Journalist Neo Kolantsho
Organisation: The Midweek Sun
Organisation size: Small
Publication date: 14 Oct 2020
Credit: Neo Kolantsho
The story was firdt published in A former high ranking government official is implicated in a corruption saga worth millions. The man is accussed of using his power and status to benefit directly from lower structures he was overseeing without openly declaring his interests. Millions have gone missing and there is no guaranteee they will ever be recovered. Meanwhile the former boss has his finger prints all over the crime scene and the matter has been reported to the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime, Botswana. Paragraph 7 words in italics.Direct quote translation. “Let us not be jealous of the
The story opened eyes to those in power that there are consquences to abuse of power when in office.It also served as a warning to many others occupying high positions that irregardles of who you are, there is no excuse to corruption as it negatively impacts on country development.
Most importantly, the project served as a reminder of what corruption in office does to the community. Projects remain stagnant and poverty escalates while money is gobbled up by those trusted with power to change lives for the better. The story has assisted other government officials to keep an open mind and device ways of ensuring that financial issues are handled with utmost care and transparency where possible. Loop holes at the particular organization have been identified that enable issues of corruption to easily crop in. This has led to the current boss at the organization admitting that there is need for policies to change in the near future to curb as it had now proven that there might be a deeper financial rot lying undetected.
Also the public has been sentisized on the worrying and increaing corruption issues that happen even at government level. This means stakeholders will in future hold officers accountable and demand transparency when it comes to governmemt funds. The relevant ministry will equally in future do a better job of detecting issues of funds embezzlement at the earliest time possible. The story has also through interviews conducted helped the law officers speed up their investigations on the matter as the story unearthed information which was not readily in their possession.
I conducted several interviews to gather information for my story. The story sought to expose an alleged corruption rot at a high government office and many issues had to be taken into consideration. First and foremost the implicated persons were of high ranking and whose reputation could not afford being soiled without cross checking facts as the consequences would have been far reaching. Interviwing all those close to the matter gave insight on what could be true and what was false, this also gave me a chance to observe emotions and the atittude towards the corruption saga. Finding neutral sources also came in handy as they had no reason to lie but present the truth. I also researched to find out more about the people I was interviewing or including in my story. I also familiarized myself with the law to know what is likely to happen should the accused be found guilty. All this was done by reading documents which spoke to issues of corruption and abuse of office when in power. This helped build a solid story that did not only seek to expose but also educate. I also did an independent investigation by perusing the registrar of companies (CIPA) documents to see if indeed the accussed person and family was implicated in the financial rot and indeed I was able to uncover the truth which was cleverly hidden by creating many confusing but similar company names that threw investigations if not paying attention to details.
The acussed had intelligently taken advantage of the registering of companies systemm in Botswana to hide that he owned shares with the company that had been beneffiting from an organization he was heading without declaring his interests.
What was the hardest part of this project?
Gathering information from public officers is not an easy undertaking in Botswana. They are sworn to secrecy and not permitted to divulge any information to third parties without being authorized to do so. This meant finding smart but lawful ways of gathering evidence once the whistle blowers had whispered into our ears. All I had was allegations that needed verifications to prevent defaming the accused and even possible lawsuits. This meant strategizing on how best to get those with information to speak up, without connections or a close relationship with those that had information it was l This meant softening them up and getting them to trust that their identities will not be exposed at any point. It was not an easy undertaking as they feared for their jobs, all was a risk, this meant they had to be extra careful. We met at odd hours and strange locations to ensure that they are not seen exchanging envelopes with journalits. They also demanded on not being recorded or filmed, They were not comfortable with calls and opted to use separate phones for communication, not those linked to their day to day lives. This was to eliminate any chances of it all backfiring on them. This posed double trouble for me as i had to work harder to ensure that they are not selling me a fake story in persuit to destroy or soil the reputation of an innocent man. This meant having to dig deeper and cross checking facts with more than one source. I even had to sneak in at one of their meetings to get the information first hand. Though journalists are usually invited to listen in during some of their meetings, with this particular meeting that discussed the possible embezzling of funds, an invitation had not come
What can others learn from this project?
I believe this story can help other journalists reliaze that the media is considered a watch dog. It is part of our responsibility to ensure that we guard against economic decay that go on to affect development in our country. Our country president speaks about eliminating corruption on a daily basis and is such stories that open his eyes and others of what is happening right under their nose. That even those trusted with power have to account for every single money poured towards organizations in an effort to improve the livelihoods of Batswana.
Also the media has of recent been accussed of accepting bribes to shelf stories which try to expose corruption and other ills. Reporting on this story and not bowing to pressure or intimidation was also a way of encouraging other journalists to write more of such stories that call for change and review of laws and policies.
As a young female journalist, my strory was also meant to send a message that women are equally capable of investigative reporting, a beat that is often associated with men because of its risks and complexity. Women are often abused by story subjects both emotionally and physically. It also never easy to face off with a highly ranked official especially when presenting them with allegations of corruption that directly implicates them.