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Bakang says P250 million saga politically motivated

Bakang Seretse, one of the accused in the ongoing P250 million National Petroleum Fund (NPF) money laundering trial, has stated that the case is both commercially and politically motivated.

Bakang, a relative of former President Lt Gen Ian Khama, and a nephew to former Minister of Defence, Justice and Security, Ramadeluka Seretse, has alleged that his family ties are the motivating factors in his ‘persecution.’  “Some say I am being prosecuted because of deemed association with the past administration, or that I have a relation with the Khamas.  I don’t want to take that road, and state the obvious.  I wish to focus on my case, and disengage because people tend to conflate me with the former President, and think by crushing me they can get to him,” he said.

“But I can confirm there were a number of commercial interests in my persecution, very soon I will be vindicated.  Things will reveal themselves very soon.  The reality is I was a threat to many competitors.  With our passionate development agenda, we became a threat to many that were in the same business as ourselves.  Add localisation and giving Batswana a chance that set the cat amongst the pigeons.”   

Bakang said people have always wanted them out of the finance industry of Botswana, vowing that it will not happen. “We as citizens have always operated in the periphery of our economy.  I refuse to be treated as such.  I still have a lot to contribute for my country, and indeed for myself and my family’s benefit.  But that’s a conversation for another day,” he said. Bakang denied to have ever used his relationship with the former President to get access to government tenders.  He said it was just a blatant lie if someone dares attempt to say that.  

“Actually, there has never been any relationship with Khama in the first place, just to say his father was my father’s cousin.  That’s all.   It is very mischievous and dangerous of people to say that.” He lamented that, “the very people who used to block us access to Khama saying the Seretses are bewitching the former President, are the very people who are now going around saying we somehow benefited from his administration. They lied to Khama about the Seretses not being good to him. I have worked independently and hard to get to where I am in life.”  

In his own words, Bakang described the whole case as personal saying people were settling personal and political scores against him.  “If people want to settle scores against me, come to me directly.  Don’t choose vulnerable targets.  Play the ball but not the man.  Leave my brother out of this circus.  That giving P20, 000 or him being given business by one of my associated companies is money laundering is a blatant lie.  It is meant to intimidate me, and embarrass my family.”

 “A lot has been said about the NPF and my involvement.  It all comes against a background of ignorance and lies.  And a lot was also said at the Public Accounts Committee that was nothing but lies.  Some people all of a sudden developed amnesia, some said contradicting statements and some came with some new lies.” He said one such lie is that Basis Points Capital was never properly appointed by the Ministry of Mineral Resources, Green Technology and Energy Security.  

He said surprisingly the Auditor General has never approached him.  “The same applies to this myth that somehow Kerekang favoured the companies that were associated with me.  We are on the assertive to say that we have never been appointed by Kenneth Kerekang to any transaction.  The Ministry Tender Committee is the one that appoints service providers,” he said.

“In the midst of all this noise, the good that we did for NPF is conveniently kept away from the public.  For one, we presented financials for the NPF after more than three years were the Fund had no financials due to audit queries.”Bakang contend that since taking over the fund they increased the investment income of the Fund many folds indicating that for the first time, they ensured that there was efficiency in the collection of the levies.

According to Bakang, prior to his arrival, there was no system or process in collecting government levies.  He said through the system they identified many delinquent levy payers, and ensured fairness in the petroleum industries by making sure that everybody who imports fuel pays. He also opines that they went far back as seven years to audit the levies and found out that there was more than P450 million that was owed to government.

 “A simple answer to that is that it depends where the smoke is coming from. I was home, minding my own business when I was called by a government official to facilitate what I was told was a government transaction.  All of a sudden, I then find myself in a midst of a storm.”
Bakang said he was surprised that what he was told to be a state secret and made to swear into secrecy has turned out to be complete joke with people failing to take responsibility.  

“I am being made to explain government processes and procedures.  How, when I have never worked for government? I have been made to take blame for state actors where it is bluntly evident that they are the owners of the transactions. What I know is that we did work, and we ought to be paid.  Goods have arrived from Israel, pay me my remaining contract money.  It’s simple as that.  All other stuff is some side noise,” Bakang concluded. 

