Political will crucial in corruption fight

De Speville and Associates, an international consultancy firm hired by the government to help redefine Lesotho’s anti-corruption strategy, this week started consultations with stakeholders.

The firm has been tasked to provide expert advice on ways to strengthen the institutional capacity of the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO), Lesotho’s government-funded corruption watchdog.

Over the next two years the firm will gather views from 4 000 political leaders, traditional leaders, public sector officials, business, civil society, professional bodies and religious leaders.

It will also seek input from the public.

The idea is to make the process as inclusive as possible.

It is however important to note that De Speville and Associates’ principal Betrand de Speville already seems to understand what’s ailing the DCEO even before the consultation process has started.

He told local editors on Tuesday that Lesotho’s anti-corruption unit is not adequately funded.

“It is imperative though that besides this willingness, treasury allocates adequate resources to enable the DCEO to operate effectively,” De Speville said during the briefing.

He said experience the world over has shown that for an anti-corruption body such as DCEO to work effectively, government must allocate at least 0.5 percent of its recurrent budget each year.

“This has not been the case with Lesotho, which allocates way below this.”

“This compromises the unit’s effectiveness.”

We could not have put it more precisely.

Inadequate funding is the main reason why the DCEO has been reduced to a mere window-dressing initiative whose sole purpose to the government, it would seem, is to give the impression that Lesotho is serious about fighting graft.

Run on a shoe string budget, the unit cannot employ enough investigators to deal with corruption that has become so rampant in this country.

It has also struggled to retain its most experienced employees and to attract those properly qualified.

The result is that the unit is largely manned by former police officers whose competence in forensic investigations is not enough to deal with complex issues like white-collar crimes.

So small is the budget that DCEO officers struggle to get cars to carry out investigations.

Funds to hire highly qualified experts to help in complex investigations are just not there.

Those already on the job cannot get further training to enhance their investigative skills because the unit can’t afford it.

In other words, the DCEO has had to beg for resources from the treasury.

Given such problems we need not wonder why the unit has achieved very little since it was established close to a decade ago. 

It is sad that even the funding for the current initiative to redefine the country’s anti-corruption strategy came from the Commonwealth Secretariat.

An anti-corruption unit that is forever begging for resources cannot be effective.

Yet in saying all this we need not forget that even if money is made available the DCEO’s investigations can only go as far as the government allows it to go.

Ultimately, it is the government that decides who the unit should catch.

Here we are talking about political will to fight corruption.

There is no doubt that the looting of government resources is continuing at an unprecedented rate.

Tenders are being rigged and state funds are being misappropriated.

You only need to read the auditor general’s reports to understand that there are some people who are lining their pockets with public funds.

At the last count nearly M3 billion had disappeared from state coffers yet not a single civil servant has been brought to book.

To put a stop to this rot the government must show political will to fight corruption.

There must be no sacred cows.

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