Masitara comes out guns blazing in a bid to expose corruption and corporate greed
The comittees for the Parliamentary Public Accounts and Statutory bodies have recently been shaking things up as they expose corruption in the Parastatal and Government top offices. The outspoken member of Parliament for Gaborone West North, Robert Masitara chaired the two committees.
Being a member of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party, Masitara says he is now being victimised for exposing the rot and some senior party officials are plotting to oust him from his constituency.
But in the meantime the very vocal MP says he would be chairing another Parliamentary committee which would be scrutinising accounting books in the Office of the President and all departments that falls under it and he says he is not intimidated.
Q. I am told the BDP no longer wants you to represent Gaborone South North in the next general elections. Tell me about it?
To be honest, I heard the rumours when I was doing rounds within the Block 8 area. Certain Senior citizens told me that they heard it from the Branch Committee Chairperson that I was going to be vetted out from contesting the next elections. I am told that the party elders including the likes of Daniel Kwelagobe (National Chairperson) are influencing the Constituency Chairperson to turn against me.
Q. Is that so?
Yes, they said I am a sell out. This is what the branch person is telling them. He says that if I am a Chairperson of Parliamentary Committees, as a BDP member I should be willing to protect issues of corruption and sweep them under the carpet. The branch committee gave a view that there is a certain Pastor who wants to contest against me in the primary elections. The person is a Pastor and I don’t want to say anything bad about him. He is a Pastor, let him stand.
Q. How does it make you feel that your party wants to replace you when you have not declared that you won’t stand for the next elections?
It makes me a little bit sad. Not sad in such a way that I hate anybody, but in that I am wondering why they couldn’t wait until the commencement of the elections process when everybody would be free to declare their interests to contest. That would have been the Honourable thing to do instead of them going around and spreading defamatory and unfounded allegations about me. When I leave, I want to have nicely served my constituency.
Q. What are they saying about you?
They are saying I am spending more time on Parliamentary Committees instead of serving my constituency.
Q. But isn’t that true?
One thing Batswana need to be educated about is that as a member of Parliament, once elected, you are not confined only to your constituency, you are a national leader and as such you have to go and attend to other national duty calls. That is why I wanted the people to vote for competent Councillors whom I can work with. I am currently chairing two Committees and while I am still performing these duties my Councillors are doing legwork at the constituency and they have to report back to me. I do not have to be always seen at the constituency for me to serve it diligently. The Councillors have to communicate with me and let me know where my interventions are mostly needed. You see what I am talking about?
Q. Yes. But you seem to have dug your own grave by exposing a lot of rot from within government Ministries and Parastatals through the Parliamentary committees investigations.
My Sister, MPs voted for me. They put me in those two committees and gave me a new broom to sweep and in the process of sweeping obviously there is going to be dust and people are going to cough. But in the end you are going to have a clean environment and I know that even senior government and Parastatal officials may feel offended.
Q. And they want you out?
Yes. Even some Permanent Secretaries and Ministers don’t like me because of this rot I am exposing, but it is tough luck. I am only doing my job, which I was appointed to do.
Q. Talking of Permanent Secretaries reminds me that you don’t want them to sit in Parastatal Boards. Do you still hold the same opinion?
Yes and it won’t change. My issue is that, one of the core responsibilities of a P.S is to oversee a Parastatal. The Parastatal reports to him and for the same P.S to be not only a member of the Board, but to chair the Board, wont make sense! How can the same person chair a Board that ultimately reports back to him and so forth, where would that leave the element of transparency in such a set up? Our key recommendation is that all civil servants must be removed from the Board of Parastatals. They must be removed actually.
Q. What about pensioners who sit in some Boards, are you comfortable with the arrangement?
You see issues of governance state that within the Board of Directors it is mandatory to have specialised committees. The Board members divide themselves into speacilised committees and three important committees include Finance and Audit, Human Resource and Remunerations. You have to expect to have people with expertise to sit in those Boards.