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Civil Service volatility: Democracy vs Bureaucracy

19th April 2021
President Masisi

Here is how one Permanent Secretary encapsulates the clear tension between democracy and bureaucracy in Botswana: “President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s Government is behaving like a state surrounded with armed forces in order to capture it or force its surrender. The situation has turned so volatile, for tomorrow is not guaranteed for us top civil servants.

These are the painful results of a personalized civil service in our view as permanent secretaries”. Although his deduction of the situation may be summed as sour grapes because he is one of the ‘victims’ of the reshuffle, he is convinced this is a perfect description of the rationale behind frequent changes and transfers characterising the current civil service.

The result of it all, he said, is that “there is too much instability at managerial and strategic levels of the civil service leading to a noticeable directionless civil service.” He continued: “Changes and transfers are inevitable in the civil service, but to a permissible scale and frequency. Think of soccer team coach who changes and transfers his entire squad every month; you know the consequences?”

The Tsunami has hit hard at critical departments and Ministries leaving a strong wave of uncertainty, many demoralised and some jobless. In traditional approaches to public administration, democracy gives the goals; and bureaucracy delivers the technical efficiency required for implementation. But the recent moves in the civil service are indicative of conflicting imperatives – the notion of separation between politicians and administrators is becoming blurred by the day.

“Look at what happened to Prisons and BDF where second in command were overlooked for outsiders, and these are the people who had sacrificially served for donkey’s years hoping for a seat at the ladder’s end. The frequency of the changes, at times affecting the same Ministry or individual also demonstrates some level of ineptitude, clumsiness and lack of foresight from those in charge,” remarked the PS who added that their view is that the transfers are not related to anything but “settling scores, creating corruption opportunities and pushing out perceived dissident and former president, Ian Khama’s alleged loyalists and most of these transfers are said to be products of intelligence detection.”

Partly blaming Khama for the mess and his unwillingness to let go, the PS dismissed Masisi for falling to the trap and failing to outgrow the destructive tiff. “Khama is here to stay and the sooner Masisi comes to terms with the fact that he (Masisi) is the state President, the better. For a President to still be making these changes and transfers signals signs of a confused man who has not yet started rolling his roadmap, if at all it was ever there. I am saying this because any roadmap comes with key players and policies,” he concluded.

The Ministry of Health and Wellness seems to be the most hard-hit by the transfers, having experienced three Permanent Secretaries changes within a year and a half. Insiders say the changes have everything to do with the Ministry being the centre of COVID-19 tenders and economic opportunities. “The buck stops with the PS and no right-thinking PS can just allow glaring corruption under his watch as an accounting officer. Technocrats are generally law abiding, the pressure comes with politically appointed leaders racing against political terms to loot,” revealed a director in the Ministry preferring anonymity.

The latest transfer of Kabelo Ebineng she says was also motivated by his firm attitude against the President’s blue-eyed Task Team boys. “The Task Team wants to own the COVID-19 pandemic and government interventions and always cry foul when the Ministry reasserts itself as mandated by law,” said the director who added that Masisi who was always caught between the crossfire decided on sacrificing Ebineng to the joy of his team as they (Task Team) were in the habit of threatening to resign citing Ebineng as the problem.

Ebineng joins the Office of the President as a deputy Coordinator (government implementation and coordination office).The incoming PS is the soft-spoken Grace Muzila, known and described by her close associates as a conformist albeit knowledgeable.

One of the losers in the grand scheme is Thato Raphaka who many had seen as the next PSP because of his experience and calm demeanour following a declaration of interest in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Secretary post by the current PSP, Elias Magosi.

But hardly ten months into his post, Raphaka has been transferred out to the National Strategy Office in what many see as a demotion of some sort. Other notable changes coming into OP are Pearl Ramokoka formerly with the Employment, Labour and Productivity Ministry coming in as a Permanent Secretary and Kgomotso Abi as director of Public Service Reforms.

One of the ousted senior officers in the Office of the President warned that there are no signs that the changes and transfers will stop anytime soon: “If you are observant you would have long noticed that the changes don’t only affect senior officers but government decisions as well. A decision is made today and the government backtracks on it within a week. Not only that, the President says this today, and his deputy denies it the following day in Parliament,” he warned.

Some observers have blamed the turmoil in the civil service partly to lack of accountable presidential advisers or kitchen cabinet properly schooled on matters of statecraft. They point out that politicians or those peripheral to them should refrain from hampering the technical and organizational activities of public managers – or else the party (reshuffling) won’t stop.

