DCEO needs teeth

A GOVERNMENT commissioned survey released last week found that most people believe that corruption in Lesotho is more prevalent than it was in 1999 when the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences Act was enacted.
Respondents to the De Speville and Associates’ survey included political leaders, civil servants, business people, journalists as well as educators, religious communities and community organisations.
Out of the 4 138 respondents 77 percent said corruption was more widespread than it was 13 years ago while only 32 percent believed the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) was effective.
Another 17 percent believed the DCEO was ineffective.
Almost all the respondents said they wanted the government to firmly deal with corruption.
The results are telling but not astounding in that they confirm what we have always suspected was the general feeling towards the government’s anti-corruption strategy.
The general perception, according to the survey, is that the law and the DCEO have not deterred the corrupt among us.
The majority of the survey’s respondents believe the instruments at the government’s disposal to fight corruption are at best moderately effective or futile at worst.
We believe the government must take the survey seriously.
What is clear from the survey is that people have neither faith nor trust in the current efforts to fight corruption.
These perceptions are not based on prejudices but on fundamental weaknesses inherent within our anti-corruption strategy.
The biggest problem is that the DCEO is not independent of the government.
Classified as a department, the DCEO is beholden to the legal affairs ministry, its parent ministry, for finances.
Its workers are civil servants and its director’s position is not protected by the law like those of the Auditor General and the Director of Public Prosecutions.
The DCEO is clearly hamstrung by the very law that created it.
How far it goes with its investigations depends on the resources it gets from the government.
It can be starved of resources to a point that it becomes irrelevant.
It is not an exaggeration to postulate that if the anti-corruption watchdog starts “biting” too much some people in the government can withhold cheques.
The unit is under-staffed and runs on a shoestring budget.
The result is an anti-corruption unit that has to contend with chasing small-time crooks while the “big fish” plunder with impunity.
Nothing is more comforting to a thief than a weak law enforcement agency.
Corruption has become rampant in both the government and the private sector because the DCEO is structurally weak and too poor to do proper investigations.
While surveys are an opportunity for people to say how the anti-corruption strategy can be improved what is clear is that in the end the buck stops with the government as the maker of laws and provider of funds to the DCEO.
If Lesotho is to win the battle against corruption the government must deal with the fundamental problems that curtail the DCEO’s work.
The Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences Act must be changed to give more autonomy to the DCEO.
The unit must be removed from the government.
Its budget must be constitutionally protected so politicians don’t tinker with its bank balances for their own nefarious ends.
The same should happen to the position of its director.
A leader of an anti-corruption unit must not be coy to deal with corruption because he fears being fired.
The government must accept that the unit cannot be effective if it continues to be a mere department.
But whether the government makes these crucial changes and how far-reaching they will be depends on political will.
What is clear is that the people are either not happy or are sceptical about current efforts to fight corruption.
They want to see real change in the anti-corruption strategy and they want it now.
The ball is now in the government’s court.

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