Q. Your take on the current status quo in Parastatals?
There have never been put through scrutiny since independence. This is the first time they have to go through that. Some things were not done right in the past and we are in the process of correcting that.
Q. Like what?
People were paying themselves over set bands. The bands clearly state that one should be paid from this much to a certain amount, but over years people have been paid more than set bands, gratuities paid without documentary proof, false pension funds calculations, people claiming for personal errands, they would go for their personal trips outside the country and file claims. Actually the Parastatal salaries have to be reviewed and government must come up with a cover policy to govern that.
Issues of management and consultancy tenders that were offered by Parastatals are subject to scrutiny. We are planning to carry out an audit for the past 5 years.
Q. Maybe you have angered many by exposing such anomalies. Any regrets?
It is not personal my Sister. Just look at it, one CEO earning P175 000, 00 a month and the other one getting P25 000,00 a month, Ask yourself why there is that gap. The law says a CEO’s salary cannot exceed that of a Permanent Secretary, so what they did was that they gave themselves allowances that covers double the amount of the set salaries. You would realize that allowances are almost the same as salaries. No I have no regrets. I am doing my job and I am still going to do it. I am not going to be intimidated.
Q. What do you think of the external Auditors who have been working on the Parastatal books especially the Botswana Meat Commission and the Botswana Development Cooperation?
To be quite honest I am not satisfied with the external auditors. The work to me is sub standard and I still feel we still need an overhaul forensic audit to look at the financial and operational internal control and system for the past 5 years. We need to do that as a matter of urgency because things need to be corrected.
Q. But after all even the Auditor General has made recommendations in the past and we have never seen action taken against offenders. Don’t you think some of these commissions and findings bear no pressure on the government of the day?
What I can confirm to you is that from our first report of the Parliamentary Committee on Statutory bodies, the government has taken steps to investigate certain recommendations that we have made. On issues of finance and allowances the Auditor General was instructed to go and do work on all Parastatals and they have done that. The Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) have met me and took our report. As we speak they are busy investigating some of the malpractices that were identified in the report. So there is something being done about some of these issues.
Q. So you are happy with the way government reacted after the BMC report?
I respect the government to have appointed a task team on the issue of BMC, but to me, the best way to go would have been the forensic audit, both operational and financial audit of systems.
Have you had any opportunity to look at the books of the Security Services, including that of the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services?
I also chair the Parliamentary Committee of Governance and oversight on Office of the President, and the DISS falls under the Office of the President. We would be looking into those hopefully in between November and January. I am not very certain when we would be looking at those, but we would be very soon.
Q. Now back to your political career. You have indicated that you would gladly serve one term. Are you still going to contest for the BDP primaries?
My Sister, to be honest, when I stood up in Parliament and proposed a statutory motion, which called for MPs to serve a single term, I stated that I did not mind serving my constituency for a single term. But since others did not support that, I would go for another term, but that would be my last term in Parliament. I believe 5 years is enough for a leader to have served the people he represented.
Q. Don’t you think 5 years is a very short term?
It is not, but I believe the maximum stay in parliament should be 10 years. If you can stay for more than 10 years, the danger is that complacency can creep in and you no longer take things seriously and there is also that mentality that you now own the constituency. During those 10 years you have to identify a younger person, groom them and let them take the responsibility.
You are probably saying that because you have a financial muscle, something to fall back on when some leaders go into Politics for employment.
I agree with you. But people should not go in Parliament for money. Botswana MPs are the lowest paid in the world and I don’t think they have to go into Parliament for money. They are there to serve the people and a maximum service should be 10 years.
Q. When you campaigned you promised to buy shoes for needy school children, maternity dresses for poor expectant women and make life better for everyone in your constituency. Has that been happening?
Actually I have been doing that all along, providing all the eight schools in my constituency with all that. Many Parents can testify that. You see my Sister, every thing that came from my mouth then was a desire. It was not like I wanted to twist people to my favour, no, I meant every word I said. It is only that the government did not have money for infrastructural development, otherwise I would have achieved every single promise I made during the campaigns for 2009 elections.