In the view expressed by some Permanent Secretaries, Elias Magosi, has not really been himself since joining the civil service; and has cut a picture of indifference in most critical engagements; the most notable been a permanent secretaries platform which he chairs. As things stand there is need to reconcile the imperatives of democracy and democracy in Botswana. Peace will rein only when public value should stand astride the fault that runs between politicians and public managers.

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Morupisi fights for freedom in court

19th April 2021

Former Permanent Secretary to the President, Carter Morupisi, is fighting for survival in a matter in which the State has charged him and his wife, Pinnie Morupisi, with corruption and money laundering.

Morupisi has joined a list of prominent figures that served in the previous administration and who have been accused of corruption during their tenure in office. While others have been emerging victorious, Morupisi is yet to find that luck. The High Court recently dismissed his no case to answer application.

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Pressure mounts on Biden to suspend Covid-19 vaccine patents

19th April 2021
Joe Biden

United States President, Joe Biden, is faced with a decision to make relating to the Covid-19 vaccine intellectual property after 175 former world leaders and Nobel laurates joined the campaign urging the US to take “urgent action” to suspend intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines to help boost global inoculation rates.

According to the world leaders, doing so would allow developing countries to make their own copies of the vaccines that have been developed by pharmaceutical companies without fear of being sued for intellectual property infringements.

“A WTO waiver is a vital and necessary step to bringing an end to this pandemic. It must be combined with ensuring vaccine know-how and technology is shared openly,” the signatories, comprising more than 100 Nobel prize-winners and over 70 former world leaders, wrote in a letter to US President Joe Biden, according to Financial Times.

A measure to allow countries to temporarily override patent rights for Covid related medical products was proposed at the World Trade Organization by India and South Africa in October, and has since been backed by nearly 60 countries.

Former leaders who signed the letter included Gordon Brown, former UK Prime Minister; François Hollande, former French President; Mikhail Gorbachev, former President of the USSR; and Yves Leterme, former Belgian Prime Minister.

In their official communication, South Africa and India said: “As new diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines for Covid-19 are developed, there are significant concerns [about] how these will be made available promptly, in sufficient quantities and at affordable prices to meet global demand.”

While developed countries have been able to secure enough vaccine to inoculate their citizens, developing countries such as Botswana are struggling to source enough to swiftly vaccine their citizens, something which world leaders believe it would work against global recovery therefore proving counter-productive.

Since the availability of vaccines, Botswana has been able to secure only 60 000 doses of vaccines, 30 000 as donation as from the Indian government, while the other 30 000 was sourced through COVAX facility.  Canada, has pre-ordered vaccines in surplus and it will be able to vaccinate each of its citizens six times over. In the UK and US, it is four vaccines per person; and two each in the EU and Australia.

For vaccines produced in Europe, developing countries are forced to pay double what European countries are paying, making it more expensive for already financially struggling economies.  European countries however justify the price of vaccines and that they deserve to buy them cheap since they contributed in their development.

It is evident that vaccines cannot be made available immediately to all countries worldwide with wealthy economies being the only success story in that regard, something that has been referred to as a “catastrophic moral failure”, head of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The challenge facing developing countries is not only the price, but also the capacity of vaccine manufactures to be able to do so to meet global demand within a short time. The proposal for a patent waiver by India and South Africa has been rejected by developed countries, known for hosting the world leading pharmaceutical companies such US, European Union, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland.

According to the Financial Times, US business groups including pharmaceutical industry representatives, have urged Biden to resist supporting a waiver to IP rules at the WTO, arguing that the proposal led by India and South Africa was too “vague” and “broad”.

The individuals who signed the letter, including Nobel laureates in economics as well as from across the arts and sciences, warned that inequitable vaccine access would impact the global economy and prevent it from recovering.

“The world saw unprecedented development of safe and effective vaccines, in major part thanks to US public investment,” the group wrote. “We all welcome that vaccination rollout in the US and many wealthier countries is bringing hope to their citizens.”

“Yet for the majority of the world that same hope is yet to be seen. New waves of suffering are now rising across the globe. Our global economy cannot rebuild if it remains vulnerable to this virus.”
The group warned that fully enforcing IP was “self-defeating for the US” as it hindered global vaccination efforts. “Given artificial global supply shortages, the US economy already risks losing $1.3tn in gross domestic product this year.”

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