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Tshekedi only “special minister” with P45 million airplane

Publishing Date : 24 October, 2017


Minister for Environment and Natural Resources, Conservation and Tourism who is also younger brother to President Ian Khama, Tshekedi Khama is the only “special minister” whose ministry has a corporate airplane, it has emerged.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has learned that the wildlife ministry procured a King Air 350 Beechcraft airplane using money requested by Tshekedi from parliament through a supplementary budget. Independent investigations have revealed that the 15 meter luxury airplane costs money in the region of $3.6 million. It also comes with specifications quieter interiors, Wi-Fi, Lear jet style beige leather seats, hi-tech avionics among others. Some sister models such as the King Air 350i can carry 15 passengers.

Permanent Secretary in Tshekedi’s ministry, Jimmy Opelo confirmed to the PAC that indeed his ministry acquired the corporate airplane for use in matters of wildlife conservation. He had apparently denied the existence of a corporate airplane recently at PAC. Opelo said that the airplane is largely used to transport his juniors in the ministry to attend to issues of wildlife conservation across the breadth of the country. All these revelations come after the PAC did some investigations to unearth the truth about the ministry’s ownership of a corporate jet.

Opelo had appeared before the PAC two weeks back where he denied the existence of a corporate jet in his ministry. However, this week Opelo stated that the ministry decided to procure the airplane because wildlife conservation in its nature is a nick-of-time affair that often needs technicians from Gaborone to be at the scene in just less than two hours.

“We bought it because of the emergency nature of our work. If an elephant problem is experienced in Kasane you will have to check Air Botswana’s reservations or start a cruiser. With this (airplane) you just get your technicians in and go,”Opelo reasoned. The tourism ministry has historically collaborated with the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) and Botswana Police Service (BPS). But, this week Opelo said that BDF is not always available to assist and that their aircrafts are at times busy.

The defensive PS shot back. “It doesn’t help. At times they are not available. We are in charge of ensuring wildlife movement and protection of lives of people, so we must do those timely.” Furthermore, he also denied that the aircraft often transports the minister outside of wildlife functions. “It doesn’t transport the minister. I don’t recall any time it transported the minister besides on official ministerial duties,” he then added. “It is for the ministry and not for the minister. It has never happened that he wasn’t in the business of the ministry when he flew in it.”

Committee member and Member of Parliament (MP) for Selibe Phikwe West, Dithapelo Keorapetse argued that the aircraft makes Tshekedi “a special minister who has an airplane while other ministries do not have the same”. Opelo’s ministry also did not furnish PAC with fuel costs but only attached Human Resource costs. They however stated that the aircraft has not experienced maintenance costs thus far. It also emerged that the ministry headhunted a foreign pilot for the aircraft who is paid on the E1 scale of director.

Earlier in the proceedings he had denied that the pilot is paid on director scale. Asked why they decided to head-hunt the pilot, Opelo reasoned that they did know him before and that he had been working closely with the ministry. When probed why the pilot is on E1 scale, he responded that it is because he does not only pilot the aircraft but heads the aviation department in the ministry. He also conceded that the airplane was bought under the supplementary budget because they had ruminated over the idea of a ministerial plane for purposes of animal control. He stated they then used supplementary budget because it would have been a missed opportunity.

MPs however observed that the airplane has been mostly used for corporate events including a BOT50 trip to Kasane as well as a ministerial event in Sowa. Opelo stated that the Kasane trip was a day trip for BOT50 airplane rehearsals for the September 30 2016 soiree.
However, Tati east MP Samson Guma Moyo sought to differentiate the ministry from the department of wildlife stating that the airplane must be used only for the department’s operations. Guma also implied that the airplane scandal might come back to haunt Tshekedi, advising Opelo to render counsel to his superior. “The issue is him being a politician, he is a minister! The public will say because he is the president’s younger brother he can do as he pleases. You are the PS. Help him,” Guma warned.



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