‘Graft escalates in government’

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MASERU —  About 77 percent of respondents in a government commissioned survey say corruption is now more widespread than in 1999 when the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences Act was enacted.
The survey by international firm, De Speville and Associates, has revealed that only 32 percent of the 4 138 people interviewed say the DCEO is moderately effective while 37 percent think it is slightly effective.
The study also showed that 17 percent of the people think the anti-corruption unit is ineffective.
Addressing a press conference on Tuesday, Bertrand de Speville said he sent questionnaires to 701 political leaders, 1 113 public servants, 408 business people, 58 community organisations, 460 religious communities, 260 people in the education sector, 123 professional associations and 52 media practitioners.
He said 98 percent of the interviewees want corruption to be dealt with firmly.
“An overwhelming majority of respondents (97 percent) thinks that the DCEO should continue to have the power to investigate any crime that could be concealing corruption,” de Speville said.
“A similar majority of respondents agrees that the DCEO should investigate every complaint of corruption capable of being investigated,” he said.
However, the respondents were concerned that the DCEO is not independent enough to carry out its mandate free from outside influence.
The DCEO was established in 2003 to fight corruption in the government and other institutions, including the private sector.
De Speville said the autonomy of the DCEO is essential for it to quell corruption which the respondents in the survey said is widespread in the civil service.
“It is important for an anti-corruption body to be independent from the civil service,” he said.
“I think the 76 percent of respondents who say the DCEO should not be part of the civil service are right.”
The vast majority, well over 85 percent, say the DCEO director general should be appointed for a fixed term and his position should be secured by law in the same way as the Auditor General or the Director of Public Prosecutions.
The Auditor General and the Director of Public Prosecutions are constitutionally autonomous and carry out their duties according to the dictates of their professions.
These offices conduct their work independently from their mother ministries while the DCEO is treated like a department and dependent on funds allocated to the Ministry of Justice.
For years, there has been a public outcry that the DCEO ignores corruption claims against government ministers and other senior officials because it cannot bite the hand that feeds it.
Opposition parties have in the past complained bitterly that the DCEO turned a blind eye to the notorious block farming scheme that saw several ministers and MPs abusing the government guarantee fund and acquiring loans that they never or partly paid back.
Earlier this month four opposition parties accused the police and the DCEO of failing to investigate after alleging that M20 million from the Ministry of Health was deposited in a bank account belonging to a white South African in Bloemfontein.
The four opposition leaders — the All Basotho Convention’s Thomas Thabane, Basotho National Party’s Thesele ’Maseribane, Moeketse Malebo of the Marematlou Freedom Party and the Basotho Batho Democratic Party’s Jeremane Ramathebane complained bitterly that the DCEO and the police overlooked corruption by those in positions of authority.
The leaders blamed the DCEO’s wholly dependence on government for its failure to take heed of corruption by senior officials, especially the ministers.
The de Speville survey shows that 74 percent of the respondents feel that the DCEO director should be made the appointing and disciplinary authority of his staff.
Another 79 percent say the staff should have terms and conditions of employment separate from the civil service.
De Speville added that “86 percent say groups of citizens should be put in a position to monitor the activities of the DCEO in order for it to be effective”.
De Speville and Associates was engaged by the government in February under the auspices of the Commonwealth Technical Assistance to provide expert advice on strengthening the institutional capacity of the DCEO.

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