Thahane should have resigned

Finance Minister Timothy ThahaneThe principle that everyone is innocent until proven guilty subsists in Timothy Thahane’s case as it does for everyone suspected of committing a crime.

The extensive coverage of his case by various media should thus not be viewed as trial and conviction by the media.

The decision to fire Thahane was the right one and we give high kudos to the coalition government.

Again this is not because we have already pronounced Thahane guilty. That’s the role of our esteemed magistrates and judges to determine.

Once a sitting minister has been arraigned and charged in courts of law, his or her stay in office becomes untenable and he surely cannot remain in office.

What a huge pity therefore and a monumental blunder by Thahane himself that he waited to be fired instead of doing the honourable thing and resign once he had been charged in the courts  or when he had  been told officially that he was going to be charged over fraud and corruption.

Instead, officials spoke of Thahane’s earlier attempts to even dodge appearing in court when his co-accused were first brought into the dock last week.

Such attitudes smack of the arrogant behaviour of bureaucrats and politicians who never want to be held accountable. It is also in stark contrast to the practice in established democracies where transparency and accountability are routine norms.

Consider the case of Britain’s former Home Office Secretary David Blunkett, who had to quit over allegations that he facilitated a work permit for his nanny.

Or his garrulous colleague, Peter Mandelson, who had to quit over allegations that he merely, phoned Britain’s passport office to inquire about the travel documents for two rich Indian businessmen based in the United Kingdom.

The two quit their posts despite the seemingly harmless nature of their transgressions and their lack of direct prejudice to their country’s national fiscus.

In our case, here is a minister accused of prejudicing this impoverished Kingdom of a whopping M43 million through misrepresentations, fraud, bribery and flouting of procurement regulations.

The minister is then charged in the courts but plays chess games with the media and waits to be fired instead of coming forward to explain his story and resign to fight his case and clear his name, assuming that he so refutes the allegations levelled against him.

Thahane’s behaviour is tragic and shows how far we still have to go before the principles of transparency, accountability and discipline are instilled in our public officials.

Instead of having to endure the humiliation of being publicly fired, Acting Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing’s assuaging  remarks at the Press conference notwithstanding, Thahane could have earned himself high respect if he had convened the Presser himself and publicly declared; “My dear countrymen, I have been charged of bribery and corruption involving huge sums of money. I vehemently deny the charges and plan to fight them to the very last ounce of my blood.

In the meantime, I am quitting my positions in government and Parliament to protect the dignity of these institutions while I fight to clear my name. In the event that I am cleared, I hope I shall be considered again for a cabinet post”.

Alas, it may be too much to expect this dignified approach from our public officials.

But let’s hope the coalition government’s clear resolve to fight corruption has been heard loud and clear through the dismissal of Thahane.

The former minister only has himself to blame for any perceptions that will now swell around him.

Again, we reiterate that we are not pronouncing Thahane guilty. He certainly could have handled the situation better and, regardless of the final outcome of his court cases, set a good example that people in high profile positions charged with criminal acts must not cling to office.

We note that his co-accused in one of the fraud cases, Principal Secretary Mosito Khetisa, is still in office, probably waiting to be fired as well.

How can a man in such a sensitive role still be managing the public purse while standing in the dock over fraud?

We are immensely bamboozled.

Do the right thing Khetisa and leave office to fight the charges you are facing and safeguard the image of your office.

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