The Commander of Botswana Defence Force (BDF) Lieutenant General Placid Segokgo has revealed that they were misled when personnel and equipment were deployed to build an airstrip on the former President Lieutenant General Dr Seretse Khama Ian Khama’s private compound in Mosu.
The construction saw public funds being used on private property. The airstrip belongs to the former president but was fenced and maintained by Civil Aviation Authority of Botswana (CAAB) at a cost to government. This is consistent with the past practice of providing safe landing facilities to the sitting Head of State and cannot amount to inequitable action nor maladministration, Segokgo told Public Accounts Committee (PAC) this week.
Segokgo said prior to the building of the air strip, they were not aware that it formed part of Khama’s compound. “Our understanding was that, it was not a private land [where the airstrip was built] because it was not in the fenced compound,” he said before adding. “The discussions were held but as BDF we are responsible for comfort of the sitting head of state. By then it didn’t ring bell on us because we have done similar thing for the past presidents.”
Asked about the practice of having a sitting president flying BDF aircrafts, Sekgogo said it possible since president is also a member of the army as the Commander-in-chief. Until he left presidential office, Khama has been flying BDF aircrafts both during his tenure Vice President and President respectively. Upon assuming office, Masisi instructed the BDF to not allow Khama to fly BDF aircrafts but to be offered VIP status every time he is on board. When quizzed about the memo, Segokgo said: “There is no command relationship between him [Khama] and us.”
BDF ADMITS OWING EX-SOLDIERS
Segokgo has conceded before the PAC that indeed they owe hundreds if not thousands of former soldiers amounting exceeding P60 million. “We owe them a number of things including leave days and pension. We have looked at the matter and we have paid significant number and others are yet to be paid because e are having a difficulty in finding some files,” he said. It is said because of the constant deployment, soldiers were not allowed to take their leave days which were increased from 90 to 120 days.
BDF Commander indicated that defense pension fund is modeled the same way as other civil servants, which naturally creates a problem for the army men. “But the retirement age is 55 for officers and 47 for lower ranks whilst other civil servants can go until 60 years which mean soldiers spend most time on retirement. This is the reason why soldiers demand a better package when they leave the job,” said Segokgo.
He admitted that former soldiers have the ability to destabilise the country if their concerns are not addressed. Segokgo however could not state the exact amount owed to the soldiers. Segokgo went on to disclose that they are currently still assessing which fighter jets to procure. He said they are taking into considerations the characteristics and affordability. Already, he said, they are looking at T50 jets and Mid 29 jets among others.
The fighter jets are expected to costs the government P15 billion ($1.7 billion). BDF is still negotiating with several governments and aircraft manufacturers around the world in search of affordable aircraft options. The aircraft acquisition is part of a force modernization programme that also includes the replacement of old troop carriers, transporters, tanks, armored vehicles, light weapons and aerial Defence systems.
BUDGET COMPROMISE BDF DEFENCE CAPABILITIES
Segokgo told PAC that the country’s procurement system and the budgeting system are hampering the army’s defence capabilities. He contended that since Botswana’s fiscal year runs only for 12 months, where they are expected to spend their budget, both recurrent and development within that period, it has proved difficunt for the army to utilise its development budget within that period.
“Because of the nature of the army, it takes a longer time, up to four years to procure defence capabilities that we need, but the budgeting system does not allow us since we are compelled to return unused funds at the beginning of every financial year,’ he said. Segokgo said, a longer budget period will allow BDF to meet its needs. PAC member, Ndaba Gaolathe concurred with Segokgo, indicating that it is absolutely necessarily to have longer budgeting period of 2-3 years.
Despite being hailed and still regarded as a hero who saved many lives through his decision to crash the BF5 fighter Jet around the national stadium on the eve of the 2018 BDF day, the deceased Pilot, Major Clifford Manyuni’s actions were treated as a letdown within the army, especially by his master-Commander of the Air Arm, Major General Innocent Phatshwane.
Manyuni’s master says he was utterly disappointed with his Pilot’s failure to perform “simple basics.”
Manyuni was regarded as a hero through social media for his ‘colourful exploits’, but Phatshwane who recently retired as the Air Arm Commander, revealed to WeekendPost in an exclusive interview that while he appreciated Batswana’s outpouring of emotions and love towards his departed Pilot, he strongly felt let down by the Pilot “because there was nothing wrong with that Fighter Jet and Manyuni did not report any problem either.”
The deceased Pilot, Manyuni was known within the army to be an upwardly mobile aviator and in particular an air power proponent.
