PRIME Minister Pakalitha Mosisili yesterday launched the Business Action Against Corruption (BAAC), a public-private Commonwealth initiative to fight corruption.
He called on the media to “name and shame” corrupt officials and urged people to “seize” bribe-seeking civil servants “by the neck” and drag them to their supervisors.
He also admitted that “corruption is rife and pervasive in our country”.
“Let’s report public servants who solicit bribes in exchange for services,” he said.
And for the first time he spoke about the senior officials fired from his office for corruption.
Mosisili described the corrupt activities by his former officers as “shocking”.
These are strong words indeed. We just hope the prime minister is not talking tough on corruption because we have an election coming.
We also hope the BAAC is not one of those initiatives that are launched amid pomp and fanfare but are never implemented.
History has taught us to be sceptical when politicians promise to fight corruption.
When it comes to war on corruption we have learnt that talk is cheap.
The Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) has nothing much to show for the decade it has been in operation.
Corruption has increased in both the public and private sector.
Tenders have been rigged and millions have been siphoned from state coffers.
People are still paying bribes to get passports and driving licences. Jobs are still being parcelled out to a connected few.
The DCEO’s record so far does not inspire confidence. Their success rate in busting real crooks is far from pleasing.
True, they have nabbed some people and managed to get them convicted.
But they seem to be concentrating on “small fish” while the “big fish” continue to line their pockets with ill-gotten wealth.
There is a perception that the DCEO is out to get the small man while top officials continue their sleaze. We share that opinion.
The DCEO has become just another initiative that has failed to deliver crooked people into the dock.
Arrests of corrupt suspects have been few and far between at a time when even the prime minister is admitting that corruption is “rife and pervasive”.
Its either the department does not have the skills to investigate real corruption, has no resources or the politicians have kept it under a tight leash. Whichever the case might be, it is sad.
If it’s a problem of skills and resources then the DCEO has not done enough to push for more money and training.
The director of the department must scream for more resources to make it more effective.
The same applies to the issue of undue political influence.
The DCEO was established by an Act of parliament that guarantees its independence. It must therefore reassert its autonomy and resist political influence.
Yet we must point out that all these above mentioned points are mere suppositions that would be unnecessary if the department was performing to expectations.
During the launch the DCEO director general, Leshele Thoahlane, said it was the role of every stakeholder to fight corruption.
“Lesotho’s situation can improve drastically if we all participate. The economy can stabilise and grow effectively,” Thoahlane said.
We agree but must hasten to point out for that to happen his department must be seen to be leading the fight against corruption.
Only when stakeholders see that the DCEO is not just a toothless bulldog will they start blowing the whistle on corrupt activities.
So far that doesn’t seem to be happening. Mosisili’s strong words against corruption must be backed by a strong political will.
That political will must be evidenced by giving enough resources to the anti-corruption unit and the police to investigate corruption.
The government must allow the DCEO and the police to investigate everyone regardless of their political status and position.
The fight against corruption must start with political commitment at the top.
Only then can noble initiatives like the BAAC have a real impact on corruption.