When it created the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS), Parliament might have failed to pay attention to the finer details of the monster they were forming.
Many years later DIS has proved to all and sundry that despite being a creature of statute, its powers are beyond reproach. The spy agency’s Director General Isaac Kgosi this week confirmed what for years has been a subject of speculation: that he is the alpha and omega of the country’s intelligence apparatus and does not answer to any one, not even the president!
Kgosi does not answer to the president of the republic who is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces nor his second in command the vice president, Minister of Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration or Permanent Secretary to the President on matters pertaining to security and intelligence in the country.
According to Kgosi the buck stops with him at DISS as the Accounting Officer. DISS was established amid controversy shortly after President Ian Khama assumed office in 2008. Funds from Disaster Fund were diverted to help establish the organisation amid strong resistance from opposition MPs and some of Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) backbenchers.
This week the DISS boss told Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) which is probing the books of accounts of the National Petroleum Fund (NPF) that the committee cannot dictate to him how to respond to their questions.
He reminded the committee that as much as they have the law that governs them they should know he also has a law to follow and that the Act of Parliament does not supersede the DISS Act.
He said that how he spends the funds at DISS is an administrative issue which does not compel him to answer to anybody. He said even the oversight committee and the DISS Council he briefs them when the need arises as he can carry out a project or procurement and notify the committees later.
The spy chief revealed that he had requested for variation of the funds from NPF for the sake of transparency. According to Kgosi he could have gone ahead with the procurement of military equipment without asking for variation because the funds were already with DISS.
According to the Fund Order only the president has such powers of varying funds from special funds such as the NPF. Kgosi’s assertions have sent shockwaves throughout the country as to what Parliament could have created for Batswana- an all-powerful government institution that is not answerable to anyone.
While others believe Kgosi’s statement was meant to protect his principal’s participation or knowledge in the controversial P250 million NPF scandal others contend that the man spoke the truth.
Even within the ruling party MPs have expressed discomfort with Kgosi’s utterances. Those who spoke to this publication have indicated that Kgosi’s principals should contain him as he continues to show arrogance and becomes reckless with his choice of words.
They argue that the creation of DISS which some of them were hostile about could come back to haunt the ruling party. The BDP used its numbers in Parliament to push for the establishment of the DIS under former President Ian Khama’s administration.
However, there are some MPs who believe Kgosi has been given too much power by the presidency. They argue that while Kgosi has sensitive information and secrets about almost everyone including those in the highest office it might prove difficult to deal with him in the best interest of the public and reclaim confidence from Batswana.
Botswana Congress Party (BCP) President who is also Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) Vice President Dumelang Saleshando says pronouncements by DISS boss that he accounts to no one, not even the president, for funds used by DIS even if the funds were allegedly inappropriately secured, will possibly shock many, including the BDP stalwarts.
“I think that the stance adopted by Kgosi is a good one for our democracy. At the time when the DISS law was adopted, we cautioned against the creation of an organisation that was going to be a law unto itself,” he stated.
Saleshando said the DIS Act was not crafted in a manner that allowed for checks and balances. According to Saleshando the thinking of the BDP MPs at that time was that accountability was a threat to national security. This has allowed the DIS to operate above the law, he said adding that this was what BDP and President Khama wanted at the time.
He posited that the days when state security was an acceptable defence against the need for accountability belong in the past.
“I think the DISS Act should be repealed, DISS disbanded and all the activities it got involved in investigated. Our security cluster needs to be subjected to a critical review and a decision be made as to how the intelligence community should be restructured. President Masisi needs to start this process by suspending Kgosi to allow for full investigations into his activities that have dominated headlines and attracted the attention of the DCEC,” Saleshando added.
The former MP for Gaborone Central said if the president is unable to act, it can only mean that like other ministers, he is gripped by fear.
Alliance for Progressives (AP) President Ndaba Gaolathe could not comment on the matter because he is part of the PAC and the committee has not made any finality on its probe. However during the party’s 1st Annual Policy Statement early this year Gaolathe was of the view that, DIS has amassed power to the extent that it literally runs the government of Botswana.
According to Gaolathe the Intelligence Services is more powerful than the rest of the Government decision making machinery. “DISS has an influential role in deciding appointments to key positions in both government and quasi-government institutions. It is them that re-allocate willy-nilly Government reserves as they did with the National Petrol Fund. They are above the law, and no one is able to find a way for them to face the wrath of the law.
“Currently Government does not have the interest to bring the DISS to the book, and even if they were willing to do so, the current governance mechanism would not allow them to effectively deal with the ‘rogue’ institution. Our Government system is centralised, and Parliament lacks the institutional capacity to fulfill its constitutional mandate, consequently our system is not one of checks-and-balances; it is a legitimised authoritarian rule,” he told the gathering at Big Five Lodge in Mogoditshane.
Political Analyst Anthony Morima does not buy Kgosi’s story. He does not think that there can be an authority which does not report to another in a higher office. “Even the President is accountable to the nation and the National Assembly. DISS director cannot say he is not accountable to anyone- who request for budget and who appoints the director general? If indeed he reports to no one, then we will be in a state of chaos. It cannot be correct in our law to say that because there has to be checks and balances,” he said.
According to Morima Kgosi adopted such a stance to avoid answering questions because this could have given the PAC the lead as to who it should subpoena to appear and account. Morima opines that the DISS oversight Parliamentary Committee should be empowered to undertake its duties of checks and balances. The committee has however been dysfunctional after members of opposition pulled out of the committee as they felt the committee is not allowed to carry out its mandate.