“I was hurt and very disappointed because nobody knows why he decided to crash a well-functioning aircraft,” stated Phatshwane – a veteran pilot with over 40 years of experience under the Air Arm unit.
Phatshwane went on to express shock at Manyuni’s flagrant disregard for the rules of the game, “they were in a formation if you recall well and the guiding principle in that set-up is that if you have any problem, you immediately report to the formation team leader and signal a break-away from the formation.
Manyuni disregarded all these basic rules, not even to report to anybody-team members or even the barracks,” revealed Phatshwane when engaged on the much-publicised 2018 incident that took the life of a Rakops-born Pilot of BDF Class 27 of 2003/2004.
Phatshwane quickly dismisses the suggestion that perhaps the Fighter Jet could have been faulty, “the reasons why I am saying I was disappointed is that the aircraft was also in good condition and well-functioning. It was in our best interest to know what could have caused the accident and we launched a wholesale post-accident investigation which revealed that everything in the structure was working perfectly well,” he stated.
Phatshwane continued: “we thoroughly assessed the condition of the engine of the aircraft as well as the safety measures-especially the ejection seat which is the Pilot’s best safety companion under any life-threatening situation. All were perfectly functional.”
In aircrafts, an ejection seat or ejector seat is a system designed to rescue the pilot or other crew of an aircraft in an emergency. The seat is propelled out of the aircraft by an explosive charge or rocket motor, carrying the pilot with it.”
Manyuni knew about all these safety measures and had checked their functionality prior to using the Aircraft as is routine practice, according to Phatshwane. Could Manyuni have been going through emotional distress of some sort? Phatshwane says while he may never really know about that, what he can say is that there are laid out procedures in aviation guiding instances of emotional instability which Manyuni also knew about.
“We don’t allow or condone emotionally or physically unfit Pilots to take charge of an aircraft. If a Pilot feels unfit, he reports and requests to be excused. We will subsequently shift the task to another Pilot. We do this because we know the risks of leaving an unfit pilot to fly an aircraft,” says Phatshwane.
Despite having happened a day before the BDF day, Phatshwane says the BDF day mishap did not really affect the BDF day preparations, although it emotionally distracted Manyuni’s flying formation squad a bit, having seen him break away from the formation to the stone-hearted ground. The team soldiered on and immediately reported back to base for advice and way forward, according to Phatshwane.
Sharing the details of the ordeal and his Pilots’ experiences, Phatshwane said: “they (pilots) were in distress, who wouldn’t? They were especially hurt by the deceased‘s lack of communication. I immediately called a chaplain to attend to their emotional needs.
He came and offered them counselling. But soldiers don’t cry, they immediately accepted that a warrior has been called, wiped off their tears and instantly reported back for duty. I am sure you saw them performing miracles the following day at the BDF day as arranged.”
Despite the matter having attracted wide publicity, the BDF kept the crash details a distance away from the public, a move that Phatshwane felt was not in the best interest of the army and public.
“The incident attracted overwhelming public attention. Not only that, there were some misconceptions attached to the incident and I thought it was upon the BDF to come out and address those for the benefit of the public and army’s reputation,” he said.
One disturbing narrative linked to the incident was that Manyuni heroically wrestled the ‘faulty’ aircraft away from the endangered public to die alone, a narrative which Phatshwane disputes as just people’s imaginations. “Like I said the Aircraft was functioning perfectly,” he responded.
A close family member has hinted that the traumatised Manyuni family, at the time of their son’s tragedy, strongly accused the BDF ‘of killing their son’. Phatshwane admits to this development, emphasising that “Manyuni’s mother was visibly and understandably in inconsolable pain when she uttered those words”.
Phatshwane was the one who had to travel to Rakops through the Directorate of Intelligence Services (DIS) aircraft to deliver the sad news to the family but says he found the family already in the know, through social media. At the time of his death, Manyuni was survived by both parents, two brothers, a sister, fiancée and one child. He was buried in Rakops in an emotionally-charged burial. Like his remains, the BDF fighter jets have been permanently rested.
A matter in which former President Lt Gen Ian Khama had brought before Broadhurst Police Station in Gaborone, requesting the State to charge Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) lead investigator, Jako Hubona and others with perjury has been committed to Headquarters because it involves “elders.”
Broadhurst Police Station Commander, Obusitswe Lokae, told this publication this week that the case in its nature is high profile so the matter has been allocated to his Officer Commanding No.3 District who then reported to the Divisional Commander who then sort to commit it to Police Headquarters.