower themselves and realise their full potential in all aspects of our lives. We at the AP – and we are certain we speak for many fair-minded citizens – propose that we have no choice but to exercise our right to call for a Judicial Commission of Inquiry on the NPF. This is a matter that deserves trained wisdom, experience and insight that so often judges or non-aligned veterans of our society are able to provide. The allegations against and suspicions – around leaders in the highest echelons of Government, senior politicians in general within and outside the ruling party - that are being purveyed cannot be healthy for a nation that yearns for a corruption-free, fair and prosperous system. The best way to attend to this matter is to institute a Judicial Commission of Inquiry. I have said now, and I say it again, that if I am found to be part of such or any systematic corruption or fraud, then jail is where I belong.
Ndaba Gaolathe
Alliance for Progressives