The DCEO needs better funding

News that the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO)’s coffers are dry makes sad reading.

Out of a M23 million budget call, the anti-corruption body was given M14 million, leaving it about M10 million in the red and unable to meet all its operational needs  in the current fiscal year.

That a body tasked with the onerous responsibility of investigating high profile graft is cash-strapped should worry anyone who wants to see the Kingdom’s citizens living in a relatively corruption-free society.

Of course corruption can never be completely eliminated from any society. Even the most developed countries still experience some whiffs of it. But countries with better corruption busting agencies and with real discernible strategies to combat it face better economic prospects than those who ignore it.

Corruption levels in any nation are now one of the key indicators to gauge investor interest.  For long, Africa has been a byword for corruption. Wretched dictators like the then Zaire’s  Mobutu Sese Seko would openly encourage it, telling their officials to “steal, but steal wisely”. There is no arguing that corruption has been one of the key contributors to Africa’s stagnation.

Even rich countries like Angola, Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea, among many others, who should provide better for their citizens, have failed because of rampant graft.

Which is why Lesotho’s efforts to combat it as championed by the DCEO have been most notable with a number of high profile cases having been prosecuted recently.

Lesotho has a Corruption Perception Index score of 4.5 out of 10, according to the globally renowned corruption monitor, the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index. This is considered 21.6 percent better than the average general corruption measured on a country to country basis.

The Corruption Perception Index ranks 174 countries from least to most corrupt.  Lesotho has not fared badly on the index being ranked at 64 in the latest index, a marked improvement from the previous 89 in the last index. This is partly attributable to organizations like the DCEO, which have not shied away from going after anyone suspected of graft despite their social status.

Such efforts need to be safeguarded for positive investor perceptions about the country and its sustained economic health.

Graft impedes the ease with which business is done and any clear indication of a strong will to tackle the scourge by any government increases positive perceptions by outsiders.

The mere fact of the DCEO’s existence is a plus for Lesotho. Even though the body has faced some “toothless bulldog” criticisms in the past, it has equally shown its seriousness in several high profile cases including its work in prosecuting alleged bribery in the ravenous electronic-passports and identity-documents tender scandal.

The DCEO’s Director for Public Education and Corruption Prevention, Litelu Ramokhoro, says the body needs a minimum of 103 officers and 186 officers at most yet it currently only has a staff compliment of 60, including support staff.

Altogether the DCEO only has 10 investigators, a figure that is way too little to sniff out the ever-increasing cases of high profile crimes.

This acute lack of adequate funding, as exemplified in the lackluster staff figures, can only serve one purpose; to seriously compromise the DCEO’s ability to discharge its mandate. Any extra day needlessly lost because of lack of resources in the DCEO is a victory for corruption.

Without sufficient funding to run its operations, the DCEO becomes a white elephant, existing in name only.

Lesotho needs a well funded and functional DCEO.

Lack of funding will be the directorate’s greatest undoing. If the government remains resolute in its promise to eradicate crime and corruption, then the DCEO’s operations should be duly prioritized. Continued failure to support the body with an adequate budget severely compromises its work. It too can then become susceptible to the very same corruption it aims to combat.

What of desperate and poorly remunerated staff who may find it hard to resist bribes to drop or bungle investigations. Witness how poorly remunerated law enforcement officers in our neighbour South Africa have themselves become the perpetrators of corruption.

The fight against corruption should be ranked as important as education, health and national security. The government must therefore ensure the DCEO’s adequate funding in the next budget to be unveiled next week.

Any further delay in capacitating this arm would irretrievably cripple some of the hard work it has done so far in investigating and prosecuting several senior officials.

We should also openly remind the DCEO itself that in light of the other problems bedeviling the country and the fact that we rank highly among Least Developed Countries (LCDs), it cannot get all the money it needs.

This thus calls for frugality and thrift and to continue trying to do the best with the limited resources at its disposal.

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